Sherman’s Black Friday: Texas Tornado 1896

sherman-txt18

DEATH RODE THE GALE

Several Texas Towns Visited by a Fearful Cyclone Yesterday.

SHERMAN SUFFERS WORST

Sixty People Dead or Fatally Hurt and 150 Injured at Sherman Alone.

DEATH AND RUIN ELSEWHERE

Eighteen Persons Killed or Fatally Injured at Howe, Gribble Springs and Justin – Immense Damage Done.

Sherman, May 15. — Just a few minutes before 5 o’clock this afternoon, a cyclone not exceeding two blocks in width, but carrying widespread destruction and death in its wake, swept through the western half of the city, traveling almost directly north.

The approach of the terrific whirlwind was announced by a deep rumbling noise, not unlike reverberating thunder. A fierce and driving rain accompanied it.

Late to-night it is supposed that 10 people have been killed south of town, in addition to the city’s death list. Wagons are unloading the dead and injured every moment.

A reporter standing on the north side of the Court plaza had his attention called to the peculiar appearance of the clouds. They were parted at the lower side, converging into a perfect funnel-shaped point, while a

BOILING SEETHING MASS

of vaporous clouds were rapidly revolving in the rift. The air was suddenly filled with trees and twigs and the downpour of rain brought with it a deluge of mud. Then the truth dawned on all that a cyclone was prevailing.

From the point at which it seems to have first descended, to where it suddenly arose from the ground, just north of the city, it left terrific marks of its passing, not a house in its path escaping; not a tree or shrub left standing, or not twisted and torn out of shape. Fences are gone.

The iron bridge on Houston street is completely wrecked and blown away notwithstanding its hundreds of thousands of pounds of steel and material. The number of persons wounded will reach not less than 100 and it will be several days before the exact number of fatalities can be given as many persons and especially children are missing and many of the injured are in such critical shape that a score may die before morning.

THE LIST OF KILLED.

As far as reported by the authorities tonight is as follows:
MRS. OTTO BALLINGER and two children.
MRS. I. L. BURNS and two children,
JOSEPHINE, aged 3, and
GROVER, aged 10.
JOHN AMES and wife and two children.
REV. J. S. SHEARER.
MRS. LUKE MONTGOMERY and two children. Another child is also missing.
WILLIAM HAMILTON, farmer.
MRS. GEORGE ANDERSON and an infant daughter.
MRS. BELLE JENKINS.
D. L. PIERCE.
TOM PIERCE, his son, aged 14.
MRS. DAVE HERRING and two children.
AN UNKNOWN WOMAN and two white children, about 4 and 6 years of age, have not been identified and are being held in the morgue for identification.

The list of colored people killed, so far as learned up to 10 p. m., is as follows:

JAMES WALKER.
MRS. NORA NICHOLSON and two children.
LUCY BALLINGER and daughter.
CHARLEY COX, son of ELIZA COX.
MARY LAKE, and three children.
LEITTIS, JOHN and FATUS.

LIST OF WOUNDED.
TOM JENKINS, his wife and five children.
MR. AND MRS. HENRY MILLER, and two children.
A heavy sliver of wood was driven through the thigh of GRANVILLE JENKINS.
MR. AND MRS. ED. HALSELL and little son, with B. F. WOODARD, were in the cellar at the former’s residence and were covered with debris. MR. AND MRS. HALSELL were both painfully bruised about the thighs and are supposed to have been blown through a window.
ELIZA COX, colored, hurt in the breast.
HARRIET LAKE, colored, cut and bruised.
DON CEPHUS, colored, his wife and son, CLARENCE, all have limbs broken and are in a precarious condition.
LETTIE and LUMMIE BURNS are badly.
MR. AND MRS. JESSE BROWN, badly bruised. MRS. BROWN’S arm is broken.
LUKE SHEARER, son of REV. SHEARER, who was killed, is badly bruised.
This list is necessarily incomplete. The greatest

NUMBER OF FATALITIES

are reported from the colored settlement along Post Oak and Lincoln streets, between Curry and Lost streets where several people were killed outright.

