Harrowing Tales of a Third of a Century.
Then rose a sound of dread, such as startles
the sleeping encampments
Far in the western prairies or forests that
skirt the Nebraska,
When the wild horses affrighted sweep by
with the speed of the whirlwind,
Or the loud bellowing herds of buffaloes rush
to the river.
IN THE course of the years which have melted away since the Valley
was first settled many things have transpired of a nature so distressing that even now, under the mellowing influence
of time, it is hard to read them without shuddering. But in the reading our hearts involuntarily go out to the heroes and heroines who endured so much and endured so silently. The more we learn of their suffering, the more we honor them for their sacrifice, and the more we rejoice with them in their final triumph.
Several of these tales have already been narrated in previous chapters, and will not bear repetition here. Such were the Great Blizzard of April 13, 1873, and the Locust Plague following soon afterward. A few others may be added here. The first worthy of
notice is the Great Fire of October 12, 1878.
To a person who has not actually lived on the frontier and with his own eyes beheld a great prairie fire in progress, it is almost hopeless to attempt to convey a true picture of its terrors. The awe inspired as the storm wind suddenly hurls great clouds of stifling smoke, mixed with cinders and burned grass, over the devoted settlement is beyond the description of pen. Then there is the sudden roar and distant glare; the crackling and crashing as
the fire demon rushes onward; the rush of over-heated air; the distant glare and the final leap of countless tongues
of flame from the seething, roaring bell-caldron coming on apace. Now, woe to the settler who has neglected all precautions for fighting fire, or whose guards are not broad and clear! Woe to him who has not prepared for the evil hour, for soon destruction will be upon him---the solid, destroying phalanx, burning several hundred feet deep, before whose scorching blast
no living thing can stand. And now listen to what befell our North Loup settlements on the 12th day of October, 1878: It was glorious autumn weather. Up and down the valley the farmers were at work threshing, and otherwise disposing of the bountiful crops of the year. The prairie
(187) grass was deep and matted, the growth of two seasons. It was dry as
tinder and needed but a spark to start a conflagration. The farmers had on
this account taken great care to throw up ample fire guards around their
But what protection are guards when the very air seems to be on fire! For several days fires had been burning on the Middle Loup to the west. At night the lurid glare was distinctly reflected on the peaceful
On the eventful day as time advanced a breeze set in from the southwest. By degrees it increased in power till it blew a veritable gale. The wind swerved gradually to the west and by evening blew from the north; this fortunate circumstance alone saved the Garfield county settlements
from destruction. Mira Valley lay immediately in the
Advent of the Prairie Fire.
(From a Kodak Picture Taken by Ina Draver.)
path of the fire-fiend and was the
first to suffer. Here, in one place, three young men, Albert Cottrell, and
William and Morris Greene, were at work building a sodhouse. Before they
had time to realize their danger the conflagration was bearing down upon
them. There was no time to backfire. Their only hope was refuge in flight.
But, alas! what is human speed when measured with the fire fiend let
loose! They were all quickly overtaken; and with a cry of despair threw
themselves face downward, as the tongues of flame leaped and swerved round
about their victims. From this bed Albert Cottrell was never to rise-he
was burned to a crisp. The Green boys were more fortunate and lived
through the terrible experience, though fearfully burned. And to the end
of their lives will they bear the scars of the fire (188)
bodies. Onward, across Mira Valley the fire swept, licking up hay stacks,
leaping protecting guards, burning dwelling houses and outbuildings. In
many instances the unfortunate inmates bad barely time to reach some plot
of plowed ground before the fire was upon them.
Mrs. John Luke, then a mere girl, saw the fire
and in time sought a place of refuge. In several directions could she see
burning property. On the farmstead where she chanced to be all the
outbuildings were destroyed; the very pigs in their pens were roasted
alive. At last the fire burst through the hills and rolled down into the
river valley. At Dan Merritt's place it swept right through the stubble
field and devoured a new threshing outfit, which the many farmers present
were unable to save. George W. Larkin, living near the present day Olean,
had just completed a comfortable log house. 250 bushels of wheat, all his
previous yield, had just been stored away. Everything was consumed--house,
barn, implements, grain and fodder. Mr. Larkin barely saved himself by
falling prostrate onto the plowed ground. Heman A. Babcock lost
practically everything he had, buildings, fodder and stock. As the deluge
swept by Oscar Babcock's place his son E. J. Babcock had just time to leap
into the protecting waters of Mira Creek. Judson Davis lost all his grain.
