The Decoration Day Tornado of 1917
Par Kent Beaulne dit Bone (2015)
On Wednesday, May 30th, 1917 parts of Washington County Missouri were devastated by cyclones and storms. Decoration Day is what they used to call Memorial Day before it was observed on the last Monday of May. The day of the week didn’t matter then.
These storms were part of a larger week-long, weather system, as reported in the Weekly-Independent, Potosi May 31, 1917; STORMS KILL OVER 300 IN EIGHT CENTRAL WEST STATES.
Mineral Point was one of those towns like Blackwell, Tiff, Cadet, and Irondale, that grew up around the Iron Mountain Rail Road tracks, the Interstates of the day.
I grew up hearing stories about this disaster. My grandpa Possum Bone, and his siblings, Uncle Luke, Uncle Dink, aunt Viola Eckhoff, and Aunt Lucille Portell would talk about the cyclone that blew away Mineral Point. Their grandparents Gus Bone, and his wife Louise Degonia were killed when their house exploded. That date was early on ingrained in my brain.
There was a yearly picnic and ceremony at the Hopewell Cemetery every year on that day. It seems to have been a big event for its time. Most of the residents of the town had caught the train and gone to the picnic, which isn’t very far from Mineral Point. In those days everyone took the train, as the roads weren’t very good, and not everyone had horses or wagons.
My story tellers were very young when this happened. Others are relating what they heard from those who were there.
One story often told, was that while returning with passengers from the Hopewell picnic, the locomotive engineer saw the cyclone ahead, slowed his engine to a stop, then backed up to avoid the impending disaster. The folks on the train watched in horror as their town got blown away. As the story goes, the steel rails of the tracks were pulled loose from the ties by the power of the cyclone.
Possum and uncle Dink said that lots of folks would have been killed if they hadn’t gone to that picnic. I always wondered why Gus and Louise Bone stayed home that day in 1917.
My grandma Torie Bone was a young girl at the time, living in a log house on what is now Bottom Diggins Road. She was sitting out in the yard when she saw her tante Belle Cabine coming down the lane as fast as she could, pulling her son Cabine behind. She was saying over and over in French, “viens donc Cabine, viens donc toè. “Come on Cabine, come on!” She was terribly rattled. “She was a mess.” In those days nearly everyone in the northern half of the County still spoke French.
When grandma Torie asked her aunt Belle what was wrong, all she could say was “Mineral Point just got blown away,” and she just kept on walking.
Cousin Harold Eckhoff, whose mom (Viola Bone Eckhoff) was in the cyclone, told him;
“A two by four had come through the walls of great grandpa Gus Bone’s house, and went right through him. His wife Louise died later from injuries. Aunt Lucile Bone Portell and mom (Viola) were in that house at the time.”
Another story Harold told me was this: “There was a traveling preacher in town that day. He had set up on the street, and was preaching loud, as they often did in those days. My uncles and some other boys began harassing him and throwing rocks. They practically ran him out of town. He returned with a threat of ‘Before this day is over, destruction will come down upon you.’”
My great Aunt Lucille Portell told me that when they heard it coming, they put her behind a dresser that was set in a corner of the house. After it passed, she crawled out from under that dresser, to find most of the house gone. Her grandpa Gus was dead, and grandma Louise was badly injured.
My dad, Duddy Bone, used to point out the old YMCA building on the east side of DeSoto, saying that was where they brought the injured from Mineral Point.
Another story I learned quite by accident in 2007, at a restaurant in Soulard, where I met Buddy Walton “Hairdresser to the stars.” When he told me he grew up in Mineral Point, I asked if he had heard anything about the 1917 cyclone. He said his grandparents were killed that day and proceeded to tell me a story. “A boy was standing in a doorway. He was told to get out of that doorway or he would get killed. He didn’t listen to them, and a board went right through him”.
