July 6, 1893 — Pomeroy, Iowa

[Note: Click photos for larger versions.]

The air was oppressive, clinging like a hot, damp blanket draped across the heartland of the United States. Despite a cooling rain the previous night and a thick blanket of clouds through the morning, midday sunshine pushed temperatures past 90 degrees by early afternoon in northwest Iowa. After a warm and dry beginning to the summer, rain was a welcome sight for the many farmers who wrested a living from the fertile prairie soil. As towering thunderheads began to burst into the muggy afternoon skies, however, concern began to grow. A stiff breeze picked up, blowing from the south and east with enough force to rustle trees and hold flags at attention. This, long-time residents knew, was cyclone weather.

• • •

July 5, 1893 was stuffy and uncomfortable. A stiff breeze from the southeast blew hot, moisture-laden air across the gently rolling prairies, giving the sky a slight milky haze. Clouds grew throughout the afternoon, until the night sky erupted with bolts of lightning and clashes of thunder. Wind-driven rain lashed the roofs and windows of the stately homes built on the west side of Pomeroy, a small but thriving town in northwestern Iowa’s Calhoun County. Between the miserable humidity and the boisterous weather, sleep did not come easy to many Iowans. By daybreak on July 6, a rain-cooled breeze had tempered the oppressive airmass that had wedged itself atop the area over the previous several days. As the fiery summer sun began to break through the ragged, ashen sheets of clouds, however, the overbearing heat and humidity rapidly returned.

U.S. Weather Bureau surface map from 8am on July 6, 1893.

U.S. Weather Bureau surface map from 8am on July 6, 1893.

Five hundred miles to the west-southwest, a broad area of low pressure drifted along the Colorado – Kansas border. A warm front was draped across the Upper Mississippi Valley to the east, while a strong southerly flow pooled moisture-laden air across a large warm sector to the south. A shortwave trough dipped south and east through the Northern Rockies, while a jet streak rushed eastward across Southern Minnesota and toward the Great Lakes. At about 10,000 feet, parched air blown from the desert Southwest began to settle over the region. The wind blew from the south at about 5,000 feet. At 30,000 feet and above, the wind roared in from the west. Near the surface, the strengthening low pressure center approaching from the west caused the winds to intensify and shift nearly due east. Though no one could know at the time, the result was a virtually perfect atmospheric setup for producing tornadoes across the Hawkeye State.

Animation of 500mb geopotential heights every 12 hours between 0z on July 4 and 0z on July 8. Click image to animate.

Animation of 500mb geopotential heights every 12 hours between 0z on July 4 and 0z on July 8. Click image to animate larger version.


As the sun drifted past its zenith and began its long trek toward the horizon, the residents of Cherokee County, about 50 miles west-northwest of Pomeroy, ventured outside to take advantage of the cooling breeze that had moved in from the east. Just northwest of the town of Quimby, those who made their homes along the bluffs of the Little Sioux River had begun to take note of the sky. Great thunderheads, mountainous, cauliflower-shaped towers of cloud, had burst into the sky on the western horizon. At about 4:30pm, the skies grew dark. The cooling breeze from the east transformed into a howling gale, whipping and thrashing the chest-high fields of wheat and corn. Lightning flashed through the sky, followed shortly by booming thunder. At the rear of the storm, a maelstrom of heaving and twirling clouds began to lower toward the ground.

Just before 5:00pm, the tornado’s path of destruction began. Whirls of dark dust and dirt began kicking up from the freshly tilled fields northwest of Quimby. Along the rim of the broad river valley, several ragged tendrils of funnel cloud danced and writhed like snakes. North and east of Quimby, the incipient tornado encountered its first structures. The farmsteads of Jerry Bugh and J. H. McClintock were no match for the storm, and both houses as well as several barns and outbuildings were destroyed. The Perry Schoolhouse, so-named after Robert Perry, the first white man to settle in Cherokee County, was utterly demolished. The schoolhouse was swept cleanly away, leaving “no board fastened to another.” A drive well was located just east of the structure, and observers reported that the pump and nearly 40 feet of pipe were torn from the ground.

The path of the Pomeroy tornado. The path is drawn using existing accounts of the path width and plotted using known instances of damage (white circles).

The path of the Pomeroy tornado. The path is drawn using existing accounts of the path width at various locations and plotted using known instances of damage (white circles).


