Barber county experienced the worst storm in its history last Saturday evening, May 7th, when a tornado and cyclone swept across the county, leaving a trail of death, desolation and destruction in its wake.
After a close sultry day, the storm took form in the southwestern part of the county and between the hours of five o'clock and eight o'clock had torn its way across the county, missing Medicine Lodge by only a quarter of a half mile, and making an almost complete circle around the town.
No matter how one describes the aftermath of the storm or its effect, it must be remembered that it is still worse than any words can express. With fiendish design, it seemed, it swooped down on farm houses, tearing them into splinters and scattering the timbers from the farm barns and outbuildings, granaries, sheds, corrals and fences over miles of territory.
Great trees, and small shrubs were torn from the ground, broken off, twisted off, uprooted, the bark peeled from the trunks of the trees, until today they stand like some bleak, whitened, old stumps that had died many years ago, instead of being a mute reminder of a prized tree in full leaf only a few days ago.
Three people were killed near Medicine Lodge: Mr. and Mrs. Guy Sayres at their home about three miles southeast of town, and Frank Coffman, at his home about two miles north of town.
A large number of people narrowly escaped with their lives and the miracle of the thing is that no more people were killed than those three. Although it is explained by the fact that the great majority of them took refuge in storm caves.
A great number of people watched the storm at it approached Medicine Lodge and the warning was given and scores of them sought places of safety before the storm reached the outskirts of the city.
These eyewitnesses describe the storm as being one huge mass of boiling clouds that traveled with a deliberate purpose of wrecking its vengeance on whatsoever and whomsoever it might destroy. At times the storm cloud would assume the shape of a funnel and as the tip of the funnel would touch the ground, little was left in the way of man-made improvements.
With a roar that could be heard for miles the storm gave warning of its approach and a threat of its fury and its fury was such that it could not have been equaled by tens of thousands of unleashed demons gone mad.
Barber county this week, in the vicinity of the path of this monster, presents a scene of wreckage, which probably could only have found its equal in the devastated war fields of France a few years ago. Well tilled fields are covered with splinters, and boards and timbers, and pieces of farm machinery, twisted and bent and broken. Fences are strewn across the roads and across the fields and wires are hanging from trees, and fence posts that are not broken off have pieces of wire and tin wrapped around them. Bits of town clothing may be found in trees and along the path of the twister. Huge masses of wire, machinery and timbers have been rolled and matted together and sent hurtling across the fields and pastures. Automobiles have been more completely wrecked than a salvage concern could have done, and the pieces scattered to the four points of the compass. Granaries filled with grain have been demolished and the grain sowed over the farms. Pieces of furniture and household equipment maybe found almost everywhere. Posts and sticks and heavy timbers and pieces of machinery have been driven far into the ground to such a depth that it is difficult to remove them. Horses and cattle and hogs and chickens and turkeys and geese were found hundreds of yards and sometimes miles from the nearest farm home, with every bone broken and the larger animals with their heads driven into their bodies. Or pieces of bodies of horses may be found with a head or leg gone, or some animal may be found lodged in the fork of a tree in some canyon.
Such was the strength of the wind that great holes were torn into the sod, to the depth of a foot and twenty feet long by ten to twenty feed wide. No living thing in its path, especially southwest of town, could have lived if it had been above ground. Wheat was pulled up; small pliant willow limbs were stripped of their leaves and bark and twisted off.
So barren is the path of the storm varying in width from a hundred yards to a mile or more, and so utterly ruthless was the storm's destruction, that a feeling of depression seemed to settle over the town and county that could not be shaken off. Everyone has felt the spirit of the storm king's fury to such an extent that there seems to be a hushed air prevailing and small knots of men gather about the streets telling of some freakish thing done here or done there, and wondering why and endeavoring to find encouragement to go on and begin over again.
It was a catastrophe to the county that will take years to overcome.
While the rain that preceded and followed the storm was heavy, still heavier rains have come before, and no damage of any extent was done by what little hail fell.
People in Medicine Lodge who watched the storm approach felt sure it was going to hit the main business center of town, and if it had done so, the loss of life would undoubtedly have been appalling, and the people of this city have just cause to give thanks for their narrow escape.
A PARTIAL LIST OF THE DAMAGE
CAUSED BY THE STORM IN BARBER COUNTY
The Loss Suffered in Barber County is Appalling
and no Complete Account of the Damage
Can be Made At This Time -
There Are Others Besides Those Listed Below.
It is practically impossible to give a complete and detailed description of the damage done, so what may be omitted in the following account is not done intentionally but because of a lack of knowledge of what actually did happen. The editor of the Index made as complete a survey of the stricken territory as he possibly could and frankly admits that it is impossible to give a complete list of all damage done.
