-by Greg Hoots-
April 12, 1911 began like many spring days for the residents of Eskridge, Kansas as a strong, relentless wind was blowing from the southwest and a hint of clouds could be seen along the western horizon. By early afternoon, clouds had filled the sky above Wabaunsee County, and the first thunderstorms, accompanied with hail, hit the small Flint Hills town.
But, the storms failed to lessen the humidity, and the strong Kansas wind continued, as the storms began to regroup in the west. Shortly before 4:00 pm, just as the students at the new Eskridge school were preparing to leave for the day, a tornado formed just south of town and began moving erratically into Eskridge.
The tornado swept through East Eskridge, inflicting heavy damage on many homes and public buildings. Tornadic winds, however, also struck homes located west of Main Street, including the Trivett home on Cedar Street, and virtually every business building on the east side of Main Street lost its windows and awnings.
The Eskridge Tribune, operating in a building which lost its roof in the storm, reported that “many [people] saw a team and wagon, belonging to J. Curry taken up into the air and turned over twice, and then alight right side up with the spring seat still in place. As soon as the team got their senses they at once bolted after the disappearing tornado.”
The Alma Enterprise reported on the tornado a week after the event, noting, “Mrs. Robert Day, when she saw the coming storm, ran to one of the bedrooms of the house and picked up her little son Eddie. Just as she got out of the room a huge porch post was blown through the window and dropped upon the bed in precisely the same place where the child had been lying.”
The report continues, “Mrs. Henry Meyers had just gone out to turn the water pipe so that the water would not flow into the already full cistern, when she saw the tornado and ran into the cellar. When the storm was over she took another look at her cistern and found that it was dry, the suction of the wind having drawn all of the water out.”
The article describes the plight of Henry Meyers and Bunger who were visiting on Main Street when they saw the twister coming. “They at once made for Bunger’s store, but were caught, Meyers being carried towards the Santa Fe depot and Bunger going in the opposite direction.”
“At the old Busenbark house owned by Chase Cole lived W. I. Seymour, and the family took refuge in the cellar. The house was torn from its foundations and rolled over and over. Debris of all kinds piled upon the family in the cellar, completely covering them. John Seymour, aged ten, was the first to crawl out. A man came running down the street and John called, ‘Boy, howdy, how’s this for a cyclone?’ In the same cellar two lamps were standing upright with their chimneys still intact.”
The Enterprise listed some of the damaged properties, “In the path of the storm was the Neeley house, Robert Day’s house was unroofed, Joe Dunn’s house, Chapman’s big barn, W.H. Earl’s, J.W. Rulison’s, G.E. Guthrie’s, Link McCoy’s house where Chas. Haines lived—totally demolished, the colored church, Henry Meyer’s, Rebecca Dill’s, A. M. Kasson’s totally destro9yed, Chas. Hilbish house where Bush lived, Dr. Tomlinson’s, the R.P. church—a total loss, Wm. Parmiter’s, two McCoy houses, Chase Cole’s total loss, Arthur Park’s big barn north of town.”
The Alma Signal recounted the disaster in Eskridge, noting stories of amazing escapes from the storm. “The A. M. Kasson home was completely destroyed and hardly two boards remained together after the storm had passed. All the furniture, etc., in the house was ruined. Mrs. A. M. Kasson, Roy Kasson and wife were all in the house at the time it was demolished and how they escaped and crawled out of the wreckage after the storm is miraculous.”
The Alma Signal continued its report, “The Covenanter church, one of the strongest and best buildings in the town, was completely wrecked. The colored Baptist church and parsonage were blown completely away.”
The new Eskridge Public School, just in its second year of occupancy, was stuck by the tornadic winds, ripping part of the roof and the south gable from the building while breaking many of the building’s windows. The Alma Enterprise reports, “About 15 or 20 of the children received minor injuries, but only one seriously hurt, Tom Cousins’ little boy who was struck on the head and rendered unconscious for several hours. A phone call yesterday said he was in no danger. The phone and electric light wires are in a tangle all over town. Some of the escapes were miraculous. Women and babies were in some of the houses that were totally demolished, but the inmates were not injured. Children were carried across the street and back and not hurt. How so much damage could be done and no one hurt is past comprehension.”
The tornado continued to the north into the rural area of the county, while still exacting damage. The tornado struck the Robert Streathern stone house on the old Murdie farm, totally demolishing the home, while injuring its residents, Clair and Agnes Rutledge. The chickens at that farm were completely plucked of their feathers, save a few on their wings and tails.
In all, the storm reportedly destroyed or damaged more than 20 buildings in Eskridge, injuring scores of residents, but without any loss of life. Damage from the storm was estimated at the time to be $100,000.
Eskridge photographer Frank Easter took extensive photographs of the storm’s damage, creating real photo postcards and collections of views of the storm damage.
Click on any image below to view in a gallery format or as a full-screen image: