IAGenWeb Project - Clayton co.
page updated
May 21, 2009

The great tornado of 1918

Peter Purman's home after the May 1918 tornado.
Peter Purman's home after the May 1918 tornado.
The Purman's and Hansel's were neighbors.
L-R: Peter Purman SR, his grandson Harry Purman and son Peter Purman JR (Harry's father)

~photo contributed by Helen Jennings from her personal collection

Realto & Katie Hansel's home before the tornado destroyed it Realto & Katie Hansel's new home, built after the tornado

The homes of Realto & Katie Hansel, before and after the great tornado of May 1918.


Pictured above left, is the first home of Realto & Katie Hansel located on Waymon Road near the Hansel Cemetery. The house was about three years old when it was taken by the 1918 twister.  Realto had a large pile of lumber stacked near the house ready to build a new barn that the twister also destroyed.  A little over three weeks before the storm on May 6, 1918,  Katie gave birth to a son Alfred Vernon "Billy" Hansel.  Realto & Katie had eight children at the time the storm took their home.  Leo, Bertha, Naomi, Walter, Lucille, George, Elsie, and Billy.  Another daughter Eunice was born later. 

Their home didn't have a basement so the family went into a man-made cave located next to the house.   Realto and the older children had to hang onto the cave door to keep it closed as the storm passed.  When they came out of the cave they were covered with dirt probably from the change in wind pressure. 

Realto and his brother Japen Hansel were married to sisters, Katie & Dora Feidt.  Japen and Dora lived on a nearby farm that had been damaged by the storm, but the house was still intact.  Realto, Katie and  family walked in a heavy rain to Japen's home where they stayed until a new home (pictured on the right above) was built.  This home still stands on Waymon road not far from the Hansel cemetery.

Realto and Katie's oldest son Leo Donald Hansel b. Dec. 12, 1903 had recently gotten his 8th grade diploma from the nearby Studebaker County School.   After the storm someone from Wisconsin found his diploma which must have been carried across the Mississippi River, and it was returned to Leo.

Elsie (Hansel) Mallory, daughter of Katie & Realto, born August 7, 1916, was only two years old when the storm took their home.  When the family went into the cave Elsie was wrapped in her quilted baby blanket that her mother Katie had made for her.  Over the years Elsie treasured her blanket, and it was the only item she had from her early childhood.

~text by Judy Holthaus, daughter of Elsie (Hansel) Mallory
~the photos belonged to Elsie, who passed away July 17, 2008


Realto Hansel farm in 1918 after tornado
Realto Hansel farm after tornado in 1918. It was up Wayman out of Garber, and it took everything.

~photo contributed by Helen Jennings from her personal collection


Japen Hanse home after the 1918 tornado Japen Hansel barn after the 1918 tornado

Pictured above are the Japen Hansel home and barn after the 1918 storm.  Realto & Katie Hansel and their family stayed with Japen & Dora Hansel in this house after the storm.   It was later the Gilbert Hansel home, and still is standing. 

~text by Judy Holthaus, daughter of Elsie (Hansel) Mallory
~the photos belonged to Elsie


Lyman Hansel farm after the May 21, 1918 tornado
Lyman Hansel farm after the May 21, 1918 tornado.

The three men looking over the total destruction of all the buildings on the Lyman Hansel farm are Elmer Morley, Albert Hageman, and John Bals. Blanche Hansel Morley told us that a pile of recently acquired lumber was left untouched. She almost didn't make it to the cave, as she was trying desperately to round up her little chicks and ducks, none of which were ever seen again. She had fiance Elmer Morley's sweater with her and enough yarn to finish it. A trousseau pillow, stored in a big wooden cracker box, was found in a tree, badly stained with molasses from a crock that had stood next to it. The case was washed and the feathers replaced with new. It was absolutely dark in the cave.

May 23, 1918 "Tuesday evening (May 21) excitement reigned when a tornado did much damage on the farms in the vicinity. Alto Hansel had everything swept completely away; Lyman Hansel, every building demolished; William Dryer, the outbuildings destroyed, the house left standing but moved from its foundation and slightly damaged; Mrs. Alice Feidt, everything destroyed except the house; and App Lovett, outbuildings and a part of the house destroyed. Mr. George Ruegnitz, Sr., had his head cut, requiring several stitches; George Portwine had three ribs fractured. It is estimated that the loss to livestock and property will be nearly $100,000."

~text & photo on page 327 of the Garber history book by Mirian Vorwald, 1994


"I know somewhere in Wisconsin  they found something that belonged to Leo Hansel (Realto's son).  Jeanette Purman got a note from someone in Fennimore, Wisconsin that they had found a piece of wallpaper with her name on it."
~Helen Jennings

Wisconsin -- A tornado crossed the Mississippi River from Iowa into Wisconsin about a mile south of Glen Haven, Wis., shortly before 6:30 p.m. May 21, 1918, passed about 6 miles north of Lancaster, Grant County, at 7 p.m. and over Lone Rock, Richland County, at 7:30 p.m., Plain, Sauk County, at 8 p.m., and was last reported at Baraboo, in eastern Sauk County.  Its path was from 100 feet to a quarter of a mile wide and about 85 miles long. Eight persons were killed, about 100 injured, and property loss, principally in houses and farm buildings, was estimated at $650,000.

~Monthly Weather Review, Volume 46, Issue 5 (May 1918), Section VII, THE WEATHER OF MAY, 1918, by P.C. Day, pg 256

date: May 21, 1918
time: 6:15 p.m.
location: Elkport [Clayton co. IA] to Baraboo [WI]
counties affected: Clayton co. IA, Grant co. WI, Iowa co. WI, Richland co. WI and Sauk co. WI
length: 80 mi
width: 400 yd
deaths: 8
injuries: 100
F-Scale: F4

One of the largest tornadoes during this outbreak of 19 in Iowa, this tornado touched down in Clayton County and didn't lift until it hit Sauk County, Wisconsin, some 80 miles east-northeast. After causing extensive damage in Guttenberg, IA, the tornado crossed the Mississippi River 1 mile south of Glen Haven. Damage in Clayton County was estimated at $30,000 and 8 people were injured. Three of the injuries and most of the damage was done in the southern part of Guttenberg. Farms were lightly damaged in Grant County [WI] as the tornado probably lifted and re-formed. The tornado then hit Lone Rock destroying much of the town and killing 4 people there. Four more people were killed on three separate farms before the even dissipated to a downburst in the Baraboo area. Total damage was estimated at $650,000.

~NOAA"s National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, LaCrosse, WI

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