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August 3, 1859 Tippecanoe County Tornado

A "terrible tornado" struck Wild Cat Prairie (Near present-day Subaru to Dayton area) in early August 1859.

Posted: Aug. 2, 2018 6:27 PM
Updated: Aug. 2, 2018 6:36 PM

Lafayette Courier, August 5, 1859 Page 1:

"A terrible tornado passed over a portion of Sheffield township, in this county, on Wednesday last, prostrating houses, barns, trees, and sweeping off fences, jay and wheat stacks, like feathers before the wind. A large amount of property was destroyed, but fortunately no lives were lost, nor was any one seriously injured. Mr. O.J. Bull, who resides a short distance from Dayton, within a quarter of a mile of the track of the tornado, was an eye witness to its devastation, and describes it as the most terrible whirlwind he ever witnessed. His attention was first directed to a singular commotion among the clouds, which, moving from the north and south, met and commingled about the middle of the Wild Cat Prairie, and seemed drifting scare one hundred feet from the ground.

The concussion sounded like the roar of artillery in the distance, and the clouds, in dark, heavy masses, were piled over and under each other, and, after a spiral movement, which brought the clouds still nearer to the earth, the tornado descending. Its approach sounded like the clattering of a railway train. In less than two minutes it has passed to the eastward, leaving ruin and devastation in its course. The largest forest trees were twisted to splinters, and every movable thing bore evidence of its fury. A dwelling house occupied by James Foresman, and owned, we believe, by Thomas Royal, was caught up by the whirlwind, lifted from its foundation, and completely demolished. The furniture, beds, carpets, and cooking utensils were literally scattered to the winds. All the out-houses, hay and wheat stacks were caught up and swept off. Not the most remote suspicion of a fence remained upon the premises. Happily Mr. Foresman and his family were absent from home. Had they been in the house, they must inevitably have been crushed to death.

Next in the direct course of the furious whirlwind was the house of Mr. Ryecraft, a well-known farmer. Nearly every member of his family was sick in bed, but as if by a providential interposition, the tornado swerved from a direct line, and passed within twenty feet of the rear door-yard. A smoke-house was demolished, all the fences prostrated, and every movable article carried off. It is a singular fact, that the large dam in the Wildcat Creek, near the residence of Mr. Ryecraft, and directly in the course of the tornado was baled almost dry. Mr. Bullcouches states that a large turtle was found the same evening nearly a mile from the creek. The next house encountered was that of Wm. Rizer, on the east bank of Wild Cat. It was a substantial frame structure, but the fury of the storm shivered it to fragments in the twinkling of an eye. Warned by the rumbling noise which preceded the whirlwind, the entire family by a common impulse sought refuge in the cellar, and escaped uninjured. Mr. Rizer's loss will not fall short of $1,500. His fine orchard was almost entirely destroyed.

Fruit trees, twelve to sixteen inches in diameter, were taken up by the roots and carried over two hundred yards. The Browning heirs, Vincent Dey, Chas. Sterritt, Wm. Snoddy, Mrs. Brand, and J. H. Peters, sustained more or less damage. The whirlwind cut a clean swath through a beautiful grove of timber belinging to Mrs. Snoddy. The strip of country laid waste is about two hundred yards in width and three miles in length. The tornado had spent its force before reaching the county line of Clinton, and did no further damage. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Brand were the only persons injured and they but slightly. This was the first tornado experienced in this wsection of country within the memory of the oldest inhabitant, and considering its extent and duration, was perhaps more destructive to property than any on record in the West."

The Indianapolis Journal  August 5, 1859 Page 1:

"The approach of the tornado was marked by a singular appearance of the clouds. A gentleman running on the Lafayette Railroad told me that they appeared to be almost red. Up the Peru road, Mr. Engineer Davis informs us the destruction of timber surpassed anything he ever saw. Twenty four trees were blown across the track in a distance of a half mile or so and thousands were prostrated on both sides as far as the eye could reach. In many cases the tops of the trees, at about twenty feet from the ground, were twisted off and blown through the air for considerable distances. The only house in sight of the road, a log one, was blown all to pieces. The country passed over was luckily low and swampy, with few inhabitants, or the injuries might have been terrible to persons as well as timber."

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