Very few of the persons in the demolished houses are able to tell just how the storm burst upon them and only in one or two instances were parties able to get out of its deadly path.

MRS. J. P. KING and two children are seriously injured.
PHILIP NICHOLS received painful hurts about the head.
MRS. JOHN IRVINE and four children were all more or less injured.
W. S. BEUTWICK, who was in the same residence, is cut very seriously.
OTTO BALLINGER, whose family were all killed, is badly hurt about the head.
HESTER and NANNIE NICHOLSON, colored, of the family of which six were killed, are seriously hurt.
DAVE HERRING and MRS. D. L. PIERCE, who alone escaped death at their home, are perhaps fatally hurt.
MARY PATRICK, colored, and three children are all badly hurt.
MATTIE JOHNSON, colored, head hurt and injured internally; will die.
JOHN AND ALICE NEWHOUSE, colored, and four children, badly hurt.
HARRIET HENDRICKS, colored, both legs broken.
MISS EVA PIERCE, daughter of D. L. PIERCE, left leg and right arm broken.
MR. AND MRS. WRIGHT CLARK, painfully hurt.

THE NUMBER OF MISSING

is large and includes a great many children and it is quite probable that the most of them are dead.

It is very conservative to estimate that the list of fatalities will reach 50, while the injured will reach 150.

At least 50 houses are wrecked. Most of them are small cottages, except in Fairview and Washington avenues where the handsome residences of L. F. ELY, Captain J. G. SALLER, MRS. PAT MATTINGLY and JAMES FALLS also succumbed. The loss will reach at least $150,000 and but little if any of it was covered by cyclone insurance.

About the most graphic description given by any of the injured was that of W. S. BEUTWICK, who said:

WHAT HE SAW.

“I was at MR. JOHN IRVINE’S house when I heard the noise of the approaching storm. Just as I looked out I saw Captain BERGE’S house blown into the air and then MR. SHEARER’S house. The air was filled with great trees and timbers and every conceivable kind of article. I was fascinated, petrified, for I saw it was coming directly upon us and that it could not be long in reaching us. It was a black, serpentine cloud, twisting, writhing in the center, but at the bottom it seemed to be moving steadily. I woke from my stupor and called out to the family, who were in the house, and asked them not to run out. I feared that we would all be struck by flying timbers. Then came

AN AWFUL CRASH.

A sense of suffocation, and when it was over the house was gone and myself and family were scattered about the yard and under the debris. It was over in such a short time that I can not give you an idea of how long it was.”

In just a few minutes the police officers were appealed to for shelter for the dead and wounded and ambulances and all kinds of conveyances were pressed into service. A vacant store room on the north side of Court Plaza and another on the south side, and the court room were transformed into impromptu morgues and hospitals for the wounded down town, while every residence left standing on Fairview is

FILLED WITH WOUNDED.

The physicians and druggists responded promptly to the call for succor and drugs and everything needed came spontaneously. Hundreds of ladies responded to the call of humanity and with a score of physicians, were soon at work. Color and caste disappeared, in the supreme moment of woe and desolation.

Thanks to the excellent police service, the crowds were restrained everywhere about the improvised hospitals and citizens and physicians found their labor more effective on account of non-interference. The cries of the injured were supplemented by the agonized shrieks of those who, passing

FROM CORPSE TO CORPSE

at last found some loved one, perhaps a husband or a wife or son or daughter.

MR. MONTGOMERY’S wife and two or three children are dead. The children are terribly mangled.

One of them, about five years old, had the top of her head knocked off.

Another child was found dead 500 yards from the house.

On West Houston street several are dead.
A man named BILL HAMILTON is fatally injured.
MR. CEPHUS, and child, colored are reported dead.
Several negroes have been picked out of the creek dead.
A young white woman, unidentified, was found dead, three hundred yards south of ELY’S residence.

Every moment brings new victims. It is likely as many as 50 people are dead. The victims are

HORRIBLY MANGLED.

JOHN AMES and wife and two children are dead and a five year old boy fatally injured.
T. W. JENKINS, daughter and wife are dead.

