The Cyclone of 1883

May 25, 1883
Clinton Public
Clinton, Illinois

Terrible Devastation Caused by Last Friday Night's Cyclone.

A Father, Mother and Daughter Killed in Texas Township.
Nine Others Wounded.

Great Destruction of Property.

The first five months of the year 1883 will certainly be memorable ones in history on account of the great destruction of life and property by storms. Wiggins calculated right when he made his prognostications of storms for 1883, but he erred in locating them. Death and destruction have swept over land and sea and thousands of lives have been destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property have been laid waste. We never fully realize the power of a wind storm till it strikes near our own homes, and only then can we appreciate it when looking upon the death and ruin it has wrought.

A few years ago Clinton was visited by a wind storm that was terrible in its destruction of property, but fortunately there was no loss of life or bodily injury to anyone. It cost thousands of dollars to repair the damages, but it left no family in mourning.

How different in its effects the terrible storm that passed through the southern tier of townships of this county on last Friday night. The damage to property was not so great as in the storm of a few years ago, but it will not as soon be forgotten. Homes were made desolate by the hand of death, while others received injuries that may cripple them for life.

When Peter CLIFTON and his wife were in Clinton last Friday afternoon, in the full enjoyment of health, they could not even dream of the sad fate that was to overtake them a few hours later. Life to them and their young family was as bright and hopeful as it was to their more prosperous neighbors. Peace and contentment reigned in their home. In a moment father, mother and one of the children were whirled by the cyclone to their death, and two of the four orphaned children received severe injuries.

Last Friday was certainly a fateful day. The reports from the storm show that it swept through Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin. It seems that in this part of Illinois it began its work of destruction in Springfield, sweeping through Sangamon in a south-easterly direction until it struck this county about three miles south-east of Kenney.

Marion GORDON was the first victim of the cyclone when it entered DeWitt county. He and his wife were sitting by the stove before retiring for the night, and the first intimation he had of the furious storm was the rocking of his house as if by an earthquake and then it being lifted from its foundation and scattered in every direction. As soon as he recovered from the shock he found his wife wounded and helpless on the ground where she had been cast, with her limbs broken and her body burned as if she had been thrown on the hot stove. Mrs. GORDON is a much larger woman than her husband is a man, but the condition of his wife seemed to give him unlimited strength, for he lifted her in his arms and carried her nearly the distance of a quarter of a mile, when neighbors met him and bore the wounded woman to a place of shelter. Mrs. Gordon had one leg broken in several places, and every part of her body suffered from the shock. Mr. Gordon had his home well furnished with every comfort, but not an entire article of furniture could be found next morning.

A. SQUIRES was keeping bachelor's hall at his home. The storm riddled his house and destroyed the furniture.

Spencer TODD's house and barn were blown down, and a young girl received slight injuries.

John BAILEY lived on Mrs. W. MONSON's farm. The house and barn were completely wrecked. Mr. Baily had his thigh broken, and the probabilities are that he will not be able to do any work this summer. Not a dollar's worth of his personal property escaped the destructive cyclone. In a book-case he had $70 in money, not a nickel of which could be found.

John CREE occupied a farm on what is known as the HUTCHINS section. His house was torn into splinters and the furniture scattered to the four winds of heaven.

R. BUCHANAN had one of his tenant houses demolished, but fortunately the inmates escaped without injury.

On one of Henry RYBOLT's farms the house and stable were leveled to the ground.

Reaching over into Texas township, John BLUE's house, at Blue Station, on the Midland road, was blown about forty feet from its foundation but, beyond a general shaking up, the house was not badly damaged. Mr. Blue had his stable and grain office completely demolished.

A freight car standing on the side track at Blue's Station was lifted clean from the track into the air and carried quite a distance, when it fell.

Yankee MILLER's orchard was torn up by the roots and his fence was scattered in every direction.

Sim BARNETT's barn was carried away, and the gable end of his dwelling was crushed in by the flying timbers from the barn. Mr. Barnett had a storm policy on his barn.

