IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. Misc. Historical Items


Logo copyright Waukon Standard, used with permission

Logo courtesy of Jeremy J. Troendle, Managing Editor, Waukon Standard

Permission to publish the Wexford Wanderings series on the Allamakee co. IAGenWeb was granted by the author, Hugh E. Conway. We thank him for his generosity.

 
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page 1-- Introduction & Articles: 1-5
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Articles: 11-15
page 4 --
Articles: 16-21
page 5 - Articles: 22 & 23

 

-6-

The Good Book tells a story of how the serpent was responsible for having Adam and Eve removed from the Garden of Eden. In a turn of fate, Patrick is given credit for driving all of the snakes out of Ireland.

When Irish immigrants came to America, they had mixed feelings about snakes. On the one hand, snakes are often brightly colored and Irish immigrants were interested in seeing how an animal without legs moved on land. On the other hand, many snakes are highly poisonous and a bite from a venomous snake can be extremely painful and may be lethal.

Anyone walking the scenic hills in Northeast Iowa for any length of time will have a tale or two about a close encounter with a rattlesnake. Not just any rattlesnake but our native Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus, that can grow to over five feet in length. I would like to share with you some of the more interesting tales that have occurred in the Wexford area starting with the first settlers and working forward in time until the early 1970’s.

Annie Curran, like the majority of the early settlers, did not care for any animal that did not have legs, especially rattlesnakes. One day, she went to feed her chickens and pick the eggs when she saw slithering across her chicken-yard a big fat rattlesnake that seemed to have taken a hankering for one of her prize chickens.

Instantly, Annie let out a whoop of fear and dashed as fast as she could into the house. She ran through the door, snatched the biggest, heaviest object in sight and dashed back out to fight for her chickens. Being careful to stay out of reach of the snake’s deadly fangs, she began thumping that snake with her cast iron frying pan. Unlike this rattlesnake, her chickens awoke the next morning to the light of a new day.

Like many of the early settlers coming into the Wexford area, the Manton family searched the surrounding hills for the ideal location to build a house and make a new life in America. Along the Wexford creek, halfway up the hillsides, there were a number of benches with five to ten acres of flat land and a great view up and down the scenic valley. The Mantons’ chosen spot for a house had one unforeseeable problem that occurred seasonally, late each fall and early each spring. Many of the local population of rattlesnakes used the sandstone rock formation directly behind their home as a winter den.

In later years, my dad tells of a trip in early spring with a rattlesnake wrangler to the den. The wrangler used a long stick with a squeezable tong-like end to grab the snakes and place them into thick gunny sacks. On this day, he pulled out half a dozen adult snakes before spotting a large number of newly born rattlesnakes that he started tossing toward Hugh, yelling, “quick put them in the sack, the rest are trying to get back under the rocks into the den.” Dad wanted nothing to do with that and backed away. He let the wrangler handle all of the snakes, even though some of the young rattlesnakes did manage to escape.

My step-grandfather, Jim Mooney, had a close encounter with a rattlesnake. He had spent a hard day cutting weeds with a hand scythe and clearing up around the buildings. He was passing through the stable when he felt a tug on his leg and heard the ta-ta-ta-ta warning noise that an angry rattlesnake makes. He looked down and there was a rattlesnake with its fangs stuck in the thick wool of his brown Eisenhower pants. Jim took the sharp leading edge of the scythe, slipped it under the snake’s head, and with one quick jerk neatly sliced the snake’s head right off. Luckily, the snake’s fangs never made it through the thick wool material in his pants.

Varmints were another pest that early settlers and farmers encountered. In this case, the varmint was a woodchuck that decided to make a home in the basement of Tim Madden’s house. My brother Pat was given the job of catching the woodchuck and he proceeded to set up some leg hold traps that were secured to a log in the basement. The next day, Pat rushed down the back entrance into the basement taking the steps two at a time and jumped right over a disturbed rattlesnake that was coiled up and had just started rattling. Pat sped across the basement floor, up the inside steps, and into the house as fast as he could yelling “snake-snake-snake”, which brought dad and Pat’s older brothers, who proceeded to take care of the snake. After Pat’s close call, everyone in the family was a lot more careful when going into barns, sheds, and other buildings.

