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Marshfield, Missouri Tornado

April 18, 1880

THE TORNADO.

Marshfield, Mo., Leveled by a Hurricane.

The Debris Immediately Takes Fire in Several Places.

Eighty Dead Bodies Taken Out and Many More in the Ruins

Two Hundred People Wounded and No Physicians Left to Attend Them

Relief Trains With Doctors, Nurses and Supplies Sent From Neighboring Towns

A TERRIBLE DISASTER.

St. Louis, April 19. – Reports have been received that nearly the whole town of Marshfield, Mo., was blown down by a terrific wind storm last evening and then burned, resulting in frightful loss of life. Telegraph wires are all down and nothing direct from the seat of the calamity can be obtained.

LATER – From passengers who passed through Marshfield on the St. Louis & San Francisco railroad at 8:30 o’clock last night, a few facts concerning the terrible disaster are gleaned. A man who came to the depot at the edge of the town while the train was there, reported that at 6:30 o’clock a furious hurricane struck the place and leveled all that part of the town lying west of Centre square flat to the ground. The debris immediately took fire in several places and the flames could be seen at some half dozen points by passengers on the train.

FORTY DEAD BODIES
Had been taken out and many more were supposed to be buried in the ruins or burned up. There were also many living still imprisoned in the debris of fallen buildings. All the physicians of the town were killed, excepting two, and there was great need of doctors to attend the wounded of whom it was said there were some 200. A relief train with twenty physicians and nurses and full supplies left Springfield, Mo., this morning, for Marshfield. Probably other trains will arrive during the day.
The storm was general in southeastern Missouri, and other places probably suffered damage, but as the telegraph wires are all prostrated no advices have been received. A violent hail and rain accompanied the wind.

St. Louis, April 19. – A telegram from Springfield, via Vinita and Kansas City, to C. W. Rogers, general manager of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad says a hurricane passed a few miles south of Springfield at about 7 o’clock last night, doing an immense amount of damage and

KILLING A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE.
Fifty deaths are reported on the James river, six miles south of Springfield, and a great many are missing. A train dispatcher of Conwry, fourteen miles this side of Marshfield, reports arriving there from Springfield at 11 o’clock and says he found a terrible looking country. From Northview seven miles west of Marshfield, to the latter point trees three feet through are torn entirely out of the ground, telegraph poles twisted off and everything wrecked. The town of

MARSHFIELD IS DEMOLISHED
brick as well as frame buildings being torn down. We did not see more than half a dozen people as we came through that town. The place seemed deserted. The doctors and nurses who came on our train from Springfield, about twenty in number, went from the depot alone to hunt up the people, there being no one at the depot to receive them. We sent a relief train from Lebanon to Marshfield at daylight this morning with about fifty doctors, nurses and helpers and full supplies of provisions clothing and medicine stores; also material for repairing the telegraph line. The line is down at different points between Springfield and Conway, perhaps ten miles altogether. A new Catholic church at Cuba: ninety miles from here, was blown down. No damage was done the railroad except the destruction of one small section house.
The names of the killed and wounded at Marshfield have not been received yet, telegraphic communication not being restored at this writing. There are also reports that the

CITY OF GRANTBY [sic]
about one hundred miles southwest of Springfield, was greatly damaged, and that Warrenburg, non the Missouri & Pacific, sixty-five miles this side of Kansas City, was badly injured, but the reports are not verified.

St. Louis, April 19. – A special to the Post Despatch [sic] says: The tornado which caused such frightful havoc at Marshfield last night passed entirely through Green and Webster counties, following the course of the James river in a northwesterly direction. It struck the St. Louis and San Francisco railroad in four places, and left it near Frank’s station, 110 miles this side of Marshfield. The latter place presents

A TERRIBLE APPEARANCE,
there not being more than a dozen housed unharmed in the entire town. The court house and many other buildings took fire, and the scene and effect were of a dreadful character. At one house two children were found dead, and another badly mangled but still alive. The parents could not be found. In another case a woman lost entirely and seemed to have been carried away bodily.

No details of the calamity are yet received. The force of the wind stripped bark from the trees and lifted others entirely out of the ground, and telegraph poles and wires were carried hundreds of rods into the woods, and tied and knotted among the trees, like cotton strings. Everything possible is being done to assist and succor

THE WOUNDED
not only at Marshfield, but at other places. Physicians throughout the country are flocking to the point of the most injured, and are doing all they can to alleviate the suffering. Doctors went from Springfield to the James river country, six miles south, as well as to Marshfield, and scores of kind hearted people have volunteered as nurses.

Captain Rogers, general manager of the St. Louis and San Francisco railroad, is sending special trains with relief wherever any good can be done, and all are doing everything possible to aid the injured and dying.