A few years ago while at a Shooters Bar in Old Mines, I was talking with a Mr. Cantrell. He had stories about the cyclone as well. The one he remembered was this: “A colored man was picked up by the cyclone, and thrown against a bluff, killing him”.
Mrs. Mandy Eckhoff was a young girl in 1917. She was one of those who hadn’t gone to the Hopewell picnic, but survived. She witnessed her town get blown away.
After this story was first published in the I-J in 2001, I received the following from Pat Weeks of Danna Point CA.
“I had no idea of the scope of destruction to the mid-west. My great grandmother, Isabelle Rush Bridge, lost her home on the ridge overlooking Mineral Point. Well, let’s see; cross the tracks going toward Pond Creek. I believe the stone building was also referred to as the icehouse. At that first road, take it to the right and up the ridge. That is where Belle’s house was located. I have a lovely picture of this house which was published in some architectural magazine of the time. The house was built by my grandfather Clarence Rush, probably about 1904. In the newspaper accounts of the cyclone, Belle was the one who ‘suffered injuries to the lower limbs.’ After the cyclone, Belle and husband Harry Bridge moved to Ironton into one of Philip Rush’s taverns directly across from the Ironton train Depot.”
Although memories become faded, and stories change over time, they can be a good starting point for doing research.
The Facts: Accounts of the cyclone from various Newspapers. Words in brackets are my insertions.
Weekly-Independent, Potosi Missouri - Thursday, May 31 1917
Cyclone Passes Through County, Killing Many.
Town of Mineral Point Completely Destroyed-Seven Dead and Many Injured.
Loss About $200,000 In County-Crops and Orchards Greatly Damaged-Live Stock Loss Great
On Wednesday afternoon, a cyclone passed through Washington County, leaving many dead, and injured, and wrecking homes, business, fences, orchards, and crops. The greatest damage was done at Mineral Point, while property was destroyed in Harmony, Walton, and Kingston townships.
The storm entered this county at the southeast corner, and was about three-eighths of a mile wide, travelling in a northeast direction. Papers from Mineral Point were found in O’Fallon, IL and East St Louis, seventy-five miles distance. At Eye, nine miles west of Potosi, losses are reported as follows; Luther Sparks store house, and stock of merchandise; residence, and barns of C. H. Downard occupied by Aaron Trout; houses, and barns occupied by Wm. Allen, Geo. Allen, Richard Welker, and W. J. Jinkerson, Curtis Allen each.
The cyclone passed one and one-half miles south of Potosi, damaging the farm property of Andy Weber, George Weber, Wm. Riehl, Jas. Dallen, and Dr. L. T. Hall, to a considerable amount. A log cabin on the Russel land occupied by Oscar Puckett, and family was blown away. The family was at home, but no one was injured.
The timber loss along the entire path of the storm was very great. Large trees were twisted, and blown down.
At Mineral Point the entire town was destroyed. Below is given a list of the dead and injured, and the property destroyed. Two coaches on the Potosi branch, and one boxcar standing on the track at Mineral Point were blown over. Frank Richardson, and Charles Rush were in the coaches at the time. Rush escaped without injury, but Mr. Richardson had two ribs broken, and was badly bruised. Engineer Wm. N. Woods, and Fireman John H. Swift were on the [train] engine, and sustained bruises. The engine held the track. The railroad track, one-fourth mile south of the Mineral Point station was curved 16 inches out of line.
Passenger train No. 22 north bound, carrying 500 passengers stopped ½ mile south of the station by an automatic block signal put in operation by the wind. The passengers watched the cyclone destroy the town of Mineral Point from the car windows. As soon as the wind abated sufficiently, conductor Jno. E. Gregg of St Louis led men and women from the train, and assisted in the rescue work, amid a driving rain, and hailstorm. Mr. Gregg after an hour’s strenuous work in removing timbers from over the storm victims, placed 18 of the injured on his train and rushed them to the YMCA building in DeSoto, where they are being cared for. It is estimated that more than 200 of the passengers on No. 22 were residents of Mineral Point, and Potosi, and were returning home from Hopewell, 4 miles south of Mineral Point, where they had been to attend the annual Memorial Exercises that day. This accounts for the small number of deaths, and injuries.