Beginning over in the southwest part of the county in the vicinity of Aetna and the Roy Platt ranch was hit along about five o'clock Saturday afternoon. The storm there wiped the farm buildings off the map. Three sets of improvements were destroyed, and all their contents. Stock killed included 100 hogs, 20 cattle that he knows of and possibly more when he makes a check, and 26 more horses.
The farm home of Gaylord Wells southwest of Aetna was completely swept away, but no people were injured.
Some damage was done in Comanche county; the ranch homes of McMoran and Jackson suffering some damages. However southwest Barber county seemed to receive the brunt of the storm.
Another storm struck on the Holmes ranch about twenty miles southwest of Medicine Lodge, where Moddy McCullough lives. Considerable damage was done there, the house badly wrecked and contents damaged and 7 head of horses killed. Mr. McCullough took his family and in a truck drove to where Jack Imel lives, where they took refuge in a cave. The storm next hit the Imel place and cleaned all buildings off the place, also destroying the McCullough truck, and destroying all the Imel's property and household goods.
Then it swept a little to the northwest where it hit the ranch buildings of U. L. Thompson, wrecking them and scattering the timbers over the pastures to the north. Mr. Thompson does not know at this time what his loss in livestock will be, but it will be extremely heavy. Leaving the ranch buildings it veered back again a little to the east in its march to the north. In the Thompson pasture heavily sodded with buffalo grass and native grasses, great holes were literally torn in the ground, the two largest being a foot in depth and some thirty feet long and twenty feet wide. The sod gives some idea of the tremendous pressure exerted by the wind.
Continuing on north the storm followed the section line, taking the church building of the Union Chapel, not leaving a single plank and even tearing a portion of the foundation out.
Continuing a due north course along the section line the twister next hit the place where W. A. Miller lives. Great cottonwood trees here were broken like splinters, the house leveled and partially carried away, the farm buildings all destroyed and all of Mr. Miller's stock killed, and his truck ruined. Mr. Miller has lost practically everything he had. The flooring on a bridge just in front of his house was also blown away.
The storm next hit the Mrs. Jones Angel place a mile due north where it continued its destruction of farm property. The family escaped by going to the cave. The house was blown away as were the farm buildings. Mrs. Arthur Angell and two children and three of her nieces were at home and reached the cave barely in time. Mrs. Angell lost several head of horses and some cattle, but most of her stock were in the pasture to the west and thus escaped. Mrs. Angell's loss is heavy. The ground just east of the house is swept clean of all debris.
Across the road from the Angell place the storm took its toll on the G. E. Alexander ranch, destroying three sets of farm improvements, a large barn, farm machinery of all kinds, groves of trees and a fine peach orchard. Mr. and Mrs. Walter Friend were living on the ranch and escaped by going to the cave, but lost all of their clothing. Mr. Alexander had a fine herd of prize brood sows and lost 19 of them, and also a cow and a calf. A five ton Holt caterpillar tractor was turned over and over and rolled for a hundred feet or more. The place is swept clean of everything only the heavier pieces of machinery remaining. All that is left of the peach orchard is a number of stumps about two or three feet high peeled of their bark.
The school house north of the Alexander place is blown completely away, not even a single board can be seen around the spot.
Continuing on north the next place hit was the Lytle farm on the west side of the road. Mrs. Lytle and her son had just reached home from Medicine Lodge when they saw the storm coming and Harry, watching the storm swooping down upon them, urged his mother to hurry to the storm cave. She was changing her clothes and had time only to throw an old cloak around her. They have lost practically everything. A big threshing machine is gone, the front wheels of a tractor are torn off and carried away, the barn and all out buildings have been swept away. Only the foundation of the house remains. A new Pontiac landau was riddled and pieces of the car may be found miles away, part of a wheel here, a gear there, a piece of the body over there, a part of the chassis back there, and so on. A combine was torn all to pieces and they scattered over the miles to the north and east. The teeth from the combine concaves from both the Alexander and Lytle ranches may be found scattered over the pastures or driven with such force into trees that a dozen men could not pull them out. A huge mass of twisted and matted wire some twenty feet high and thirty or more feet long and fifteen to twenty feet thick lies in the pasture to the east of the Lytle place. This evidently came from the places to the south. In the mass of wire are pieces of farm machinery and timbers. Mr. Lytle lost 16 head of horses, 8 head of cattle and 10 head of hogs, and possibly more when a complete check is made. The dead livestock were carried a half mile and some farther, one horse being found almost two miles to the north and another horse in the forks of a tree a mile northeast of the place. The animals are crushed and broken and their bodies driven into the ground, their heads cut off, legs are gone, their bodies telescoped and punctured with innumerable holes where pieces of flying timbers have hit them. They present a most gruesome sight.
