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The Tornado of May 7th, 1927.

As told by Florence Mills Wells

on 19 April 1986 and July 1993.

Transcribed and edited by her grand-daughter, Peggy Wilson Newsome,
August 31, 2006.


"My grandparents Vernon D. and Florence Mills Wells owned the ranch just west of Aetna. Their 'old' house was in the woods east of the Salt Fork and south of Mule Creek." -- Peggy Wilson Newsome.

This has been a long time ago now. It was the 7th day of May.

Marion and I were alone. At this time, Grandma (Livonia) Wells and Vernon took the car and had gone to Wilmore to shop for groceries. I had made a plain layer cake because this was Vernonís birthday, the 7th day of May. Though he was gone he would be back and we would have the cake sometime. I had finished the cake and was in the kitchen. I was tired and it was hot and dark and gloomy. I had taken off my shoes. I think, that if I remember right, that Marion was barefoot. She was a little girl, 3 years old.

Along in the afternoon, it rained and it hailed. It was dark, and dark in the house. The old front porch was just white with hailstones. Marion did so much want to get out and pick up some hailstones, but I didnít let her go out that front door.

All at once, I heard a pounding on the back door. As I opened the door, there stood the neighbor - he and his brother - the Webb brothers. Now this neighbor lived in a house, oh, maybe a half mile away on the Neal place. He and his family had come there to help with the farm work. There was a father and mother and young daughter maybe about 9 years old. So there stood one of the Webb brothers at the door, and he said, "Get out of here! Thereís a cyclone coming!" I grabbed Marion and helped her out the door and he said, "We must get in this cave." Then this man said something about going after his brother.

Marion and I rushed down the steps. I held her ahead of me and her old dog. Her old dog, now what was his name? - "Sheppy." He went down with us. He didnít want to be in the storm either, so he went down with us.

But before we went down - before we left the house - there was such a roaring, kept coming closer and closer. It was exactly like you were under a railroad bridge, if you ever were, and the train was rumbling over on top of you. It was a terrible roaring.

My girls remember this - the front yard was fenced and always had a gate. Right there inside stood a hackberry tree maybe 20 feet from the cave. As I went down into the cave, I could see the big old, old hackberry tree going upward out of the earth in all of this roar. I could see its roots. It was going up slowly and slowly. It was falling west. I knew it would fall across the house. But I didnít see it fall because I was already down.

The old cave had a wooden door. It slanted up. It was held by an iron handle and maybe a strap. The man came back and held the door down with all his strength. He said that his brother wouldnít come - that he was outside.

We leaned back against the cool walls of the old brick-lined cave where Grandma Wells had her shelves and her canned fruit and things and also kept the butter cold. So we stayed huddled there and I held Marion close to me. I donít know where the dog was, but he was in there. Of course, it was dark down there - the mother and the little girl were there and the little girl stood with her back against the wall and she just moaned and moaned. She was so frightened that all she could do was to moan. I stood there with Marion pressed against me and I prayed - I prayed but I didnít pray aloud that I remember of - but I prayed for (my sister) Sue and (Vernonís brother) Gaylord (Wells) and the children and my father (Dwight Perry Mills), who were up at the Seaman place and were closer in the wind than we were, and for Vernon and his mother.

I canít remember how long we were down there. I think we must have been down there until the awful noise stopped. We finally all went out.

The Webb brother who wouldnít come down in the cave hung to this tree all through it. It was this young hackberry close to the front gate. He hung there for dear life while it went over. I guess then they went back over to the place where they lived to see if they had a house there.

As we came up out to see things, there lay the big old wonderful shady big old hackberry tree. It had blown to the west. It had crashed over on the old porch that we called the front porch and mashed it all and broke the limbs. Oh, it had a huge trunk and we had to go out around it because the top with the branches had fallen across the old front porch. The old house stood - it looked to me just like it had, but it was some damaged. Of course, you couldnít go in the front door because the tree was there. I thought of my old hen and her chicks up north in a big coop. We went on around the old hackberry tree and out the front and up the road toward the old garage to where the hen coop was. It was gone. As we walked up the road - because we thought Vernon and Grandma might be coming in the car - there at the side of the road was my big old chicken coop. It was a large coop. I had my hen and her little chicks. I knew that it was gone and I knew that she was dead and all her chicks. As we walked up, why, I heard little peeping noises and I heard the mother hen and, why, there she was with all her babies. So it had lifted the coop up and left her and the chicks safe.

I looked around at things. Of course, everything was scattered. Limbs broken and trees broken. It seemed like the old barn didnít look too bad. We just stood there in the road and here came Vernon, walking. Of course, we ran to him and were in each otherís arms safe and little Marion was with us. We were all so thankful that we were alive.

Grandma wasnít with him. She had stayed up the road where my sister Sue and Vernonís brother Gaylord, her husband, were living in what we called the Seaman house. Up the road, and if my girls remember, you curve around a little turn before you took the old race track road down to the old house. So they lived up there.

Vernon told how bad it was - that the Plattís place was completely taken away. The farm house and Royís house on the hill - they were gone. But Beverly Platt and the two hired hands and the two boys, John and Mike, had gone down their cave and these two boys, these two young hired hands, had held onto the door of that cave with all the strength they had. I guess, at times they thought that it was going to be taken from them. Because right close - it wasnít very far - just a few steps - to the backdoor of the house. The house was completely gone - just the foundation and scattered everywhere. Around the outbuilding and the old ranch house out a ways there were groves of tall cottonwoods. Great forests of them. Those trees were broken until they looked like skeletons.