There were several miraculous escapes made. One was the escape of Mr. H. S. Bowler, who clung to the side of a coal bin at the [railroad station] pump house, during the storm, and sustained no injuries, while John Bone, the pumper, was picked up by the wind, and blown clear over the pump house, sustaining serious injuries. Mr. Wm A. Boddecke, President of the Point Milling & Manufacturing Co. has announced that the Tiff mill will be re-built after an adjustment with the insurance companies. This was good news to the people of Mineral Point, and the surrounding country, as many families there depend entirely upon the mill for support.
RELIEF WORK BEGUN; Immediately after the cyclone had passed, every available conveyance in Potosi was called into service, and left for scenes of the wreck. In order to reach Mineral Point it was necessary to cut a number of fallen trees from the road. Thursday morning a Relief Committee was appointed by Sheriff L. W. Casey, at Mineral Point, consisting of Rev. John T. Self, Hugh L. White, and Henry C. Bell. A census was taken of the town, and assistance solicited by this committee. $200.00 was raised before noon. In Potosi a meeting was called by the Mayor, J. W. Settle, for 2 o’clock p.m. Thursday, at which meeting, committees were appointed as follows; Finance; John F. Evans, Jas. A. Shields, H. L. White, O. L. Loomis, and Wm. Casey. Relief; Henry C. Bell, John T. Self, and John Maclay, of Potosi, and W. A. Buddecke, L. D. Bone, and H. S. Bowler, of Mineral Point. Mayor Settle is an ex-officio member of both committees. Both Committees organized at once, and have been actively at work soliciting funds, and relieving the distressed. [L. D. Bone wrote a weekly article about Mineral Point in the Potosi paper under the name of Old Ike]
Thursday evening, Geo. W. Simmons, a Missouri director, and Chas. M. Hubbard, agent of the American Red Cross of St Louis, reached Potosi, and entered into the relief work with the local committee, and through their efforts, two trained nurses, and a large supply of groceries, and clothing of every description reached Mineral Point Friday evening. Saturday morning the work of distributing the supplies to the needy was begun, and about two hundred people were relieved.
Relief at Eye, [the settlement] was given by the farmers of Belgrade and Walton townships. Seventy-five men assisted in restoring the fences of Harry Allen, and C. H. Downard on Friday last. Money is now needed for the relief of injured, and homeless. Send your contributions to Jas A. Shields, Sec’y of Finance Committee, Potosi, MO.
[The importance of farming, timber, and mining in the County in 1917, cannot be over emphasized. The losses in wages, and future income was enormous.]
List of Dead; W. Thomas LeMaster, age 60 years, of Potosi, conductor on the Potosi Branch R. R. * Gus Bone, age 68 years, miner, formerly watchman for the I. M. R. R. [Iron Mt] of Mineral Point. * Frank La Chance, laborer, age _ years, killed at tiff mill, Mineral Point. * Otis Goff, age 2 years, son of Frank Goff, Mineral Point. * Amby Harper, age 11 years, son Henry Harper, of Eye. * Mrs. Sam Newcomer, age 24 years, 1 month, 28 days died at home of L. J. Newcomer, Monday, June 4th from injuries. Leaves a husband, and 3 little girls, ages six, four, and two. Funeral was held in Potosi, Wednesday. * Mrs. Gus Bone, injured, about head. Died Tuesday, and buried in Potosi, Wednesday.
[Until a few decades ago, the Potosi Branch tracks running from the main line of the Iron Mountain R. R. at Mineral Point, to Potosi were still in place.]