The grass in the path of the storm from the Thompson place north to the Lytle place gives the appearance of having been burnt. The very ground gives the appearance of having the life beaten out of it, the wheat along the path of the storm has been pulled out of the ground. The country in this neighborhood suffered the worst in the entire county, for the force of the wind out there must have been something awful. The other places are bad enough, goodness knows, but the country out southwest is as bad as the rest and then a great deal worse. Farms that have been built up during the last twenty-five years are bare of all improvements and it will take a life-time to get them back again to where they were.
From the Lytle place the storm seemed to take a northeastward course, crossing the range of the gyp hills, which probably deflected it somewhat and its next act of destruction was nearer town in the neighborhood of the Ash and Goddard places. These places are the only ones not visited by the writer, but Mr. Amos Ash informs us that his place was pretty badly damaged, the house and the barns, and some stock killed and injured; but his loss is not quite so heavy as the others. The Goddard places were the next hit and they likewise suffered severe losses, five horses being killed and the farm buildings wrecked. They all escaped by getting into their storm caves. The roof was torn from the new stucco house of Orin Ash and the contents of the home practically ruined.
The storm kept its eastward course until it hit the home of L. B. Kinkaid, where the house and all farm buildings were razed. The family took refuge in a storm cave under a smokehouse, and this little outbuilding was the only one not blown over or away. All their furniture and clothing is ruined, with very few exceptions. The path of the storm here was almost two miles wide.
A mile or so south of the Kinkaid home the big two story house of Ed Duncan was moved off its foundation and turned partially around, and other damage done to other buildings.
Between the Duncan and Kinkaid homes, but a little more to the east is the farm home of Mrs. A. Lawrence, a cement block house, which was blown down and broken up and all furniture and clothing destroyed. Mrs. Lawrence escaped by going to the cave.
East of the Kincaid home, and about three miles south of town on the Kiowa road, the school house was blown away, and all that is left is a quantity of kindling wood scattered over the fields to the north. A half mile north of the school house the ranch house where Mr. Ramsey lives was badly damaged and the north side of the roof completely blown off and the south side partially taken off. This place is on the old Skinner and Tincher ranch. The other set of improvements a mile west of the road is also gone, a clean sweep being made there.
North of the Ramsey home and across the road, the farm home of Noah Thomas was badly wrecked, the roof taken off the sides of the house damaged and the farm buildings practically ruined. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas were in their cave. The people of the M. E. Church went to the place Tuesday and helped Mr. Thomas reshingle his house.
Further north of the Thomas place, probably a little over a half mile, is where the Kiowa road crosses the Medicine River; here one of the freaks of the storm occurred when the big steel bridge across the river was blown off and carried down the river a hundred yards. The main path of the storm here seemed to center in the river bottom, reaching north to the L. D. Adamson place only a mile south of town.
Mr. Adamson's place is a complete wreck. He has lost almost all of his things, furniture, clothing for the entire family, a number of livestock, farm implements, autos. The family escaped by going into a cave. The big trees around the house are but big poles now.
The storm seemed to begin its circle around Medicine Lodge at the W. W. Wilma place, and south of the river where it hit the farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Guy Sayres, both of whom were killed. Rescue parties searched for them until about one o'clock Sunday morning before they were found. They were evidently in the house at the time preparing for the evening meal, for it is said that Mrs. Sayres was grasping the handle of a skillet when she was found. Their bodies were bruised and mangled almost beyond recognition, stripped of all clothing, plastered with mud and almost every bone in their bodies broken. The storm had carried him farther than it had Mrs. Sayres. She was found first, lying face downward in the lister ridge, half buried with mud, her back broken and limbs doubled back over her head. Mr. Sayres was found some distance farther away, his body lying in a grove of trees across a small canyon. A double funeral was held Tuesday afternoon at the Christian church of which both were members and burial was made in one grave in Highland cemetery.
At the Williams place about two miles south of town the farm buildings are all destroyed, but the house is almost intact, although one addition is blown off its foundation. The direction of the wind here, according to the way the timbers and trees are laying, was almost due north, showing that the twister was starting its circle of the town and beginning its fiendish march up the valley of Elm Creek.
At the John Holser place east of The Williams place the farm buildings were blown away and considerable other damage done. The family escaped by taking refuge in the cave. The garage was blown from over their auto. After the storm had passed they came to town. Their house is all that is left. To the south is the Biggs Brothers ranch, where the farm buildings were badly wrecked.
