Floral Tornado - June 1881



Winfield Courier, June 16, 1881.

It has long been the boast of the people of the Walnut Valley that this favored locality was wonderfully exempt from cyclones and destructive storms, but the pitcher has gone once too often to the well," for on Sunday evening the northwestern part of Cowley County was visited by a destructive cyclone with all its attendant phenomena.

Last Sunday evening at about 5 o'clock when all the southern part of the heavens was clear, the citizens of Winfield observed that a fresh strong wind from the south had suddenly started up. This directed their attention to the northwest where were gathering clouds in great agitation. Soon these clouds assumed form and in close proximity to Seeley, seven miles to the northwest, the clouds sagged downward like a great hopper and from the lower extremity hung down first a rope looking form, which writhed sinuously and expanded rapidly, assuming much the appearance of an elephant's trunk.

This writhing trunk was whirling rapidly in the direction opposite to that of the movements of a watch face up, and moved slowly in an E. N. E. direction toward Floral. Our citizens watched it for a full half hour, the trunk sometimes reaching down to the earth and sometimes rising, but always in intense rotation and gyration.

One eyewitness described the appearance of the cloud as like several swarms of bees circling a crooked shaft. One describes the approach of the storm to Floral as like the roaring of forty locomotives run mad and tearing up the ground, raising clouds of earth, rocks, rails, lumber, and vegetation, and circling them around the tumultuous centre.

It was a huge funnel shaped cloud of a greenish black hue, with light and vivid arms which were probably electrical in character. One of the startling characteristics of a cyclone is the extreme electrical disturbance in the equilibrium of their forces, which results in the frightful phenomenon known as the cyclone. This monster started into being when its evolutions could be seen for miles; it was not in a hurry, but gyrated to and fro, and one at its outer edge could apparently dodge it. It would not be satisfied with going over the ground once, but would return and pass over the same place. One visit though, was enough, for when it struck, death and desolation marked its track.

Where once were happy homes, now naught remains except a pile of stones or scattered and broken pieces of lumber; the household goods and the treasured relics possessed by every family were broken and destroyed or scattered to the four winds of heaven. Where but a few hours before the farmer felt he had secured his reward for his faith, patience, and work in the large shocks of wheat that decorated his field, now nothing remains except dirty piles of straw that line the hedge rows. The great fields of corn that covered the earth with a waving coat of dark green were torn to ribbons, and in many instances laid level with the earth.

In reading a pen picture of such a scene, you may imagine you can realize it. Far from it! Columns of the best written descriptions would no more than give you an idea of the horrors of such a catastrophe.

This article was made up on Monday immediately following the storm and while the record is as complete as circumstances would admit, yet there are probable inaccuracies and omissions. Of exaggeration, there is little danger.

The first farm visited was that of W. L. Burton, who lives two miles north of the Limbocker ford. He saw the storm coming and he had his wife and six children go into the cellar, when in less than a minute thereafter his house, which was frame, was swept away, but fortunately none of the family were hurt. His outbuildings and farm implements shared the same fate, and we saw a cultivator that had the iron axle twisted in two. Wm. Knight, who lives on the opposite side of the road, suffered but little damage, and Mr. Burton and his family are stopping there. His loss is $300.

The next house struck was that of M. C. Headrick. The dwelling was a story and a half; it and out buildings were completely demolished. The family here were all more or less injured, Mr. Headrick seriously. Loss: $500.

Jo Wright's was the third house struck: his house, stable, cribs, and crops shared a common fate. All were destroyed. Estimated loss: $450. The family here was all more or less injured. Mr. Wright's mother, an old lady about seventy-two, will die, and a small child was reported to us dangerously injured.

At this point the power of the storm was absolutely indescribable. It had, before reaching Floral, a small tributary of Timber Creek and a belt of timber to pass, and the wind and lightning comprised their forces. Huge trees were blown up by the roots, the branches were withered as by furnace heat, the water was taken from the creek and dashed over the land, the air was filled with the debris of buildings, and sheafs of wheat were hundreds of feet above the earth's surface; and over and above all, was the horrible turmoil of the storm, that sounded as we heard Captain Stevens say, as if a thousand engines had let loose their steam exhaust at the same moment. Here the storm was at its highest and its force was resistless.

It struck the fine house of Daniel Maher, which was frame, and almost new. It and all the farm buildings except a corn crib are no more. The owner and his wife were away from home, but his parents and brother, Peter, were in the house. The old folks were injured: how serious, we do not know. Peter escaped without a scratch. Mr. Maher's loss is fully $1,500. We found him hard at work with a force of men trying to save his property and make a temporary shelter.