List of Injured; Mrs. Thomas Bone, seriously injured, will die of blood poison. * John B. Bone pumper, head and back, serious. * Buster Harris of Potosi, left leg broken. * Louis Bloom, injured about head, back spine, and side. * Myrtle Kidd, knee, and foot injured. * Martha Gillum, right arm broken. * Minnie Golden, bruised. * Mrs. John Golden, 3 sons, and two daughters. * Mrs. Rosie Hill, 2 sons, and 2 daughter, injured about face, and head. * Father P. J. O’Connor, of St Louis, broken arm, skull probably fractured, and internal injuries. * Father C. F. O’Leary, splinter driven through right thigh, internally injured, cut, and bruised. * Sam, Harry and Lee Aubuchon, (colored) seriously injured. * John Coleman, Jr. arm broken, * Eli Mayor, left hand crushed. * Deal Jolly of Potosi, leg broken. * Mrs. Frank Goff, and Mrs. Rachel Poucher, badly bruised. * Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Bass, badly bruised, and cut. * Mrs. Harry Bridges, injured about limbs. * George Allen, of Eye (the settlement ) dislocated arm. * Jesse Eye, leg broken. * Numerous others were slightly injured, including, Miss Emma Harris, * Frank Harris, * Agnes Greenwood. A hospital was fitted up in the Court House where a number of the injured are under the care of trained nurses, of the Red Cross, and local physicians. The patients are resting on cots.
[I wonder if one of those Aubuchons was the black fellow thrown against the bluff.]
Property Damaged; Property owned by the following persons was badly damaged:
Point Milling & Manufacturing Co. [tiff mill] damaged to the extent of $85,000. with cyclone insurance of $55,000. Residence occupied by Wm. A. Buddecke was also damaged. Mr. and Mrs. L. D. Bone sustained damages of $100 on house and livestock. Mrs. Francis Miller, Albert Denny, and H. P. Kidd, homes damaged. G. F. Walten, residence, and store damaged. On farm owned by estate of H. McGregor, 2 tenant houses, one occupied by John Blakemore and one by Chas. Schultz. Barns, fences, and orchards destroyed. Martin Bone, house damaged, (owned by Phil Evens). A.J. DeClue, house damaged, (owned by J. F. Richardson). Geo. A. Beals, residence damaged; mill and blacksmith shop destroyed. H. S. Bowler, house damaged, (owned by H. Walton). Peter Trokey, house damaged, (owned by H. Walton. Mrs. C. S. Waugh, lost barn. Pond Creek; Judge Arthur Kelsey lost barn, fences, and crops greatly damaged. Residence slightly damaged. Sam Newcomer lost residence, barns, timber, fences, and crops. John O. Long, big barn damaged, lost 1½ miles of fence, and lots of heavy timber.
Much timber and a number of barns and outhouses are reported lost in Harmony, Walton, Liberty, and Kingston townships. In Liberty township, W. T. Bass, lost his barn, and out houses, Perry Farrow, a barn, and W. G. Cresswell lost barns, and a number of out houses.
Summary; Houses destroyed 52, rendered homeless 149, other houses destroyed 31; houses damaged 30. Loss is estimated at from $150,000 to $200,000.
[Note; out house in this sense is not just the familiar outside toilet but most buildings around the home site, sheds, shops, chicken houses, granaries.]
WEEKLY INDEPENDENT, POTOSI JUNE 14, 1917 - MINERAL POINT, MISSOURI
Our people are cleaning the wreckage caused by the storm of May 30th. The injured that were taken to Potosi, are back here greatly improved. The Milling Co. [tiff mill] are at work with a large force of men moving the wreckage from the foundation. We hope to see the mill rebuilt.
If people of my part of the State have anything to donate to the sufferers here, they should send it to members of the relief committee here or Potosi, if they want their donation to reach those who are in need. We know of considerable sums that have not been turned over to the committee. [Hmm, was there some scamming going on here?]