At Jessie Worth's place practically everything of value was destroyed. And
so the story might be lengthened almost ad infinitem.
North of Ord conditions were scarcely any better.
On Nels Andersen's farm another threshing outfit was burned, by desperate
work only did Mr. Andersen save his home place, though much grain was
lost. George Miller who was at Andersen's place when the fire became
threatening undertook the foolhardy feat of outstripping it to his own
cabin, a mile distant. This came near costing Uncle George dear. Had it
not been for a convenient buffalo-wallow full of water, he would not now
be living to tell the story. Such tales as these could be told of the
Valley from Cotesfield to Turtle Creek. No farmstead in its path escaped
the awful fire. That night beheld the valley scorched and suffering.
Smouldering heaps of ruins marked here and there all that was left of the
personal belongings of many a sturdy pioneer. Homes were gone; much cattle
the very grain for bread and yet these men did not despair. On the morrow
they were again at work to keep open the Trail--the Trail!
The next in chronological order of these stories
is not so far-reaching in effect as some others here retold. But it is
nevertheless of such a nature as to deserve relating. This is the August
Hailstorm of 1885.
Meteorological observations as well as practical
experience teach us that some localities in the west are more liable to be
frequented by hailstorms than others. The fertile districts in Nebraska
immediately south of the great sand hill belt are thus exposed. Any
barren, sandy expanse, heats and deflects a laver of air more rapidly than
does a grassy and well protected loess plain. The result of this
phenomenon may be observed on almost any hot summer day. Layer upon layer
of overheated, moist air, over the sand hills, will in the afternoon heat,
suddenly begin to expand (189)
and rise, forcing lower currents to rush in
to fill the vacuum formed. The rising, heated current condenses and
becomes visible to the eye the moment upper, cooler currents are
encountered. These we know as cumulus or thunderhead clouds. If the
evaporation does not chance to be very extreme, an afternoon thunderstorm
and rainfall may result; but in case the day has been intensely hot, the
evaporation may become violent, and the upward rush of air so rapid as to
create great disturbance in the upper cloud regions. A churning together
of the hot and cold currents causes a rapid condensation of the moisture
of the former into raindrops. These in turn freeze and are hurled around
by a strange rotary motion now ensuing, growing ever larger as they
receive coat upon coat of freezing moisture.
In our valley we may expect to find the surface
currents blowing from the south on such a day as here in question. At the
same time the upper currents, by degrees, begin a southward movement to
fill the vacuum there formed. For a moment before the storm breaks all
wind ceases. This is when the so called balance point in the opposing
current is reached. As the upper current overbalances the lower the storm
breaks. Now its advance is usually marked by a long roll of horizontally
revolving cloudmass, from which showers of hailstones are precipitated to
the ground as soon as these have grown large enough to overcome the
centripetal force of the cloud itself.
It stands to reason that, in time, as the sand
hills become more stable and receive a heavier matting of vegetation,
these destructive storms will become less and less frequent.
August 5, 1885, was a hot and sultry day in the
Valley. In the forenoon, and again in the afternoon the barometer acted in
a most erratic way. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon great cloud masses
began towering up on the northern horizon. That this betokened an unusual
storm soon became apparent to all. A strange activity was shown by the way
the cloud masses parted, moving in opposite directions--west and
south--only later to retrace the first course, to come together a few
miles above Ord. Hero the horizontal roller cloud was formed, and came
rushing down the valley. As it rolled on, dark and lowering, it seemed but
A few hundred feet from the ground. With a roar the wind came out of the
cloud, blowing at a terrific rate. Hailstones of enormous size were
carried almost horizontally through space, so strong was the wind. For
twenty long minutes all created things trembled under the fury of the
storm. Outdoors all was destruction, indoors the roar of the storm was
deafening. The howling of wind, the crashing of breaking window panes, the
ripping of timbers torn made a veritable bedlam. When all was over ruin
almost beyond description opened to one's gaze.
