Cyclone 1878

Cyclones* and Storms: May 23, 1878
From: Ames, W.L. (1924) History of Oregon and Trade Territory, p. 39-41.

While very many of memorable proportions could be mentioned, three stand out most conspicuously, two of cyclonic magnitude and one of extreme rainfall.

The first cyclone, May 23, 1878, originated and started at Mineral Point, in Iowa County, moving and plowing its way eastward and northeastward, crossing into Dane County and the town of Perry and on into the town of Primrose, where just south of Mt. Vernon it began to involve in its ravages Oregon friends and acquaintances, and especially in the Chandler and Ozburn families.

Track of May 23, 1878 tornado
Map courtesy of Edward J. Hopkins, State Climatology Office, UW-Madison

The R.B. Chandler farm building, also his brother’s, were practically annihilated. The Wm. Ozburn family, who were tenants on the R.B. Chandler farm, were victims of its fury, the daughter, Annie (later Mrs. Spaulding Waterman) receiving injuries which she carried through life and which ever would cause her to shudder at the approach of a threatening storm.

Locally, the next we hear of its demolishing ravages, and in our own township, was at the then Michael McCarthy place, north of the road, opposite the Nangle estate, now the McNeill place where it picked the small frame house up bodily and carried it over three small children but leaving them practically uninjured, on over the wood pile and then dropping it and utterly demolishing it, seriously injuring Mrs. McCarthy but sparing her life. Two cats were killed right beside her.

Next it attacked the J.G. Pierce place, about two miles west of Oregon village, scarcely leaving two lath attached together; the house, windmill and barn standing in north and south line, and within a distance of ten rods, strewing the house and barn in shreds to the east, the windmill between the house and barn going exactly in the opposite direction to the west. Mr. and Mrs. Pierce and son Alfred were in the house when the cyclone struck it. Two minutes later, when the storm had subsided, the latter, Alfred, found himself over eighty rods east of the demolished house, having been in the air most of the time, just occasionally touching the earth.

The miracle was that with the flying debris of the storm continually rushing thru the air about him, his life was spared, and except for being considerably dazed, and which condition continued for several days after the storm, he emerged practically uninjured. Mr. Pierce emerged with both legs broken and with other internal injuries, and although never fully recovering he lived for some two years afterward. Mrs. Pierce was found several feet from where the house had stood, and so pinioned by the kitchen stove with its ordinary fire in it that she was so seriously burned and internally injured that she survived but a couple of weeks after the cyclone.

The George Pierce family were in such close proximity to the path of the cyclone, yet practically untouched by it, the writer later asked Mr. Pierce what he first observed that caused him to surmised anything out of the ordinary was near. His answer was, “Numerous birds wobbling and staggering in the air, and next flying debris hurtling past in the air not forty rods distant. It is quite reliably reported that the top of an organ belonging to Annie Ozburn, then at Mount Vernon, was picked up near Belleville. Other similar pick-ups were reported.

Continuing east from the J.G. Pierce place the cyclone next conspicuously vented its fury on the then Sam Rice home (present Chris Black place), also demolishing it, but without serious tragedy to human life. Then on, leveling all tombstones in its path in the northwest corner of the Oregon cemetery, just stepping aside to the south at this point to uproot a large burr oak tree on the Amasa Salisbury (present Geo. Pease) place, jut north of the buildings, leaving the rickety old barn nearby unscathed. Then on to the northeast, but with no other buildings in Oregon territory demolished that we know of.

Up to this cyclonic event we had assumed that all newspaper reports of such things elsewhere were “bunk” and inserted simply as exciting headlines to help sell papers. Since that event we believe anything we hear about cyclones.

*probably a tornado

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