Sioux County, Iowa

Newspaper Articles

The Great Tornado - 1895


Sioux County Herald
May 8, 1895

May 3, 1895

A tornado passed through Sioux county Friday afternoon and its course was
marked by appalling loss of life and destruction of property. Starting in
the southwest part of Center township, it traveled toward the northeast for
about sixteen miles and in its path, which was about a mile in width, there
were few buildings that escaped demolition.

A strong wind and a gathering of angry clouds preceded the cyclone. N.
Howard, who lives west of where the work of destruction began, says that
when the cloud reached the earth it was no larger than a wagon wheel. The
heavens were of a greenish blue color. M. B. Combs, who lives on the
northwest quarter of section 34, had been watching the storm. H saw the
cloud descended almost west of him, go south about half a mile and upset
some buildings on Robert Brown’s place and then come straight for his own
house. His wife and children who were at home had sought shelter in the
cellar and Mr. Combs had barely time to join them before the full force of
the storm was felt. J. B. Perry, a Hawarden implement man, who was at the
place, was a little too late and the wind lifted him twenty feet in the air
and carried him over a grove north of the house. His arm was broken and he
was terribly bruised and scratched, but was able to return to his home the
next morning. Mr. Coombs’ barns and sheds were completely destroyed and his
yard was filled with boards, farm machinery and debris of all kinds. The
kitchen was torn from the main building and part of the latter was unroofed.
The granary was the only outbuilding left standing and it was unroofed.

Across the road and to the north stood the schoolhouse. Only the foundation
stones remain. R. J. Smith, who lives immediately north, saw the work of
destruction. The building was lifted on end and in an instant collapsed like
an egg shell. Miss Anna Marsdan, the teacher, was picked up dead and nearly
all the children were more or less injured. Little Nettie Coombs, aged
eight years, was fatally hurt and died the next day, and her sisters, Matie
and Jennie, were severely battered and bruised. Two of the R. J. Smith’s
children were slightly hurt. The latter’s buildings were destroyed. He and
his wife remained in the house, which was almost entirely blow away, and
their escape from injury seems miraculous. A mile north, at Frank Taylor’s,
the family escaped by entering the cellar. At L. Wynia’s they were not so
fortunate. Mrs. Wynia put one child in the cellar and was about to enter it
herself with the baby, when the house was blown away. Mr. Wynia found his
wife in the slough some distance away. She was seriously hurt and the babe
lay dead in the mother’s arms. At DeBoer’s, on the north side of the
section, everything was swept away, but no one was hurt. All had sought
refuge in the cellar.

At C. H. Hagge’s the scene was one of total destruction. Mr. Hagge was in
the field a short distance from the house. He was plastered with the mud
which everywhere accompanied the storm, but saved his life by clinging to a
tree. Henry, the eldest son, was outside the house. He was thrown into the
willows and escaped with some bad bruises. His sister was found unconscious
among the trees. She had been in the house and was carried along with it.
Her injuries were serious. The house and outbuildings were completely
destroyed, and not a piece of furniture or kitchen utensil could be found.

The schoolhouse on this quarter section was annihilated. The teacher,
George Marsden, was a brother of the lady killed at the Coombs schoolhouse.
He was instantly killed. Herman Hagge, a member of the family whose
injuries are mentioned above, had his leg broken and was severely bruised.
Four of A. DeWeerd’s children were severely hurt and the recovery of two of
them was very doubtful. A child of J. Koster, whose house was a mile north,
was killed and another severely injured. Three children of Mr. Schuurman
were injured.

On the section north the next house was Joseph Butler’s. It was demolished.
At the corner had stood John Koster’s house. In its destruction, three lives
were lost. Mrs. Koster’s dead body was found many rods away, one child was
killed, and another hurt. A neighbor, Mrs. P. Postma, had been helping
clean house. She was picked up dead. The houses of A. Franke and Peter
Postma, west of Koster’s, were destroyed, but no one was hurt.

The schoolhouse north of Koster’s was totally destroyed. Fortunately Miss
Dykstra, the teacher, had dismissed school at 3 o’clock and there was no one
in the building. At Theodore Schroeder’s, a short distance west, the roof
had been lifted from the house, the barn had been blown away and some of the
other sheds and outbuildings had been damaged.

The storm continued to travel toward the northeast and barns and
outbuildings were damaged more or less on the farms of A. J. Zandbulte, D.
W. Doornink, Joh Boer, A. Eggink, G. W. VanPutten and B. Kastein. At John
Doornink’s the north side of the house had been removed and the barns blown
down and at J. H. Wicher’s both house and barns had suffered. The damage
for several miles in this locality did not seem so heavy as it was either in
the rear or in front.