Not alone had the growing crops been hammered
into the ground, but, even the trees were stripped of leaves and branches,
yes, the very bark was hammered into a pulp. To this day--after 20
years--may scars be seen upon the trees sufficiently strong to live
through the storm. The story of (190)
the catastrophe is well told in the Ord Quiz of August 9, 1885, and runs as follows:
"Wednesday afternoon a threatening storm
gathered in the north. It seemed to be drifting rapidly to the west, but
about 5 o'clock it was met by another storm from the west. They met in the
valley ten or twelve miles from Ord, and came tearing down upon us at a
terrific rate. The storm burst upon the town at 5:40 and lasted 20
minutes. The wind amounted to a hurricane, the rain fell in torrents and
hail of the regulation hen's egg variety fell. The ground was covered with
hail. Every exposed window which means all north and east windows-regard
less of awnings, shutters and screens, were beaten out; tin roofs were
perforated and torn loose; nearly all north and east shingle roofs are
ruined; trees are stripped of their leaves and battered and beaten beyond
recovery, and there is nothing left of other vegetation. So much for the
"The extent of the destruction, however,
does not seem to be general. At this writing it seems that very serious
damage was done from only five or six miles above Ord, to three miles
below. Toward Mira Valley damage extended no farther than Mr. Shinn's
place, and in Springdale the limit of the damage seems to be at Mr.
"The damage in the business portion of the
town was sustained chiefly on the south and west sides of the square. A
fair estimate of the damage on these sides is about as follows:
Cleveland Bros., store
F. A. Witte
Wolf & Ehlebe
Miss Day, millinery
F. W. Weaver
Perry & Stover
Dr. Bickford, residence and store
A. S. Martin
C. C. Wolf
D. C. Way
G. W. Milford
Woodbury & Mortensen block
Mortensen & Babcock
The First National Bank
Coffin & Clements' office
B. C. White, store and residence
W. J. Lloyd, stock
J. S. Bussell, bank building
W. T. Barstow, building
H. A. Walker
A. M. Robbins
Linton Bros., livery
(191) The chief losses on the north and east side of the square are:
| D. C. Bell, yard and dwelling
|| $200. 00
Frank Misko, shop
D. J. Martz
Odd Fellows' Building
Sorensen & Williams
"The balance of the buildings on those sides of the square are damaged mostly to the extent of the roofs. The loss on the other 300 buildings in town will average $50 each.
"It is a hard blow to Ord, but the extent of the storm being so limited it will not interfere with the trade to any considerable extent, the chief damage being the actual damage to property here. Had the crops of the whole county been ruined the loss in a business way would have been irreparable, but as trade will undoubtedly continue brisk, business men are inclined to look upon their losses optimistically.
"Our special reporter at Calamus reports that place in a worse condition than Ord. The new frame school house is a total wreck, including the foundation. Mr. McCaslin's house was torn to pieces and his wife and children were nearly killed. The windmill and smaller buildings at the fort were leveled. Will Duby's large new house was lifted, turned half way around and set down again. J. V. Alderman's splendid grove and nursery is nearly ruined. A mile north of Calamus no damage was done.
"Elton Cheesebrough lost one hundred young pigs.
"Bailey Bros.' cattle were stampeded and men were hunting them up yesterday. Two head of cattle were found dead in the yards.
"Charley Parks had 50 acres of fine oats uncut which were leveled to the ground.
"Lightning struck the rods and chimney of the public school building, but the damage was confined to these objects.
Mr. R. Collingwood, of Sargent Bluff, Iowa, an old
man, was crossing the small bridge southeast of town just as the storm struck him. He had a heavy load of lumber. The team became unmanageable and refused to face the storm. They turned with the storm and ran over the abrupt bank by Haskell's old brick yard, falling fully twenty-five feet. Mr. Collingwood's arm was crushed and the team badly injured. His family is in Iowa.
"The storm seemed to gather somewhere near W. B. Keown's place. The
hail there was not heavy but the wind was furious. It totally wrecked his fine new barn and badly damaged his residence.
"Fred Dowhower says his crops are unhurt.
"Damage on Haskell Creek was light and Elm Creek escaped entirely.
"Dave Quackenbush's buildings were blown down and one horse killed.
"Jens Jensen lost a horse in the storm. He does not know what killed it.
"J. A. Ollis' building was blown down. In this part of Mira Valley damage by hail was done, though it was not so serious as around Ord.
"Comparatively little damage was done by hail on Haskell Creek at Lounsbary's and none beyond there. Plain Valley, Rose Valley and Bean Creek all escaped."
