“Scattered to the Four Winds:” the Halstead Cyclone May 2, 1910

by Kristine Schmucker, Archivist/Curator

Harvey County recently experienced a brush with severe storms. On Sunday night, May 21, 2024, straight line winds and tornadoes made their way through Burrton, Halstead and the southern part of Newton causing a great deal of damage. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Harvey County has experienced devastating and fatal tornadoes before including, 1 March 1888, 1 May 1895, 2 May 1910 and 25 May 1917, 24 May 1962, 13 March 1990.

The tornado in May 1910 especially caused havoc in Halstead.

Scattered to the Four Winds

On May 2, 1910 one of the “most destructive storm in the history of Harvey County passed through the county at about 1 o’clock Monday morning.” Although it did not quite match the intensity of the “great cyclone which swept over Harvey County May 1, 1895,” the May 2, 1910, tornado came close, and Halstead took a direct hit.

Halstead Independent, 5 May 1910

The storm roared through in the early morning hours of May 2 when most Harvey County residents were asleep. The fact that there was only one fatality was a miracle.

The editor of the Halstead Independent reported the following damage. The path of the storm went from the south to west and “the storm twisted trees and pulled many from their roots and made a specialty of picking out barns and windmills and leaving residences alone.”  Telephone and electric poles were down, and while the storm “did not assume all the characteristics of a cyclone, it was near enough to satisfy everybody who heard the terrific noise which accompanied it.”

Path Through Town

G.A. Schriver’s new barn in the west part of Halstead was completely destroyed and “on the north end of this tract the machine sheds of Fred Massler were scattered to the four winds, while his threshing engine and separator were left standing without damage.” Next, the storm damaged several homes in Halstead. In the business district W. C. Hinkle & Co’s “two story wood frame warehouse filled with implements was blown to the ground.”

Hinckle & Co, Halstead, Ks after the May 2, 1910 Storm

The Halstead Milling & Elevator Co sustained “the heaviest financial loss of anything in the path of the storm. The brick smokestack was blown down, the storage warehouse  . . . was scattered over many acres and a portion of the roof had been carried over the river.” The Warkentin property east of the mill sustain damage with trees “being twisted off about twenty feet from the ground.  The north annex to the big barn . . . was moved from the foundation but not badly damaged.”

Halstead Main Street, after May 2, 1910 storm

Other damage was noted. John Stilikle was “heavy loser because John reigns as King over there and had more buildings to damage.” Stilikle estimated his loss will be around $275.89. David Lehman’s orchard suffered from the wind and hail. Virtually all the windows in the Lehman’s home were broken from the hail. An early morning train was delayed to clear tracks and the Santa Fe signal tower at the depot was blown down.

One Fatality -Michael Hoffman

There was one fatality, Michael Hoffman, who lived on a farm about seven miles southwest of Sedgwick.

“The house at his place was blown to the four or a dozen or more of  winds . . . and the lifeless body of Mr. Hoffman was found after the storm was over. He was badly mutilated; any one of the three or four wounds having been sufficient to have caused his death almost instantly.”

His wife was severely injured, while his son sustained no injuries.

Property Loss

When the storm was done, “no less than thirty barns have been partially or wholly destroyed, while the Hoffman house was the only one blown away.”

The editor noted;

“the property loss in the path of the storm is difficult to estimate, but it cannot be less than one hundred thousand dollars. The damage at the mill will amount to from five to eight thousand dollars, the Hinckle & Co. loss is quite heavy, the Mitchell building will have to be rebuilt in the front and the hundreds of smaller losses will amount to a considerable figure.”

Halstead, Ks, after the May 2, 1910, storm.

Cyclone or Tornado

West Park also experienced much damage. The writer described the park;

“it presents the appearance of having passed through a genuine cyclone, although those who claim to be posted say it was nothing but a tornado. We have talked with some of the sufferers from the 1895 cyclone and they are almost unanimous in the declaration that the late storm was attended by the same kind of noise and other trimmings.”

Longed For Rain

The Evening Kansan Republican noted that the May 1910 storm was one of the “worst storms in several years,” but it did come with the much needed and “longed for rain. . . and Harvey County farmers are not disposed to find fault with the methods . . . the deluge this morning has served to place the soil in condition to produce excellent crops.”


Evening Kansan Republican, 2 May 1910.

Wishing for Cyclone Cellars

In Newton, “houses trembled and quaked . . . and nervous sleepers, awakened by the fury of the storm, lay in bed and wondered if only the roof would come off, or whether the whole house would be carried away.”  Daylight revealed the streets were littered with tree branches and beautiful shade trees were ruined. The glass windows on some of the downtown businesses was blown out. Many electric and power lines were down, as well as telephone lines. Newton did not experience as much damage as the town of Halstead.


  • Burrton Free Lance: 5 May 1910. 
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 2 May 1910.
  • Halstead Independent:  May 5, 1910.
  • Newton Kansan: 5 May 1910.