Along the old line of railroad that formerly ran from Medicine Lodge to Kiowa, the Santa Fe had stored 216 box cars, waiting the call for harvest to handle the wheat. These cars were the next victims to the storm, which toppled over 175 of them, reducing 75 of them to kindling wood, and rolling several a quarter of a mile. The Santa Fe officials made a check of them Sunday and kept a crew of men working all day Sunday clearing the main line to Attica and repairing the telegraph wires. Communication was established Sunday afternoon. The Santa Fe's loss will run into the thousands of dollars.
Continuing on north the next place the twister struck was the home of Elmer Thomas, a mile east and a half mile south of town. House and all farm buildings gone, furniture and clothing ruined. Family took refuge in a cave. Storm took the porch first and then seemed to come back and take the house. Loss very heavy. Small sticks were driven through the trees. Some cows killed and almost 500 chickens.
The home of Geo. Horney across the road from Elmer Thomas home was wrecked, but not blown away. The inside and furniture of the house was damaged by wind and rain.
O. W. Vanderwork home was wrecked, furniture and clothing badly damaged. New Ford coupe wrecked. Mr. and Mrs. Vanderwork saved themselves by holding onto mailbox post in front of home and laying on ground until after storm was over.
Home of Deb Shell, north of the Vanderwork home, badly damaged, barn wrecked. Family took refuge in cave. Big cottonwood trees all around these places were broken off or uprooted. The top was torn from Shell's car and his stock was cut up badly but none killed.
Home of Wm. Palmer, just east of town damaged. Yard filled with uprooted or broken trees. Out buildings destroyed. Family went to basement. The big house was damaged with roof partly blown off, but how it escaped complete wrecking is one of the mysteries of the storm.
The Krengle home just east of town was destroyed. Mr. Krengle lives alone, but all his household goods badly damaged. Farm equipment ruined. On top of remains of the house were left a stock tank and some fence wire.
The John Fussel home east of town on the Sharon road was completely blown away, leaving only a few pieces of boards. All their furniture and clothing was destroyed. They saw the storm coming and left the house in an effort to reach a canyon to the north, but then decided the storm was coming from the north and endeavored to go to the east to the Barnard place. The storm overtook them so they lay down in the lister rows. Mr. Fussel tried to cover the family with quilts. The sixteen year old daughter had the little year old baby girl and in order to protect the child placed the infant under her own body. Both were picked up by the storm and carried a quarter of a mile. Their flesh was badly beaten and bruised and all clothing stripped from their bodies. Their backs were driven full of sand, gravel, grass, sand burs and mud and their faces and heads coated with mud. The young woman then walked with her little sister to the Barnard home where Mrs. Barnard ministered unto her and gave her first aid treatment. The baby was not expected to live but at latest reports the little girl is making satisfactory recovery. The family were brought to town and all members are being cared for by the local chapter of the Red Cross. How anyone of them escaped with their lives is another of the mysteries of the storm. They have lost everything they had.
The storm reached out a long arm and took the roof from the farm house on the Skinner farm east of town where Elmos Gant lives. Other buildings about the place were also badly damaged.
The storm seemed to center next at the home of Mrs. Swartz, about a mile and a half north-east of town. Her home was completely wrecked, all furniture and clothing ruined. Farm machinery and auto wrecked and broken and scattered. Big cement silo broken up into big pieces and leveled. All farm buildings razed. Five or six cows killed and practically all poultry killed. A chair rung was driven through the refrigerator. The floor was not damaged but the walls of the house are a mass of ruins. The family escaped by going into he cave but had some difficulty in gaining their freedom as the cave was covered with the wreckage from the house.
Home of Harry Stevens on the Isabel road, a half mile east of the Swartz place, blown away, with only the floor left. All furniture and clothing gone. All the barns and outbuildings gone. Mr. Stevens and his sister, Mrs. Gibson were in the house when the storm hit. Mrs. Gibson was injured severely and was brought to town where she was cared for by Mrs. Luallen. She is getting along all right at this time, her greatest injury being in her foot. Mr. Stevens was also cut and bruised about his head, but is able to be up and around, attending to his business.
At the Nirshl home on the Isabel road, a half mile north of the Stevens farm, the big two story house was completely demolished. All furniture and clothing ruined or blown away. Farm machinery scattered over the farm and broken up. Top of barn blown off and all the rest of the farm buildings and sheds razed. A traveling man had stopped for shelter as had Mrs. John Angel and her son Arthur, and warned the Nirshl family of the approaching storm. They then took refuge in the storm cave and were not injured although their automobiles were wrecked.