Barely a month had passed since the hailstorm struck Valley county, when another storm of a tornadolike nature struck the already badly shattered Ord and vicinity. Such an impression did the great hailstorm and this new windstorm of the evening of September 11 leave upon the minds of our people that for years to come they could not behold the
uprolling of a (192)
stormcloud without a feeling of uneasiness creeping over them. This storm is described in, the Quiz in the following language:
"Last week, Friday evening, the elements were in an exceedingly unsettled condition, but aside from the
quickly changing sky and the swift coming and going of flurries of clouds nothing noteworthy was visible. At dusk a long narrow cloud extending from the western to the northern horizon appeared in the northwest, but no one gave more than passing notice to it, and each one in our busy little city went to his home thinking, if he thought of the storm at
all, that it was over. But at 10:20, suddenly, without a moment's warning, a cyclone burst upon us from the southwest. Its fearful fury was spent in an instant, but that instant meant sad destruction to property. The destructive whirlwind dashed through our town and was followed instantly by a heavy gale from the northwest. As soon as the frightened people recovered from the shock, and safety permitted it they ventured out with lanterns to learn the extent of the damage and render assistance if needed. The Baptist church was leveled
to the ground in irreparable ruin. The skating rink was swept away, with the exception of the foundation. The roof was burled against Wentworth's carpenter shop knocking the northwest corner clear away and wrecking the building badly. Very serious damage was done to the court house walls. With the exception of the corners, they were leveled as far down as the basement. The little building near
O. S. Haskell's brick yard was blown into the river bodily. It was occupied at the time by three of Mr. Haskell's hands, all of whom escaped from the building during its passage to the river without injury excepting Frank Rogers, who was struck by a board, dislocating and slightly fracturing his elbow.
"Finding that no good could be accomplished by traversing the town our people at last went to rest anxious to see what new ruins the light of day might disclose. Of course much damage was done to buggies, sheds, etc., all frail buildings suffering a greater or less degree of injury.
"It was hoped that the damage was mostly confined to the town, but the next day and for a few days following reports of damage have kept
coming in from all points in the track of the storm. The storm seems to have commenced its destruction in the neighborhood of Judge Laverty's farm in Geranium Township, whose house and contents were totally destroyed. His sick son was fortunately kept from getting wet, though Mrs. Laverty received a severe blow from some heavy piece of furniture.
"It would be almost impossible to enumerate the men who lost
by the storm, for the track was wide. The damage to hay and grain stacks is very
general in all parts of the county, from Mira Valley north. The last serious damage done by the storm reported at this writing was at the house of
Messrs. Charley Parks and R. Burdick, northeast of town. Their sheds and out-buildings were destroyed though fortunately none of the inmates
"But bad as this and the recent hailstorm were, many places in states
(193) east of us have suffered far worse than we
view of Ord as it appeared in 1905. Looking Northwest, North &
have in this most exceptional year of storms."
Several years may now be passed over and we come to 1888 and the Historic Blizzard of January 12. No other winter storm in the history of our plains, it is safe to say, was ever more destructive than this. For that matter the storm was general throughout the whole country, and its chilling blast was felt from the Rockies to New England. Yet the windswept plains of Dakota and Nebraska fared worse than sections farther east. Loss to human life and property was on the plains, in places, simply appalling. Entire families were lost; in some instances the bodies were not recovered till the snows began melting in spring. On this occasion the Loup Valley was almost miraculously saved from the loss of life. To be sure many narrow escapes from death by freezing are chronicled; and in numerous instances only the most heroic efforts saved those
imperiled from death.
The morning of the 12th dawned damp and gloomy. A mist had been falling during the night; and the wind, which blew gently from the south, was just cold enough to turn, the moisture covering all nature, into a light hoarfrost. Before noon the frost had disappeared and every indication pointed to an early clearing of the sky. But this was not to be. At just 11:35 o'clock in the forenoon a terrific storm-blast struck Burwell, and 25 minutes later reached Ord . In a moment the heavy leaden clouds were blotted out. A bewildering, blinding sheet of dustlike snow was whirled horizontally through the air; the thermometer began sinking at a rapid rate and before 4 o'clock reached 25 degrees below zero. The wayfarer, caught far from
home, soon found his pathway obstructed by drifts of snow and every familiar guidemark obliterated. His bearings once gone would mean certain death unless he should chance in his blind gropings to stumble upon some human habitation or friendly stack of hay or straw in his path.
As the early part of the day was so mild many people
had ventured far from home. Scores of farmers were caught in town, where they had to
remain for several days, chafing under the restraint, but absolutely snowbound. Others, less
fortunate, who were caught on the road, in the valley or out in the hills, soon found themselves in a terrible predicament.
Some were wise enough to unhook their teams and seek the nearest refuge; others, with their bearings lost, allowed their horses to lead them to some
haven of safety. The writer knows of at least seventeen farmers in Valley county alone who shivered that terrible day and succeeding night to an end
in straw stacks. Here is a solitary instance of this nature taken from the
press of that month:
"Mr. Banlemiah, a German, and his son, a lad of 14 or
15 years, got lost in the storm. After driving along till the cold began overcoming them, they abandoned the team and, digging a hole in the snowdrift, sought shelter there. But fearing they might freeze to death they again got up and staggered along till they chanced upon a strawstack, which saved their lives. When rescued they were both pretty badly frozen about the head,
(194) feet and hands. It is feared that Mr. Banlemiah will be obliged to have his hands and feet amputated. "
Stories without number could be told of narrow escapes throughout our Loup region.