The most miraculous escape so far as learned by the reporter was the case of the family of Captain ELY. The residence, quite a roomy, brick structure, was razed to the ground, and but for the presence of some heavy timbers standing upright in the debris, which sheltered them from the avalanche of brick and stone, they would have all perished, but as it was only one member, a little girl, was bruised.

A public meeting raised $3,000 for the immediate relief of the sufferers and the PERMANENT RELIEF COMMITTEE, consisting of C. H. SMITH, C. B. RANDELL, C. H. DORCHESTER and COLONEL GEORGE M. MURPHY, will take donations.

It is distinctly stated that donations from points outside of Grayson county will not be received. Denison has responded nobly and nurses and physicians from that city are here rendering great assistance. All railroads running into the city placed special trains at the disposal of the local authorities and brought help from all neighboring cities.

Reports are that the storm killed many persons in the country west of Howe.

A large number of police and searching parties are looking for missing persons.

ADDITIONAL DEATHS.

The following are additional deaths reported up to 1 a. m.;
JIM ENGLISH, colored.
JOHN TAYLOR, white.
KATE KING, colored.
The unknown woman at the morgue has been identified as MRS. I. L. BURIES.
Another infant of the BALLINGER family has been found dead.
CHARLES WEDDLE, of Fairview, is dead, with a piece of timber driven through his body.
The family of JOHN HAMILTON has been discovered, all badly injured.
One of the HAMILTON boys, aged 20 years, will die. Two girls, one aged 15 and one 9, were fatally injured, and another girl, aged 11, was injured internally.

It is impossible to get a correct list of all the missing. Nearly every family in the district has some member that they can not account for and it is believed that most of

THE MISSING ARE DEAD.

A water spout accompanied the cyclone and the creeks are all out of their banks. Several objects thought to be human bodies were seen in the water, but could not be reached. The officers are making every effort to dredge all creeks in the vicinity to-morrow. It is a remarkable incident that in every case where there were deaths the bodies from the houses destroyed were found from 100 to 150 yards away, in a direction opposite to that in which the storm was moving. The storm was moving northward and in every instance the bodies were found to the southward. Telegraph poles were torn up and driven into the ground. A great many of the wounded are in private houses scattered all over the city. It is safe to assume that at least one quarter of the number

INJURED WILL DIE

in the next twenty-four hours. Another storm of a similar nature passed about six miles west of the city at about the same hour. Several houses were blown down and many persons injured. Their names can not be obtained.

At Carpenter’s bluff it is reported six persons were hurt, five seriously.
Buildings and other structures in the way were demolished.

A daughter of TOM JENKINS was found lying in a pool of water. She was evidently drowned, for no marks or bruises could be found on her body.

The police department is employing every means in its power to help the sufferers and all have been given comfortable quarters

AT CARPENTER BLUFF.

After passing over Sherman the cyclone went southeast.
At Carpenter Bluff, seven miles east at Denison, the dwelling of JOHN DEVANT was blown down and four persons, DEVANT and wife, and DEVANT’S hired man, named ARMOUR, and a little child, received injuries from which they will die.

THE EARLY ACCOUNT.

Sherman, May 15. — A most disastrous cyclone struck Sherman at 4:30 o’clock this afternoon, wiping out the western end of the town entirely.

The loss of life is appalling. The dead are estimated at between 30 and 40. This is a very conservative estimate. Many more are fatally or seriously injured.

At 6 o’clock, the evening twelve bodies are lying in the court house and as many more are scattered about across the desolated west end of the city. No accurate estimate can be made yet of the loss of life and property. The work of rescue and search for the missing goes on. The business part of the town is deserted and the greatest excitement reigns. The Western Union office is overflowed with anxious ones sending messages and inquiring the fate of other towns. Every available wagon, buggy and horse is in use by searchers and workers on

THE FIELD OF DEATH.

As time passes reports of greater loss of life and property are arriving. Many stories of miraculous escapes are told.

The Sherman court house is insufficient to hold the dead and wounded.

The vacant Moore building, on the south square, was utilized at 6 o’clock, fifteen colored people, dead or dying, being placed there.