The force of the storm at both the Stevens and Nirshl homes seemed to be toward the Swartz place to the west, judging from the way the wreckage is strewn over the ground.
The twister then continued on its way up the Elm Creek valley to the Coffman home, and there the force of the storm seemed to be from the northwest, as all the trees are laying toward the southeast.
The Coffman home is of brick and when the storm hit Mr. Coffman and his son Frank left the house by the east door in an effort to reach the storm cave. Just as they stepped off the porch the roof of the house was blown off and a portion of the brick wall was torn loose and fell on the two men, burying them and killing Frank almost instantly. Mr. Coffman released himself from the pile of brick and after caring for the body of his son went to the Warren home a half mile north and helped to find the children and moved them to his home where they were given first aid. The big cottonwood trees around the Coffman home are all broken off or uprooted. One cow was killed and a horse injured.
At the Warren home Mrs. Warren and children were at home when the storm struck and by some peculiar stroke of good fortune none were killed, although the house was completely wrecked. It was rolled off its foundation and down the hill and torn to bits. Mrs. Warren received severe wounds on the limbs and feet but was able to help the children to safety. Some of the children were stripped of all clothing. Mrs. Warren was brought to town and is at the home of her brother, where she is receiving medical attention. Some of the children were cut and bruised. The family clothing and household furniture was ruined. Searching parties went out to the Warren home from town and found the children after some time, scattered over the place some distance from the house and each other. It is another mystery of the storm how any of them escaped with their lives.
At the Fred Moomau home just east of the Warren home, the house is a complete wreck, the furniture and clothing all ruined. The floor of the house is all that remains. The barn and all outbuildings are absolutely wrecked. The family was in the house again it seems impossible that anyone could have escaped with their lives. Mr. and Mrs. Moomau and little daughter were cut and bruised considerably but not seriously. The Elm Creek bottom here is a woeful sight, strewn with fallen, broken and uprooted trees. All through the groves of trees can be found lumber from houses, timbers from barns, galvanized iron sheeting, clothing and bedding, pieces of furniture and farm implements.
With a last act of destructive tactics the twister left the Warren and Moomau places and hit a mighty blow on the Grand View school house northwest of town about three miles on the Sawyer road. The roof of the school house was crushed down and the side walls flattened and the loose boards carried off into the fields in a southwestern direction. The schoolhouse looks as if some mighty monster had hit it a blow as it passed with a sledge hammer.
From the school house the storm left no further trace in this immediate vicinity, but the course of the monster of the storms as outline above shows that it almost circled the town. Although it did reach down a finger or two and snatch off the roof of the Strickland Garage, flip off some of the slate shingles from the court house and the grade school building. Other fingers of the demon broke countless maple trees and elms and locust trees in the city or uprooted them, and hurled them across telephone and electric light wires, plunging the city into darkness and cutting off all communication with the outside world.
Tornado plays Havoc at the Platt Ranch, The Western Star, May 13, 1927.
The Tornado of May 7, 1927, As Told by Florence Mills Wells, An eyewitness account, transcribed by her grand-daughter, Peggy Wilson Newsome.
Eyewitness Account of the tornado at the Platt Ranch by Mike Platt, published in The Hardtner Community News, Issue No. 90, Sept. 4, 2003.
Other accounts of the tornado, references courtesy of Phyllis Scherich:
Medicine Lodge, The Story of a Kansas frontier town by Nellie Snyder Yost with Introduction by Don Russell, published by Sage Books, The Swallow Press, Inc., 1139 S Wabash Ave, Chicago ILL 60605. Copyright 1970 by Nellie Snyder Yost.
Eyewitness Account of the tornado at the Platt Ranch by Mike Platt, published in The Hardtner Community News, Issue No. 90, Sept. 4, 2003.
"MAY 7, 1927 TORNADO:
This tornado ranged from one-half to two miles wide and was on the ground for nearly 100 miles. It traveled from Barber County through Kingman and Reno counties before dissipating in McPherson County. There were 10 people killed and 300 were injured. This tornado may have caused more injuries than any other single tornado in our county warning area."
-- TOP TEN WEATHER EVENTS OF THE 20TH CENTURY FOR CENTRAL, SOUTH CENTRAL, AND SOUTHEAST KANSAS IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER, The National Weather Service.
Another tornado which hit Barber County, Kansas:
Twister Wrecks Buildings
The Hardner Press, April 21, 1927.
Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site! She noted the variant spellings used in the news article, as follows: Angel and Angell; Kinkaid and Kincaid; Stevents and Stevens; Willms and Williams.
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