Van Alstyne Public Library
Newspaper Clippings- undated article
NIGHT OF TERROR RECALLED WHEN TINY TOWN DIED
By Pete Wittenberg
Democrat Staff Writer
Sit of Old Canaan - If you take Farm Road 898 north from Whitewright
today, you'll presently reach a wit gravel road which cuts off and winds
northwest between open fields of grass and furrowed earth. Eventually
it connects with Highway 69, which takes you back into Whitewright or north
A few farm buildings are strung out along the way, but of old Canaan
Community there is no trace. Two small, recently built farms near
the railroad crossing east of Highway 69 are all that stand in the fields
from which Canaan disappeared one night 44 years ago.
Yellowed newspaper clippings and the memories of old-timers living
in the area recall the circumstances of the community's violent death shortly
after midnight Wednesday, April 9, 1919, just five months after the great
World War I holocaust ended.
Storms were battering the countryside as far north as Oklahoma.
The residents of neighboring Delba, Trenton, Whitewright and Canaan lay
awake listening to the howling outside their homes. A Katy freight
train chugged toward Canaan through the downpour. The force of two
cyclones moving from the southeast shattered the drenched night.
When the funnels had passed minutes later, 24 persons in the area
where Grayson, Fannin and Collin counties meet were dead or dying.
Canaan's Presbyterian church building, school house, general store, Vaughn
& White gin plant, and warehouse, railroad cotton wharf and five cottages
near the gin were destroyed. Three other residences were also destroyed.
A tombstone on the grave of the father of J. B. Hamilton of Whitewright
was picked from its place and dragged backward through the air to land
in the Bois'd Arc Creek east of Whitewright - the direction from which
the tornado came. An old man plowing a field found it there a year
later and returned it to Hamilton.
FLIGHT TO OKLAHOMA
A picture of Whitewright Mayor Russell Summers' uncle was blown from
the house of his grandparents - and found later in Oklahoma.
A garage door from Trenton dropped to earth in Whitewright.
Half of the gravestones in Whitewright's Oak Hill Cemetery "blew
over as if they were paper" in the words of Whitewright City Clerk Harold
Rocking chairs leaning against the wall of a Trenton furniture store
were still in place after the wall was scattered rubble.
HEN STAYS ON NEST
And although the house and outbuildings of Tom May crumbled into
stone and dust, one of May's hens remained sitting undisturbed on her eggs.
Ironically, the hen survived May and his wife, the parents of Sherman's
Gomer May, according to Doss. The fate of the couple was one of the
tragedies wrought by the killer storm. Their home stood near the
path of the huge, funnel-shaped electrical cloud as it moved slowly northwest,
its small end sweeping the ground. Mrs. May died in the afternoon
a day later, while her husband lay unconscious until he died the following
As the tornado approached the southeast part of Whitewright, apparently
following the draws except where they led into abrupt turns, it split in
two. One funnel continued toward its rendezvous with Canaan, the
other heading toward Ector, where it swept away the Huffaker home, killing
Sam and Carl Huffaker, who preferred to stay in the house rather than follow
their family into the storm cellar.
The tornado which moved toward the Canaan railroad crossing followed
what an old Texas Almanac called a "southeast-northwest weather diving
line", according to Doss. Although almost all tornadoes come from
the southwest, all those in Whitewright-native Doss' memory originated
from the southeast.
The wind ripped down telephone poles and lines, drove heavy timbers
into the earth and overtaking the Katy, overturned the cars and injured
the crew members.
When it reached the box car homes of a Mexican section crew, it
plucked them from the west side of the track and dropped them upside down
on the east side. In such a manner the winds sucked in their prey
from positions not directly touched by the funnel.
SAVED IN CELLAR
As the fury spun through Canaan it smashed five cottages near the
cotton gin, Frank Clark and children, Walsh, Clements and family and a
Mr. Yelvington and family, occupants of three of the buildings, took refuge
in storm cellars. One other building was occupied by Grover Atnip
and family who, like the Huffaker boys, stayed in their home.
Mrs. Atnip and the children were later rescued from a wheat field
into which they were blown 100 yards north of the cottage. Atnip
was not found until water brought by the tornado's torrential rains had
subsided in a nearby ravine. The father was laying on a mattress
at the bottom - bruised, bloody and dead.
MOVED TO WHITEWRIGHT
Bill White was soon to move his gin to Whitewright. All that
was left standing in Canaan was part of the office. When the storm
passed, the office safe was laying in a field. (see photo below) His son
Bill now owns the company.
Jim Ayres set up a new general store in Whitewright, now owned by
his nephew, Charlie, who turned the investment into a dry goods store.
The tornado which first touched ground six miles south of Trenton
spent its force somewhere between the ruins of Canaan and the fortunate
town of Bells, which stood in the path of possible catastrophe. The
storms which blanketed Texas and Oklahoma during the tornado were responsible
for more than 100 deaths and the loss of millions of dollars.
Canaan?s death toll has been reported to be one or two by different
sources. Other communities counting up fatalities in the storm's
wake were Delba, four; Whitewright, two; Ector, seven; Mulberry, seven,
and Blue Ridge, seven. Eleven died in Durant, Oklahoma. West
Texas had a snow blizzard that day in April. Trenton suffered heavy
losses but no deaths. ( Note from Susan- I have a list of 91 dead from
this storm far)
WATCHED STORM CLOUD
Summers was in his family home near Trenton at the time. Because
of three feet of water standing in the storm cellar, the family had to
remain in the house. "I was sitting in my upstairs window, and I
could watch the black cloud pass," Summers said. The house of one
of his uncles, M. H. Barrett, was endangered, the mayor recalled.
When friends came to his rescue the next morning, Barrett was calmly playing
But in Canaan the aftermath of the tornado revealed the entire 40
to 50 population of the neighborhood to be homeless. The community's
obituary was a simple one, Canaan was part of the result of the exodus
of displaced Southerners to the Whitewright area after the Civil War, according
to Hamilton. Presbyterians and Methodists staked their claims in
the neighborhood around the cotton gin. Soon there were a store and
a school. Fifty years later, in 1919, the wandering Southerners were forced
to resume their wandering, this time not far from the immediate area, however.
AMERICAN LEGION HALL
"Canaan was probably older than Whitewright," Doss said. "Whitewright
wasn't incorporated until 1878."
"The community had a Presbyterian church, the second oldest church
in the area, ever since I can remember, and I was born in 1877," Hamilton
Nobody can put the pieces of Canaan back together again, although
the school was rebuilt in Whitewright and is now the American Legion Hall.
Trenton had better luck. O. E. Cashion came to the battered city
from Tennessee shortly after the storm intending to stay briefly.
Instead he rebuilt Trenton and spent the rest of his life there, dying
a few weeks ago at the age of 75.
If you want to see all that remains of the original Canaan now,
you must walk a short distance into a field on the west side of the railroad
crossing, pass through a small cluster of sunflowers and keep your eyes
to the ground. The last relic is a flooded storm cellar built for
the use of the Canaan school.
Van Alstyne Public Library
PATH OF TORNADO THAT KILLED TOWN
This map shows the path of a tornado that wiped out the small Grayson
County town of Canaan 44 years ago.
The mother cloud also gave birth to a second twister which struck
Ector the same day.
Altogether 27 persons died that day in Grayson, Fannin and Collin