Local Weather History: Account of a Tornado & Severe Storm at a Newton County Pottawattomie Village October 1840

A deadly severe storm & tornado struck near a Pottawattomie village near the Iroquois River in October 1840. Flooding, tree & village destruction & visible tornado was part of this storm.

Posted: Oct. 10, 2018 11:13 PM
Updated: Oct. 11, 2018 12:17 PM

This an account from fur trappers:

In the year 1840, in the month of October, on the southern slope of the Eaglenest Ridge near the north shore of the Iroquois River….

……Crossing the river at the sandy crossing, where a cloud of ducks arose from the water, with their deadening roar of winds and their quack, quack, quack, he took a southeasterly direction through the woods, keeping his course by the sun with its ducky, red face belled by the smoke of Indian summer. There was no path to follow but he knew the general direction he wished to go; therefore he had but little trouble in shaping his course. Bees still swarmed out in search of the few flower that had not been nipped by the early frost of autumn. Frogs croaked, the mocking birds still said their morning carols from the tops of the tallest trees, and the robin red-breasts hopped about in quest of worms. Wild geese, cranes and brants passed constantly overhead or waded and paddled in the ponds at will. The geese darted their heads low in the water in quest of snails, and bus while their feet paddle the thin water to maintain their equilibrium.

The sun rose clear, but was soon obscured by scudding clouds, which betokened rain. A few old Indians, including the father of the unfortunate boy were still feeling for the body with poles; but most of the band were either preparing or partaking of the morning meal, which consisted of hominy, corn cakes and various wild meats.

The sky had become more and more threatening during the time passed in the hut, the wind was rising. The Indian stepped to note the aspect of the weather. “Big storm”, he said, as he moved quietly outside and ran quickly to each tent, informing the inmates of the impending storm, which was now fast breaking upon them. In a few minutes he returned and began making things secure by fastening the corner of the skins with thongs of deer-hide and bracing the tent with extra pole braces. A great yellow bank of curvetting cloud came rolling down the heavens, which seemed to be followed and pushed ahead by an uneasy power which roared and bellowed like ten thousand maddened bulls. It was something terrific. Ben described it as being equal to a tropical tornado, a real Caribbean cyclone and an African hurricane combined. The trees bowed their tops to the earth in humble subjection to the powers that be, and many were snapped in twain with reports like heavy artillery. Wilder and wilder raged the tempest. The driving rain came down in blinding sheets. A flood of water rushed through the wigwam a foot deep.

Ben and the Indian were using their utmost endeavors to hold braces and thus keep the tent from going away with the blast. The maid sprang up and raised the sick woman to a sitting posture so that her head might be out of the water; but the old crone still sat in the water almost to her waist, crooning sad strains of some sorrow song as she swayed her body back and forth without paying the slightest attention to the warring of the elements. The lodge poles were bent like reeds in the marsh and the rain dashed through the holes and crevices in the skins in great bucketfuls. Vivid flashes of zigzag and sheet lightning almost blinded them, and peal upon peal of thunder seemed to rend the heavens in a million seams, whereby the pent up waters dashed and fell on the earth in oceans of waterspouts. One could not have stood on his feet a second out in the storm.

In the course of half an hour, which seemed almost an age to those who had to stem the storm, the wind ceased, and this cloudy cauldron of wind, water and electricity, each struggling for the masterly, passed away as quickly as it had come The trees lifted their heads, except those whose hearts had been broken, and the water dripped from their leaves and branches. The wind ceased, the sun burst forth from behind a cloud, and nature seemed to smile upon the wreck and desolation everywhere visible. Broad streams, rivulets and rills were still gurgling down the sloping woodland and over the river band into the march lake, with a roar like a Liliputian cataract.

Everything and everybody was drenched; not a dry thread could be found in the whole village. Three of the wigwams had been blown down, two papooses were drowned in the flood, and one was killed by a falling tent pole. Pools were everywhere, and in the level oak openings to the southwest great ponds and even lakes spread out like mammoth mirrors in the sunshine. The whole river marsh was one big lake as far at the eye could reach in the blue vista to the southeast.

After considerable difficulty a fire was lighted and, other borrowing from it, soon each lodge possessed a blasé to dry out the contents. Bird-eye made his squaw as comfortable as could be expected under the circumstances, which were bad enough at best. At this juncture, a general shout proclaimed the approach of the search party who had followed the trail of the dauntless rider. This hero of the day had been found much battered, but not dead.

A Standard History of Newton & Jasper Counties By Lewis H. Hamilston & William Darroch 1916 Page 101, 106 & 111-113

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