A few rods from Maher's was the log house of Jo Ferguson. Here there were eight persons in the house. All the buildings were destroyed and furniture scattered in every direction. Mrs. Ferguson was injured in the back, while the shock was so great that it unsettled Mr. Ferguson's mind and we found him insane. The condition of this family is lamentable; they have nothing left and must have assistance at once.

The Christian church, a fine building that was finished last year, and was worth fully a thousand dollars, shared the common ruin.

The school building, that was in size 36 x 70 feet, was the next building struck, and had a value of $1,200. It was swept out of existence.

This property is part of Floral.

The next house was that of John Casper, dwelling and Blacksmith shop, all of which were leveled with the earth and Mrs. Casper was severely injured in the head. His loss is $500.

Captain Stevens, a well known citizen of Winfield, had just completed a new dwelling, John Smiley having finished his work the night before; and the Captain and his family were spending Sunday in the new home. They saw and heard the storm coming and fled to the cellar of the old house, which they just reached in time. We found pieces of the new building hundreds of feet from the foundation. The Captain's direct loss is fully a thousand dollars; but fortunately, in his case he can stand it.

The greatest sufferer from a financial point of view is Daniel Read. He had a fine stone store building in which there was a country stock worth almost $3,000. The store building is no more, and we found stock scattered over the prairie. We should think that the damage of stock would be fifty percent. The dwelling house was also stone, and it shared the same fate as the store building. On the same lot, he had another building occupied by Dr. Knickerbocker, who, with his young wife, is now houseless. There was also a stable, farm implements, buggy, crops, etc., all of which are gone. Both families escaped injury by going into a cave cellar. At this time it is hard to estimate Mr. Read's loss, but we should say that it would reach $5,000.

Here the storm appeared to hang for it was fully five minutes in crossing a field forty rods wide and gave Lee Dickens and family the destruction of his house. His buildings were all destroyed. Loss: $200.

Geo. Anderson had a stone house well and strongly made; and when the wind struck it, there were nine people in it, all of whom were more or less hurt. His boy had a leg broken. His loss is fully $1,000.

L. B. Stone and family lived in a log house, but preferred to risk the brush and all escaped serious injury. Loss: $800.

Grover Cole and family ran to Anderson Cole's; he was injured in the breast. His loss he estimates at $100.

Wm. Wooley had a frame house, which was destroyed. One child was blown down in the well and escaped by means of a ladder. Loss: $300.

Poke Robbins' house was log and frame: it and the stable were destroyed, but the family escaped serious injury. Loss: $500.

Robt. Thirsk's house was frame and stone, which, with other buildings, was destroyed. He was slightly injured. Loss: $600.

J. M. Bair lost all his buildings. None of his family were seriously injured. One cow was killed.

Grundy and Newton Yarbraugh had a frame house destroyed. No one was hurt. Loss: $600.

Daniel Faler with his family was away from home and when he came back, no home was there. Loss: $300.

Mr. Roe lost his small frame house. No one was hurt. Loss: $200.

Wm. Miller's stone house was destroyed along with other buildings. Loss: $500.

Geo. Jones lost a small frame house. Damage: $150.

Darius Williams lived in a house of stone and frame. No one was injured. Loss: $300.

Geo. Williams had his house partially destroyed. The family escaped by means of the cellar. Damage: $200.

Widow Lewis had a small frame house destroyed. No one was hurt. Loss: $200.

M. W. Irwin lived on an old place of Captain Stevens. The house was log and stone, which was partially destroyed. Loss: $200.

This finishes our melancholy list, which makes a record of twenty-eight dwellings destroyed, with the attendant damage of out-buildings, wagons, implements, and crops. Following the estimate as given above, it makes a damage of nearly $20,000. The calamity coming as it did in the harvest season makes it still worse. Many of these people have lost their all and it is necessary that aid should be rendered at once. There is a fraternity of feeling that makes all the world a kin, and a disaster which is so sweeping and terrible in its character must and should enlist our heartiest sympathy. Let us all be practical in our character and give what we can towards relieving the terrible distress that exists among many of these houseless ones. Of injured we have a record of fifteen, two of whom will probably die. Several of the doctors from Winfield were called early Sunday night, and worked till daylight setting limbs and dressing wounds.

On Monday morning the news of the catastrophe flew over Winfield and before nine o'clock the road was lined with buggies, carriages, and wagons; and hundreds have since visited the scene and each visitor carried home the lesson that "man in his best estate is altogether vanity."