Here are a couple:
"On the day of the blizzard Ebert Gaghagyen of Vinton started after a load of hay, and when about a mile from home the wind upset the load. Ebert wandered around, lost, and did not reach a place of shelter till 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
Then he was so exhausted that he had to be assisted into the house."
"Professor Tipser of Haskell Creek was caught four miles from the nearest house. His horse refused to face the storm. He then got out and led the horse till almost exhausted. He next attempted to build a fire by burning his sleigh, but even this failed. In despair he dragged his frozen limbs along till
he finally found shelter at the home of a Mr. Moses."
Some of the rural school teachers had harrowing experiences that day, and it seems almost Providential to us
now that they should be able to have gotten their flocks of little ones home without a single casualty. Especially is this true, when we know that Custer county, our sister county on the west, chronicles fifteen victims, young and old.
Mrs. Powell, who taught the so-called Hardscrabble school in Valley county, heroically determined to outweather the storm right in the schoolhouse. The coal could be made to last for some hours and,
divided into small rations, there would be lunch enough in the dinner pails till aid should come. But in the course of the day Mr. W. Thompson and others living near at hand came as a rescuing party and carried all to laces of safety.
While many other instances of snowbound people could be told we will not now weary the reader with
them. However it seems that the story of the January blizzard is never considered complete without the story of Minnie Freeman, the Midvale heroine. We therefore reiterate it here, and add our personal views on the matter. The Ord Quiz of January 20 contains the following:
"The manner in which this modest and unaspiring school teacher saved the lives of all her pupils during the great storm of Jan. 12, 1888, has won for her wide renown. The forenoon of that day was mild and damp, with a warm breeze from the south. But just at noon, without a minute warning, a hurricane blast came from the north. In an instant the temperature fell several degrees below zero, and the flying snow made it impossible to see but a few feet away. The first blast broke in the door of Miss Freeman's school house. With the aid of her larger pupils she closed and nailed it. A moment later the door gave way again and was irreparable; and to add to the dilemma, a portion of the roof was torn away also. Something must be done at once. There was no alternative. Her sixteen pupils must be taken to the nearest house, a half-mile against the storm. At the peril of her own life, and with calm presence of mind and forethought she hastily but carefully covered the faces of her younger pupils and to prevent them from being lost-for in the terrible storm to wander away
(195) a few feet was to be certainly lost--she tied them together. The older pupils she placed in the lead, and to see that
none faltered, she brought up the rear. Thus was the heroic march begun and successfully accomplished."
The Headlight, in a late issue, tells us that "her school consisted of nine small children, and when the blizzard struck the school house and tore off a large portion of the roof, she gathered her children together and, tying them with a cord, one end of which she took in her hand, she started for the sod house above, about half a mile distant, where she arrived safely, after suffering from fatigue and cold, for which heroic act her name has been immortalized in story and song. Miss Freeman is now the wife of Mr. Penny, a prosperous merchant of Lexington, Neb."
Again, in the Lincoln Daily Star of June 17, 1905, we read that "as
Iowa had her Kate Shelley so Nebraska has her Minnie Freeman." Now all this lauding to the sky would perhaps
not be so much out of place did we not, in so doing, forget the other heroes and heroines of that never-to-be-forgotten day. It never has seemed quite just to us that this one young
woman, noble and unassuming though she were, alone should receive the
ever ready acclamation of a hero-worshipping world, and alone be "immortalized in story and song," when a score of others were just as deserving as
she. In another sense it is hardly doing Miss Freeman justice. She was "modest and unassuming." She asked for no newspaper notoriety, for
none of the presents or praise, such as overwhelmed her, coming from every part of the country. And then again, persons who are well
acquainted with the actual facts in the case are naturally enough inclined to blame
Miss Freeman as wishing to take for herself all the credit of the act, to the
exclusion of everyone else.
The newspaper articles quoted above variously put the number of pupils rescued at nine and sixteen. A magnificent gold watch received by Miss Freeman from an admirer in California bears this inscription: "A. Andrews of San Francisco to Minnie Freeman, of Mira Valley School District, Valley County, Nebraska, for her heroism in saving the lives of thirteen pupils during the storm of January 12, 1888."