To the east, a family of nine saw the menacing funnel approach from the west and hurriedly took shelter in their cellar. The tornado decimated the farmhouse, scattering the debris for dozens of yards and tearing the sturdy wooden steps from the entrance of the cellar. The nearby parsonage of Reverend James McGovern was destroyed as well. The storm claimed its first lives as the tornado roared eastward. Near the banks of the Little Sioux River, the wife of Joseph Wheeler had just returned home with her mother and sister. After glimpsing the roiling black mass on the horizon, the three huddled themselves in the cellar of their well-built home. As the deafening roar bore down, the home virtually disintegrated. Mrs. Wheeler’s mother, Mrs. O.M. Lester, was killed instantly when she was impaled through the spine by a spoke of a wagon wheel.

Residents prepare to burn the many dead livestock left behind after the tornado.

Residents prepare to burn the many dead livestock left behind in the fields near the Molyneayux home.

Moments later, the wife of Henry Molyneayux and her friend were rushing to their cellar when the storm hit. Mrs. Molyneayux was thrown several yards and killed when she was struck at the base of the skull by flying debris. Her friend was unharmed. In the fields nearby, dozens of horses, cows and pigs were killed, some thrown up to a quarter mile by the wind. A number of the bodies were reported laid out in rows, as is often seen in the phenomenon of wind rowing during violent tornadoes. Corn stalks were ground down or ripped from the earth and trees in the area were completely debarked and denuded, reduced to ghostly white stumps rising out of the bare soil. A heavy cast iron corn sheller was torn and twisted into small pieces before being scattered over several hundred yards. Next in the storm’s path was the Pilot Rock Bridge. The heavy iron truss bridge, spanning 120 feet across the Little Sioux River, was forcefully ripped from its sturdy anchors and tossed a number of yards to the north into the river.

The Pilot Rock Bridge was ripped from its anchors and thrown into the river below.

The Pilot Rock Bridge was ripped from its anchors and thrown into the river below.


East of the river, several recently constructed homes were smashed to bits. One home was reported to have been thrown over 100 yards before disintegrating. Further along, the home of Samuel Burdge was obliterated and scattered. Mr. Burdge was found dead nearby, while his wife and two children were thrown several hundred yards from the former site of their home. The young girl was found 300 yards away, with a wound “as if an axe had been driven into the forehead.” The older boy was found nearly half a mile away with his neck broken and one leg missing. The final child was found, still alive, wrapped around a maple tree. She would die a short time later. A short distance up the road, two more victims were killed when a pair of farm houses were leveled. One woman’s leg was torn off and later found more than two miles away. The other victim, Marion Johnson, was ripped from his cellar after his home was reduced to splinters. To the southeast, just south of the town of Aurelia, several witnesses claimed that a horse was lofted by the twister to a height of 200 feet and carried half a mile before being dropped back to the earth, dazed but uninjured.

The ruins of Samuel Burdge's home, where the entire family was killed.

The ruins of Samuel Burdge’s home, where the entire family was killed.


The farmhouse of James Wadsworth, as seen before the tornado. [Credit: Rob Wadsworth.]

The farmhouse of James Wadsworth, as seen before the tornado. [Credit: Rob Wadsworth.]

After several miles in which the damage appeared to have lessened, the full force of the tornado returned just east of the Buena Vista county line. A line of farms was struck, destroying several barns, homes and outbuildings. James Wadsworth and his hired hand, 20-year-old Bernard Johansen, struggled to set the their horses free as the growling funnel approached. The barn, said to have been the finest in the county, disintegrated around them. Mr. Wadsworth sustained several injuries, including a possible lightning strike that he later described as like being enveloped in a “stream of electricity.” Mr. Johansen was thrown nearly half a mile and was later found wrapped around a tree. He lingered for nearly two days before succumbing to his injuries.

At Jacob Breecher’s farm, 60-year-old hired hand Joseph Slade and one of Breecher’s sons worked quickly to unhitch the family’s team of horses. As heavy, wind-driven rain began to fall from the inky, greenish-black clouds, Breecher ran to the house to fetch his son a coat. The wind erratically shifted, gusting from southeast to northwest with spasmodic intensity. The tornado struck just as Breecher reappeared at the door. His son was blown several dozen yards before managing to wrap his arms around a tree. He clawed desperately at the tree’s base as the tornado stripped it of all bark and snapped it just inches above his hands.