Since our special reporter returned, we have gathered the following additional particulars from various sources.

S. A. Edgar had forty acres of good wheat, which is entirely destroyed.

John R. Thompson had some 200 acres of wheat and corn badly damaged, and many of his farming implements used up. His large orchard is almost a total ruin.

S. W. Phenix had 200 acres of wheat and corn badly damaged and orchard used up.

J. W. Miller has a large field of wheat badly damaged.

Mr. Ferguson lost a valuable horse.

Mr. C. Headrick lost a fine field of wheat.

Mr. Robbins' fine field of wheat is a total loss.

J. Casper, Mr. Hart, J. Wright, W. Limbocker, L. B. Stone, and many others suffered largely in destruction or damage to crops.

Pigs and chickens were killed without number and blown into the hedges.

Rev. Graham, of New Salem, was in the thickest of the cyclone and took refuge in a cave. He gave us a graphic account of the storm.

Among those seriously injured are Mrs. Wright, a four-year-old daughter of J. Wright, John Casper, the elder Mrs. Maher, and two boys of Geo. Anderson.

Among those injured less seriously are little Joe Wright, Mrs. M. C. Headrick, the elder Mr. Maher, Eddie Hart, Harry Turner, Robert Thirsk, J. J. Bair, and about a dozen others.

The Telegram estimates losses as follows.

M. D. Headrick $500.

J. Craig $150.

Dan Maher $2,000.

Mr. Ferguson $500.

Christian Church $1,000.

School House $1,800.

John Casper $800.

Daniel Read $2,500.

Capt. L. Stevens $2,000.

L. B. Stone $800.

Poke Robbins $500.

D. P. Faler $250.

N. Yarbrough $250.

J. M. Bair $800.

Robert Thirsk $500.

Geo. Williams $150.

Mr. Wooley $500.

Mr. Poe $250.

D. H. Williams $400.

Geo. Anderson $700.

J. Wright $1,900.

Mr. Miller $200.

W. Lewis $150.

Mr. Jones $250.

Wm. Irwin $200.

Lee Dickens $150.

Mrs. A. Cottingham $250.

Mr. Howard $150.

Mr. Cottingham $100.

Twenty-seven residences were totally destroyed besides stables, corn cribs, sheds, wagons, horses, agricultural implements, organs, pianos, clothing, bedding, household furniture, etc. The loss of crops can hardly be realized.

Many curious incidents are told in connection with the storm, some of which would be incredible were they not vouched for by parties of the highest respectability.



Winfield Courier, June 16, 1881.

A considerable number of the citizens of Winfield met on Monday evening on the steps of the Winfield Bank to provide for raising funds for the immediate relief of the sufferers caused by the cyclone Sunday evening. Mr. Crippen called the people together by music from the band.

Rev. J. E. Platter was chosen chairman and made one of his neat and impressive speeches followed by Messrs. Hackney, Troup, Beach, and others.

A committee of ten gentlemen was appointed by the chair to canvass for subscriptions, consisting of Messrs. C. C. Black, J. S. Hunt, J. B. Lynn, M. G. Troup, D. A. Millington, D. L. Kretsinger, J. P. Short, R. E. Wallis, W. H. Smith, and H. D. Gans.

A committee of ladies was appointed to canvass for clothing, bedding, etc., consisting of Mrs. Mansfield, Mrs. J. D. Pryor, Mrs. Earnest, Mrs. Jewell, Mrs. Van Doren, Mrs. Horning, Mrs. Albro, Mrs. Spotswood, Miss Nellie Cole, and Miss Mary Steward.

The committee of gentlemen organized with C. C. Beach, chairman, J. P. Short, secretary, and R. E. Wallis, treasurer.

Early on Tuesday morning a wagon load of provisions was sent to Floral under charge of Messrs. Black and Short.

During the day the canvass of the city resulted in the following cash subscriptions.