The back of the, case is set with thirteen rubies to represent the thirteen lives she saved. Thus we have the numbers
nine, thirteen and sixteen. And so it is with the other particulars of the story
too--they have grown and been distorted from the first. After sifting all the facts to the
bottom, we are ready to offer this version of the story. When the first blast struck the rickety sod school house the door was burst inward, and the unanchored board roof partially lifted. Miss Freeman, then, with the aid of her older. pupils, grittily enough, braced the door, and nailed it shut. But this gave but a moment's respite. Again the door was torn open, and this time the storm carried a section of the roof entirely away. To remain was to perish, for the room was rapidly drifting full of snow. The children were accordingly bundled up as well as the wraps at hand permitted, and in a body they were started for the George Kellison home, one-half mile distant. The children,
(196) so say eyewitnesses, were not tied together to keep them from straying away. The Headlight, quoted above, would even have it appear that Miss Freeman led her whole school by this cord to Mr. Kellison's home--and safety. To Miss Freeman's praise it must be said that she was everywhere
present--at the front, at the rear, and on the flanks of her little band. But she was not alone about this. The older boys and girls aided her in every way. Why not give them who so unflinchingly led through the drifts, aiding and encouraging the younger children all they could, and without whose assistance the youngsters could hardly have reached safety, some of the credit Why not give honor to ALL to whom honor is due?
The latest and in point of destructiveness the most disastrous of all the storms that have visited the Loup Valley is the Burwell Tornado of September 15, 1905. This came as suddenly as it came unexpected. Never before in history has a real twister of any great dimensions passed over our region. The so-called ''cyclone'' which struck Ord in September, 1885, could in no wise be compared to this either in velocity or in through-going destructiveness.
The season 1905 was unusually satisfactory to our farmers. An abundance of rain interspersed with spells of hot weather resulted in bumper
crops in valley and highland. The latter part of the summer only was somewhat unusual in its meteorological manifestations. The latter part of
August and the first part of September marked a dry spell which, while it
matured the corn rapidly and thus brought it beyond the danger of frost, yet drew the moisture out of the ground at such a rapid rate that fall plowing fast became an impossibility. Then the change came. September 2nd
saw a great area of low pressure slowly settle over Nebraska and other western states, which marked the beginning of a series of rain and
windstorms seldom equalled in western history. Friday, September 15th, marked the climax of the great atmospheric disturbances. All throughout
Nebraska and up and down the Missouri Valley, in Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, the winds blew with varying fury and deluges of rain and
hail caused untold damage. That evening Burwell was visited by her destructive tornado.
The first intimation given the dwellers in the lower valley of any such catastrophe was some more or less incoherent messages by wire; then came the following postal card extra printed immediately after the storm by the Burwell Tribune:
THE TRIBUNE POST CARD EXTRA.
"Burwell, Neb., Friday Evening, 8:80.
A cyclone struck the north part of Burwell at 6 o'clock this evening, demolishing sixteen buildings, Mrs. A. E. McKinney, wife of E. B. McKinney, being instantly killed, and Mrs. Geo. Dinnell, Mrs. Leeper, Clifford Dinnell and Frank Hennich being hurt, the latter seriously. M. Saba's general
store is a wreck and the dwellings of these entirely demolished: Costello, Hanna, J. Dinnell, McKinney, Scribner, Leeper, the Star, R. L.
(197) Miller, Mrs. Dinnell, Mrs. Aikens. Many others more or less damaged. Storm formed in The Forks west of town, was narrow, and extended only a mile and a half southeast of town."
The full extent of the ruin wrought could not be learned till Saturday
morning. It then became apparent that good fortune alone had spared the town from a much more disastrous visitation. Had the wind column veered
but a few rods to the southward it would have plowed its way through the heart of the hapless town and quite a different tale might
now have been told. As it was, it certainly was bad enough, and years must pass before
the storm trail can be entirely effaced. The Burwell Tribune in a supplement to the issue of Thursday, September 21st, tells the story of the disaster in the following language:
"Friday, September 15, 1905, will be remembered for years by the present inhabitants of Burwell as the day of the great tornado.
"Weather conditions that day were very peculiar. The day dawned clear and bright, but within an hour or two a dense fog enveloped the earth. This lifted and the sun shone brightly for a short period of time. Then fog again descended and obscured the landscape. The afternoon was hot and close; clouds black and threatening festooned the horizon to the north.
"About six o'clock the death-dealing funnel-shaped cloud appeared to the northwest of town and in a few moments death and destruction were dealt out.
