Marshfield, MO Tornado, Apr 1880 - Eyewitness Account

The following is the story of the “Marshfield Cyclone” as told by Mr. William Thompson Sutherlin, my gg grandfather. Martha is my g grandmother
Submitted by William S. Napier 

My home, before the cyclone, was north-east of the public square, and The house was built of heavy logs, with a frame kitchen built on the west side. My family numbered seven, viz: Myself and wife, Martha, our eldest daughter, Rebecca aged eight years, Cora, Lillie--a babe not yet one year old, and Mrs. Saunders, a hired woman. My wife had been very sick, and Dr. Bradford, our attending physician, had given her up to die. Believing that "while there was life there was hope," I had summoned other physicians, but with the same sad result; there was no hope.

Neighbors and friends had come and gone, on their last errand of duty and respect toward her. Sunday, April 18th, 1880 Mrs. Saunders had been out in the yard and came in with a very large hail-stone and handed it to me. I held it in my hand a few minutes, mentally comparing its size with others I had seen fall on the Plains, contemplating the possibility of a hail-storm containing hailstones of such large proportions descending on Marshfield. In such a case the roofs of houses would be completely riddled. I laid the hailstone down and my daughter Rebecca picked it up and ate it.

I stepped to the kitchen door to assure myself of the condition of the elements. For the first time I saw what appeared to be a large column of smoke as if arising from many burning buildings, but as it moved onward toward town, and there was no blaze distinguishable, I made up my mind it was fire impelled by a strong wind, and the blaze smothered by a heavy rain or hail-storm. I did not wish my wife to get an inkling of even a fire in town, so I returned to her bedside to allay any fears that might possibly arise. Mrs. Saunders said it was not fire, and I returned to the kitchen door, to look again on that distant cloud resembling smoke, thistime feeling convinced it was not fire, but thought it was a hail-storm, and if it kept the path it appeared to assume, it would barely miss our house.

I conjectured we were about to experience the hardest hail-storm that had ever passed through this country. I knew that log wall was impervious to the largest sized hailstones, and a standing position close against the south side of the house would insure our safety. My wife's condition prevented me from seeking shelter elsewhere, had I so desired. Again I took a position in the door and watched the cloud, and this time I could see it boiling, whirling and sucking up everything in its path. Before I could realize it was a cyclone, it was too late to take action. There were two blasts which struck my house. The first tore away the kitchen and smashed the windows in, scattering fire and ashes from the fireplace, throughout the room, and taking the roof off of the house. My wife wanted to get up and I assisted her to the side of the bed and started across the fireplace to get a bucket of water, my wife with unacountable agility, arose to her feet and caught hold of the foot of the bed, Mrs. Saunders jumped up to hold the door while Rebecca and Cora clung to their dresses.

They were all blown out in the yard east of the house, mangled in debris of the south and east walls. The arch of the fireplace was blown on my leg, and logs were blown across me, also around Martha and Lillie in such a manner as to protect them from flying timbers. My wife was blown on a pile of logs, with logs across her, above and below her knees. It took five men with fence posts to pry them off, and while the men were thus engaged, she told them to go to her children first, that she was not suffering much. Rebecca was found with a log under her; Cora was lying near her, with her leg across Rebecca's knee and a log across Cora's knee. Cora was not injured, whereas Rebecca was killed, and no visible signs of a death blow on her. Not one log of the house was left on another; but what was not blown away caught fire and was consumed. I was terror stricken to see the fire break out at the feet of my family and begged the assistance of many passers-by. Every one was so intent on searching for their own lost and stricken ones that they paid little heed to my entreaties.

Mr. Ad Shelby led my wife to the residence of Joseph Wisby, and my children were taken there also. The next day I started to find a wagon to convey them to the country and while on that errand parties came and took my wife to the hospital. My brother and I buried our dead children in one coffin, and one tombstone now marks the resting place of Albert and Rebecca. It is said, "Every cloud has a silvery lining." The cloud that took our home and dear little girl, snatched from the jaws of death, a wife and mother. From the moment the storm struck the house and she jumped to the foot of the bed, there was a magical transformation wrought. The shock sent new life and energy coursing through her veins; her will-power returned, and the strength we deemed artificial, never left her. The vital spark, instead of being extinguished, received new impetus, and to-day she is a living witness to the truth of what I write.

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