Express drays, baggage wagons and all kinds of vehicles continue to come in with dead bodies. Around the Moore building the highest excitement prevails and the greatest difficulty is experienced in getting the names of the victims and accurate reports.

The storm struck Sherman without warning, on the southwest corner of the city, and cleared a path 100 yards wide along the west end of the town. Houses, trees, fences and everything went before

THE TERRIBLE FORCE

of the cyclone. The negro part of the town suffered the most severely.

There are probably, 30 negroes killed. Ten bodies have been picked up in Post Oak creek.

The flood of rain which attended the storm was severe. The town is a mass of mud and floating debris. There is much difficulty in finding the dead and injured.

Captain J. E. ELY’S house was demolished and his wife and two children had miraculous escapes.

Captain B. BERGE’S residence was also leveled to the ground, but fortunately the family was away from home.

FRANK RYAN, manager of the Sherman baseball team, had his house blown off its foundation and completely turned around. His wife and two children escaped serious injury.

Leadville Daily and Evening Chronicle 1896-05-16

sherman-txt60

THE TEXAS CYCLONE

Further Reports of the Terrible

Destruction Wrought.

Additional Returns Only Add to the Horrors

of the Catastrophe.

Austin, Tex., May 16—News from North Texas reports a terrific cyclone in that section yesterday afternoon. At the small town of Justin, twelve business houses were blown down and their contents scattered to the winds.

One man, named W.J. Evans, of Keller, Tex., was killed by a tree falling upon him and seventeen others were injured, some of whom are not expected to live. Cattle in the fields were blown hither and thither and many of them killed outright.

Keller, a small town to the north of Justin, was almost entirely wrecked by the cyclone and it is reported that only one house in the hamlet is now standing. All that section of the country immediately north of these two towns was left in ruins by the storm.

The cyclone struck the town of Hudson, leaving death and ruin in its wake. The path of the cyclone at this point was a quarter of a mile wide. Ten farm houses and as many barns were wrecked. Eight persons were killed outright and many injured. Much stock was killed.

Griddle Springs, a small village north of Denton, was also swept by the cyclone, four persons being killed, five dangerously hurt and thirty badly wounded.

The railroad track north of Justin is also reported to be torn up and twisted out of shape, showing the terrific velocity of the wind. Water was scooped out of creeks by the wind, and every section of the country lying in the path of the cyclone is laid waste. The path of the cyclone was possibly 10 miles wide by 12 long, judging from reports.

A cyclone at Mound Ridge devastated a stretch of country about eight miles in length and 100 yards in width.

Samuel Bass, a farmer, was fatally injured and his house demolished. Five others, whose names are unknown, were more or less seriously injured.

A permanent relief committee has been organized at Sherman and will take donations for the relief of the sufferers from yesterday’s storm. Denison has responded nobly and nurses and physicians from that city are there rendering great assistance. All railroads running into the city placed special trains at the disposal of local authorities and brought help from all neighboring cities. Reports say that the storm killed many person in the county west of Howe.

It is impossible to get a correct list of all the missing. Nearly every family in the district has some member that they cannot account for and it is believed that most of the missing are dead. A water spout accompanied the cyclone and the creeks are all out of the banks.

Several objects thought to be human bodies were seen in the water but could not be reached. The officers are making every preparation possible to dredge all the creeks in the vicinity at an early hour. Telegraph and telephone poles were torn up and driven into the ground. It is safe to assume that at least one fourth of the number of injured will die in the next 24 hours.

Another storm of a similar nature passed about six miles west of the city at about the same hour. Several houses were blown down and many persons injured.

At Carpenter’s Bluff, on the Red River, it is reported that six persons were hurt, five seriously.

Buildings and other structures in the way were demolished. A daughter of Thomas Jenkins was found lying in a pool of water. She had evidently been drowned, for no marks or bruises could be found on her body.

In Sherman many elegant residences were demolished. The Houston street steel suspension bridge was torn to splinters and huge iron girders were twisted like straw. Houses, trees and human beings were blown thousands of feet. All of the buildings on Sixth street were swept away by the mighty whirlwind.

