November, 1915, was a big month for Great Bend. On Nov. 10, a devastating tornado tore through the heart of the town and neighborhoods on the south and east side, causing major destruction to homes and many public buildings. Still, the courthouse square was left virtually untouched, allowing for the unveiling and dedication of The Rifleman bronze statue to continue as planned.
The day before Great Bend was touched by a devastating tornado, the discussion of traffic rules and was beginning, and the discussion of lighted streets on a “white way” was once again being taken up.
“Great Bend is not so much concerned at present about the old speed ordinance as it is about having an ordinance compelling jay drivers to stay off the streets or change their ways and such an ordinance is being discussed. If you have any opinions as to the things that should be constituted in such an ordinance now would be the time to speak to the city officials about the same before such an ordinance is passed. For when it is passed it will include the matter of speed, the matter of passing other vehicles, the sides of the streets to be used, the proper turning of corners and will apply to all vehicles. And the main thing is that it is to be enforced. It is expected that there will be a great many arrests at first, and probably minor fines, but it is time to attend to the matter of fast driving.”
And in a related story:
“The commissioner of Great Bend announced to the management of the electric light company that they are ready to take up the matter of a contract for the street lights and it is probable that a day will be set aside for the discussion of this matter. The commissioners have held that the company has asked too high a price for the lighting of the streets and has refused previous offers made by the company. When the streets are lighted the White Way will probably be much larger than first talked about and the burden of the argument on new contract seems to lie with the city....”
The plan would have to be put on hold for a bit, as a storm was brewing.
The day of the tornado, the paper came out before the destruction began. It started out as a relatively slow news day, affording space for a Russell story, about a pastor who was late to services Sunday morning because he was busy chasing a runaway horse and buggy containing a seven-months old baby. He gave chase in his motor car for 10 miles before he finally stopped the horse and rescued the baby from the wreck. The baby was bundled tightly, and had not even woken from its slumber when Rev. J.E. Wilson, pastor of the First M.E. Church reached it. The horse was completely exhausted.
Then, all heck broke loose, and a special edition was called for. The Tribune reported the paper that evening was small, as the whole office was busy trying to rig up gasoline power with which to run the office machines and presses.
The Nov. 11, 1915 edition of The Great Bend Tribune sported the headline: Two Dead in Tornado Here; A $600,000 property loss--Light and Power Plants, laundry, big flouring mills and many homes swept away. Southeast portion of city a scene of Devastation this morning.
Charles Smith, a piano salesman, and WW Hale, an employee of the mill were listed as dead, with four others, listed as “May die”. They were Jacob L. Imel, a mill employee; Mrs. J.G. Krebaum, wife of the foremen at Moses and Clayton Ranch; John Miller, Pennsylvanian working on the Moses and Clayton sheep ranch; and Carl Johnson, 12 years, the son of Marion Johnson. His mother, Mrs. Marion Johnson, wife of the post office engineer, was listed as injured.
Days later, only Mrs. Krebaum would still be alive.
The Santa Fe No. 5 was ten minutes late that night, and that is the only thing that saved it from the destruction.
Summary of disaster
“Two people were killed outright and several so seriously injured that it is not believed they have any chance to recover as a result of the terrific cyclone which visited Great Bend last night at 7:05. It was the first cyclone that ever struck this city and one of the most destructive cyclones that ever visited this part of the state. The storm left a path of destruction two blocks to three blocks wide and which extended from the laundry to the Moses Brothers and Clayton farm near the east school building.
“The scene of desolation which met the view of those this morning viewing the effects of last night’s storm is indescribable. Hundreds of people from town and from all parts of the county were here to look over the pathway of the storm and to see the damage done. It seemed impossible to everyone that so much destruction of property could have occurred with so little loss of life....
“The ruined homes, the stripped trees, the general air of desolation, the damage to the mills, laundry and other businesses, the railroad yards full of broken, overturned box cars, everything pointed to the fury of the storm and the fact that Great Bend had suffered.
“What added to the horror of the catastrophe was the wrecking of the light and water company plant and the inability of the firemen to cope with several fires which broke out after the cyclone had wrecked the southeast portion of the city. The streets were dark and it was almost impossible for those seeking to give aid to find their way about the wrecked portion of the town.”