The house, the barn and several smaller buildings were completely demolished in a matter of moments. In the rubble of where the house had been, Jacob Breecher’s five-year-old daughter laid dead. Slade, the hired help, was found some distance away with a broken arm and leg and extensive internal injuries. Breecher himself was stumbling toward the ruins of the farmhouse when his son approached him. Reaching his father just as he collapsed, he saw that his neck had been struck by a flying timber and very nearly severed. He died moments later. Despite the totality of damage, Breecher’s wife and sons both survived with minor injuries.

The homes of W. R. Clemons and C. N. Totman soon met the same fate, being swept from their foundations and destroyed. The debris was granulated so finely that those who witnessed the scene remarked there was “not a piece of timber left as large as stove wood.” For more than a mile between homes, the ground bristled with embedded shards of debris and pits and mounds from debris impacts. Several large groves of shade trees were debarked, denuded and snapped or twisted near ground level. A stone schoolhouse was shattered apart and spread across a wide area, leaving only the foundation.

Shortly thereafter, in a touch of irony, the seething mass passed over Storm Lake. Many observers reported that the water receded nearly 100 feet at the north shore of the lake as the tornado swept through. After its passing, the water rushed back as a tidal wave several feet in height. The slightly southward shift the tornado took when approaching and crossing the lake spared the town of Storm Lake and its residents. The shift was a subject of much speculation among scientists of the period, with many suggesting that the tornado had shifted its track in order to take the path of least resistance, apparently preferring the smooth lake surface to the many homes and groves of trees to the north of the lake.

The tornado covered the 22 miles between the initial touchdown point and Storm Lake in just over half an hour, suggesting a forward speed of about 40 mph. After crossing the lake and destroying several homes and barns across southeastern Pocahontas County, the forward speed slowed to approximately 25 mph. At the homestead of Amos Gorton, about two miles west of the town of Fonda, the damage became even more intense. The house and barn were completely leveled, the debris ground and smashed into splinters. Amos’ wife and two children were pulled from the debris, the wife and one child killed instantly and the other mortally wounded.

An illustration of the tornado as it struck the Detwilder farm. Note the illustration of a man thrown from his house.

An illustration of the tornado as it struck the Detwilder farm. Note the illustration of a man thrown from his house.

Just south of Fonda, the tornado followed and then crossed over the Des Moines, Northern & Western Railroad, sweeping away a string of farms in the vicinity. John Detwilder was thrown from his home after it was obliterated, and was later found several hundred yards away in a grove of trees that had been stripped bare and twisted. On the farm of Henry Becker, a new home had just been constructed weeks earlier. The home was built to replace the one that had been destroyed by a small tornado just two months earlier in May. The massive funnel razed the new home in seconds, leaving Mr. Becker homeless for the second time in two months. Further southeast, several more homes were completely swept away. In the open countryside stood vast, perpendicularly-aligned rows of willow hedges. Where the center of the tornado passed, the 15-foot hedges were stripped bare and occasionally ripped from the ground. Ground scouring may also have occurred in this area, where survivor John Sangstrom later remarked “scarcely a blade of grass was left standing.”

Illustration of the Pomeroy tornado as it struck the Dalton farm, based in part on the account of August Weidauer.

Illustration of the Pomeroy tornado as it struck the Dalton farm, based in part on the account of August Weidauer.

Following roughly parallel to the Illinois Central Railroad, the tornado encountered the farm of August and Teckla Weidauer, where it made short work of destroying every building and killing many livestock. After the storm passed, August Weidauer stared transfixed to his southeast, where he watched the tornado obliterate the Dalton farm. He clearly described a multivortex structure, which an artist would later use to construct the sketch of the monster tornado seen at right. Every building there was swept away and smashed to bits, with the rubble strewn several hundred yards to the east. Mr. Dalton remained in his home while his wife and a visiting Fred Parker ran to seek shelter from the incoming storm. Mr. Dalton suffered a broken leg and other minor injuries, but survived. Mrs. Parker made it successfully to a neighbor’s farmstead where she safely rode out the storm. Fred Parker also survived by dropping prone on the ground as the tornado approached.

A young boy hugs an injured calf in the aftermath of the tornado. Taken at the Foster farmstead, just east of the Dalton farm.

A young boy hugs an injured calf in the aftermath of the tornado. Taken at the farmstead of Jacob Foster, just east of the Dalton farm.


