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OPINION: The tornado of April 1880

by By Stan Fine, Columnist | May 18, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

It is thought that the so-called Pineville-Powell Mike's Fork tornado of April 18th, 1880, was born about one mile south of the small town of Pineville, Missouri. It began like any other spring afternoon for the folks living in the Southwest Missouri Ozark area, but in the spring of the year and before the hot dry summer days took hold the weather was unpredictable.

Mr. Jefferies and his family were not injured when the swirling winds struck his house. He gave thanks to God that although his home was, well as he put it, "blown clear out of the county," nobody was injured. The resilient Jefferies made mention to the fact that houses can always be rebuilt.

The tornado moved northeast, skipping over some patches of ground, while other areas were not so fortunate. The home of Ross Frederick rested on a small patch of ground that fell into the less fortunate category.

The twister moved across his farm and although the winds unroofed his house the walls remained standing. His corn crib was less fortunate, however. When the tornado moved on and the sound of the roaring winds was replaced by an eerie calmness, Mr. Frederick stood motionless looking at his roofless house and the nearby field covered with scattered corn. None of the Frederick clan were injured.

The swirling winds moved north, and a barn and general store owned by Mrs. Yonee were obliterated. It was said that the contents of the store, dry goods and miscellaneous sundries were evicted from the store's shelves and carried far from the location before being deposited in trees and grassy fields. Mrs. Yonee, however, and by the grace of God, was uninjured.

The tornado moved up Mike's Creek to Big Hollow. James Arney had lived in his small but comfortable farmhouse for many years, but fate had something in mind for the wooden structure. The tornado struck Arney's house with such force that nary a stick of wood remained standing. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Arney, were not injured as they had gone to care for James' ailing father who lived about a mile or so away.

The storm continued to plow its way through the southwest Missouri countryside on its northerly path and spared neither Mr. Stalleap's stable nor his livestock. The stable was blown to smithereens and two horses were killed.

Mr. Haddock's house was the next structure to fall victim to the tornado and although the house was completely destroyed Mr. Haddock was uninjured. The Carter family, however, was less fortunate.

Not only was their house leveled but members of the family sustained serious injuries. Mr. Carter's wife's leg was broken, and two other family members sustained serious and crippling injuries.

Mr. J.C. Rose was fatally injured when the winds struck his house. Two other family members were killed, and others received serious wounds but survived. Reuben Yates, Miles Burton and Mr. Kelly did not survive that terrible afternoon as all were also killed.

The April afternoon had not yet ended and one of the many tornados had its sights on a small town not far from Springfield, Missouri, the town of Marshfield. The 1100 or so folks who called the town home had a sense that bad weather was approaching but nobody was prepared for the horror that would soon engulf them.

"Our lilacs were in full bloom and cherry trees looked like mountains covered with snow." Young Ida Jameson spoke those words as she gazed at what once had been the town of Marshfield, her hometown.

The April afternoon was warm, and it wasn't until around 4 o'clock that afternoon when the first clouds appeared in the once blue spring sky. Clouds continued to move in blocking out the bright Sun and by 5 p.m. the sky became dark, an ominous black.

The 6 o'clock hour came and with it from the southwest came a dark swirling mass, the cyclone was bearing down on the small Missouri town and there was little time to seek shelter. Mrs. Hosmer and her seven-year-old son ran to the basement of the courthouse while Freeman Evans sheltered his family in an outdoor brick cellar.

Dr. Sellers ran to a stand of young trees near the school. There he latched onto a sapling preparing to hang on for dear life. Wesley M'Querter and his parents ran to the nearby railroad tracks where they laid prone on the ground.

Eli Jernigan was picked up by the winds and later dropped onto a stack of bricks while his wife was transported a hundred yards away. George Sees watched as a horse seemed to be floating in mid-air and all the water was sucked from his well. It was later reported that a baby had been found lodged in a tree. Sadly, the infant's parents did not survive the ordeal.

The cyclone lasted for no more than a minute or two but oh how that minute changed Marshfield and those who called the town home. Nearly every structure was destroyed and more than ninety-two people were killed. Doctors came from Conway, Niangua, Springfield, and Lebanon and by Monday afternoon the injured were receiving treatment.

Financial support began to pour in from St. Louis, Springfield, Lebanon, and donations came from as far away as Oswego, Kansas. The outpouring of support for the folks of Marshfield was overwhelming.

The town changed following the storm but then how could it not? The town's coronet band changed their name to the Marshfield Cyclone Band. In memory of the Reverend E.E. Condo who lost his life in the storm, the Methodist Episcopal Church changed its name to the Condo Memorial M.E. Church.

It took some time and a lot of work, but the town did in fact recover. If one was to visit Marshfield one year following the tornado, they would find that the town looked, at least for the most part, the same as it had before the devastating storm. For the folks who lived there, however, it would take much more time to recover.

It was later estimated that at least five strong tornados made their way across the Midwest that fateful April day. Studies made following the tornado outbreak concluded that four of the five fell into the F-4 classification. The death toll estimates ranged from 160 to over 600 fatalities.

McDonald County resident Mrs. Kitzinger was ill, so ill that she hadn't been out of her house for quite some time. In fact, she was so ill that she hadn't been out of bed for a time longer than she cared to remember.

However, on that stormy day in April that changed. The bedridden and sickly woman did leave her house. She was carried away far from her home and returned to earth with no apparent serious injuries. Ironically, she never left her bed. That's right, she lay helpless in that bed as the tornadic winds carried the piece of bedroom furniture with her still in it far from her home before returning the frightened woman to earth. The storm that struck her house did, however, severely injure her son who later passed away.

To many, it seemed as though that dreadful mid-April afternoon would never end but like all spring afternoons the day eventually passed and became nothing more than a memory, a memory of destruction and death.

Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents, who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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