Monroe County - The Cyclone

Thursday, March 16, 1876

Friday, March 10th, 1876, will long be remembered as a black day in the calendar of a great many people through this section of Missouri on account of the terrible storm which passed through in the evening. Although of short duration, the terrible effects will endure for many long years to come, and serve as a reminder of that awful day's work.

It is utterly impossible to convey an idea of the immense power and fury of the cyclone, and it is only by gazing upon the destruction wrought that its magnitude can be realized at all, and those who have seen it will not soon forget the horrors of that memorable day.

The first place where any serious damage was done was at the residence of Mrs. Utterback, about two-miles and a half southwest of Elizabethtown, the roof of the house being carried away, and some outbuildings destroyed. None of the family was injured.

The residence of Mrs. Staton, a new frame house, which had recently been erected in place of one burned about a year ago, was next in line, and was completely torn to pieces. A son of Mrs. Staton was lying in bed sick, and was badly bruised, several of his ribs being broken. Mrs. Staton was also severely bruised but not fatally. Still farther east, the house of Phillip McNellas was struck and completely wrecked. All of the inmates were slightly scratched and bruised, but miraculously escaped with their lives. A little girl was blown about three hundred yards, and only succeeded in saving herself by catching hold of a rail, which, fortunately was fastened in such a manner that the storm did not pick it up.

Mrs. Green's house was the next taken, together with the stable and other outbuildings. Mrs. Green's arm was broken and the elbow joint dislocated, she was also severely bruised. The above comprises the extent of damage done west of Elizabethtown.

Here the scene baffles all attempts at description--houses, stores, mechanics' tools, beds, bedding, dry goods and groceries being scattered about in the wildest confusion; while scarcely a citizen of the place can be found who is not scratched or bruised, or injured in some manner. It was a small place, containing only fifteen or twenty houses of which but five are left standing and some of them are so badly racked by the storm as to be almost uninhabitable.

The residence of Elijah Durbin, P.H. Ryan, James Skees, Mrs. Bick, Stephen Champion, Misses Higgins, an empty dwelling, and the stores of Christian & Carrico, N. Bick, P. H. Ryan, together with Yates wagon shop, a small storehouse owned by Dr. Knox, and Higgins blacksmith shop were broken into fragments, and scattered over the country for several hundred yards east of the town site. The house of Joseph Forrest was moved from its foundation, but left standing. St. Stephen's Church, a substantial brick edifice, and the finest church building in the county, was crushed like an eggshell, nothing remaining but a confused heap of brick and rubbish to mark the spot. The building was probably worth $12,000. or $15,000.

Among the wounded in the village were the following: Alice Skees, a little girl five or six years old, who was struck in the abdomen by some of the flying debris, and disemboweled. She lingered until Saturday evening and then died. Her mother also received a number of painful wounds in her hands, shoulder and arms, from nails in the falling roof, some of which penetrated the flesh nearly their entire length. Mrs. Durbin was hurt in the back. Mr. Ryan, several hurt-in the breast and head, but not fatally. Mrs. Ryan was hurt in the back. Miss Jennie Ryan received a terrible cut in the back of her head, and. for a time, it was feared she would not recover; she is yet in a critical condition. Miss Ella Ryan had an arm broken, and was pretty badly scratched and bruised. Another sister was bruised some about the face, but not badly. It seems miraculous that any of the Ryan family escaped with their lives, as the girls and the mother were blown at least seventy-five yards along with the ruins of the house. Mrs. Hayden, an old lady of 77 years, was injured about the head and shoulders. Her daughter, Trecie, who is blind, was found standing amid the ruins where the house of Mr. Durbin had stood, but was not hurt. Stephen Champion saw the storm coming, and ran to his house, intending to shut the door as a protection. He succeeded in getting it closed, and then placed his back against it to hold it, when the first thing he knew he found himself lying on the floor, while the house and door had vanished, leaving nothing but the floor. He received a few slight bruises on his face and arm.