“The Storm King Visits:” Newton’s First Tornado

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Thursday, March 1, 1888, started out like any other weekday.  Later, people recalled that

 “there was a calmness that seemed to pervade the atmosphere. There appeared to be no movement in the air whatever and the people moving about were conscious of an oppressed feeling.  It was very close and a strange quiet settled over the city.”

“A Grand Sight, but Awful”

At 4:30, “a dark, murky looking cloud” could be seen “banked high up against the horizon”  in the west.

 “People were impressed with the strange appearance of the cloud and with the sky overhead.  Some who had been in regions regularly visited by the dreaded cyclone instinctively felt that all was not right and watched with trepidation the approaching storm.” 

At “three minutes to five the huge cloud, which now seemed  to be a turbulent mass of smoke, dust and steam came slowly toward the city . . .”

Newton Daily Republican, 2 March 1888.

“Almost at the same instant, a cold wave came from the north and then followed a terrific hail storm, with drenching rains.”

After the storm, there were reports that a “cyclone had struck the city at the carriage factory.” People quickly went and discovered the “roof of the north wing of the immense building had been stripped off . . “

“No Hope of Recovery”

In the midst of property damage,  the first two recorded tornado related fatalities in Harvey County were discovered.

“There, under the heavy roofing was found the lifeless form of William J. Lacey, foreman of the trimming department.  A hundred men lent willing hands, lifted the timbers and roofing off of the remains of the unfortunate man.”

Thirty-seven year old Lacey was  well-liked, “regarded as an honest, upright and perfectly trustworthy young man.”  His brother, Frank, arrived a few days later to return the body to Galena, Ill for burial.

The destruction continued southeast of the factory in what was known as “Walt’s Addition.”  Six homes had been destroyed by the fury of the “wind monster.” In the rubble, another tragedy.

“In the ruins of J.P. Amidon’s house . . . a heart-rending scene met the eye. Miss Annis Hobble was found insensible underneath the rubbish, with her teeth set as in death.”

The unconscious Miss Hobble was rushed to Axtell Hospital where there was “no hope for recovery.”  She never regained consciousness. Sixteen year old Annis Hobble died of her injuries on March 8, 1888.

Annis F. Hobble, Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Ks.

“Inability to Predict”

Unlike today, when forecasters can give  reasonable warnings, the 1888 storm  caught everyone off guard and demonstrated “the utter inability of man to predict such.”  Indeed, the forecast by the weather bureau for March 1, 1888 called for the “probability of light snow followed by colder weather.”

The newspaper reports also suggest that this was the first tornado to strike the city of Newton. The headline for the March 2, 1888 edition of the Newton Daily Republican read;

Newton for the First Time Visited by the Storm King.”

The Kansan also noted that the tornado on March 1 was “Newton’s first Experience with the Storm King.”

A storm in early  March was also a surprise. The reporter concluded;

“The appearance of a cyclone storm in Kansas in March is, we believe, without a parallel.” 


  • Newton Daily Republican; 2 March 1888, 6 March 1888.
  • The Kansan: 8 March 1888 15 March 1888.
  • U.S. Census: 1880, 1900.
  • Correspondence with Dean Hess January 2014.  HCHM Curator’s Files.

An Unusually Warm and Humid Day: March 13, 1990

We welcome Libby Albers, Director at the Hesston Public Library, as a guest blogger this week. To commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the tornado that struck Reno, Harvey and Marion Counties, the Hesston Public Library has worked to preserve the photos, letters, videos and other material related to the storm. This post will highlight some of the project and history of the tornado of March 13, 1990.


by Libby Albers, Director, Hesston Public Library

This year, 2015, marks twenty-five years since a series of fatal tornadoes swept across south-central Kansas. As part of this important anniversary, the Hesston Public Library has digitized the photographs, personal reflections, letters, videos and other documents collected after the storm. The Digitized Special Collections can be viewed at: http://hesston.digitalsckls.info or via the library’s website: hesstonpubliclibrary.com.


So much has been written about the outbreak of tornadoes of March 13, 1990: news articles, scientific papers, disaster response papers, entire books (1). The “Hesston Outbreak” not only refers to the F5 tornado that cut through Hesston, KS, but the entire storm system that spanned six states.




 In Hesston, Kansas, it was unusually warm and humid for a day in March.

Before the bell rang, an elementary school teacher chatted with a neighbor across the street. “Somebody is sure in for it tonight,” the neighbor remarked as they discussed the strange heat of the morning.

The preschool teacher, Ms. Judy, also thought the warm weather was an ominous sign.  On the spur of the moment she decided to do a tornado drill with her young pupils.

 Many high school students had traveled to Topeka for “Close-Up Kansas,” while the Junior High Band had gone to Lyons for a band contest.