It could not have been worse, however, than in the Koster and Ver Hoef
neighborhood on section 14 in Welcome township. K. Koster’s buildings were
entirely demolished. An eleven-year-old girl was the only one injured.
There was not a stick left standing on the premises of Teunis VerHoef. One
child, a four-year-old girl, was killed and the parents and two other
children injured. At J. H. Heynen’s, a little farther on, the destruction
was complete and the timbers of the building were carried into the fields.
At no place in the track of the storm was the destruction more complete and
at no other place did it look worse. Everything was covered with several
inches of mud and the dingy, dirty appearance of the fields and trees made
the scene a most desolate one. L. Van Berkum lives on the northeast
corner of this section. His house was blown over and the barn and sheds
were destroyed, but no one was injured. The school house across the road
was lifted into the air and carried across the fields. The floor fell out
and the children escaped without serious injury, while the building was a
complete wreck. The teacher, Miss DeBoer, was somewhat injured and all the
children were bruised and covered with mud. Jacob Jans, who lived east of
the schoolhouse, was dangerously hurt; one child and a hired man were also
injured, while the buildings were wrecked. C. Schuldt’s place was also
entirely destroyed, but no one was hurt. H. Juffer’s house was a total
wreck as was R. Swart’s. The latter and a twelve-year old son were severely
injured. At John Schut’s the family was in the cellar, when the buildings
were blown away.

The splendid buildings of A. J. Bolks were next in the path of the storm and
they were utterly demolished. Mr. Bolks was not at home but the inmates of
the house escaped by running to the pasture out of the direct path of the
tornado. The money damage here was probably more than at any other farm, as
Mr. Bolks had an unusually fine set of buildings.

The cloud seemed to rise here. Little damage was done north, although
several buildings in Perkins were upset. It struck again four miles
northeast of Hull and wrecked some of the buildings on the farms of H.
Putman, Geo. Vickers, Peter Jensen, Eli Bebout and F. C. Beckman and
demolished a schoolhouse. It did no further damage until it reached Sibley,
where several lives were lost.

The above is a brief description of the destruction wrought in the direct
path of the storm. In addition to this there were scores of other places
where barns and sheds were destroyed and houses damaged. The effects of a
hard wind could be seen for miles south of the starting point of the
cyclone. Trees in Robert Campbell’s grove, a mile south of Coombs’, were
blown down and sheds had also suffered. At C. R. Steele’s a barn had been
unroofed. Mr. Steel had drive to the schoolhouse and brought his little son
home only a few minutes before the cyclone destroyed the buildings. Sheds
on John Stewart’s place were also damaged. On both sides of the path of the
tornado considerable damage was done to outbuildings and trees.

Those who followed the path of the storm saw many strange sights. The
strangest of these to one who has seen the effects of a windstorm in a
timber country was the peaceful character of the scene a short distance from
the buildings. Here and there would be a piece of timber, but on the whole
the fields appeared as smiling and as peaceful as if destruction had not
been wrought and lives lost a few rods away. Where buildings had stood the
scene was one of desolation and the timbers and boards were scattered for a
considerable distance, but in almost every instance these evidences of the
storm had disappeared before the site of the next building was reached and
in between there was little to mark the storm swept portion from that which
had escaped. The manner in which the debris of the wreck was distributed
was astonishing. In one place everything had been carried toward the
southeast, in another toward the northeast, in another directly east and in
another toward the northwest. The rotary motion of the storm probably
accounts for this phenomenon, but the cloud itself moved about in a most
eccentric manner, almost as if it were a solid body that was carried first
in one direction and then in another by the force of the outside wind.

The appearance of the cloud which worked this devastation varied according
to the point of view of those who saw it. Near the point at which it
started, it looked as if two clouds came together and a whirling motion
began. As has been stated, the cloud was no larger than a wagon wheel at
first, but the whirling motion extended it and when it started toward the
northeast, it was nearly a mile wide. Owing to its zigzag direction, its
width could not be accurately determined. In some places it appeared to be
not more than half a mile wide. From Sioux Center the could had the
appearance of a huge inverted dome and this was the shape in which most of
those who were out of its track saw it. Those who were in the midst of it
could see nothing on account of the mud. The fence posts and trees were
covered to a depth of several inches in some places and the grass and grain
that were not blown away were covered with a thick layer. The sides of many
buildings were thickly plastered.

Not only were houses, barns, granaries, and sheds destroyed, but the wire
was even stripped from the posts and carried into the fields. In some
places the growing grain was twisted off, but the damage to crops was very
small. Had the storm come a few weeks later when the grain was higher the
loss would have been far greater. Except in a few places where the mud
formed a hard crust too thick for the shoots to force their way through, the
crops were almost as good as if there had been no tornado.