A number of remarkable incidents-occurred, which will sound unreasonable to those who have not seen the destruction wrought. but they are all well authenticated, and it is impossible to exaggerate the account. A team belonging to Frank and Wash. Burdett, harnessed to a wagon, was blown, wagon and all, about forty yards, and the horses unharnessed even to the collars. Another wagon was turned completely over and left lying in the street. A box of lamp chimneys in Christian & Carrico's store was left with the contents unbroken. A large copper kettle was pierced by a piece of siding from one of the houses and the job was as cleanly done as though it was done by a mechanic. A corn crib, built of logs, was struck, and the logs taken away, leaving the corn untouched. We might relate almost numberless incidents showing the queer doings of the tornado, but the above are perhaps sufficient to give an idea of its work.

The damage to Elizabethtown property will probably amount to $20,000., two thousand of which falls on Mr. Thos. Yates who owned the greater portion of the houses destroyed.

After leaving Elizabethtown, the storm seemed to widen somewhat, weakening its force, but still doing an immense amount of damage by tearing down fences and trees, until it reached the residence of W. F. Crain, which was a little to the left of the center of the storm. The house, a two-story frame was unroofed and the stable destroyed. A number of horses were in the barn and escaped without serious hurt. Mrs. J. N.. Crain received a slight bruise from a flying window sash which was forced into the room. Mr. Crain lost a number of sheep and hogs, and his orchard was sadly demoralized, nearly all the trees being blown down. The house was so badly shattered that it will probably have to be rebuilt. 

On what is known as-THE COMBS PLACE about two miles south of Monroe, resided the family of Samuel Pearceall, and here the storm developed in its most terrible form, three persons being crushed to death without a moment's warning. The house was a large one, built of hewed logs, with a large stone chimney at one end. It was surrounded by locust trees. There were eight persons in the building at the time the storm struck. Mrs. Gurton, a sister of Mr. Pearceall's who was visiting the family was among the killed, her head being crushed to a jelly. Mrs. Pearceall was also killed, and one of her daughters, Josie, a girl twelve or fourteen years old. James Gurton, son of Mrs. Gurton, had a leg and arm broken; Mrs. Mudd, who was visiting the family, was severely injured, but is not considered dangerous. She had a little babe, four or five years old, in h her arms, which escaped without a scratch. Fannie Pearceall, a little girl about five years old, had a finger torn off, and a severe injury on the head. The wonder is that any escaped with life, as the huge logs, and the rocks comprising the chimney were all piled in upon the floor in such a manner that it would seem that a mouse could not get out alive. A sewing machine which was in the house was taken out uninjured.

The bodies of the dead were taken to Mr. Henry Fuqua's residence, where they were kept until Sunday, when they were interred in the Elizabethtown cemetery. The wounded were conveyed to Mr. John L. Nolen's house, where everything possible was done to alleviate their suffering.

The fury of the storm, and its power, are shown more plainly at this place than anywhere else on it's track. An orchard of large apple trees stood on the east side of the house, and not a tree is left in it, some of  them being blown away, root and branch, and carried several hundred yards away. Even the bark is twisted from peach trees while scarcely a bush is left unhurt. A new wagon was broken into countless pieces and strewn along the path of the storm for nearly half a mile. A locust stump about eighteen inches in diameter and about the same in height, was twisted out of the earth. The sides of the trees exposed to the storm are coated with dirt where the terrible wind had gathered it up from the earth, and forced it into the bark. Hickory trees were denuded of their rough bark as clean as though done by human agencies. In short, nothing but desolation and ruin are left to mark the spot where once lived a happy and contented family.