Last nights storm did no serious damage in this city but caused a general shaking up.
Many farmer’s families have been destroyed and not yet reported. Seven of the wounded on the James river died this afternoon, five at Marshfield. At the latter place

ALL IS CONFUSION
and the people in such an excited state that it is almost impossible to get an intelligible report. Many families are homeless and have taken refuge in the depot and empty cars standing at the station. The court house is still standing and has been converted into a morgue. The school building is used for an hospital. Up to 7 p. m., they have a death list of 78 and a prospect of increasing it before morning. Many are yet missing and a number of people have been buried of whom no record is kept. It is impossible to get a

LIST OF THE DEAD
but the following are the names of some prominent persons and their families who were discovered early in the day: MRS JUDGE FYEN, DAN WRIGHT AND WIFE REV. E. CONDO, MATILDA WIDENMEYER, FRED. WIDENMEYER, HENRY BALLINGER, J. M. LEEDS, WIFE AND TWO CHILDREN, Sheriff JOHNSON’S WIFE CHILD OF J. L. RUSH, MRS. TODD, DR. BRADFORD, SIDNEY BRADFORD, MARY RAY and CHILD, MRS. CHAS. HOLLEY and CHILD. MRS MALINDA POTTER, MRS FLORENCE MOORE, HUGH KELSO, Eightyfive of the wounded are in the school house, among whom are the following seriously injured: ADDIE WIDEMEYER, MRS E CONDO, JAMES M. HICKS, MRS. DODGE, FOUR CHILDREN OF MRS F. MOORE, F. N. MOORE, FANNIE RUSH, BERTIE RUSH, MRS J. L. RUSH, NATHAN SMITH, SAM’L CRISMEN, wife and six children, and C. C. SMITH. This list includes the most serious cases and many of them will die.

A great many colored people are killed, but no list of them has been prepared.

ONLY FOURTEEN BUILDINGS
are left standing, and there is not a house in town but is more or less injured. A number of citizens from Lebanon and Springfield are ding all they can to relieve the suffering. A car load of provisions were sent from Springfield to-day, and contributions are coming from all the towns along the line of road.

TELEGRAPH COMMUNICATIONS
with Marshfield is restored to-night, but only one wire is working and the prospects of getting full details of the ravages of the storm are very poor.

Captain C. W. Rogers, general manager of the St. Louis and San Francisco railroad, just received the following from D. H. Nicols, assistant superintendent: “Advices are coming in constantly from different parts of the country showing many killed or injured in remote districts.”

A child was found at Marshfield lodged in the crotch of a tree thirty feet above the ground, and but slightly hurt.

Four hundred dollars was raised to-day at Rolla for the sufferers at Marshfield, and twelve doctors and nurses left here for that place to-night.

AT GRAY’S CREEK,
four miles from Jefferson City, seven houses were demolished and several of the inmates injured. A log house was blown into a deep cut on the Missouri Pacific railroad at this point, and the passenger train from the west ran into it, ditching the engine, and severely wounding the engineer, James McCourt, and James Murphy, the fireman.

THE NEWS FROM MARSHFIELD.
MARSHFIELD, April 19.
--- This town and county were visited by one of the most destructive cyclones on record, last evening. After passing through several miles of country in Christian, Green and Webster counties, destroying everything in its pathway, leveling houses, barns, mills and timber. It struck this town about 6:30 o’clock. Eye witnesses of

THE APPROACHING STORM
say it was a frightful looking black cloud lined with fleecy white funnel shaped clouds and moving in the manner of a screw propellor [sic]. It moved with wonderful velocity, literally destroying and blowing everthing [sic] in its path which was about half a mile wide at this point. Large sized trees were twisted off, telegraph wires snapped, and the bark was literally pelled [sic] from small trees. House [sic] were blown from their foundations, cattle, hogs, sheep, horses and poultry were whirled into the air and carried a great distance. The noise of the storm, the crash of falling houses and the cries and screams of the terrified people made

A SCENE OF HORROR
that beggars description. What was a beautiful, peaceful, quiet town of 800 people 24 hours ago is now a waste of devastation. Out of 200 dwelling houses not more than 20 are left standing, and but few of the remaining are uninjured. Of the business houses around the public square, all but three are utterly demolished and their contents blown away, burned or badly damaged.

About three o’clock, a freight train from Springfield brought about 300 people with provisions and medicine for the sufferers. As rapidly as the bodies of the dead and wounded could be extricated from the ruins there were prepared for interment. The wounded were conveyed to the only available structure left standing – the public school building, which was not badly damaged. It was turned into a hospital. There are now 50 wounded in the building under the care of noble women from Lebanon and Springfield, who are doing all in their power to alleviate the suffering of those under their care.

THE LOSS
by this terrible calamity is estimated at $350,000 to [illegible]. Every house in the place is in ruins and the stocks all destroyed except two. Of 800 inhabitants of Marshfield, who yesterday had happy, comfortable homes, seven [illegible] eight are without homes, clothing, food, or means to procure them. The destitution and suffering is terribly [sic]. A great many bodies are lying in the court house.

OF THE TOTAL KILLED
which is not far short of a hundred, not more than a dozen have been burned. Nothing like a complete list of the killed and wounded can be obtained to-night.
Marshfield is the county seat of Webster county, 215 miles from St. Louis; situated on the plateau of the Ozark mountains, but not of great altitude or particularly exposed.

