There are several cemeteries in Wood and surrounding counties that have graves marked with the same date of death – April 9, 1919. That was the day one of the worst tornadoes of mass destruction tore across much of northern Texas including Wood County.
It was just after midnight on a Wednesday when the tornado developed what is now known as an F4 that traveled a long track nearly a mile wide making its way through the Red River counties, and Henderson, Van Zandt, Wood and Camp counties. Oddly, the tornado seemed to avoid the larger towns and focused its fury on the smaller farming communities causing horrific damage and loss of life.
|EF 4 Tornado|
Relief trains were immediately sent out, each bearing teams of doctors, nurses, and emergency help from Fort Worth, Dallas, Greenville and many other points along the way.
The Dallas Morning News reported, “Cyclopean Fury of Death Storm . . . tornado moves through Henderson, Van Zandt, Wood, Camp and Red River counties, killing 42 people and injuring 150.”
By the evening of Thursday, April 10, verified dispatches from the districts in northern Texas and southern Oklahoma swept by tornadoes showed that at least 86 persons were killed and more than 200 were seriously injured. In the tornado’s aftermath, upwards of 1,000 persons were left homeless including many children some of them orphans of the storm. Dallas Mayor Frank Wozencraft released his statement in a telegram saying, “Dallas sincerely sympathizes with the storm stricken areas and stands ready to cooperate in every possible way to relieve the situation. The Woodmen of the World have kindly offered the use of a large number of tents, and other relief will be supplied if needed.”
|Aftermath of the Tornado on April 9, 1919|
A few days after the catastrophe, Mr. Jim Venable of Big Spring received a letter from his brother in Bonham who witnessed the storm’s aftermath. The letter was dated April 9, 1919.
“Dear Brother & Family, I will answer your kind letter received yesterday. We had a big cyclone that struck Bonham last night. It swept things clean where it went. It tore Leonard and Ector all to pieces. Killed 14 persons dead and wounded many. Several died today from wounds and several more expected to die. There isn’t a house left from Mulberry to the river. It just swept things clean. Jim, I witnessed the saddest sight this evening I ever did before in my life. I hope I’ll never have to witness it again. I saw them bring 9 dead persons men women and children in a truck to the undertakers office. Their heads were beat all to pieces. Some with both arms and both legs broke. One man in the bunch a piece of a 2 by 4 struck him in the neck and went half way through it.”
No one is alive today that can relate a first-hand account, but stories have been handed down describing the horror of this catastrophic tornado. Many local folks recall hearing stories told about how trees had planks of wood lodged clean through them with sheet metal wrapped around fences and trees like cloth. One injured cow was noted as still walking about with a plank of wood in protruding from its side. Another man remembers his father talking about how the wind had blown straw and hay into the bark of the trees.
So many lives were forever changed that April 9, 1919. In Wood County alone, you will find the following:
Nannie A Jones Vickery – Concord Cemetery, Quitman
Iris Lucile Autry White – Ebenezer Cemetery, Oak Grove
Mary Ann Calloway Turner – Ebenezer Cemetery, Oak Grove
Nova Reba Minick – Syrna Cemetery, Winnsboro
You can remember these and a few others who lost their lives that fateful day by visiting the East Texas Tornado April 9, 1919 Virtual Cemetery created by David Brasfield at this link https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=vcsr&GSvcid=692214
Delene Allen, Director