From here on until reaching Hassard, the work of the storm was principally confined to tearing down fences, haystacks, and other light articles which happened to be in its course. The house and stable of Isaac Melson were somewhat damaged, but none of the family was injured. Mr. Overstreets house and barn were also considerably shaken up, and several head of cattle so badly hurt they had to be killed. After leaving Overstreet's the next house to suffer was JEROME KENDRICK'S About one-fourth of a mile southwest of Hassard. Here it seemed to have gained additional strength, and the terrible effects are to be seen on every object. Mr. Kendrick had recently built a new house, and the old one was occupied by Mr. Burdit and his sons. It was torn to pieces and blown away completely. The occupants of the house, fortunately, were not at home when the storm passed. A barn near the house -was destroyed along with a fine orchard, which was left without a -tree standing. Mr. Kendrick's new house, in which were his wife and 'two children, was moved from the foundation and the roof carried away. Mrs. Kendrick saw the storm coming, and went to the hall door on the south side, with a child in her arms, and attempted to hold the door closed, but the storm forced it open and blew her through the hall into the east room. she and the children escaped unhurt. The barn on this side of the road was wrecked. His loss will amount to about $2000. James Moss, living at the edge of Hassard, had moved into the house only a couple of days before the storm and was at work finishing up the building when the storm struck. His house was carried away. There were five persons in the ho use, three of which were hurt. Mr. Moss was injured in the breast and head, Mrs. Moss bruised about the arm and shoulder, Miss Moss, a young lady about seven years old, was bruised considerably about the face. None of them was dangerously hurt.

The section house at Hassard was completely destroyed, and a part of the roof was blown off. This comprises all of the damage at Hassard and west of there.

Next in line was the residence of Elijah Campbell which was torn in pieces and scattered to the winds along with the outbuildings. There were five people in the house, Mr. Campbell, his wife, and two children, and a young man named Mr. Leininger. Mrs. Campbell was blown about seventy-five yards, and when found was insensible. She was badly hurt but it is thought she will recover. Mr. Leininger received several severe cuts about the face, none of which are dangerous. Mr. Campbell, when he saw that the home was going, caught his two children with one hand, and attempted to catch his wife but failed. He then grasped the door sill and by this means probably saved himself and his children from being killed or hurt. A steer belonging to Mr. Campbell was killed by a rail which struck him between the eyes and penetrated his skull. A tenant house on the property of Adoniram Smith, occupied by James and William Turpin, was the next victim of the storm. The boys -were blown about 150 yards and both are badly hurt. James Turpin thinks he went up out of sight, and although he has no external injuries, the concussion produced by striking the ground, injured his spine, but he is not considered fatally hurt. William Turpin's leg was broken in the thigh, and the hip bone is supposed by Physicians to be broken. From the appearance of the ground where he was found, it is supposed that he struck on his knee, which was driven into the ground at least twelve inches. His condition is considered critical.

A man by the name of Emery, from Hannibal, who goes through the country buying produce, was driving along beside a hedge fence near Hassard, when the wind caught him ;and lifted the whole outfit over the fence, breaking the wagon and bruising the driver severely. One of the horses was left, but the other has never been heard of. The fence over 'which the team and wagon were thrown was about fifteen feet high and Emery is willing to swear he went up thirty feet into the air.

Laban Lake's residence was next in line, but the eye of the storm seemed to rise here and his house was not touched. The orchard on the west side of the house was torn up and one corner of the barn damaged. Peter Smith's house, about one-fourth of mile east of Lake's place, was completely destroyed. It was single story frame, and not a vestige of it remains. Mrs. Smith was carried about 100 yards from where the housee' stood, and was badly bruised all over her body. When found, she was in a sitting position, but unable to get up. She was at first reported killed, but it is now thought she will recover

The residence of Mrs. Carter, a large brick house, was blown down, but none of the inmates were hurt. Up to this point, the course of the storm was from southwest to northeast, varying about four mile north to ten miles east. After striking Mrs. Carter's house, it changed its course due east, crossing the H & St. Jo. railroad track near Withers Mill. A house occupied by a family named Peterson, not far from this place, was torn to pieces and Mrs. Peterson and her child killed. The woman's body was stripped of clothing, leaving nothing but her stockings and a small- strip around her neck, and terribly mangled, her back being broken in several places.