Shortly after 6:30pm, the skies over Pomeroy became choked with dark, menacing clouds. Torrents of rain pelted roofs and windows. Flags and streamers, still dotting the town after the Fourth of July celebration two days prior, flapped and blew stiffly in the wind. The downpours continued for about 20 minutes, before a break in the rain seemed to indicate the danger had passed. Minutes later, a sooty mass of cloud was seen churning and bellowing on the horizon. The sky flashed brilliantly with strokes of lightning, punctuated by booming thunderclaps that rattled and shook windows. Residents on the fringes of town stole anxious glances at the western sky. Upon sighting the writhing mass of funnels, some residents sprinted to their storm shelters. Some of those who did not have their own shelters quickly made their way to the Saltzman and Mullan storm “caves” on the  southeast side of town. Others, panicked by the impending disaster, ran crying and shrieking through the streets. Still others fell to their knees in desperate prayer.

The tornado thundered into the west side of Pomeroy just after 6:45pm. Entering about a block south of the Illinois Central Railway, the tornado began to rip through the most densely packed residential area of the town. On the northern fringe of the damage path the home of Ed Troon and family was pushed nearly 100 feet to the southwest, largely intact, scraping grass and soil from the ground beneath it. Many other rows of homes along Seneca Street were less fortunate, being completely demolished and swept away, the debris added to the churning mass of destruction as it chewed east-southeast through Pomeroy. The homes of William Shneck, Oliver Toll and William Billings were completely destroyed and swept away as the families huddled in their storm shelters below.

The home of Ed Troon is seen at center, surrounded by destruction on all sides.

The home of Ed Troon is seen at center, surrounded by destruction on all sides.


The first fatalities in Pomeroy came at the home of 34-year-old Silas Rushton.  Silas was in his home with his 28-year-old  wife, three-year-old son Charlie, two-year-old daughter Mabel and brother-in-law Willie Pruden when the tornado struck. The home virtually disintegrated, and Silas was killed instantly when he was struck and impaled by several shards of timber. His wife was thrown several yards, sustaining severe internal injuries from which she would die several weeks later. His son Charlie was impaled in the head by a large sliver of wood, and died the following night. Willie Pruden suffered a broken jaw and reportedly had “a sliver run through his nose and into the throat,” though he survived his injuries. Daughter Mabel was thrown more than 200 feet into the rubble of another home, but miraculously sustained only minor injuries.

A view of the destruction in Pomeroy. This photo is located near the site of the Silas Rushton house, looking southeast toward the tornado's path.

A view of the destruction in Pomeroy. This photo is located near the site of the Silas Rushton house, looking southeast toward the tornado’s path.

Mr. and Mrs. Sylvester Culver sit amid the ruins of their former home.

Mr. and Mrs. Sylvester Culver sit amid the ruins of their former home.


Even as the vicious storm entered town, Samuel Maxwell and his wife remained skeptical. Their neighbors, the Rosine family, pleaded for the Maxwells to join them in their storm cellar for the duration of the storm. Mrs. Maxwell, convinced there was  no threat, responded dismissively, “No, I don’t think we’ll all be killed before morning.” Mere minutes later, the roaring storm dismantled the Maxwell home. Samuel and his 14-year-old son Alex were killed as the house was torn apart around them. Mrs. Maxwell was severely injured, but survived. The nine-year-old daughter, according to reports, was “rendered insane” by the terrible storm and its aftermath.

Looking east at the path of the tornado from near the home of Samuel Maxwell.

Looking east at the path of the tornado from near the home of Samuel Maxwell.


At the corner of Seneca and Third streets, the large and well-constructed German Lutheran Church bore the full fury of the tornado. The church was reduced to splinters, only the bell remaining intact. The parsonage of Reverend Schliepsiek and the small German schoolhouse just south of the church were completely destroyed as well, the remnants scattered over several hundred yards. Homes in the area were swept to their foundations as well, causing several fatalities including Mr. And Mrs. Henry Geicke on the corner nearest the schoolhouse.

All that remained of the large German Lutheran Church was the brass bell.

All that remained of the large German Lutheran Church was the brass bell.


The tornado continued east-southeast, demolishing homes and leaving a path of total destruction fully four blocks wide. Though most of the structures destroyed were residences, several businesses were heavily damaged or destroyed. A brick drug store on Second Street owned by a Mr. Mullan was nearly leveled, its foot-thick walls crumbled and pushed into the street. Another brick store on the next block was severely damaged as well, as were some wood-framed businesses in the vicinity. A sturdily-built Methodist Church was also razed to the ground.

The Pomeroy Methodist Church reduced to rubble.

The Pomeroy Methodist Church reduced to rubble.