"But few of the people of the town saw the awful creature of the elements. Those who did took hasty refuge in storm cellars. Others did not know that anything more serious than a rain storm was brewing till the alarm was sounded.
"The tornado seemed to form in The Forks--the confluence of the Calamus and the Loup-just northwest of town a couple of miles. Its first work was on the farm of M. J. Scott, close to where the funnel formed, where several grain stacks were promiscuously scattered over the country. A cornfield near Scott's was demolished. Then the residence of Mr. Costello was razed. The family had gone to the cellar and thus escaped injury.
"C. W. Hennich's stable and outbuildings were next destroyed. Frank Hennich was in the stable when the storm struck it and attempted to get into the house when a flying timber struck him down, crushing his ribs and injuring him internally. He grittily crawled to a clump of bushes and waited for the passage of the storm. His mother and sister were frantically trying to get to his aid and were tossed about by the wind but happily escaped injury.
"The storm passed east from this point, demolishing stables, cribs and outbuildings at Kirby McGrew's, destroying part of the Bartholomew house, occupied by Leslie Baker, then swinging a little south, it overturned John Dinnell's dwelling and razed Mike Saba's store.
"R. W. Hanna's home, north of Saba's store about two
blocks, a fine two-story dwelling, was totally destroyed -- smashed, I guess would express
(198) it about as well as any detailed description. Mr. Hanna, his wife, their son, and Mrs. Hanna's mother were in the house at the time and how they escaped unharmed is nothing less than a miracle. The building was picked up bodily, carried a few feet and literally crushed into kindling wood. The four people were right in the midst of the wreckage and yet escaped without a scratch.
"The Haas house north of Hanna's, occupied by Ed. McGuire, escaped destruction, but the barn, outbuildings, trees, etc., were swept away. Martin McGuire lost a horse, wagon. harness, etc.
"J. H. Schuyler's fine home, a little south and east of Hanna's, was perforated by flying timbers, racked and wrecked. Clothing which hung in a closet in the house was whisked out of the window and disappeared. The house is almost a total wreck. His stable was entirely blown away.
"Wm. Kester's house, just east of Schuyler's, was partially unroofed. His stables and cribs were carried away. The debris from these buildings was carried
of E. B. McKinney, east and a little north of Kester's, was the scene of
the greatest calamity. Both Mr. and Mrs. McKinney were in the house when
the storm struck it. The house was reduced to kindling wood -- Mrs.
McKinney was killed almost instantly. Mr. McKinney was carried up into the
air but escaped with slight injuries.
"Mrs. Geo. Dinnell's home, south of
McKinney's, was swept out of existence. Mrs. Dinnell and son Clifford were
carried away and up into the whirling mass of cloud and debris and thrown
to the earth close together. Mrs. Dinnell sustained bruises and cuts about
the head and body and is hurt internally. Clifford had his arm badly
lacerated and broken.
"Geo. Bell's livery barn was unroofed and
wagons and buggies were carried away and broken and twisted into all
conceivable shapes. One now wagon belonging to Frank Schuyler was found
away down the road east, with the wheels gone and the spindles twisted
The roof of Bell's residence, just across the
street from the barn, had a large chunk taken out of the center, the
damage looking as though it had resulted from something having been blown
"Mrs. Gring's residence, just east of
Bell's, was badly damaged by wreckage blowing through it.
"McGrew's old store building, occupied by J.
H. Schuyler as a pump house, was demolished. The Star store, used in part
as a store-house and part as a dwelling-house by Wm. Jeffries, was razed.
The family narrowly escaped death.
"North of McKinney's the wreckage of houses
lies westward. Here Mrs. Scribner's home was made into matchwood; the
house occupied by Mr. Wheeler and family shared the same fate. Mr. and
Mrs. Wheeler and three children were in the house at the time but escaped
without serious injury.
"Fred Woodworth's house (the Hoyt property),
a concrete house, was (199)
unroofed and wrecked, the windmill,
outbuildings trees, fences, etc., being entirely destroyed.
"H. C. Woodworth's barn was destroyed and
his team taken on an aerial trip. The horses were found near W. L.
McMullen's home, nearly a half mile southeast, unscratched.
"Mrs. Aken's dwelling was blown to
smithereens, as was also that of Mrs. Leeper, wherein Mrs. Leeper was
"I. W. McGrew's fine home is almost a wreck
although not torn up badly. Timbers were driven through it and it was
carried off the foundation and generally wrecked. McGrew's barn was
totally destroyed, buggies, harnesses, outbuildings, etc., went with the
general wreck to the southeast.
