Hardin County - Cyclone of 1860

Transcribed by Linda Suarez


Excerpt from Past and Present of Hardin County, Iowa ed. by William J. Noir.  Indianapolis, Ind.: B. F. Bowen & Company, 1911.  p. 360:

"In many ways the greatest tornado, or cyclone, that ever passed over Iowa soil, destroying life and property, was the one of June 3, 1860, which started in Cherokee county, in western Iowa, and sped eastward through Hamilton county, where it did some damage to farm property, and increased in its fury as it progressed eastward to the Mississippi river, taking in its track the little town of Camanche, Clinton county, crossing the river and on to the shores of Lake Michigan.  In point of territory covered and damage done in its path, nothering has ever surpassed it in Iowa.  In Hardin county it struck hardest in the vicinity of New Providence."

Transcribed from The History of Hardin County, Iowa.  Springfield, Ill.: Union Publishing Company, 1883.  pp. 967-969:

On the 3d day of June, 1860, a storm passed over the southern portion of Hardin county, which has never since been equalled, and it is hoped will never be. The Hardin Sentinel of June 6, gave the following account of the storm and the damage done:

On last Sunday afternoon a tremendous storm passed over this county, spreading devastation and death in its train. It appeared to arise immediately northwest of New Providence and travel in a northeasterly direction. There were ten or twelve houses blown down in New Providence, and several persons seriously injured. Owing to the fact that nearly all the citizens were attending meeting at a place southeast of town, out of the main course of the storm many escaped who otherwise must have perished in the ruins.

The scene presented after the storm at the premises of Michael Devine, in Union township, about seven miles south of Eldora, beggars all description. About 4 P.M. a messenger arrived in town, informing the citizens that Mr. Devine's house had been blown down and several of the family killed. In company with many of our citizens we repaired to the spot of the tragic scene, and there beheld what we hope to God we may never again be called upon to witness. The house of Mr. Devine, which was a two-story brick building, was leveled to the earth, scarcely one brick remaining upon another. Out of the nine persons comprising the family, four were instantly killed, and the remaining five more or less injured. Two of the wounded -- a little boy and girl -- have since died. Mr. Devine himself escaped with a severe injury on the shoulder. John Birch, a son-in-law of Mr. Devine, together with his wife and child, escaped, although Mr. Birch had his thigh broken and was otherwise injured. His wife and child received but very little injury. The appearance of the mangled bodies, as they were taken from the ruins or picked up from the prairie, was truly horrifying and awful. The body of Mrs. Devine was picked up several rods from the house, with the head completely severed from it, and which had not been found at dusk on Sunday evening. Two children, apparently between the ages of 10 and 12 years, and a son about 20, were so crushed that it was impossible to recognize them as human beings.

The house of the widow, Mrs. Christ, standing within a few rods of Mr. Devine's was literally torn to atoms and scattered broadcast over the prairie. The family consisted of Mrs. Christ, two sons and two daughters, who were all more or less wounded, the old lady probably mortally. As near as we could ascertain, it appears that most of the family took refuge in the cellar, and consequently escaped with but slight injuries. The old lady, however, did not succeed in getting into the cellar, and was dashed out amid the flying timbers and furniture. The house being a small, wooden one, afforded more chance of escape than that of Mr. Devine's, which is probably the only reason why the Christ family were not all instantly killed.

To look at the ruins of the two houses, one would suppose that it was an utter impossibility for a single individual to escape a certain and terrible death, yet, out of thirteen persons who were in the house, seven are living, of which six will probably recover, and possibly the seventh may also recover.

It is impossible to convey a correct idea of the effect and fury of this terrible storm to the minds of those who were not on the ground to witness the devastation and ruin that was left in its path. School houses, barns, sheds and fences were blown for miles across the prairie, and the lifeless carcasses of horses, cattle, hogs, etc., were strewn in every direction along the trail of the storm. Scarcely a vestage of anything pertaining to household goods or furniture can be seen in the vicinity of where Mr. Devine's house stood. The very corn growing in the fields is torn out by the roots, and the ground looks as though the locusts of Egypt had made a devouring march through the country.

The tornado crossed the Iowa River at Sanderson's mill, blowing down houses, trees, fences, etc., in its roaring march. In the vicinity of the mill, several buildings were torn from their foundations and riven to atoms. A Mrs. Garrison was instantly killed, and others in the house more or less wounded.

After crossing the river the furious tornado did sad havoc among the timber and settlements that came in its way. The house of Alexander Smith was completely destroyed, and every one of the inmates more or less injured. So far as we have been able to trace it, this tornado was doing its work of destruction with unspent fury. We have been informed that an auxiliary of the main tornado passed through the north end of Marshall County, some three miles south of its course uprooting large trees and tearing down fences, but causing no destruction of life. Our informant says that it produced a noise similar to that of a hundred trains of cars all in motion at one time.

The Appearance of the Storm

There is considerable difference of opinion in regard to the appearance of the tornado. But the most general version of the thing is that it came to the earth in the shape of a whirlwind, and covered a strip of country about eighty rods wide. It appeared to be hollow in the centre, with a transparent, blood red color, while the two sides were black and covered with every conceivable sort of substance that had been torn from the path of the roaring and crashing destroyer. Its course was about due east. We believe that the history of this tornado will prove it to be one of the most frightful in appearance and dreadful in results that ever visited the West, or, probably, any portion of the country.

P.S -- Since writing the above we can learn that the little daughter of Michael Devine is living yet, and that five instead of six of the family are dead.

The following is a list of the dead, wounded and those whose houses were swept away, as far as we have been able to ascertain:

Houses Demolished

Dr. Eli Jessup, Dr. Tuller, David Hunt, E. Andrews, Henry Witham, William H. Crook, Thomas Buckloo, W. E. Andrews, Wm. Stage, Jonathon Small, D. Arnold, A. M. Mulford, Henry Plummer, George West, Catherine Christ, Michael Devine, Joseph Hida, Daniel Wentworth, Jesse T. Turner, Isaac Garrison, John Birch, Alex. Smith, Arthur Johnson, Lott Clover, Wm. Shortridge, Reuben Long, John Galaway, B. S. Parish, Wm. Bates, William Vinton and Mack Modlin; also three houses in Quebec, the names of the owners not having been ascertained. The houses of Widow Rachel Bedell and Robert King, in Providence, were ruined, and five or six others moved from their foundations. The houses of L. F. Sanderson, David Abbott, Palmer Turner and Wm. Lockard were unroofed and otherwise injured. Besides these and all the outbuildings in the route, two school houses and two or three blacksmith shops were entirely consumed.


Mrs. Michael Devine, Wm. Devine, Eva Devine, George Devine, Mrs. Isaac Garrison and a child whose name was not learned.


John Birth, thigh broken; Michael Devine, shoulder broken and badly bruised; Safrona Devine, shoulder and collar bone broken and badly injured; the widow, Mrs. Christ, thigh and shoulder badly broken and fatally wounded; Elizabeth Christ, Catherine Christ and Job Christ, injured; Adam Christ, badly injured; two children of Isaac Garrison; Daniel Wentworth and wife, Jesse Turner; Alex. Smith, wife and child; Wesley Smith; John Galaway, wife and child; B. S. Parish and Alanson Banks, all injured, some very badly.

In Providence, Henry Witham, wife and son, Martin Witham, badly injured; Alfred Dorlad, skull fractured, supposed fatally; Sarah Hensly and Samuel Sherman, badly injured, supposed fatally; Henry Bliss, badly hurt; wife of Dr. Tuller and small son of E. Andrews, slightly injured. There were several persons injured at and about Quebec, whose names are not yet learned.

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