The tornado brought a gruesome end to many of its victims. Seventeen-year-old Frankie Banks was killed when she was impaled through the chest by a fence post. The object was hurtled toward her at such velocity that she was pinned to the ground, requiring several men to free her body. Just to the east, John Davy, a well-known banker at the Bank of Pomeroy, was killed along with his brother Ben when the tornado leveled his house on Third Street. His skull was crushed when a large object was thrown on top of him, and his brother had “virtually every bone in his body turned to mush” in a similar fashion.

Looking southeast at the extensive devastation, possibly taken near Second Street.

Looking southeast at the extensive devastation, possibly taken near Second Street.


The wife of John Davy was killed in a home a few blocks away, where she was thrown more than 250 feet into the remains of another home. Their sister, Katie Davy, was killed as well. Many of the victims in Pomeroy were thrown great distances, and several of those caught in the open by the storm were left unrecognizable and partially skinned. Large boulders were said to have been torn from the ground and thrown several hundred yards. Groves of large, thick shade trees near the center of the path were totally debarked and denuded, as were low-lying shrubs planted around the perimeters of many homes.

Several blocks of homes, nearly 80 in total, were completely obliterated and left in splinters on the west side of Pomeroy.

Several blocks of homes, nearly 80 in total, were completely obliterated and left in splinters near Seneca Street on the west side of Pomeroy.

Relief workers stand amid the sea of ruins in downtown Pomeroy.

Relief workers stand amid the sea of ruins just outside of downtown Pomeroy.


At approximately 7:10pm, more than two hours after it was first spotted on the bluffs over the Little Sioux River, the tornado dissipated three miles southeast of Pomeroy. The 55-mile path of devastation varied from one-eighth to one-quarter of a mile wide, bringing destruction to four counties. The tornado claimed 71 lives in all, and left fully 80 percent of the town of Pomeroy in ruin. Despite having no advance warning, however, more than 50 of Pomeroy’s residents were saved by taking shelter in the eight storm shelters scattered around the town. Between 27 and 39 people were saved in the Saltzman and Mullan storm caves alone. As an indication of the power of the Pomeroy tornado, although their lives were spared, nearly everyone who took shelter in a storm cave was injured. Most shelters were damaged by the tornado, and many were ripped open and filled with debris. In one instance, an injured horse was thrown into a damaged shelter and on top of the residents hiding inside.

Several dozen residents were spared after taking shelter in the Saltzman and Mullan storm caves.

Several dozen residents were spared after taking shelter in the Saltzman and Mullan storm caves.

The Saltzman storm cave, where 18 lives were spared.

The Saltzman storm cave, where 18 lives were spared.

Makeshift surgery tents were set up in the days after the tornado.

Makeshift surgery tents were set up in the days after the tornado.

43 comments on “July 6, 1893 — Pomeroy, Iowa

  1. I take it there are no photos of the Pilot Rock Bridge after the tornado did its work on it? Based on what I read, it seems similar to what happened to the bridges at Sherman, TX and Monticello, IN. Also, does the evidence suggest that this was a single tornado, or could it have been a family, and where might I find more damage photos of this event? I sadly do not own SIGNIFICANT TORNADOES by Grazulis, so I can’t use it as a source right now.

    I’m seriously glad someone took the time to write a comprehensive article on this event, information seems to be lacking. The description of deaths is what really stood out to me. I know they could be exaggerated newspaper accounts, but still, you don’t find detailed descriptions on the bodies of tornado victims very often (or maybe I just haven’t researched this topic that much). Keep up the good work!

  2. I suspect there probably were photos taken of the bridge afterward, but I haven’t been able to find any. The best source of photos from this event is “The Story of a Storm,” a book written by F. W. Sprague shortly after the tornado. I tried to get most of the best photos from that book, but I didn’t get all of them. I may buy it eventually. I also contacted the Pomeroy Tornado Museum, just waiting to hear back from them.

    I plan on covering some of the lesser-known tornadoes/outbreaks if I can find enough information. I was lucky to find a handful of sources with pretty detailed information about this event. There were some pretty extraordinary claims and it’s hard to tell what’s accurate and what isn’t, so I didn’t include anything that I couldn’t verify via at least two or three sources.

    The fatalities were very interesting to me as well, particularly the fact that a number of victims were thrown between a quarter and a half mile, and in some cases further than that. I thought the description of the cattle, horses and pigs was very intriguing as well. Not only were they skinned and dismembered, but the description certainly sounds like wind rowing. That happens often with lumber and other smaller debris in violent tornadoes, but for that to happen with animals (possibly?) is just incredible.

