Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tornado brought death and destruction

Sent to The Frederick Leader and The Frederick Press, May 3, 2011
Scene from downtown Snyder after the 1905 tornado.
1905 Tornado devastated Snyder

Spring of 1905 saw both celebration and tragedy in our area of Oklahoma Territory.
In May 1905, only one month after the area’s citizens greeted President Theodore Roosevelt on his arrival in Frederick for his famous wolf hunt, the town of Snyder was devastated by a massive tornado. The May 10, 1905 tornado claimed at least 97 lives and stands as one of the worst natural disasters in Oklahoma’s history.
In 1963 area historian Hugh D. Corwin, secretary of the Great Plains Historical Association, wrote about the Snyder tornado based primarily on 1905 Lawton newspaper accounts of the disaster.
Following is an excerpt from Corwin’s work:

The history of the south Kiowa County town of Snyder divides itself into two parts, “before cyclone” and “after cyclone.” In order to appreciate the courage and rugged tenacity of the citizens of Snyder, it might be well to first give an account of the great tornado which all but demolished the flourishing town on May 10, 1905.
At this time the population was estimated at about 1,200. The Frisco Railroad had built a round house and shops in the northeast part of the town. A large cotton compress, several gins, numerous lumber yards, feed yard, hotels and more than a hundred business buildings, along with several hundred dwellings made up the rapidly growing town, which was in the center of a good farming area. Snyder had become a railroad center, as two Frisco lines crossed there and freight as well as passenger traffic was heavy.
At 8:45 p.m. May 10, 1905, a great whirling, black, funnel-shaped cloud roared in from the southwest. In a few brief but terrible moments, the town of Snyder was wiped out. “The State Democrat”, a newspaper published at Lawton the next morning, May 11, 1905, carried big black headlines.

“A cyclone struck Snyder 33 miles west of here about 9 o’clock last night, leaving death and destruction in its wake. It was undoubtedly the worst storm ever witnessed in this section of the country, and hundreds of citizens of Lawton watched the storm last night.” (the writer, then nine years old, watched the terrifying electrical display, following this cyclone. The display lasted more than four hours. We watched it from the steps of our farm home storm-cellar.).

“The storm played havoc of death with Snyder. Although a distance of over 30 miles lay between Lawton and Snyder, the electrical features of the storm were so furious that it formed a grand but frightful spectacle for the people of Lawton who watched it with breathless awe.”
“Early this morning came a call for medical aid, saying that Snyder had been completely wiped out by a cyclone and that 400 persons had been killed and wounded.” (This proved to be too large an estimate). “Every physician in Lawton that could get away responded to the call and a special train was hurried to the horrible scene of destruction. Later another train pulled out from here with two or three hundred persons aboard, and the regular west-bound passenger train due here at 1:15 p.m. came in loaded with hundreds of persons anxious to get to Snyder, many of them having friends or relatives there.”
“Deputy Clerk of the District Court, A.C. Dolde was on the train, anxious to reach Snyder, where his wife and children were. A Miss Ralston, of Altus, was also on the train, she having received a dispatch from Altus that her father, J.B. Ralston, and her brother, Fred Ralston, were both killed in the storm at Snyder.”
“The Frisco Agent at Snyder, J.M. Egan, together with his entire family were killed, as also were the local manager of the telephone line and the girl employed in the telephone exchange. The telephone and telegraph lines were blown down, and it was impossible to get news direct from Snyder until about noon, when the general manager of the telephone line, telephoned the State Democrat, that, as the result of the cyclone, 82 people were killed outright and 200 injured, many of the latter being in dying condition, and not a building left standing in the town. He further stated that no calls would be received over the line for Snyder, as the company was in no position to handle the business.”
“The State Democrat sent a reporter to Snyder early this morning, who has been there the greater portion of the day, but owing to the inability to get wire service it has been impossible up to this hour to get a report from him.”
“At 3 p.m. today (May 11) The State Democrat was telephoned from Snyder, that the number killed was 83 and from 150 to 200 injured, many of them fatally.”
Then followed a long list of the dead and injured who had been identified.
“Every building north of the Frisco tracks, including the cotton compress and the round house, were destroyed. A few houses south of the tracks remain standing.”
“Word came here to Lawton this afternoon for bandages and cotton and all the coffins that could be spared. These are being sent as fast as they can be got out. At four o’clock this afternoon there were 97 dead bodies in the improvised morgue at Snyder, a large number of the dead not yet having been identified. Some of them being so mangled that it is impossible to recognize them.”
Another Lawton newspaper, “The Lawton News-Republican,” dated May 11, 1905, carried impressive headlines:


This article began with a long list of the dead and injured and then continued:
“The dead and dying were placed in the Hilton Hotel and Prichard saloon, both of which were damaged but not totally destroyed. There are over 100 houses destroyed north of the Frisco tracks. The body of one man was found three miles northeast of the city and brought in.”
“Two hundred and fifty residences were destroyed. Few business houses were left undamaged. Professor Hibbard, principal of the school, his wife and two children were killed, leaving one child.”


Joe Wynn is a member of the Tillman County Historical Society’s board of directors. He can be contacted by e-mail at tillmanokhistory@gmail.com.

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