The relief committee composed of Rev. J. T. Self, H. C. Bell, and John Maclay of Potosi, Wm. A. Buddecke, H. S. Bowler, and L. D. Bone of Mineral Point, met at the White [family] house with Messrs. Hubbard, and Fairbank, members of the Red Cross from St. Louis. It was a very successful meeting. Arrangements were made at that meeting which will be of great benefit to the sufferers. “Old Ike”
Notes of Kent Bone:
Old Ike is the above listed L. D. Bone. He wrote a weekly column for the Weekly-Independent. His brother and wife Gus & Louise Bone were killed two weeks earlier. I am not sure if there was any grieving on his part. The stories I heard was that they hated each other -- L. D. had fought in the Union, and Gus for the Confederate army, 40 years earlier.
In 1917 tiff mining was still done by hand with picks and shovels but it seems that cleaning it was becoming mechanized. This mill must have run by electricity, steam, or coal. It would have been practical to build these mills near the R. R. tracks for shipping the heavy mineral.
To understand the extent of the disaster for the people of 1917, one must remember that at that time, timber, farming, and mining were the main sources of income in the county. The damages would have been an economic setback in the affected areas, causing hardships. The crop damage would have resulted in lost income for the entire year. Gardens could have been replanted, but wheat, and corn would have been a loss for the year, until a new crop came in, the next summer. The fruit trees of the destroyed orchards would have taken nearly a decade to produce at the same level as before the cyclone. The loss of the big trees which were sold to loggers and sawmills resulted in lost monies. It may have been ten or fifteen years before property owners had trees large enough to sell. Fences would have been a priority, to keep the cattle in, or keep them out of the fields. Barns rebuilt, to store hay to feed the cattle. I am not sure if crop insurance was available in 1917, or if it was, how many farmers bought it. This is a good question to research. The Tiff Mill Company had bought insurance, but not enough it seems.
St James Catholic Parish records; Charles M. Canning, Pastor
On June 2nd the remains of Frank LaChance were interred in the family lot of the Catholic Cemetery, cause of death, Cyclone. Age 59 years, a good husband.
On the 2nd day of June, the remains of Augustus Bone were interred in the Catholic cemetery, cause of Cyclone at M. Point, age 74 years.
On the 4th day of June the remains of Mrs. Augustus Bone were interred in the Catholic cemetery, Potosi. Cause of Cyclone. A good woman, age 70.
I don’t have burial records of non-Catholics killed. They would be an important addition to the story.
Reports of storms and destruction in other areas: A report from St Louis, published in the Weekly-Independent. There are many photos.
Hunger and Disease Facing Big District. Many Seriously Injured by Double Twister, Two Homes Blown off Bluff Into River-Mineral Point Suffers Most in Loss of Lives and Damages.
With 76 reported dead, 151 listed as injured and property damage reaching into the millions, southeastern Missouri is facing hunger and disease as a result of the most destructive cyclone that has visited Missouri since the memorable tornado in St Louis. [Lafayette Square and Soulard] Sparsely settled and ill prepared to cope with sudden disaster which has left residents without a shelter and bite to eat. The counties of Texas, Dent, Washington, Ste. Genevieve, St Francois, Madison, Wayne, Bollinger and Iron are facing the gigantic problem of feeding and caring for their sufferers.
Telegraphic and telephone communication is hampered or totally suspended to many of the point in the path of the three pronged terror, and only haphazard reports from these isolated sections trickle into St Louis and to large centers nearest them.
The re-establishment of touch between these points and the outside world, it is believed, will greatly increase the story of death, injury, and destruction which the tornado left in its wake. Many reports now coming in are conflicting, some doubling the casualties reported at the same places from other sources.
In its wide and erratic progress it far exceeds that of the cyclone in Illinois, though up to this time the deaths reported are considerably under the Illinois total.
It is believed that nothing short of organized relief work under such direction as that exercised by the Red Cross will reach the situation. The damage to growing crops is almost inestimable.
In Zalama, 20 were killed, according to an unverified report brought to Lutesville, Mo.