The following description from the Hannibal Courier Post of Saturday will give an idea of the storm at this point:

The Hannibal & St. Joe train due here at 4:40 p.m. was delayed at Withers Station by a couple of trees being blown down across the track. While waiting for the trees to be cleared away the passengers heard a terrific roaring and distant muttering of thunder. They saw approaching with one end on the earth, a cloud black as midnight, and as it drew nearer, they could see that everything in its path was leveled to the ground. The terrible tornado swept down the railroad track, and across it, tearing like shreds of paper the fencing planks from the posts, wrenching the posts and the telegraph poles from the solid earth; and as it swept on in its wrath, in one brief instant hurling to the earth the mighty elms and oaks of the forest, that had withstood the shock of centuries. They saw in the dark vortex of the tornado, the black mass of writhing, crushing, grinding matter, composed of tree tops, boards, planks, brush, and whatever else it had found in its path.

At Withers Mill the track of the tornado was apparently about 200 yards wide, and it seemed to be traveling nearly North at this place, but it changed its course nearly east and leaving Withers Mill, it crossed the Mississippi not far above the city at a point where there were no houses. It passed directly over the site where Mr. Samuel Barclay' residence burned last Sunday, and after all, so far from being a misfortune for Mr. Barclay may have saved his life and the lives of his family.

The day had been unusually warm for the season, and soon after twelve O'clock there were signs of the approaching rainstorm, but nothing peculiar 'was observed until about four O'clock, when the sky suddenly became darkened and the attention of several was attracted to the strange commotion in the sky. A glance toward the southwest showed the terrible storm approaching, and for a time it was feared Monroe City would be taken. Apparently it was not more than - a - half mile south of the town, and when it came opposite, it seemed to hesitate for an instant, as if undetermined whether to visit the place or not. Fortunately for our people, it passed by, and many an anxious heart was lightened of a heavy load when it disappeared in the distance.

It is nearly impossible to describe the appearance of the cloud as everyone who saw it has a different idea of it. it seemed to us to resemble an immense balloon, swaying in' the air, with the neck dragging the ground, while immediately under it, the dust and other articles carried along resembled the smoke from a huge fire, being so dense and black that it could not be seen through.

Before the rain which fell had ceased, and while our people were yet discussing the probable effects of the storm, a messenger came from Elizabethtown, stating that the place was in ruins, and nearly all the inhabitants killed or wounded, and calling for physicians to go to their relief. Drs. Knox and McNutt, being in town, were soon mounted and on their way to the stricken town, followed by a large number of citizens on -horseback and in vehicles. Dr. Norman of Elizabethtown, and Dr. Mays, of Clapper, were also promptly on hand; assisting in relieving the sufferers.

Drs. Mendenhall and Asbury went to Hassard and below, where they remained until a late hour the next day, attending to the wounded in that section. Drs. Matthews, Noland, and Hays were at the Pearceall place. Everything that could be was done to relieve the injured ones, by the people living in the vicinity.

A short distance beyond Mr. Fuqua's place, the first effects of the storm, the fences for fully half a mile were laid flat, while the grass and cornstalks in the field were swept away as though a flood had passed over them. At Elizabethtown, even the birds were caught and killed.

At Middle Grove, which is almost on a direct line with Elizabethtown, houses and outbuildings were unroofed, and fences blown down. The last heard of its effects is in Illinois, about forty miles east of the river, where a small town called Hersman, on the T. W.. & W. R. R. was damaged slightly.

Altogether the events of that day's work were the most terrible and awe-inspiring that were ever known, and it is to be hoped they may never be repeated.

Note: Elizabethtown is now known as Indian Creek, or often called Swinkey by the residents. It is located approximately five miles southwest of Monroe City, MO