A dead child was found in the top of a tree. A farmer driving along in front of Captain Ely’s house was killed instantly. The wagon wheelsbut no trace of the team. Bodies of children, beheaded and disemboweled, were seen in many places. Six unidentified white corpses are in Undertaker Harrington’s rooms. A son of J.H. Perren, who lives five miles south of the town, was fatally injured. The boy was away from his home, at his uncle’s, who was killed with his wife and baby. Ten bodies were brought in from the Wakefieldfarm, two miles west of the city.

A.F. Person, wife, granddaughter, married daughter and three other children who lived on the farm were all killed. It is thought that the country for 14 or 15 miles has been devastated and depopulated by the storm.

Not a tree or house was left standing in its course. Five hundred yards to the east the storm would have taken in the business portion of the city. The cyclone was preceded by terrific claps of thunder, much lightning and a furious dash of rain. The people were terror stricken and many fell on their knees and prayed for deliverance.

Five minutes after the storm the sky was bright and clear but desolation, terror and uncontrollable grief reigned where ten minutes before were happy, united families and pleasant homes.

Many private houses have been turned into hospitals and physicians and surgeons of this and adjacent towns worked all night. The ladies of Sherman came to the rescue nobly and bear up bravely in the face of the most sickening sights.

Very few persons in the demolished houses are able to tell how the storm burst upon them and only in one or two instances were parties able to get out of its deadly path. W.S. Bostwick relates his experience as follows:

“I was at John Irvine’s house when I heard the noise of the approaching storm. Just as I looked out I saw Capt. Birge’s house blown into the air and then Mr. Spearen’s house. The air was filled with trees and timbers and every conceivable kind of articles. I was terrified for I saw that the black cloud was coming directly upon us and that it could not be long in reaching us. I hurried home and called to the members of my family, who were in the house, and asked them not to run out. I reared that we would all be stuck by the flying timbers.

Then came an awful crash, a sense of suffocation, and when it was over the house was gone and myself and family were scattered abut the yard and under the rubbish. It was over in a short time.”

Later—The death list is growing rapidly and this morning over 75 bodies were found. Over 25 physicians from Sherman, Denison, Whitewright, Howe and Van Alstyne are attending the wounded and hundreds of women are helping. The colored people having recovered from their first fright, are working like Trojans. The excitement cannot be abated so long as reports continue to come in as they do.

It is reported that 12 dead bodied have been found in a pit north of town and there have been no means of bringing them here. Many persons are missing and entire families cannot yet be found. It is believe many negroes will be found in Post Oak creek. Bodies are still being brought in and will be during the day. If all reports are to be credited, the number of dead must reach 150. The storm passed two miles from Denison, and is thought to have broken up beyond there.

Telephone an telegraph wires between here and Denison are all down and many other towns have no connection. It is feared that the restoration of telegraphic communication will bring information of the loss of life and property in surrounding towns, greater than already estimated.

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier (Bangor, Maine) Monday, 18 May 1896

Amanda (Gray) Cook

Amanda (Gray) Cook

This is my great-grandmother, who was injured and left an orphan by this tornado. She was about 10 years-old at the time. Both of her parents, Lafayette Gray and Martha Jane May, as well as her grandmother, Martha E May died from injuries sustained in this natural disaster.

sherman-txwesthillcemetery072

This picture, which can be found on the Grayson County, Texas Genweb website is of the memorial placed in the cemetery in remembrance of the horrible trajedy and its victims. Most of the dead do not have their own gravestones.

There are several other articles about the Black Friday disaster, which I transcribed posted on the same site.

In addition, the book, Sherman’s Black Friday, by H.L. Piner can be read online there as well. The two pictures depicting the damage that I posted with the articles come from that book.

*Links fixed to the Genweb pages linked above.

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2 Responses to “Sherman’s Black Friday: Texas Tornado 1896”

  1. Alexandria Shelton Says:

    How did people feel after the tornado hit sherman,tx?
    -Alexandria Shelton

  2. The Indefinitive List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded (Pre-1970) | Says:

    […] the 71 deaths were concentrated within eight separate homes where most or all residents perished (link). Newspapers reported that most of the victims were thrown long distances, many more than 400 yards […]

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