Seven persons were killed and at least a score were injured in the tornado when it swept down the Piney River valley in the north portion of Texas county. [Much here about Mineral Point]
The barometer at Springfield Mo dropped .26 inch at noon and conditions were reported ideal for tornadoes. A report from Cherryvale, Kan, 20 miles from Coffeyville stated that more than 109 persons were injured at Coffeyville, but that no deaths had been reported there. This report said more than 100 houses in the residence district were destroyed. The roaring of the tornado that struck Coalgate could be heard for six or eight miles, many witnesses who watched its progress from out of its path declared.
Text accompanying a photo; To prevent looting and other crimes in the Illinois towns struck by the tornadoes, members of the National Guard were put on duty. One of them is shown here questioning a stranger. Above is a family cat that “came back” to the ruins of the only home it knew.
Mattoon and Charleston Ill, Appeal For Aid: All depots, and freight houses, all [grain] elevators, lumber yards, gas and electric light plants, and other business plants were destroyed the tornado…..
Early Reports; Illinois 152 dead, 750 injured. Missouri 2 dead, 12 injured. Alabama 35 dead, 34 injured. Indiana 7 dead, 200 injured. Kentucky 50 dead, 47 injured. Kansas 26 dead, 60 injured. Arkansas 35 dead, 100 injured. Tennessee 34 dead, 53 injured.
[As is evident here, as with modern disasters, these reports in an earlier era could be conflicting.]
June 1917 - 21 Killed in 3 States in Latest Tornado: One Hundred Hurt as Storms Rage in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. 11 perish at Coalgate, OK-Thirty injured. Many homes are wrecked in Kansas.
Mattoon & Charleston, IL Appeal For Aid: Four hundred homes destroyed. Twenty-five hundred people are homeless. Twenty-five people were killed and 300 injured.
Buffalo, MO Reported that a tornado whirled and twisted throughout the section between that place and Lebanon, carrying down farmhouses and doing other damage. Wires [telephone & telegraph] in both directions were down and no reports of the dead or property damage were available.
Ardmore, OK Five persons were killed when a tornado struck Drake, 29 miles northeast of here. Two residences and the schoolhouse were demolished and other damage was done. Three persons were killed. Others may die. Three 55,000 barrel tanks of oil in Headton field were burned. The loss estimated at $130,000.
Paducah, KY Five persons were injured, one probably fatally, during a storm which destroyed or damaged every structure in Viola, a small town near here.
Other news in the paper was about the war raging in Europe:
“Whole Country Behind President. Never was a peace-loving people so badgered, bullied, crowded, and forced into war without provocation on our part or excuse on theirs as we have been by the Teutonic autocracy.”
“Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, arrives in Atlanta to take command of the department of the Southeast, was accorded a rousing welcome. Jefferson City, Mo.”
“Governor Gardner has issued an appeal to Missouri men of proper age to enlist in the Marine Corps of the United States. The governor took this action when advised by Maj. Gen. George Barnett, commander of the U. S. Marine corps, that 4,000 recruits are urgently needed.”
Also sharing the front page with news of the war and cyclone was an ad for ladies’ clothing from Maxwell’s Dry Goods, and a Chevrolet car ad.
I copied reports exactly as they were spelled in 1917, giving some insight as to how people wrote at that time.
A question that comes to mind nearly a century later, is how many buildings in 2015 Mineral Point are survivors of the cyclone. One that I am sure of is a log house. Known as the Cole Cabin, it is now in a tate of decay. Judging by the size of the hewn logs, and talking with descendants of the former inhabitants, it probably was built at least in the mid-1800s.
This story has special significance this month, after the third tornado in just fifty years, has hit the nearby town of Potosi. In ending this report, I propose to the County Government and the citizens of Mineral Point, to erect some type of a memorial by 2017, for the Centennial of the cyclone. A marker with the names of the dead could be included.
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