FIRST RECORDED TORNADO IN PANHANDLE

Picture of the aftermath of the 1898 tornado

The cyclone (May 1, 1898) was the most terrible of Wheeler County memory. We were living in the Cap Willingham house, built by Judge Patton. That first day of May was so hot and still, and that night the cloud was upon the town before any one knew it. Our house was not disturbed, but just west of us several people were killed and injured. Judge Exum was the first I found. I wanted to move him to my home, but he said he was resting fairly comfortably and to leave him and see about the others. We buried him May 4th. Anna Belle Masterson had spent the night with her grandparents. I took her to the Jail. Her back had been injured. She was just a little girl, so I took her in my arms and carried her, but in the dark and over the rough ground I stepped into ruts and holes and made her suffer terribly.

Next I went to the Masterson home. (It was the old Rising home.) Their house was of adobe framed up on the outside as many of them were. None of the others were seriously hurt, but the baby, who had been sleeping in a bed with a high headboard was dead. This headboard had been broken by the storm and bent over the bed, and the adobe wall had piled over on top of it. The baby had probably smothered to death, as there was no sign of injury on it. One strange thing was that there was a piece of glass on its chest next to its skin, but not a cut or scratch.

The year-old baby of the Palmer family across the street was blown half a block. Its cries led people to it. Its head was badly injured and it died before morning.

We made all efforts possible to find every one. The Huselby House was gone and nothing could be found of the family. Next morning there were several people found to have taken shelter in one of the business houses that had escaped distruction. I went up there and was talking with a woman and asking how they fared, and asked if the Huselby family were safe or did anyone know. She told me they were all unharmed. Then I found that I was talking to Mrs. Huselby herself. She was so disheveled and her face covered with dirt and blood, her hair down, and I had not recognized her.

Uncle Johnnie Stroker was dead when we found him, as was also a Mr. Wright. Mrs. I. N. Bowers, Sr., had been living down south and had married this Reverend Wright, and they had just come back to Mobeetie when this happened. Zula Bowers had married Frank Mulkins, and her mother and family were staying with them for a few days until they could find a house. Even the rock foundation of the home looked like a blast had been set off in it. Pearl Bowers, the youngest girl, was very slender. The next day it was reported that she had been blown trough a seven wire fence. One fellow jokingly remarked, ‘That’s nothing; as skinny as she is, she could do that and never touch a wire.’

Mother-like, the first thing Zula did was to see about her baby. It was quite limp, and with the surprising calm that seems to possess people at such a time, she carried it to her brother Newt and said, ‘Here, Newt, take the poor little thing, it’s dead.’ He took the baby and began shaking it about and found it was merely sound asleep. Not another one was really hurt except the old man.

There were five fatalities and several more whose death was indirectly laid to the cyclone, among them Mrs. Easley who ran an eating house, and the Postmaster, Jack Montgomery. My wife took care of Mrs. Montgomery when her son, Jack, was born a few months after his father’s death.

That was the second cyclone I had been through in Wheeler County, but the first one had not killed anyone and we had been able to laugh about most of it after it was over, but not this one.
The interview of Big Johnnie Jones
By Millie Porter
Memory Cups

The tornado of May 1, 1898 caused damage to all the houses, and especially the courthouse and jail. The roof of the jail needed new shingles. Abraham Finsterwald was hired as contractor to perform the labor. The needed materials were freighted in by wagons. The Sheriff had to keep the floor mopped when it rained and to recover County material that had been blown around.
Millie Porter
Memory Cups

After the 1898 tornado, the Courthouse and Jail had roof damage but were left standing. The business district was destroyed as well as thirty-two homes. The population of Mobeetie in 1898 was over 1,000 people, but the disaster began a steady decline.