But the little house where Sue and Gaylord and my father and the children were was on its foundation. They told of their experience. How terrible it was. It had been so bad that it had blown the windows out and picked up rugs and things and blew them out the windows. When it hit, why, they had no cave and no place to go except down in under the plum bushes. My father had a tent that he had been living in right close to these bushes. At the time, it happened that my father had come out from Wichita. He was doing little carpentering just to pass the time and keep busy and he had been staying with them. He and Irving - Marionís cousin Irving, he was, oh, maybe six years old - they stayed in the tent and held onto the ropes and things, but they almost took off, I guess. Gaylord and Sue - they had Shirley and Gene. When it hit Gene was in his high chair Sue had told me. They had hurried out the door and into these bushes. They had been safe because they did as they had heard to do. They had lay down and crawled in these bushes and held on for dear life. Gaylord lay over the baby protecting him from anything that might strike him. Irving was with his Grandpa Mills and Sue took care of herself and Shirley the best she could. So that the family came out without a scratch but their little house was bruised up pretty bad.

There were things to do and Vernon must see about things. Things werenít bad at our place. They were just torn up a little. We were the fortunate ones. So we went back up the road and around to where Sue my sister and Gaylord and the babies lived. The boys, and I forget if Grandpa Mills, my father, went with them or not, but they must hurry to the - the dividing line would be a mile and a half from ours - go to the Platt ranch and see what awful, awful things had happened there.

The older son of the Platts had a new house - fairly new. They had built it kind of on a hill. Well, the terrible tornado had swept it clean. As you might imagine with boards here and there. A two story house. Over a little bit, maybe a half mile, was the old, old ranch house. If I remember right, that was where my father had done his carpenter work. Fixing something on the old Platt ranch house. It was a typical ranch house. Well, it was no longer there.

It was a very hot day. Whether Beverly Platt was barefoot or had shoes on I canít remember but she had an old very light cool little dress on so that afterwards she said it was one she wouldíve thrown in the ragbag. She lost everything. There was nothing left. The little boys had on their swimming suits. They had no clothes in the world - they were blown away. I canít remember just how everything happened, but later on they all seemed to be there at the little Seaman house. I donít suppose I was up there very long. But my sister Sue, her boy was about the same age as the boys. So, Sue, she found clothes for the boys. Everyone got along the best they could.

Ellen Platt, the childrenís mother, and Roy Platt were not there. They had gone to Medicine Lodge so they were out of it. Joyce - the girl - she was with her mother so she wasnít in it either.

We didnít find anything too bad for us only that Vernon and his brother had lost eight head of fine Hereford cattle. The loss of those eight Hereford cows was quite a blow. Our herd wasnít too big then anyway. One large nice mother was to give birth to her calf and she did. A little heifer calf and we thought it a little bit special. The boys named it Tornado. Oh, Iím forgetting that we lost a bull. The boys found this nice big bull with his big horns. They found him they said like if he was in prayer. He was flat, you see, the terrible force and that heavy animal. His front legs were bent clear under and his head down in the earth. That was a big loss.

About the horses I canít remember. But the dairy cows - Plattís dairy cows and ours too - were in pastures where they were safe.

Question: Did the Platts rebuild on the same place?

Ellen and Roy built what we called a bungalow type house. Itís still there and is where Mike if he comes out to the ranch to check, why, thatís where he would stay. I think itís farther on the other side where the old ranch house was. They had a brother Bob who was a veterinarian. About the only veterinarian in the county - the best one.

Roy and Ellen didnít move to town until quite a while after that.

When (my sister) Elsie would come out to visit she would love to be around Lucy (Platt) because Lucy would tell you Indian stories. They lived in a dugout - old John and Lucy. They lived in this dugout, but it had a good roof, I guess, because sheíd take her little rocking chair up there and sit up there and enjoy the outdoors. She was a peppy spirited old lady. Sheís buried out to Aetna. She and old John.

Question: Is she the one that the cowboys used to come by and sheíd be sitting out there in her little rocking chair and when theyíd come sheíd run back and get in her dugout and they called her a "prairie dog?"

Yes.

I donít remember what direction the tornado went from there. But it went east, I think. The people that had been watching it said it came from the southwest. No one was injured and even our old dog was safe, old Sheppy. I donít remember much after that - only that we worked cleaning up, It was on Vernonís birthday - 1927.


Also see:

Eyewitness Account of the tornado at the Platt Ranch by Mike Platt,
published in The Hardtner Community News, Issue No. 90, Sept. 4, 2003.

BARBER COUNTY SWEPT BY TORNADO
LEAVING DEATH AND DESTRUCTION

Published in The Barber County Index, May 27, 1927.

Tornado plays Havoc at the Platt Ranch, The Western Star, May 13, 1927.

"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.

Livonia (Richardson) Wells, Obituary, The Wilmore News, April 29, 1938.

John and Lizzie (Tennison) Platt

The Town of Aetna, Barber County, Kansas.

Aetna Cemetery, Barber County, Kansas.

Another tornado which hit Barber County, Kansas:
Twister Wrecks Buildings
The Hardner Press, April 21, 1927.


Thanks to Peggy Wilson Newsome for transcribing and contributing the above interview to this web site!

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