Ellinwood sends aid
The tornado left about 250 people homeless, many making provision for other houses and for the erection of new homes. Still, the report was that Great Bend would be able to help these folks without the help of outside aid, according to city officials.
The story of the aftermath unfolded in the Nov. 13 edition. Ellinwood citizens collected more than $600 for the victims in Great Bend the day after the storm.
“Ellinwood never does things by halves and the action of the people of that town is something that will never be forgotten by the people of Great Bend. It was not asked and it was given freely and is accepted in the spirit it is given. Never has the principle of the Golden Rule and the spirit of brotherly love been more clearly demonstrated than by the pole of our sister city.”
A warning issued to be on the lookout for tetanus is a reminder to readers today of how fortunate the general population is to have access to vaccination against the disease.
“Danger of Lockjaw; Warning to all”
“Lockjaw, or tetanus, generally follow an event of the sort that has visited Great Bend, according to a local physician. People who have suffered from splinters or wounds of any sort and who have considered the matter as too trivial to require attention should visit some physician and obtain serum to prevent this disease. It may develop at any time and apparently without cause.”
An ad ran at the bottom of page two urged reader to order now for the Tribune’s 16-page book of views of the cyclone which would be out in a few days and which would be sold for 25 cents each. Today, the Barton County History Museum has some of these books in their collection, and every so often a family will contact them as they go through their relative’s things and finds one. While it is very interesting, the museum has enough copies already, reports Karen Neuforth, historian at the museum.
Many of the people who took losses had their homes insured for fire and lightning, and very few for wind. So, many lost quite a bit.
Two mills were wrecked, the Walnut Creek and Moses Bros., with an estimated $200,000 damage done.
Pleas went out from the hospital for gowns of children ages 5 to 14 years. Students of Great Bend high school unanimously voted to donate the money they raised to travel with the football team to Sterling the next day to some family in need in the city.
Destruction of school changes course of development
Students of the newly constructed East Side school, which was irreparably damaged in the twister, would be attending school in the two east rooms of the Fair building and in rented rooms at the library.
Consider how Great Bend may have developed if the innovative,state-of-the-art school, designed by a Philadelphia architect, had not been destroyed.
Savvy business people far enough away from the tragedy to not be personally touched quickly saw opportunity. American Laundry of Hutchinson was quick to take advantage of the nearly total loss at the Great Bend Laundry, running a front page ad from the local agent who would pick up and deliver bundles for free.
The laundry would bounce back. Plans were underway a week later to rebuild the laundry uptown, bringing it closer to its clientele.
Meanwhile, manpower was at a premium. A plea was made to area farmers to bring teams and help clear away the debris or to get some of the business firms started.
“There is more work than can be done by the people of the town and there is plenty of work for everyone who wants a job.”
Governor plans visit, The Rifleman unveiled
While the east side cleaned up, those downtown and on the west side continued to keep business as usual as much as possible, but paused briefly to acknowledge a special gift. By November 16, news that Governor Capper would arrive in Great Bend for the dedication of The Rifleman statue which had been erected in the park “as a gift of Ira D. Brougher of this city to the Pap Thomas Post, Grand Army of the Republic, (G.A.R.) While Mr. Brougher was commander of the district of Kansas last year he conceived the idea of the monument and last spring gave the commission for its execution to a Chicago sculptor. It was reported the bronze sculpture weighed about 1,500 lbs.
“It is going to be a day that will live long in the memory of those who witness the ceremonies and the monument will be a gift of which the city may well be proud. It is a testimonial of the love Mr. Brougher bears the country for which he has fought and sacrificed an arm. He has prospered in spite of handicaps and is sharing his prosperity with the city which has been his home for so many years.”
The day of the unveiling, businesses were closed in town from 2 to 4 p.m. while everyone attended unveiling ceremonies of the monument. People from all over the county and the state were reported to have attended. And students from four grades of the East Side School started classes again earlier that day at the Fair building.
Jump ahead to 2015, and readers will recall that this is the statue recently restored and once again dedicated just last week by former Mayor Robert Parish.
Currently, an exhibit featuring many more photographs taken in the aftermath of the storm and maps outlining the path of destruction is currently on display at the Barton County Historical Society Museum.