COURIER Co. $25.00

Winfield Bank $25.00

Read's Bank $25.00

Lynn & Loose $20.00

W. P. Hackney $15.00

J. E. Platter $15.00

Telegram $15.00

A. T. Shenneman $15.00

J. S. Hunt $15.00

Bliss & Wood $15.00

Spotswood & Co. $12.00

A. P. Johnson $10.00

M. G. Troup $10.00

Jacob Nixon $10.00

D. C. Stevens $10.00

H. D. Gans $10.00

H. J. Sandfort $10.00

Curns & Manser $10.00

S. H. Myton $10.00

Smith Bros. $10.00

Harter & Horning $10.00

W. J. Hodges $10.00

W. C. Root & Co. $10.00

James Hardin $10.00

J. H. Bullen $10.00

N. L. Rigby $10.00

S. C. Smith $10.00

Frank Williams $10.00

Wallis & Wallis $10.00

Baird Bros. $10.00

H. Goldsmith $5.00

J. S. Mann $5.00

Geo. W. Gully $5.00

D. C. Beach $5.00

Bradt & Gibson $5.00

Major & Vance $5.00

Cole Bros. $5.00

W. E. Davis $5.00

T. M. McGuire $5.00

J. P. Short $5.00

T. R. Bryan $5.00

M. Hahn & Co. $5.00

J. A. Earnest $5.00

Horning R. & Co. $5.00

J. D. Pryor $5.00

T. F. Axtel & Co. $5.00

Robt. Hudson $5.00

G. E. Raymond $5.00

Appleby & Ehler $5.00

S. Billings $5.00

J. Fleming $5.00

W. B. Pixley $5.00

Hoosier Grocery $5.00

J. F. Burroughs $5.00

Brown & Son $5.00

H. G. Fuller $5.00

Jennings & Buckman $5.00

J. A. Douglass $5.00

Speed & Schofield $5.00

J. L. M. Hill $5.00

J. E. Conklin $5.00

H. C. Loomis $5.00

Harter Bros. $5.00

N. C. Myers $5.00

Henry E. Asp $5.00

J. M. Alexander $5.00

Silver & True $5.00

W. Newton $5.00

J. W. Johnston $5.00

Quincy A. Glass $5.00

McDonald & Walton $5.00

Lee & McKnight $5.00

Simmons & Ott $5.00

Chicago L Co. $5.00

W. T. Ekel $5.00

Ed. Bedilion $5.00

Eli Youngheim $5.00

I. Levi $3.00

F. Barclay & Son $2.50

S. W. Pugsley $2.50

Ed. Weitzell $2.50

A. J. Frazee $2.50

E. Dever $2.50

S. D. Pryor $2.00

John Lee $2.00

Port Smith $2.00

E. W. Hovey $2.00

W. C. Carruthers $2.00

Mrs. De Falk $2.00

W. O. Johnson $2.00

A. H. Green $2.00

S. I. Gilbert $2.00

M. J. Wilson $2.00

J. O'Hare $2.00

C. C. Harris $2.00

A. W. Davis $2.00

Jas. Lorton $2.00

F. M. Friend $2.00

A. J. Pyburn $2.00

J. M. Keck $2.00

Connor & Beaton $2.00

J. M. Henry $2.00

John Lowry $2.00

D. F. Long $1.50

I. W. Randall $1.50

J. W. McRorey $1.50

C. G. Oliver $1.00

S. G. Gary $1.00

J. B. McGill $1.00

Geo. Mann $1.00

S. A. Cook $1.00

D. Mater $1.00

F. Brown $1.00

D. W. Stevens $1.00

A. Stewart $1.00

J. B. Sipes $1.00

J. P. Stevens $1.00

Chas. Kelly $1.00

C. D. Austin $1.00

B. A. Beard $1.00

D. A. Carr $1.00

M. B. Shields $1.00

J. W. Batchelder $1.00

W. P. Tucker $1.00

H. Jochems $1.00

J. E. Allen $1.00

W. Woding $1.00

E. Soferien $1.00

E. A. Appling $1.00

W. McClellan $1.00

F. P. Silver $1.00

J. S. Beaton $1.00

J. W. Seckles $1.00

W. Woodell $1.00

W. McEwen $1.00

Max Shoeb $1.00

F. V. Rowland $1.00

Roy Millington $1.00

S. Smedley $1.00

G. H. Allen $1.00

E. P. Harlan $1.00

Geo. Klaus $1.00

A. W. Berkey $1.00

G. W. Maxfield $1.00

Geo. Osterhaus $1.00

Nommsen & Steuven $1.00

John Price $1.00

Jas. Connor $1.00

Ed. Mount $1.00

M. West $1.00

T. B. Myers $1.00

P. Sipe $1.00

Jas. Burns $1.00

Dr. Green $1.00

H. Lewis $1.00

W. F. Dorley $1.00

N. Moore $1.00

B. Herbert $1.00

M. Smedley [?Smedler?] $1.00

W. A. Freeman $1.00

W. Dodson $1.00

Dr. Bull $1.00

Mrs. T. K. Johnson $1.00

John Powell $1.00

M. Buckhalter $1.00

John Eaton $1.00

M. Klingman $1.00

E. Cutler $1.00

Wilber Dever $1.00

F. C. Woodruff $1.00

F. M. Woodruff $1.00

John Wilson $1.00

D. F. Best $1.00

Ed. Cochran $1.00

Dr. Wells $1.00

Geo. W. Martin $1.00

R. W. Parks $1.00

F. Barclay, Jr. $1.00

Jos. Likowski $1.00

A. B. Graham $1.00

D. S. Beadell $1.00

H. Pails $1.00

J. Rowland $1.00

_____ Dorley $1.00

Ed. Likowski $1.00

Frank Finch $1.00

A. S. Tucker $1.00

Smaller collections $57.20

Sent from Arkansas City $46.50

The above is not a perfect list, but is as near correct as possible in our hurry in going to press. The committee have raised in cash $801.00.

Besides the cash contributions the committee of ladies secured a large amount of clothing and bedding from families all over the city. A full load of these was sent up to the sufferers on Wednesday morning and more to follow during the day. Some merchants gave groceries and other goods from their stores. The committee are distributing the property and cash as judiciously as possible, so as to do the most good.



