Thanks to Mike Platt for permission to reprint this article!
The following account was taken from The Hardtner Community News, Issue No. 90, Sept. 4, 2003.
It was dictated to Rose Blunk by Mike Platt who was 83 years old at the time. He still resides in Medicine Lodge, KS with his wife Betty. Mike said he carried a tape recorder with him, and every time a story or incident would come into his mind, he would record it. Mike tells of the fun times, the hardships, and the loneliness, out on the ranch. Mike has recorded a wonderful legacy for his family and friends. The following is his account of the Platt tornado.
I'm now going to tell you about the cyclone of 1927 on Mother's Day (May 7), because this was a turning point in our operation and mode of living which you will find out as we go on further into this. On the day of the cyclone, Grandmother, Mother, Dad and Joyce all had gone into Medicine Lodge for some reason. Neil Owens, Wilbur Purdon, Aunt Beverly, John and I had stayed home. That evening a big storm came up. We were all standing out on the porch watching this storm. It was raining, and then it started hailing real big hailstones. Aunt Beverly told John and me to gather up the hailstones, and when the storm was over we would make some ice cream. Well, we loved the thought of that because we seldom had ice in the summer, and the chance for some ice cream sounded very good. So we put on our bathing suits, put a board over our heads so we wouldn't get thumped on the head by the big hailstones, and we would run out from under the porch, grab some hailstones, bring them back, and put'em in one of several buckets Aunt Bevy had sitting there. We happened to look off to the southwest, and several miles away we could see a cyclone. It looked just like pictures you've seen of cyclones; a big funnel shaped cloud, and as it came down off of those hell zone hills, you would see the tail or funnel slash down and hit the ground making the dust boil. But it was still several miles south of us. Then it would get into a big round ball and just roll along on the ground. Strange to say, we were not scared at all, because we really had not seen the damage that one could do. It kept getting closer and closer, and pretty soon Neil Owens, who was kind of a caretaker of us kids said, "Let's go to the cellar!" We had a concrete cyclone cellar about 60 or 80 foot from the house. Neil, Aunt Bevy, John and I ran to this cellar. Wilbur Purdon said, "I will not go to any damn cellar!" Well, we were just in there a few moments and the door was jerked open, and in dropped Wilbur, like a prairie dog dropping into his hole. He said, "I saw the south house go up in splinters!!" About that time it hit. Such a horrible roaring I have never heard before in my life, or have never heard since. Now one thing about being in this cellar, I don't remember it, but I've heard Aunt Bevy tell the story many times, or at least I did not realize what was happening. There was a stovepipe outlet in the top of the cellar. Aunt Bevy said I started going up and she grabbed me and pulled me back down. Now I do remember very distinctly, of her holding me very tightly, but I thought it was only because she was afraid because of the horrible noises and the roar of the storm. So I guess Aunt Bevy saved me from going up that stove pipe.
(Note by Phyllis Scherich: The hell zone hills he is talking about are located in the southeast corner of what is the Merrill Ranch today. They are located in our Hell Zone - or Hell's Own Pasture). Different maps spell it differently & it all sounds the same when spoken.)
When we came back out of the cellar, there was nothing to be seen. Where there had been a huge barn, two big houses and many sheds, there was nothing. All the big timber to the east was gone. I do recall that I could hardly tell my directions, north from south, east from west, because all of the old familiar landmarks were gone. Just a short while after the storm was over, a fellow come riding in from the west leading a horse. It was Frank Smith, who I believe at that time lived at Kiowa. He had been over in Comanche County to get a young green horse to take home. He was leading the green colt, and trying to make it into our place before the storm got there, because he could see the storm coming. But the colt would not lead good, and the hail storm caught them on the ridge about a half or three quarters of a mile west of our homestead. The hail was so bad that Frank had to get off, take the saddle off the horse, and put it over his head while he got the horses sheltered back in a little clay bank, where they stayed during the storm. He is the only living person that saw the storm come through. Of course, when it was over, he re-saddled his horse and came on in. He did not expect to see a single person alive, but there Wilbur, Neil, Aunt Bevy, John and I were. John and I had only our bathing suits on. We had lost all of our worldly possessions. About 20 minutes later we saw a wagon and a team of horses coming up from the south. It was the Wellses, our neighbors to the south. The cyclone had come by very close to their place, but had not destroyed anything. As soon as it was passed them, they could see it was going directly over our place, so they hitched up a team and came up. I might add, they had to just about swim Mule Creek to get there to see if they could be of any help. We went back, and stayed all night with them that night. Susie Wells gave us some warm clothes of her son, Irving. I often think how wonderful it was that neighbors in those days came to the aid of their neighbors anytime they thought they were in trouble. When the hail storm hit, the horses all left the horse pasture west of the house and came running to the timber for shelter from the hail. This was their own doing. When the storm came through the timber, it killed about all of the horses. We probably had 30-35 head of horses, work horses and saddle horses. As they were dragging the horses out of the timber a few days later, to bury along with the dead livestock in big pits the neighbors had dug, they pulled 'ole Cap out of this pile of brush, and he got to his feet rather weakly. They were going to destroy and bury him. He had a two-by-four stuck up through his hip and a large splinter through his neck. Dad said, "No, I want to try to save him." So they pulled this two-by-four out of his hip and the splinter out of his neck, turned him loose, and he was on his own. He healed up perfectly and was a good horse for many, many years. Now, late that evening, we saw the milk cows come trailing in. They had not run to the timber during the storm. I presume they had got in a little canyon shelter somewhere. We had no where to milk these cows, so our neighbors to the north, tbe Simses, took the milk cows and milked them until we had a barn built and some corrals to handle our milk cows. Then they brought them back home to us. I must say that us kids were not exactly happy. We felt very bad that our horses, which we loved, had all been killed, and these milk cows that we hated to milk but had to all survived, so we were not happy about seeing the cows.