"D. E. Sawdey's place, next east of
McGrew's, was a scene of desolation. All his outbuildings, windmill, dray
wagon, harnesses, etc., were totally wiped out. His barn was destroyed,
the horses blown over the house into the field southward and there escaped
unhurt. The dwelling house was picked up, sent a short distance into the
air and jammed onto
the ground just off the foundation. It is almost a total wreck.
"R. L. Miller, who lives just east of Sawdey's, says the storm passed him on its first trip through, but after
cleaning up R. B. Miller's place (the Carson farm adjoining town on the
east), it swung back and completely wrecked his home--the two-story part
of his dwelling being lifted up and deposited wrong side up in the yard.
The family had seen the storm coming and had taken refuge in the cave.
Every bit of furniture in the house was broken to bits except a large
"R. B. Miller's place was hard hit and Mrs.
Miller and the children had a very narrow escape. Indeed it seems
incredible that they could have escaped injury in the mix-up that occurred
in the house. Barns, cribs, granaries, fences-everything on the place
except the dwelling house itself was entirely swept away--some of the
wreckage being carried south, part north. The dwelling was taken up, spun
around and jammed into the earth and foundation. Furniture, plaster,
debris from the storm, the lady and children, were mixed up
indiscriminately but yet the folks escaped unhurt. One horse and several
head of hogs were killed on this place. The storm passed southeast,
sweeping away grain stacks, wrecking cornfields--in places shucking the
corn and digging potatoes, crossing the Loup between H. T. Johns' and Ed
Brown's places and entering the hills where it wiped out Wayne Waldron's
farm house, barns, etc., and carried off his team. No further trace of the
tornado can be found.
"Will Post's new barn in the Harrison
addition was snatched out from among the dwellings roundabout, and
literally carried away. The only other damage done was the upsetting of
Mr. Bilderback's house which was under course of construction."
"A relief committee, composed of L. B. Fenner, John Brockus, Guy Laverty, A. Mitchell. and Fred J. Grunkemeyer,
was appointed by a mass meeting of the citizens of Burwell Saturday
afternoon to solicit funds and (200)
look after the unfortunate
victims of the tornado. The meeting was called by W. C. Johns, chairman of
the village board. Contributions are coming in nicely but a great deal
more cash can be used and contributions of clothing, etc., would not come
"The cornice of the Burwell State Bank
building was wrecked.
"Windmills, cribs, etc., at Cram's
stockyards were demolished.
"The front of Janes & Sons' store was
blown in, as was part of the front of Johns & Mitchell's.
"One of the city's windmills went through
the window of Baker's barber shop.
Nearly everybody in town lost a chimney or two.
"The front of Murphy's saloon went out.
"Arlo McGrew hung to a fencepost between the
barn and the house until the storm had spent its fury. The ground around
him was covered with timbers, but he escaped injury.
"Charley Rupel lost a valuable cow in the
"One would bet money to marbles that a
rabbit couldn't have escaped from where the Hanna family did without
"Mr. Costello's house was insured for $600.
"The only cyclone insurance carried by any
of the losers was $300 by Mrs. Scribner, $1,400 by J. H. Schuyler and $750
by Mr. Carson.
"Mike Saba, John Dinnell and J. H. Schuyler,
and Rev. E. Maleng, who were in Saba's store when it went up, had
miraculous escapes. Mike found himself hung to a telephone pole near the
Star store, Jerry flew out and grabbed a pole, John went out and up,
landed and was knocked down by timbers several times. The preacher
remained in the building until help arrived. All escaped without serious
"A potted plant stood between McKinney's
house and the gate, a distance of not over five feet from the house. It
"Mrs. Ed McGuire's canary bird was hanging
in a cage on the porch and was carried away. The cage was found Saturday
about half a mile away but no canary. Sunday morning the canary returned
to the house and is now installed in a new cage.
"A part of a wooden hoop from a barrel was
driven through a tree in I. W. McGrew's yard.
Half of M. McGuire's potato patch was dug by the tornado.
"It is a difficult matter to estimate the
property loss. Many of the minor losses are not recorded. Following is a
partial list. The loss will total more than $50,000: Table on pages 200
|Schuyler, J. H.
|Dinnell, Mrs. Geo
|Dinnell, John (201)
|McGrew, I. W.
|Miller, R. L.
|Miller, R. B.
|Bell, G. W.
|Woodworth, H. C.
|Beatrice Creamery Co., notes,
cream cans, etc.
|Beauchamp, Ross, corn