Uriah BLUE was probably worse damaged than any man thus far. The cyclone first struck the main part of his dwelling and partly unroofed it. Then it dipped down and tore out a kitchen on the south-east corner of the house as clean as though it had been the work of a carpenter. Strange to say the building adjoining it on the south side of the house was scarcely damaged. Back of his dwelling, about forty feet, was the stable in which he kept his horses and mules. A pair of mules was standing in the west end of the stable and a valuable mare directly opposite on the east side. The stable lifted clear from the mules, leaving them standing on the floor, and the timbers and boards were piled around and about the mare, but fortunately neither the mules nor the mare received a scratch. Wagons and farm machinery that were in the barn yard were blown in every direction, some of them being wedged so tightly into the fence that it was a difficult matter to get them out. The pump, which stood on the north side of the house, was blown out of the well, with about five feet of the tubing, and thrown a distance of ten feet from the well, while a lot of flower pots on a stand a few feet south of the well were not even disturbed. A buggy that was standing in the barn was blown about twenty rods from the barn. Mr. Blue makes a specialty of sheep farming, and he had on his place a large flock of extra fine sheep. A short distance north of his house, in his pasture field, he had built a new sheep barn, 42 by 60 feet. This barn was totally wrecked, and not enough lumber could be found where it stood to build a small coal-house. One of the heavy oaken sills, ten by fourteen inches, was whirled through the air for nearly half a mile from the barn and then one end plunged four or five feet into the ground. Then the oaken sill was twisted off as one would break a green twig and the broken part was carried a few feet farther. Mr. Blue's flock of sheep was blown in every direction and about one hundred sheep and as many lambs were lying dead and wounded in every part of the field, some being found fully half a mile from the barn. Some of the sheep had their heads blown off, while others were ripped up in the belly or on the sides as if the work of destruction had been done with a knife. Mr. Blue's loss is not less than $3000. He had a storm policy on his sheep barn for $500. Fortunately not a member of his family was injured.

The storm thus far seemed to run in a south-easterly direction, but after leaving Uriah Blue's place it veered to the north-east.

Silas OWENS' farm is about a quarter of a mile north of Blue's. His house and stable were wrecked and every article of furniture was smashed and blown in every direction. A wagon and buggy belonging to Mr. Owens were found about a half a mile from his place so broken up as to make it almost impossible to tell which pieces belonged to the buggy or which to the wagon.

About three-quarters of a mile in a north-east direction from Uriah Blue's was a house occupied by Mr. E. M. McPHERSON, of DeWitt. He has a saw mill in that neighborhood and had part of his family living with him while the others remained at his home in DeWitt. The house stood in the center of a yard that was fenced on all sides. There were six persons in the house when the cyclone came along and lifted it clean from the underpinning and carried it a distance of about twenty feet in a westerly direction; then the storm circled the house around and carried it south-east about twenty rods from where it originally stood and then dropped it. During all this time the six persons were in the house. Their feelings can be better imagined than described. When the house struck the earth it went to pieces. The family tumbled out unhurt and nearly every stick of timber and board belonging to the house was again caught up in the cyclone and carried on. Furniture and stoves were broken and carried in every direction. Mr. McPherson has certainly cause for thankfulness for the narrow escape of himself and family from destruction.

Across the road from McPherson's is Alonzo BLUE's house. This miraculously escaped, the only damage being done was the knocking off the tops of two chimneys.

Thus far the cyclone had spared human life, but less than a quarter of a mile east of Alonzo Blue's there stood in the timber the home of Peter CLIFTON and his family. Mr. and Mrs. Clifton had been in Clinton that afternoon, and returning home late the family were seated at the table eating supper. Clifton's family consisted of himself, wife and five children. Mrs. Clifton had the baby in her lap, the little one being only six months old. The cyclone came down upon them suddenly and struck the south-west corner of the house, tearing the frame from the sills and flooring. The house and furniture were scattered in every direction, even the feather beds being ripped open. Not a whole piece of furniture could be found. Peter Clifton was carried about twenty rods and then dashed to the ground. He must have been struck on the forehead by a piece of timber for his skull was broken. The back part of his head was also crushed in. Death must have been instantaneous. His wife was found on the ground about fifteen feet from where the house stood, lying with her face to the ground. The baby was yet in her arms. The oldest girl, aged eleven years, must have been sitting near her mother when the cyclone struck the house, for she was found dead with her arms clasped about her mother's neck. Here was mother and daughter laying dead together and the baby miraculously saved. Ollie, aged eight years, was badly bruised but escaped without any broken bones. She was also picked up some distance from the house. Sadie, aged six years, had one of her knees badly injured. She was blown in the same direction with her father. The poor child was the first to discover her father lying dead on the ground. She cannot tell how she did it, but the first thing she really knew after seeing her father she was down by the McPherson place. There she saw some members of the McPherson family and told them that her father had been killed. At that time she did not know the terrible calamity that had befallen her mother and oldest sister. Sadie then for the first time felt the pain from her wounded knee, and the McPhersons carried her over to Alonzo Blue's house. Garfield, the little two-year-old boy, was badly injured, his forehead being crushed and the scalp laid bare, the flesh hanging down in a flap on his cheek. There is not much hope that he will recover. Little Garfield was born the day after President Garfield was assassinated, and he was named after the President.