I might say also that Doll, our little bay mare, had also survived the storm. She was very badly injured and we kept her up at the place where we were rebuilding for a month or so, but she only got worse and worse and weaker and weaker from internal injuries. Finally, Dad had her destroyed, but did not tell us kids. He just let us think she had died. One other very odd thing was after this cyclone, when 'ole Cap was in the corral and a big storm came up, he would just simply go crazy. He would run into the corral fence and tear the gate down if you didn't open it up and let him out, which we soon learned to do. He would head back out for the high prairie, and stay there until the storm was over. I think 'ole Cap knew that the timber had almost done him in. The very next day after the cyclone, neighbors started coming in helping dig pits to bury the dead livestock. A whole group of neighbors came with their fencing tools, and they were all men that knew how to work to get a job done themselves. They went to rebuilding fence for us, and within less than a week, we had many miles of new fence built, so we were able to keep our cattle. This is another reason that I feel it was a wonderful time to be growing up, when you had neighbors that were so interested and willing to come to your aid when you were in trouble. Some friends were trying to console my grandmother, and told her how bad they felt that we had so much livestock killed and all of our improvements swept away. She said, "No, I don't feel bad at all, I thank God nobody was hurt." I often think now, when we talk about pioneering spirit, of that brave woman who had spent all of her life helping put that ranch together, and build a cow herd. She still knew the true value of the good things of life and did not feel bitter. She was only glad that her family was still alive. Now we didn't have any saddle horses, so Jacksons, the family to the west, loaned us a big paint horse to ride. He was a good horse, gentle enough that kids could ride him, too. The ranch to the east, Skinners, loaned us two horses, 'ole Fox, a big sorrel gelding, and Darky, a black gelding. Now this horse Darky, dad later bought him. He was an unusual horse and was probably the toughest horse I have ever seen in my life. He could just go all day long when other horses played out. I do know several times when Dad was helping other ranchers move cattle he would ride 'ole Darky day after day, where the other men might have to have three changes of horses. Darky was still ready to go when evening came. He had one bad habit. He was constantly snapping his teeth, especially as Dad would try to stop him or slow him down. He would just snap snap, a real irritating noise. You could hear him a quarter of a mile away sometimes. I remember one time I wish I had heard him a quarter of a mile away. Glenn Sims, a neighbor boy, and I, had gone out into an alfalfa field. The alfalfa was very tall. We laid down in it, and thought we were hid. We rolled us some cigarettes and were smoking, when all of a sudden I heard a snap snap. I looked up and there sat Dad on 'ole Darky looking right at us. Were we ever embarrassed! I think we were more embarrassed than scared. In fact, I don't think Dad ever gave us a whippin' for smoking. I remember one whippin' we got. It was over smoking, but it was not because of smoking. We had been up visiting with a neighbor boy. I will not say his name, but he, John and I had been smoking. After we went home, his mother smelled smoke on his breath, so she asked him about it. He said, "Oh, no! I didn't smoke, Mike and John were smoking, and they blew smoke on me." She accepted that, and the next time she saw Mom she told her about us boys blowing smoke on her little boy. Well, that really angered us. Mom told Dad, and of course Dad called us in and gave us a lecture. All would have probably been well, but since we were so mad at this boy for telling on us, we told Dad, "Well, it wasn't just that we blew smoke on him, he was smoking too." Dad said, "Well, now boys, you know I've never give you a whippin' for smoking, but now you're tattling on somebody else and you're gonna' get a whippin' for that. So really, that's about the only whippin' we ever got, and it did teach us to not tattle on our friends.
The Simses also loaned us a lumber wagon and team after the cyclone. We had some rather unusual horses to blow away during the cyclone. They were probably horses that very few ranch children ever had. They were merry-go-round horses. My grandfather and Dad used to have a picnic every fall at what they called the "Painted Post Timber." This was long before us children were born. It was a three- day affair, with horse racing, and all kinds of amusement that the old timers could have. I've heard them tell many stories about it. But at this last fair, the merry-go-round company had gone broke. They went off and left the merry-go-round and the horses there. So Dad brought four of the horses and the little carriage or wagon, that is on practically all merry-go-rounds, down to one house and set them there for us kids to play on. He brought two more down, and put them at the house down south. During the cyclone it blew all of our merry-go-round horses away. Several families over in Comanche County had also gotten horses from that merry-go-round, and I do not know if any of them still have them today or not.
Platt Ranch Cyclone Storm Cellar
Aftermath of a tornado at the Platt Ranch, 07 May 1927, Comanche County, Kansas.
Photo courtesy of Teresa Chapman.
Remains of a car after a cyclone at the Platt Ranch, 07 May 1927, Comanche County, Kansas.
Photo courtesy of Teresa Chapman.
The John & Lizzie Platt Family History, by Joyce E. Platt Reed, Comanche County History, pages 606 - 607, published by the Comanche County Historical Society, Coldwater, Kansas, 1981.
BARBER COUNTY SWEPT BY TORNADO
LEAVING DEATH AND DESTRUCTION
Published in The Barber County Index, May 27, 1927.
Tornado plays Havoc at the Platt Ranch, The Western Star, May 13, 1927.
The Tornado of May 7, 1927, As Told by Florence Mills Wells, An eyewitness account, transcribed by her grand-daughter, Peggy Wilson Newsome.
Thanks to Mike Platt for contributing his eyewitness account of the tornado to this web site and to Phyllis Scherich for scanning and sending the above photos for this web page.
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