April 27, 1916
As it wound its way toward the northeast from Stover, where the greater part of that thriving little village of new houses was demolished, it left a trail that can be seen for years to come. Strong forest trees were uprooted and fell in different directions marking the whirling course of a fierce wind phenomenon that can hardly be believed unless seen.
One of the most remarkable things about the dreadful storm is the fact that all of the destruction and isolation only four deaths have been reported among the injured.
Stock and poultry were killed all along the route. At several places chickens were picked clean of all their feathers. Strange freaks that would not be believed if printed were witnessed everywhere.
The path of the tornado was only a few hundred feet wide, less than 1/4 mile at its greatest range, but no object, building or tree within direct range of the force was strong enough to withstand its mighty power.
Naomi Cain wrote in 1971:
Reports the next day indicated several people had been killed at Stover and three near Enon, Mr. and Mrs. Pet Farris and their son. A later release listed only one person killed at Stover. The Farris boy survived, although for several days he was in such a serious condition that he was not expected to live.
In this area, the storm touched down southeast of Barnett; then west and northwest of Eldon, where 14 buildings were blown away and about 14 persons injured in the neighborhood of Moreau. Next it dipped down in the Green Ridge area, a portion of Olean and outlying farms, then hopped over into the Decatur community, not far from Russellville and Enon.
Gale force winds had buffeted this area all day and few people realized that a tornado was approaching. Some started for their cellar, but were caught in the storm.
On the John Coffman place, where Morton Allen formerly lived, "everything was blown to splinters, not enough of the house, a good-built barn and all outbuildings, was left to make a small chicken house," according to the article about farm damage in the Eldon vicinity.
"The Jack Bartlett house on the Moreau was wiped out completely, the rubbish left taking fire and burning up. No signs of the buildings were left except some rubbish strewn over the fields and in the waters of the creek."
All buildings on the H.W. Ousley farm in the Green Ridge community were destroyed. Rubble from the fallen house caught fire and burned up. Mr. and Mrs. Ousley's father, a Mr. Carpenter, 83 years old, were at home. All went to the cellar except Mr. Carpenter who was almost killed by flying timbers.
Mrs. H.R. Lessell, Mrs. Sam Johns, and Mrs. Everett Kingery were the most seriously injured at Olean. Mr. Lessell, Missouri Pacific Railroad agent there, and his family occupied the rental property of Almon Gattermeier across the road just south of the Joseph Gattermeier home. Lessell and their daughter, Dollie were not so seriously injured. Miss Louise Wieneke, a close neighbor, removed the three from the debris of their home.
Mr. and Mrs. Sam Johns, who lived in a concrete house, had retired early that evening. Her brother, Tom Stepp, who lived with them, was reading when the storm struck the house. Mrs. Johns had hurried from the bed, but her husband believing that his house was strong enough to withstand almost anything did not share her alarm. He was laughing at his wife's excitement when a piece of the wall estimated to weigh almost three tons, came down upon his bed bending the iron head and foot pieces over until the concrete rested on his forehead, over one arm which was folded across his breast and on one knee holding him fast.
Arthur (A.J.) Haynes was the first one to find Johns and, as one Olean citizen recalls, was a bit startled at the time. He was wa;king through the rubble of the house and as he stepped on a large block of concrete he heard the deep voice of Johns call out, "Get off me!" It required 14 men to pry up the block and life it barely high enough to remove the man. It had been about 30 minutes since the storm struck and breathing was becoming difficult by the time he was rescued.
Mrs. Johns had attempted to pass through a west door when her brother, seeing the wall falling in, snatched her away in time to keep her from being buried under the crumbling wall. However, she was badly injured from the falling pieces.
Gattermeier Mill destroyed by the tornado
The greatest financial loss was the Gattermeier mill just northeast of Olean. It appeared to have been lifted from the stone foundation and twisted into a massive heap of machinery and building material as it collapsed so completely that very little could be salvaged. Their mill had been destroyed by fire a few years before.
Joseph Gattermeier's home across the road, just west of the mill, was extensively damaged.
Gattermeier Homestead following the tornado of 1916
The large home of the Joseph Gattermeier family, northeast of Olean, escaped the disaster that befell the home in the left foreground. Almon Gattermeier and his sister, Mrs. John (Josephine) Wieneke, remember that all the windows were broken except one, and Almon said that was in his room. Another son, John, also remembers the tragic storm of 1916. There was some damage to the house which was in the edge of the destructive path. A line of large maple trees across the front lawn were cut back severely, after being uprooted, in an attempt to get them back in the ground. Indications are these efforts were partially successful. Mrs. Gattermeier lost over $100 worth of chickens. The foundation, a few broken timbers and pieces of weather boarding are about all that remained of Almon Gattermeier's rental property, across the road from his father's home. The house was occupied by the depot agent, H.R. Lessell, and family. Mrs. Lessell was seriously injured. A barn at the place was blown away.
Just around the corner, toward town, the new modern frame home of the H.A. Wieneke family was severely damaged. The old house and good barn were entirely destroyed. The family barely managed to get in the northeast lower room in time to avoid getting hurt.
Mrs. Everett Kingery was almost killed when their concrete house was demolished. Her husband was injured also. Concrete flying from his house was buried in the weatherboarding on the Wieneke house. The Kingerys had moved there about three weeks before the tornado.
On the W.S. Burlingame farm, adjoining Olean on the northwest, the large barn was blown down and a pretty park of large oak, walnut and elm trees was ruined. Picnics were held there on many occasions. The large trees were uprooted or snapped off a few feet above the ground. Smaller trees left standing were either partially or completely stripped of their branches. The Joe Miller and Norman Melton homes stand on the original park site, on Rte. P at the west edge of town.
At least two school buildings didn't escape the storm's fury. The Rock Island school house west of Eldon was damaged some and moved partly off the foundation, and in Olean a chimney and belfry were blown from the building.
The building toll in this storm seemed to be about 16 homes destroyed, seven partially destroyed and beyond repair, 11 extensively damaged. Twenty-six barns destroyed and five severely damaged and buildings of various types destroyed on over 20 farms.
Some buildings were insured, some partially so, and many home and land owners had no protection and a few carried fire insurance only.
All along the route wire fences were cleaned out, posts and all. Only in places were parts of the fences left. Wheat straws were imbedded in trees and telephone poles.
The Edgar Melton family, on the Burlingame place, watched the cloud as it went through by the Olean Mill and on as far as they could see. By the time the next major storm, May of 1927, went through here, Melton had bought the farm and they lost their home and barn. Luckily the family had found refuge in the storm cellar.
Many who were in the direct path of the 1916 storm say that it passed by in a half minute or less. Our folks, the W.W. Walker family lived in the first house on the left coming into Olean from the west. The greater force of the wind passed over our buildings after demolishing a large barn on the C.F. Hecht farm, although there was slight damage to our home and the wash house, as well as to the fruit trees.
We recall the eerie stillness that came with the passing of the destructive winds. When we think of the tornado we can still see our front door buckling in face of the mighty gusts of wind although our Dad had locked it and he and our great-uncle, J.C. (Jim) Walker, had braced themselves against it.
We found photos in our archives of another tornado that struck in the Eldon area on May 9, 1927, damaging homes along Route Y.