    • New Richmond is said to have blown a dead horse two miles, and reportedly, 3 mules were carried 2 miles by a rather obscure tornado that occured in Kiowa County, KS in 1915. Interesting how you hear lots of reports of this from the old days, but not so much any more. Hard to tell with old newspaper accounts. I do know that Wheatland left one victim skinless. Amazing that it left the body intact. I wonder if one could find accounts of wind rowing involving human beings…

  3. My Great Granddad’s sister Lillie M V {Cottrell} Rankin & her husband Edward Rankin lived in Pomeroy at the time of this tornado & survived the storm. In 2 separate articles they were listed among the injured as brusied.

  4. Great coverage of this storm. I have read “The Story of the Storm” and a lot of the newspaper clippings about this as my family had victims, as well as survivors of the storm.

    • Thanks Orin! It’s a very interesting event, probably one of the most underappreciated violent tornadoes in history. It was also somewhat surprising that it was covered as well as it was. Pomeroy, Iowa wasn’t exactly a bustling metropolis at the time.

  5. I was surprised to see a picture of my family from 1893 on your site. They are pictured in the photo of the Saltzman cave survivors. I recognize most of the material as being from a book published in 1893 called The Story of a Storm. I know there were new printings done by the historical society in Pomeroy in late years, but I am curious where you got the picture of the Saltzman cave survivors? I can identify all the people in the picture.

    • Hi Cheryl, that’s neat! Unfortunately I didn’t take care to keep track of where my photos came from so I’m not sure of the source. I borrowed a few books on Iowa history via interlibrary loan at my library so it may have come from one of them, I’ll dig around and see if I can figure anything out. It also may have come from the Pomeroy Tornado Museum. They have a number of photos. I couldn’t find a copy of Story of a Storm anywhere, I should have just asked the Historical Society/Tornado Museum if they had any copies available. I’ll have to do that tomorrow. I was able to find a (very) abridged version online though, which helped a lot.

      • Shawn,
        Thanks for the response. I will be interested to know if you can figure anything out. I was at the museum in Pomeroy three or four years ago and they did not have that picture. The family pictured is The Washington and Rosalinda Lovejoy Family. The woman second from the left with the dog is their daughter Martha Louise Saltzman; her husband Aiden is pictured behind her. They both survived being blown into the back yard by the storm. My great-grandmother, unfortunately, perished. She was listed in the book as BJ Harlow. The twin boy on the left is my grandfather, Ernest Lovejoy. I am currently writing a book about the family.

  6. My grandfather Joseph Gorton was a survivor of this storm together with his father, brother and sister. His mother and two sisters died. Any pictures of the Gortons are appreciated.

    • I’m pretty sure I don’t have any, but I’ll certainly look! Do you know where your grandfather lived at the time? I’m sure he had quite a story to tell, that must have been a traumatic experience. Being in a tornado is bad enough, but losing family has got to be really tough.

  7. Pingback: June 8-9, 1953 — The Flint – Worcester Outbreak | Stormstalker

  8. I appreciate the information you’ve put here. My Great-Great Grandmother George was killed in Pomeroy. I recently saw a copy of the book Story Of A Storm which has some explicit details. My Grandmother had a spoon which was bent in the middle, not the handle but the spoon part. Amazing storm!

  9. I enjoy your write-ups a lot. I think the best tornado stories Iwritten or on TV) have a good balance of meteorological science and survivor stories, which yours do. Have you done/are you planning to do one on April 27, 2011 A.K.A. Super Outbreak II?

    • Thanks Andy. Yes, I plan on covering the 4/27/11 outbreak, I just haven’t done it yet because it’s such a massive outbreak that it’s going to take a very long time to finish (also why I haven’t tackled 4/3/74 yet). I’ve got a pretty good start on the research though since information and photos are a lot easier to come by than for events that happened 100 years ago.

      • Perhaps you could do the 1974 and 2011 outbreaks in parts? Maybe a part one, part two, part three, etc., going state by state or town by town? Just a suggestion. I love this blog, by the way.

      • Thanks! Yeah, I may have to split both of those outbreaks into two or more posts once I decide to tackle them. There’s just so much to cover with each of them, and they’re so historic that they deserve to really be covered in-depth.

  10. Having lived in Pomeroy on a farm two miles east until my college graduation in 1971, I had heard so much of the Pomeroy cyclone….but I hadn’t read such a comprehensive article about it. Thanks for sharing. We were the Pomeroy Cyclones when I graduated in 1968 from the local high school. My relatives’ family name was Johnson. Was the Lutheran church destroyed St. John’s?