Peter Clifton was not yet twenty-eight years old when death overtook him. He lived in a small house on the edge of the timber, the property being owned by Uriah Blue. He had a family of five children, four of which will be left to the tender mercies of the world. On the day before, he was thrown from his wagon and received some injuries on the face. Peter Clifton was thoughtful for his family. The week before his terrible death he had insured his life with an agent in Maroa for $2000. On this he had paid about $35 in cash and had given his note for $40 more. He had not yet received his policy, but it was in the hands of the Maroa agents, therefore the survivors of his family will get the full amount of the policy less the $40 note.

From the Clifton place the cyclone rushed on in its career of destruction down through the creek bottoms, tearing up large trees by the roots and stripping others of their bark from top to bottom as clean as though the work was done by hand. W. BOTKIN's, down at the ford, had his timber badly damaged and his orchard twisted out of all shape.

Charley FREY owns the W. B. WALLER farm farther east, and it was occupied by Jasper BLUE. There was not two sticks of timber of the house left together, and the outbuildings were more or less damaged. Jasper Blue and family were fortunately away from home that night so there was no one in the house when it joined the general wreck. The orchard was all torn up, and the field of oats was almost entirely destroyed.

On went the storm king in his dreadful march of destruction till he reached the house occupied by George BENNISON and his family, a little west of the Maroa road. Not a vestige of house, stable or corn crib was to be seen. Indeed one to pass by there next morning would not know from the surroundings that there had been a house there for the past ten years. Bennison and his wife were preparing for bed, and the two oldest girls aged seven and five years, were asleep on a sofa lounge in one of the rooms. Mr. Bennison heard the roar of the wind and fearing that the door might give away he braced himself against it. But he might just as well have tried to turn the Niagara Falls from its course. The door burst open and the wind tore the house from its foundation and tossed it into the air as a child would toss a ball. Bennison and his family were blown out into the field, one of the little girls flying through the air quite a distance. Mr. Bennison was not much injured, but his wife and three children were terribly bruised. The second girl had one of her legs injured so badly and her body was so much bruised that it was feared she would not recover, but the physicians now give her parents a gleam of hope. The baby of the family, a little toddler just able to walk, was bruised badly about the head and face. Mr. Bennison did not recover ten dollars worth of his effects. His wagon was blown into a field nearly a quarter of a mile east of his house, where one whole wheel and a part of another was found. The other wheels, the tongue and the wagon box could not be found.

The telephone wire was torn from the poles at this point, and some of it was found a distance of one mile east.

On went the cyclone till it struck a tenant-house on Mr. Ed WELD's farm. The family had moved out of it a few days before, therefore it was uninhabited. Scarcely a board or stick of timber could be found anywhere. A heavy iron revolving harrow that was in Mr. Weld's field was picked up by the storm and broken into fragments, part of it being carried nearly half a mile. Mr. Weld had about two miles of fence blown down.

Across the Central railroad track from Mr. Weld's field was the house of Mr. M. FOLEY. This was completely demolished with all of its contents.

Mr. Charles McCUDDY heard the storm coming. His attention was first directed to it by a heavy rumbling as though a long train of freight cars were passing over the Salt Creek trestle. On going out of his house he saw the cyclone. It presented the appearance of a ball of fire and illuminated everything brilliantly. The cyclone passed south of Mr. McCuddy's house, tearing away only a part of his fence. Mr. McCuddy, thinking that some of his neighbors farther east might not escape as luckily as he did, mounted his horse and followed up the cyclone, so as to be on hand in case his services were needed.

Mr. George HARTSOCK's farm was next in direct line of the storm. Here a fine barn and all the other outhouses were rent asunder. Trees and fences were torn up and carried away. It seemed here as if the storm had renewed its force, for Mr. Hartsock suffered greater loss than anyone else in the track since it left Uriah Blue. In Mr. Hartsock's barn were several horses, but fortunately none of them received serious injury. The timbers, roof and siding were carried away, but the horses were left standing in the stable. Mr. Hartsock had a large bin of oats in the barn, not a peck of which was left. His corn in the cribs shared the same fate. A buggy was completely torn asunder, a piece of wheel here, a tire there, and the other parts scattered in every direction. His loss cannot be much less than $3000.

Jake ZIEGLER's house was a little to the north of the track of the storm, so he escaped with only some damage to his fences.

Henry ZIEGLER was not so fortunate. The cyclone tore down two barns for him, knocked his corn-cribs out of all shape, and played havoc with his flock of sheep. Henry had a lot of very fine sheep and young lambs. Of the flock, he lost thirty-two, which he has not been able to find except one which was up in a tree about half a mile from his house. His dwelling was just on the outer edge of the cyclone and it escaped. Some of his farm machinery and wagons were more or less damaged. His loss will probably foot up about $500.

