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Merrick County
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The Nonpareil - June 30, 1898

• THE NONPAREIL'S •

History of Merrick County

• From "the beginning" until the year 1895.

 

CHAPTER XXI.


THE STORM OF 1878.


LetterWICE during the almost forty years since the first settler staked his claim on Merrick County soil have cyclones disturbed the peace of its people. The coming of the first has been described in Chapter X of this history. The second and more severe one--although not so fatal as that of 1871--came in the year 1878. Its appearance, course and results are thus described by the Courier of June 6th, 1878:

   Last Saturday afternoon was an era of unusual excitement among our citizens, but more particularly to those residing in the vicinity of Warm Slough in Central Precinct. The weather during the day was unusually warm, almost suffocating in fact, and a great many prophesied a storm. The result, however, was scarcely anticipated. At 4:20 P. M. a black, threatening cloud came up from the west and spread out over the town and surrounding territory, yet showing clear sky around it. But little rain fell at Central City, although to the north large hailstones were gathered, and one man who drove into town exhibited a contusion on his head as large as a hen's egg, caused by the hail. When about two miles east of town, the lower and blacker cloud appeared to coalesce with a heavy, ominous looking thunder-head above it, and began to revolve in a peculiar manner with a great apparent velocity. From this central point of commotion there was let down to within about fifty feet of the earth a solid column of what appeared to be a white shaft of rain, but which was found to contain enough condensed fury to completely demolish whatever obstacle lay in its path. About eighty rods west of the school in district No. 37 the cyclone first struck the earth, and a huge cloud of mud and dust was thrown seventy-five feet into the air. Right in its course was the school house, and like an egg shell, it was caught up, dashed to pieces, and its fragments scattered like chaff. The centrifugal velocity may be estimated from the fact that splinters of the building and the furniture were strewn around an area of about a half mile in all directions. Although the general course of the storm at this place was southeast, as much of the school house is west of the foundation as east. The track of the storm, about twenty yards wide, is plainly marked by a blackening of the grass--a complete withering of all vegetation. From the school house to the next unfortunate locality, Stewart's residence, the distance is about a mile. The course here was southeasterly, almost east. Stewart's house, a small frame building, was demolished, although upon the southern edge of the storm. His corn crib south of the house was uninjured. The family saved themselves by going to the bank of the Warm Slough, south, and of the line of destruction, about 120 yards away. The course here was over a grain field which looked as though a heavy roller had passed over it, accompanied by a heavy flood of water and driftwood. Passing along slowly the terrible concentration of warring elements arrived at Warm Slough, southeast of the late residence of Mr. Stewart, and paused for a minute in the stream, taking up huge volumes of water with a terrible noise. Col. W. H. Webster and family, accompanied by several others, were fishing at this point. The Colonel's buggy, harness and buffalo robes were above them directly in the line of the advancing volume. His horses were picketed a little south of the edge, but one of them became frantic, broke loose from the lariat, and drove headlong into the heart of the cyclone. He was rolled and carried bodily about a quarter of a mile, when he was dashed to the ground and killed. The buggy was taken up and literally pulverized, the fragments being thrown over forty acres of land. The buffalo robe was torn into shreds. Singularly enough, the harness and collars lying under the buggy were uninjured; not even disturbed. The other horse, being unable to break loose from his lariat, remained on the southern edge of the tornado. and escaped unharmed. Fortunately for the family of Col. Webster, the storm center of the cyclone passed to the north of them, although the gravel stones rattled around them at a lively rate. Tom McDermott and his brother narrowly escaped being drawn into the vortex, by running directly in front of it toward the north. They just saved themselves, landing on their faces at the northern edge. They were jumped up and down at a lively rate, however, and may consider themselves fortunate. From north of the residence of Thomas McDermott, the demon of fury pursued a northeasterly course to Joseph Gray's house, which it quickly demolished, together with his stable. Mrs. Gray, with the family, ran from the house into a grove and laid down, clinging to the trees. The main fury of the storm passed to the south of them. Everything was destroyed in the house and stable and a valuable mare carried up into the air, but was let down alive, with several severe bruises. Passing about due east from this scene of ruin, the storm caught two valuable cows and instantly killed them. Directly before it, and about 80 rods distant, was the Platte River, along whose bank it followed down a short distance, when it broke and separated. The entire distance traversed by this storm fiend was, from the time it struck the school house until it dissolved at the river, about three miles. The course is plainly and unmistakably marked by blackened vegetation and fragments of buildings. The miraculous escape of the families of Messrs. Gray, Stewart and Col. Webster is remarkable. Terrible as was the scene it might have been much sadder.

   To the reader of this history the record of these violent outbursts of nature's forces. may appear somewhat unnecessary. Yet we believe that no one of those who have spent the last quarter of a century on Merrick County soil would regard our work as complete if it contained no mention of the great storms which have constituted points from which is measured the remainder of the county's history. The old settler remembers the storm of '78 as one of those events which constitutes a chapter in his life, and it is this sentiment which gives it prominence in the individual mind and a place among the chronicled events of the county's history.



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