 A young couple snapped some photos of the sky while innocently cloud watching, imagining animals and characters in the racing along the horizon.

 The weather services already warned of potentially severe storms for the day.

** At 4:34pm a tornado touched down in Pretty Prairie, KS, about 50 miles southwest of Hesston. **

The storm was moving slowly allowing storm spotters to relay information back to the weather service.

 The tornado was moving slowly, but Hesston was projected as its destination. A couple of off-duty first-responders hopped in their pickup truck and decided to do take some field observations.

 ** At 5:00 pm the storm hit Burrton, toppling a chimney of the Fisher home, killing young Lucas who was sheltering with his family in their basement. **

 The local teens had gathered at the Pizza Hut along Lincoln Boulevard to eat and hang out after school.

 ** The tornado sirens in town were screaming.  “By 5:37 p.m. the sirens had already blown three times in Hesston. Unfortunately, loud sirens do not ward off tornadoes like evil spirits” (Herzer, 1990). **

 Hesston College staff were desperately trying to get students to take the warning seriously and take cover. A few residents still stood outside and stared at the approaching black wall, sure it would turn.

 Donnie had stayed late at Kropf Lumber to get the evening’s delivery put up so that it wouldn’t get wet. He couldn’t help watching the black cloud in the west. The tornado seemed to be standing still but getting larger.


“Looking east on Ruesser from beside W. Roupp home” Graham, Duane A., Oatman, Emily, and Graham Productions, “Graham Slide 3-13-90 #45,” Hesston Public Library, accessed March 13, 2015, http://hesston.digitalsckls.info/items/show/61.


"March 1990 Hesston Kansas tornado" by The Wichita Eagle - http://www.crh.noaa.gov/ict/?n=hesston. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:March_1990_Hesston_Kansas_tornado.jpg#/media/File:March_1990_Hesston_Kansas_tornado.jpg

“March 1990 Hesston Kansas tornado” by The Wichita Eagle – http://www.crh.noaa.gov/ict/?n=hesston. Licensed under Public Domain

Dean had just picked his kids up from their grandma’s house and arrived home.  He still had his video camera with him and trained it on the storm.

(If link below does not work, please copy and paste to view the video)




 As the tornado moved into Hesston, it increased to F5 intensity. It appeared to head straight for Hesston College and the surrounding retirement communities before a microburst, a powerful downdraft of air, push the track slightly to the north.


Source: screen shot from news coverage video.

Storm Damage

Goodyear, Stephen C., “Goodyear photo #87,” Hesston Public Library, accessed March 13, 2015, http://hesston.digitalsckls.info/items/show/438.

Goodyear, Stephen C., “Goodyear photo #87,” Hesston Public Library, accessed March 13, 2015, http://hesston.digitalsckls.info/items/show/438.

"Trash at east end of Ruesser St."  Graham, Duane A., Oatman, Emily, and Graham Productions, “Graham Slide 3-13-90 #50,” Hesston Public Library, accessed March 13, 2015, http://hesston.digitalsckls.info/items/show/66.

“Trash at east end of Ruesser St.”
Graham, Duane A., Oatman, Emily, and Graham Productions, “Graham Slide 3-13-90 #50,” Hesston Public Library, accessed March 13, 2015, http://hesston.digitalsckls.info/items/show/66.

"Looking SE over rubble at Swartzendrubers Weld Shop" Graham, Duane A., Oatman, Emily, and Graham Productions, “Graham Slide 3-14-90 #017,” Hesston Public Library, accessed March 13, 2015, http://hesston.digitalsckls.info/items/show/78.

“Looking SE over rubble at Swartzendrubers Weld Shop”
Graham, Duane A., Oatman, Emily, and Graham Productions, “Graham Slide 3-14-90 #017,” Hesston Public Library, accessed March 13, 2015, http://hesston.digitalsckls.info/items/show/78.

That no one was killed within the town of Hesston seems unfathomable.  Heartbreakingly, the storm took the lives of Ruth Voth of Goessel and young Lucas Fisher of Burton as they sheltered from the weather.


There are thousands of stories from people who rode out the storm, who volunteered with the massive cleanup effort, who donated their time and supplies to help families rebuild.

Within four days the piles of debris had been cleared and on day five framing for the first house started to go back up.

"Truck load of house parts going to city dump."  Graham, Duane A., Oatman, Emily, and Graham Productions, “Graham Slide 3-17-90 #03,” Hesston Public Library, accessed March 13, 2015, http://hesston.digitalsckls.info/items/show/109.

“Truck load of house parts going to city dump.” Graham, Duane A., Oatman, Emily, and Graham Productions, “Graham Slide 3-17-90 #03,” Hesston Public Library, accessed March 13, 2015, http://hesston.digitalsckls.info/items/show/109.

Hesston, Kansas would continue to grow and thrive beyond the rubble of March 13, 1990.