Many of those whose homes were destroyed were in comfortable circumstances
and were not at all worried over the pecuniary loss. As one of them said,
“I wouldn’t care a continental if it were not for the injured members of the
family.” They, of course, had to begin housekeeping anew, for they had not
a single article of furniture, but they began the work bravely and needed no
assistance which relatives and neighbors could not render. There were
others who had to receive substantial aid. Some of the, after years of hard
work, found themselves with less than they began with. A few indeed had
nothing except the clothes they had one and there were covered with mud.
But whatever aid they needed was readily and cheerfully furnished by the
people of Sioux county. The county was rich enough and prosperous enough
and its people were generous enough to aid those who were in need and there
were few who did not deprecate the appeal that was made, in the midst of
excitement, for outside aid. The deepest sympathy of everyone was extended
to those families whose circles death entered and in every case where it was
necessary this sympathy was in substantial form. The evidence of this was
found in the promptness with which neighbors and friends assisted the
afflicted. Nothing could be more touching than the cheerful helpfulness,
the tender care of the injured and dead and the untiring devotion to the
welfare of those whose homes were destroyed which was shown by neighbors
unless it was the need which called for such manifestations.

All roads in Sioux county led to the scene of the disaster Saturday and
Sunday. Hundreds of vehicles passed over the road and thousands of
questions were asked by the occupants. Some of these regarding the death or
injuries of members of the family were answered with tears in the eyes and
the simple pathos of the answers often brought tears also to the eyes of the

It seemed scarcely possible that household furniture, kitchen utensils and
the various articles necessary about a house should have so completely
disappeared. Fragments of the larger articles could sometimes be found, but
this was not often the case.

Columns might be written in regard to the freaks of the wind. Here a large
house would be taken and a frail addition left, there an addition had been
wrenched from the main structure, the boards being broken and torn off; in
another place sheds and barns were taken and the house, which appeared more
exposed, was left; while in yet another place the reverse was true and the
house alone had suffered. In one place there were four buildings almost in
a line and the two at the ends were destroyed while others escaped.

There were very few animals killed, three or four horses, a few cattle and
quite a number of hogs.

Henry Nieland Sr., who lives with his son Will in Sioux Center, was a few
miles out of town driving when the storm struck him. It lifted buggy and
horse into the air. The buggy was a wreck, the horse killed, but Mr.
Nieland was not dangerously injured.

The doctors from Orange City, Alton, Maurice, Ireton and Sioux Center were
quickly at the scene of devastation and all worked indefatigably to
alleviate the sufferings of the injured.

Five of the victims of the tornado were buried Saturday afternoon at Sioux
Center, the services being held in the large Reformed church. The building
was filled with sympathizing friends and many could not enter. Those who
were buried were Mrs. John Koster and two children, Mrs. Peter Postma and
the four-year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. T. VerHoef. Nettie Coombs and
the baby of Mr. and Mrs. L. Wynia were buried at Ireton.

The bodies of George and Anna Marsden were taken to their home in Biscobel,
Wis., for interment. It was an inexpressibly sad homecoming and the hearts
of thousands of strangers went out in sympathy to the bereaved parents. It
was a strange fate which overtook this brother and sister far from home and
family, young, bright and full of hope they were stricken down without
warning. It was said they were much together in life; in death they were
not parted.

Saturday morning found scores of friends busy at the various homes that had
been visited by the storm. Where enough of the house remained to make it
practicable, carpenters were busy repairing and others were endeavoring to
bring some kind of order out of the chaos which prevailed. Where the houses
had been entirely demolished the homeless ones were domiciled at the houses
of neighbors and the wounded were being tenderly cared for. On all sides
were cheerful helpfulness and unselfishness.

The following persons were killed:
Miss Anna Marsden,
Nettie Coombs,
L. Wynia’s baby,
Mrs. John Koster and two children,
George Marsden,
Mrs. Peter Postma,
T. Ver Hoef’s daughter.

Among the injured were:
Matie Coombs,
Jennie Coombs,
Luella Coombs,
J. B. Perry,
Two children of R. J. Smith,
Mrs. L. Wynia,
John Hagge,
Henry Hagge,
Matilda Hagge,
Herman Hagge,
Four children of A. DeWeerd,
Child of J. Kosters,
Child of K. Koster,
Miss DeBoer,
Mrs. J. H. Henen,
J. Jans,
Child and hired man,
R. Swartz and boy,
Two children of S. Hulstein.
The two children of R. J. Smith are the step-children of Anna and John


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