Various Towns, IA and IL, Severe Tornado Destruction, May 1873


Washington, Iowa, May 23. -- A terrific tornado or whirlwind, accompanied by hail and rain, passed over this county about six miles north of Washington yesterday afternoon. Its path was about half a mile in width, and it tore into fragments everything in its course. Houses, barns, fences, trees, cattle, and human beings were caught up and whirled through the air like mere toys, and then dashed to the ground with such violence as to produce instant destruction. Houses and barns were torn into fragments and scattered in all directions, and for miles around the fields are dotted with large timbers driven into the ground at an angle of 90 degrees. The cattle were actually driven head foremost into the ground. One can scarcely conceive the desolation, or realize the force of the tornado. Already we have heard of thirteen farm-houses and many barns that were literally torn to pieces, and many others badly damaged. School was in session at a school-house six miles north of here, and the tornado tore the building to pieces, and carried the fourteen-year-old daughter of HENRY ROTHMEL about a quarter of a mile from the school. When found she was crushed to a jelly. MISS SMITH, the teacher, and six or eight scholars, were injured, some of them severely. The wife of HENRY WALTERS was killed. A MISS GARDNER and the son of ABE GIBSON are lying at the point of death. JACOB SEEK was seriously hurt. A MR. BAKER was hurt in the back. The family of J. CAMPBELL, New Keota, are injured. MRS. McCOY was seriously hurt. A gentleman who was near the tornado reports that it was balloon-shaped, with the small end to the ground, and moved at the rate of twenty miles an hour. It began its fearful work near Keota, where it demolished several houses. We next hear of it about six miles north-west, where it destroyed two or three houses, and, as it passed to the north-east, scattered to the four winds the fine residences and barns of ALEX. GIBSON, J. A. BABOCK, and J. C. CALLINGHAM. It also leveled to the ground the dwellings of D. CANEES, F. and H. WALTERS, MR. CARRINGER, and MR. KERR.
The lives of many persons were saved by their hastily getting into the cellars of their houses. Sad havoc was made with all kinds of stock. From the description of an eyewitness it seems almost a miracle that anything in the track escaped alive. He says he could see large pieces of timber hurled from the cloud as though shot from a cannon. Hail-stones fell that measured nine inches in diameter. Some were brought to this city and four hours after they were picked up they were still as large as hens' eggs. The roaring of the tornado was fearful, and could have been easily heard ten miles. At this place, six miles away, it was perfectly appalling, surpassing in terror anything every heard, except war and the din of a terrific battle.
A telegram from Keota last evening says that five persons were killed about three miles from that place. One child was torn to pieces.
The reports received thus far are from only a few points along the line of the terrible destroyer, and the amount of damage cannot be estimated, but it must by many thousands of dollars.
Many more lives were probably lost than those reported, and no estimate can be made of the stock killed.
Nothing so terrible or violent has ever befallen this section of the country heretofore, and it is considered a miracle that so few lives were lost.

Cincinnati, Ohio, May 23. -- A dispatch from Des Moines, Iowa, says that the severest thunder-storm in that region for years occurred yesterday. Nine houses were blown down or moved from their bases by the wind. The Methodist church was blown down. An unknown man, stopping at a farm-house, was killed in his bed by lightning.

Iowa City, May 23. -- The great tornado of Washington County exhausted itself twelve miles south-west of this city. There was high wind and lightning here, one house being struck. No persons were injured.

Keota, Iowa, May 23. -- The most terrific storm ever known in this part of the State passed over here yesterday about 3 o'clock P.M. It started, as far as heard from, ten miles south-west of here, on Skunk Bottom, and traveled wo within two and a half miles of this city, sweeping everything before it. Up to the present time four persons are reported killed, eight slightly hurt, and eight houses, three barns, one saw-mill, and several granaries demolished. Between 200 and 300 head of cattle were killed. Building material, agricultural implements, including threshing machines, reapers, &c., were strewn the entire length of the storm.
The storm did not exceed in width from 100 to 400 yards.
It is reported that the town of Lancaster, fifteen miles south-west of here, in this county, is in ruins.

Washington, Iowa, May 23. -- Additional particulars of the tornado make the damage a great deal more than heretofore reported. Six more persons have died since the dispatch of this mornign was sent, making eight in all. The names of the victims not before reported are: LADEN HOUSEL; MR. DAVISON; MR. BAKER; a daughter of JACOB SEEK; two children of HENRY WATERS. There are many others who are very low, and whose lives are despaired of. These are all reported to us within six or eight miles on the line of the storm. To what extent the storm raged in other parts of the country has not yet been learned. An enormous amount of property has been destroyed. It is impossible to describe the scene after the storm had passed. It resembled a long tract of country that had been suddenly overflooded and everything carried away, and as if the water had suddenly fallen and left everything in complete ruin.
The force of the storm was such that nothing resisted. Heavy objects were carried over a quarter of a mile, and thrown to the ground with such violence as to half imbed them in the earth. Wagons and farm implements of all kinds were strewn all over. Even spokes were broken out of wagon-wheels. A hog was found pierced through and pinned to the ground by a spike of timber 2 by 4 inches. Over 1,000 persons from this place visited the scene to-day, and rendered all the assistance in their power to the sufferers.
A telegram from Sigourney says that at Lancaster every house but one was entirely destroyed, but no one is reported killed, though many are seriously hurt.

Prairie City, Ill., May 23. -- A fearful tornado passed a mile and a half north of this place yesterday, about 5:40 P.M., the extent of which is not yet known here, though it has been heard of from ten to fifteen miles east and west. The storm traveled eastward, sweeping nearly everything before it for half a mile in width, blowing down houses, barns, outhouses, fences, telegraph poles, and killing and injuring several persons A number of horses and cattle were also killed and injured. The following are a few of the casualties: VANDERVER'S house was destroyed, and a boy fourteen years old killed; JOEL NICHOLS' house and barn destroyed, and a child's leg broken so badly that it is not expected to live. Eight persons were in the house, some of whom were more or less injured. A. J. CAYTON'S house and barn destroyed. CAYTON had an arm broken and one child killed. CHARLES PERRY'S house and barn were destroyed. MRS. PERRY was seriously, perhaps fatally, injured. ANDREW MULHOLKIND'S house destroyed and he had a leg broken. BRENDMEYER'S house destroyed. He was alone in it and was badly hurt. Some idea may be gained of the force of the storm from the fact that it carried heavy sills ten rods, and even moved heavy stones some distance from the tops of cellar walls.

Cairo, May 23. -- The heaviest storm of wind, rain, and hail that has been known here for years began about 3 o'clock this afternoon. The hail continued falling for thirty minutes, and the reain for nearly two hours.

Chicago, Ill., May 23. -- A special dispatch from the vicinity of the tornado in Washington County, Iowa, adds nothing to the Associated Press dispatches. The extent of country devastated by the storm is probably not very great, as dispatches from along its supposed route, outside of Washington County, in answer to telegraphic inquiries, report it did not reach them. McDonough, Ill., where almost a precisely similar tornado occurred about the same time, is some 250 miles, a little east by south of Washington County, Iowa.

The New York Times New York 1873-05-24