  11. I was raised in Pomeroy. You wouldn’t believe all of the storm caves that were built afterwards. Many are now gone, others exist. I kept nightcrawlers in our neighbors that I sold. Quite an enterpreneur. Because of this tornado I was brought up to be very apprehensive about storms and still am, now living in ‘West Des Moines. My sister still resides there. Immanuel Lutheran was on the far west side of town and I believe it was the church destroyed. St. Johns is on the far east side.

    • Hey Larry, it looks like we may both be partially correct. I did some more digging and I think I have the whole story now. It appears both churches were destroyed, but I confused the two of them. The church in the photo was Immanuel, located on the corner of Seneca and 3rd St. An article from The Pomeroy Herald in 1954 also confirms it.

      This account from “The Past and Present of Calhoun County, Iowa” by Beaumont Stonebraker suggests that St. John’s was destroyed, but for some reason doesn’t mention Immanuel being destroyed as well:

      “There are two German Lutheran churches in the Town of Pomeroy that are among the early organizations of this denomination in Calhoun County. The Immanuel Church is located in the western part of the town and in the spring of 1915 was under the pastoral care of Rev. Theo Tiemeyer. St. John’s is situated in the eastern part, with Rev. Henry Meyer as pastor. The building of the latter church was destroyed by the great tornado of July 6, 1893, but was soon afterward rebuilt and both congregations are now in a flourishing condition.”

      There are other accounts mentioning its destruction as well, and it appears it would have been within the south side of the tornado’s path. In any event, it appears both churches were destroyed (along with several others), but the one in the photo is indeed Immanuel.

  12. Shawn, what a great site and you certainly have a wonderful talent for writing and research! I recently purchased F.W. Sprague’s The Story of a Storm due to your fine article and have just started reading the book. VERY thorough.

    In any case, you should consider writing a book about Griffin, Indiana & the tri-state tornado of 3/18/1925. Many articles and book chapters have appeared over the years but a more thorough work should be done documenting that horrible event. Of course, there are a number of villages/cities along the 3.5 hour storm path that deserve their own titles but Griffin is rather special (the main funnel/vortices blanketed the entire town at 73 mph).

    I’ve bookmarked your page and will visit often. Really appreciate the work you’ve done!

    • Thanks! I’d like to write a book at some point, though I’m not sure there’d be much of an audience. I actually started this blog with the intention of gaining some experience in researching and writing about these events before I jumped in on writing a book, but this format has worked pretty well so far and I like being able to interact with people who share my interest.

      I would like to have traveled to Illinois and Indiana to try and talk with some of the survivors while I was writing my article on that event, but unfortunately I don’t think there are many left. Strangely, there isn’t as much information available in newspapers and other contemporary sources as you’d think. I suppose when you have such massive devastation over 200+ miles and three states, it’s a lot more difficult to give the necessary attention to detail to individual locations.

  13. My wife & I were in Griffin last year on the 88th anniversary of the storm’s visitation. Author Angela Mason (Death Rides The Sky – The Story of the 1925 Tri-State Tornado) gave a very informative presentation at The Depot Diner located on the south end of town, right off Interstate 64. While there, we were most blessed to meet a 96 yr old survivor of the store. Though she was in the family’s home at the time and didn’t see the cloud, their home (3 blocks north of the diner) was lifted up, rotated and cast out into the middle of the street. Harrowing for sure. This lady has since retired to a nursing home facility. There are still several Griffin survivor sprinkled around (none living in Griffin).

    While there, we visited two local cemeteries and photographed the resting places of the victims (and those who passed later). We have one more gravesite to visit belonging to Griffin school bus driver, Chick Oller, located in the Poseyville cemetery. We also visited the site where the bus was destroyed by the tornado, killing seven children and Mr. Oller.

    If you ever stop to visit Griffin, there is a very nice memorial on Main Street in the center of town. It has two signs briefly detailing the storm and a stone with a plaque listing the names of those who perished in the storm. Further down a short walkway, there is a gazebo with a fantastic, panoramic photo of a devasted Griffin hanging in the rear.

    When we made our first visit to Griffin, I sped the car up to 73 mph before we got to the city’s exit on I-64 to experience how the storm approached and sped through the little village. Incredible.

  14. To clarify, we did not drive through Griffin at 73 mph! LOL This was done just before we exited I-64 where we naturally slowed down to leave the interstate.

