The Old West had tornadoes, same as today. With far fewer towns and people, most went unrecorded.
The first written accounts of tornadoes in the Great Plains came from settlements near and along the Missouri River during the mid-1800s.
On October 25, 1844, a tornado struck near present-day Mission, Kansas, and into Missouri, damaging or destroying a number of farms.
On the night of June 8, 1860, a tornado struck a home near Stanton, Kansas, killing an entire family. Nobody knew about it until the next morning when they saw the scattered debris, which spurred rumors of a “night phantom.”
A tornado destroyed a Union Pacific Railroad bridge on August 25, 1877, where the tracks crossed the Missouri River in Omaha, Nebraska, leaving the wrought-iron span bent and twisted.
In the Southwest, a tornado near Dallas, Texas, on April 15, 1879, destroyed more than a dozen homes and injured 25 people. It was described as a “green-rimmed cone-shaped tornado which rose and fell moving like a monster wave.”
That’s just a sampling of frontier tornadoes. The weather records of the time were not that complete.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone.
If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org