Passing on from Henry Ziegler's the storm overturned fences in its path till it struck Mr. Wm. SHAW's fine dwelling. The back part of the house was unroofed and part of the walls caved in. His barn and other outbuildings were badly wrecked and some of his machinery that was in the outbuildings was badly broken up. Mr. Shaw had a force of men at work on Sunday and Monday to repair the damage to his house. Fortunately he is rich and his loss, which was considerable, will not rest heavily upon him.

The cyclone then passed over to William TACKWELL's farm and knocked a small section out of his barn.

By this time it had spent its fury in DeWitt county, for after attacking Tackwell it seemed to rise up high in the air beyond the reach of trees or anything else. It must have been loaded heavily with the debris it had gathered on its onward march, for up in Wilson and Rutledge townships articles of clothing, books, papers, shingles and pieces of boards were scattered far and wide. Out in Wapella township and in some places in Harp many articles were found, some of them being traced back to the beginning of the storm in Tunbridge township.


At the EMREY farm, five miles south-west of Kenney, the floor of the house separated in the center, letting the family drop into the cellar, the house falling in upon them. No one hurt seriously.

At ANDERSON's place in Tunbridge township, a gold finger-ring belonging to his little daughter was found in an apple tree, hanging on a twig.

One of Mr. CREE's horses had a fence rail driven through its body.

At Uriah Blue's some of the tin guttering from his house was blown against a tree and wound so tightly around it that it could not be removed.

But at Peter Clifton's the storm played the strangest freak. The next morning two of the employees of THE PUBLIC were looking around the desolated premises when one of them saw a broken twig with some leaves of a book in it. Picking up the twig they found a portion of the New Testament, beginning with a part of the XX chapter of Acts and ending with a portion of the VIII chapter of I Corinthians. The upper part of the pages was torn off and was as closely fastened in the notch of the twig as though it had been done by human hands. The last clause of the ninth verse of the XX of Acts was at the top of the page, which reads, "And was taken up dead." The other part of the Testament was picked up by other parties. This is probably one of the strangest incidents of the storm and certainly was prophetic of the fate of the unfortunate man who owned the book. The twig and portion of the book, just as it was found, can be seen at the post-office.

The cooking stove that was in George Bennison's house was smashed into pieces. A small portion of the top of the stove was found quite a distance west of the house, while another piece was found east of the house. The greater part of the stove cannot be found.

Up in Wilson township a tax receipt given by the Texas collector to George Bennison, for this year's taxes, was found.

Mr. C. P. TORBERT brought to the Clinton post-office a sheet and some other articles of dry goods which he found on his farm, about four miles north-east of this city. The owner can have them.

Peter CAVIER, who lives east of Wapella some two or three miles, brought to the post-office a boy's black felt hat.

Chickens and turkeys at different points in the path of the storm through this county were stripped as clean of their feathers as a housewife could do in preparing the fowl for cooking, and in one place two chickens were found with their heads cut clean off.

The queerest freak was one of Henry Ziegler's sheep being blown up into a tree about half a mile from the field in which the flock was pastured.

Some of the men who went out from Clinton on the night of the storm to render any assistance they could found a tin wash boiler tightly coiled around a young sapling and brought it home with them.

Language fails to describe the scene in the path of the storm. We can only give the outlines; the most vivid imagination cannot picture the desolation and ruin wrought in less than half an hour. The storm must have extended not less than twenty miles in this county, and along its whole path everything fell before it. Trees that were more than half a century old were mowed down, and hardly a foot of fencing was left standing. Rails and fencing boards were whirled through the air and carried for miles from where they belonged. It is impossible for us to give the names of all the persons who suffered by the storm, but suffice it to say that no place escaped. The cyclone was not over a hundred yards wide, but it did not always follow a direct line, which will account for the manner in which property was damaged.

The reports from all the places through which the cyclone passed shows it to have been more destructive of life and property than any other storm of this year. At least one hundred persons were killed and five times that number wounded. The storm ravaged in three states—Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin. We can merely give the names of Illinois towns through which the storm passed: Springfield, Round Prairie, Buffalo Hart, Edwardsville, Morgan county, Nokomis, White Hall, Hillsboro, Greeley, Prairie in Greene county, Virginia, Carlinville, Grafton near Alton, Shipman, Mt. Pulaski, Bunker Hill, Litchfield, Plainview, Jerseyville, Pana, Tuscola, Shelbyville, Staunton, Vandalia, Paris, Rockford. It also passed through Mason county and part of Logan. In this state alone there were seventy deaths. In addition to deaths on the land, the loss of vessels and life on the lakes is terrible to contemplate.

Submitted by Judy Simpson