Winfield Courier, June 16, 1881.

A severe storm of wind, hail, and rain accompanied by sharp lightning and heavy thunder gathered west of this point at 3:00 p.m. on last Sunday; the thermometer was standing at 90 degrees in the shade and the wind blowing from the south. The storm, meanwhile, kept gathering in force, and passed slowly to the northeast. The belt of the storm was narrow, all being clear in the south and northwest, but little rain or hail fell here, but there was a continuous roar to the north. At 4:35 the thermometer had fallen to 86 degrees and a funnel shaped cloud formed in the northwest, and dropping, and rising, scattering, and reforming, until a spot of inky blackness was formed against the clear sky of the northwest, connected with the earth, and moved slowly and majestically to the northeast, the lightning flashing around it continually, and the spout gathered in proportion, and remained in sight 30 minutes; the dust, rain, and distance finally hiding it from view. At this time the wind veered to the northeast, driving a portion of the storm over this place, which consisted of heavy wind and rain with a few hail stones, some of which measured nine inches in circumference. No serious damage here.


[This storm passed two or three hours earlier than the one which devastated Floral. Ed.]



Winfield Courier, June 23, 1881.

In the distribution of the funds raised for the Floral sufferers, there were of course many who ought to have had aid and did not get it, and some who clamored for all they could get, and got more than a fair proportion of the funds because some others were more self-sacrificing.

Dan Maher was one whose loss was $2,000 and whose impaired constitution growing out of his services in the war and starvation and hardships at Andersonville made his losses peculiarly hard for him to bear; yet in his self-sacrificing generosity he requested the committee to distribute the funds to the others and not notice him, and they did as he requested. We do not think this was right. The committee should not have ignored a man because he was generous, thus giving an undue proportion to those who were clamorous and selfish.


Winfield Courier, June 23, 1881.

The cyclone relief committee distributed $800 in cash last Saturday to aid the sufferers in rebuilding.


Winfield Courier, June 23, 1881.

We know not what a day or an hour may bring forth. To our neighbors at Floral, grief, pain, destruction, and loss all came with one fierce gale. Into their quiet Sabbath rest the demon of destruction came, blighting their hopes, ruining their worldly prospects, and throwing them, without a moment's warning, homeless and houseless onto the wind swept prairies bestrewn with debris from their former houses. Our hearts are truly sad at the fate of others.

We knew not, when seeing and hearing the artillery of nature, that it was warring so fiercely with friends only a short distance away from us; yet we well knew our own cheeks had never blanched so during any storm in our life time, for it seemed as though all the warring elements of heaven and earth were battling for victory.

Rev. Graham had stopped at a house to avoid a wetting, and came near being blown away, as the house with all its occupants gave way to the monster of destruction.



Winfield Courier, JUNE 23, 1881.

B. H. Clover, two and a half miles north of this place, had two cows killed in the storm Sunday evening. They were struck by lightning.



Winfield Courier, July 7, 1881.

The following contributions have been made for the benefit of the cyclone sufferers of Floral.

New Salem $60.45; Burdenville $59.05; Little Dutch and Rock $43.70; Star School House $7.10. Total: $170.30.

This amount has been deposited in M. L. Read's bank by Rev. C. P. Graham and a check given by the same to the treasurer appointed at the Winfield meeting in the interest of the Floral sufferers. On behalf of Mr. Graham, who received the contributions, we hereby extend our many thanks to the good people of the several localities for their marked liberality toward the needy and suffering.




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