The following names of the killed, added to those already telegraphed will make so complete a list as has yet been made up: WM DOSS, LUCINDA GOODALL, N. SMITH, JULIA STARR (colored). FANNIE JOHNSON (colored), ANN WOODS (colored), MRS. UNDERWOOD and INFANT, MRS. SHORT, MRS. A KING and INFANT, TWO EVANS CHILDREN, MINNIE SMITH, REBECCA SUTHERLIN, ALBERT SUTHERLIN.

The Dubuque Herald, Dubuque, IA 20 Apr 1880

Transcribed by William S. Napier  Thank you, Steve!

       

The following is the story of the “Marshfield Cyclone” as told by Mr. William Thompson Sutherlin, my gg grandfather. Martha is my g grandmother
Submitted by William S. Napier 

My home, before the cyclone, was north-east of the public square, and The house was built of heavy logs, with a frame kitchen built on the west side. My family numbered seven, viz: Myself and wife, Martha, our eldest daughter, Rebecca aged eight years, Cora, Lillie--a babe not yet one year old, and Mrs. Saunders, a hired woman. My wife had been very sick, and Dr. Bradford, our attending physician, had given her up to die. Believing that "while there was life there was hope," I had summoned other physicians, but with the same sad result; there was no hope.

Neighbors and friends had come and gone, on their last errand of duty and respect toward her. Sunday, April 18th, 1880 Mrs. Saunders had been out in the yard and came in with a very large hail-stone and handed it to me. I held it in my hand a few minutes, mentally comparing its size with others I had seen fall on the Plains, contemplating the possibility of a hail-storm containing hailstones of such large proportions descending on Marshfield. In such a case the roofs of houses would be completely riddled. I laid the hailstone down and my daughter Rebecca picked it up and ate it.

I stepped to the kitchen door to assure myself of the condition of the elements. For the first time I saw what appeared to be a large column of smoke as if arising from many burning buildings, but as it moved onward toward town, and there was no blaze distinguishable, I made up my mind it was fire impelled by a strong wind, and the blaze smothered by a heavy rain or hail-storm. I did not wish my wife to get an inkling of even a fire in town, so I returned to her bedside to allay any fears that might possibly arise. Mrs. Saunders said it was not fire, and I returned to the kitchen door, to look again on that distant cloud resembling smoke, thistime feeling convinced it was not fire, but thought it was a hail-storm, and if it kept the path it appeared to assume, it would barely miss our house.

I conjectured we were about to experience the hardest hail-storm that had ever passed through this country. I knew that log wall was impervious to the largest sized hailstones, and a standing position close against the south side of the house would insure our safety. My wife's condition prevented me from seeking shelter elsewhere, had I so desired. Again I took a position in the door and watched the cloud, and this time I could see it boiling, whirling and sucking up everything in its path. Before I could realize it was a cyclone, it was too late to take action. There were two blasts which struck my house. The first tore away the kitchen and smashed the windows in, scattering fire and ashes from the fireplace, throughout the room, and taking the roof off of the house. My wife wanted to get up and I assisted her to the side of the bed and started across the fireplace to get a bucket of water, my wife with unacountable agility, arose to her feet and caught hold of the foot of the bed, Mrs. Saunders jumped up to hold the door while Rebecca and Cora clung to their dresses.
They were all blown out in the yard east of the house, mangled in debris of the south and east walls. The arch of the fireplace was blown on my leg, and logs were blown across me, also around Martha and Lillie in such a manner as to protect them from flying timbers. My wife was blown on a pile of logs, with logs across her, above and below her knees. It took five men with fence posts to pry them off, and while the men were thus engaged, she told them to go to her children first, that she was not suffering much. Rebecca was found with a log under her; Cora was lying near her, with her leg across Rebecca's knee and a log across Cora's knee. Cora was not injured, whereas Rebecca was killed, and no visible signs of a death blow on her. Not one log of the house was left on another; but what was not blown away caught fire and was consumed. I was terror stricken to see the fire break out at the feet of my family and begged the assistance of many passers-by. Every one was so intent on searching for their own lost and stricken ones that they paid little heed to my entreaties.

Mr. Ad Shelby led my wife to the residence of Joseph Wisby, and my children were taken there also. The next day I started to find a wagon to convey them to the country and while on that errand parties came and took my wife to the hospital. My brother and I buried our dead children in one coffin, and one tombstone now marks the resting place of Albert and Rebecca. It is said, "Every cloud has a silvery lining." The cloud that took our home and dear little girl, snatched from the jaws of death, a wife and mother. From the moment the storm struck the house and she jumped to the foot of the bed, there was a magical transformation wrought. The shock sent new life and energy coursing through her veins; her will-power returned, and the strength we deemed artificial, never left her. The vital spark, instead of being extinguished, received new impetus, and to-day she is a living witness to the truth of what I write.

Visit Napiers of the Ozarks, William S. Napier's website on southern Missouri and family history.

       

Eyewitness Account of the Marshfield Tornado written by W. D. Chitty published in the May 1, 1930 issue of The Marshfield Mail, the April 1976 issue of the Webster County Historical Society Journal

       

Photos of the Marshfield Tornado from the History Museum for Springfield - Greene County

       

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