  15. Pingback: July 6, 1893: Massive Tornado Almost Completely Destroyed an Iowa Town! - Cracked History

  16. My wife’s great-grandparent’s family were caught in the storm. They were John and Anna (Pietsch) Beckley, naturalized Germans. The accounts show that they lost two daughters 4 & 6 years of age. Sadly, none of the newspaper accounts or even records from the family have names of the two girls. It appears they are buried in the old Swedish Cemetery. Wondering if “Story of a Storm” would have any information about them…Thanks!

    • Hi Mark! I did some research and the only thing I’ve been able to find is lists of those killed which include the two daughters, but no names or further information. I don’t have a full copy of Story of the Storm, though, so it’s possible there could be more info in the book. Sorry I wasn’t able to be more helpful.

    • From “Story of the Storm” by F.W. Sprague page 97
      “The track of the tornado was discernable for a distance of two miles east of town, and then the destructive forces seemed to have been dissolved in air. The final work of the monster was the destruction of the homes of Carson Duise and John Beckley, two children of the latter having been killed. The Beckley house was built of sun-dried brick, and the children were buried beneath its crumbling walls.”
      I found no other references to the Beckley family.
      The author does mention an official list of those wounded and killed which was provided by a Dr. Wright which the author used to compile these figures: thirty died the night of the storm, six died on the 7th and one on the 8th and another eleven died over the next four weeks. The total number of people with in the range of the storm was estimated at 1,142 and the total number of killed and wounded to be 308. If this list is still in existence it might give more detail. The museum in Pomeroy has information on the storm. Contacting the municipal office in Pomeroy could perhaps give you the answers that you seek. They have listings of the names of the people buried in the cemetary I was able to locate my great grandmother Harlowe’s resting place through those records. She was also a fatality of this monster storm. The remainder of her family is shown in the picture above of the Saltzman cave.


      • Thank you, Cheryl! This is as much detail as I’ve gotten on the Beckleys and the Pomeroy Cyclone yet. Using this as a reference, it appears that the Beckleys lived about 2 miles east of Pomeroy- is that how you would read it? What is confusing about the graves are that they seem to be in two difference cemeteries. I will need to do some more work on this. Is the municipal office like city hall? Too bad that the 1890 Census was destroyed, since had it survived, both of these children’s names would have been listed. Thanks again so much!!!

      • Yes the municipal office is town hall. I visited there a few years ago and they were very helpful. I am sure the cemetery records will show the names of the girls.

  17. The family story is that 3-Greats-Grandfather Charles Totman was herding everyone into the cellar and then turned to help unhitch a horse and was picked up, while the horse and wagon owner survived by clinging to a tree. I’ve never seen proof of the account in any of the papers, but it lives on in our oral history.

  18. Yes – I am a direct descendant of the Butson, Isaac C. and his wife Caroline (Carrie), and their son Butson, William (the ice-man) and his first wife Holtorf, Alvina – (she died at an early age – and he re-married Trenery, Edith. They lived in Pomeroy at the time this famous Cyclone struck. I own a copy of one of the original copy’s of this book and on Pg 79-80 it talks about two residences owned by Butson, Isaac C. The article is summarized and I Quote: For want of a better place at hand, twenty-two people, including dying and dead, occupied the Butson home the whole night following the storm, although the rain neat in at a score of places and the floors were covered with water and mud. It is my understanding the home was severley damaged but was one of a very few in the thriving town of Pomeroy that survived the storm. The home to the best of my knowledge still stands to this day. There are people in town to this day – that are very famliar which house is the Old Butson residence.

  19. What are your thoughts on the 1860 Comanche tornado? Is that a candidate as one of the strongest ever or did it occur too long ago to get a good estimate?

    • Whoops, I missed this comment earlier. The Comanche tornado was certainly a very violent tornado, but unfortunately, most of the available information is pretty vague and open to interpretation (and, in many cases, also exaggerated in the overly flowery prose that was common at the time). If I were to guess I’d say it was probably comparable to Pomeroy as far as intensity, though contemporary reports seem to suggest it was likely a tornado family (or possibly even two) rather than a single long-track one.

  20. Thanks so much for the information in this article. Seems very thorough. I recently purchased a box of stereo graph cards and in the box are 2 photographs of THE RUINS OF POMEROY IOWA. July 6th 1893. By F A Garrison Fort Dodge Iowa. ;Number 8 and number 10. If you are interested in them I’d be glad to mail them to you. These 2 pictures are not in your article. Thanks again.

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