Haying at the Madden and Manton farms would yearly involve many run-ins with snakes, including snakes being sliced up by the mower, snakes poked by the teeth of the rake rolling the clover and grasses into straight rows, or snakes smashed by the plunger in the baler.

When my brother Leo was a teenager, he had a close call with a rattlesnake while haying. His job was to roll the bales of hay that had been bailed the previous day into rows to make it easier to put the hay bales onto the wagon. Luckily, my dad had taught Leo to always roll the hay bales toward your body not away from it. In this case, a rattlesnake had curled up under the bale of hay and struck at the bale as soon as it moved. The bale of hay was the only thing between Leo and the angry, striking rattlesnake.

When I was a young boy of five or six, my dad and older brothers were busy putting hay into the barn on a hot July afternoon. This was our last load of hay for the day and when the load was finished dad said that we could have a swim in the cool water of the Wexford Creek. I ran out of the lean-to in back of the barn yelling, “snake, snake, snake.” Everyone was busy working and did not pay any attention to me. I thought it must be all right and went back to look at and play with the colorful snake.

The youthful curiosity of a five-year old took over and I found a two-foot long stick and started to poke the rattlesnake, trying to see how far I could get the snake to strike. I was having a great old time until my brother Joe heard the telltale ta-ta-ta-ta warning of a rattlesnake and came running. He yanked me off of the ground and carried me a safe distance away. Then, he found an eight-foot long 2” by 4” plank and made sure the snake would not bother anyone again.

The last story deals with cooking a rattlesnake. My oldest brother, Jimmy, found a recipe for deep fried rattlesnake and wanted to cook and eat a rattlesnake. When he finally killed, skinned, and cut up a five-foot long rattlesnake, Sonja, his wife, required a lot of persuasion and promises to actually fry the snake and even then, when she cooked the snake, she made sure to keep it a safe distance away by using the longest fork from an outdoor barbeque set. Jimmy liked the taste of the snake and only found two things that bothered him. First, there are way too many bones in a rattlesnake. Second, the meat is rich, “like eel”, and when you eat too much there is a good chance you’ll get the trots.

Ihope you enjoyed reading these rattlesnakes tales. Maybe someday our paths will cross and I will have the pleasure of listening to your family stories of close encounters with rattlesnakes.

-7-

One of the main means of long distance travel in the pioneer days was by using the many streams and rivers that provided a network of waterways flowing into the Mississippi River. Flat boats and barges would be loaded with homegrown produce and handmade products to be floated downstream to market at an affordable price. By the mid 1820’s, river steamboats were puffing up and down the river hauling cargo and people as far north as St. Paul, MN.

My dad recalled early stories in which Tim Madden told of how most of the lumber used for building log cabins and barns was originally cut by hand using trees from the local forest. Later, logs were moved to local sawmills that sprouted in the majority of nearby communities and towns including Lansing, Waukon, Milton, Village Creek, Winfield (Wexford Post Office), Lafayette, Rossville, and Capoli.

One of the first recorded sawmills in Iowa occurred along the Yellow River in 1829 under the direction of Captain F.F. Smith, who directed the construction of a dam to power a water wheel driven sawmill. In 1931, Lieutenant Jefferson Davis (the future President of the Confederacy) served as Superintendent for the Yellow River Project. The cut lumber was shipped down river to Prairie du Chien, WI for additional construction and upgrading of the Fort. Lumber from the mill was also used to construct the Winnebago Indian School along the Yellow River.

From the 1860’s to early 1910’s, great quantities of logs were rafted down the Mississippi from the forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Vast numbers of logs were cut in the fall and winter and moved to the Mississippi River to be arranged into large rafts that could ride down the mighty river as the river rose from the spring rains and the thawing of snow. Each raft was made up of thousands of pine, softwood, and hardwood logs that were held together with ropes, bolts, and chains.

My dad Hugh Conway made a small raft by using truck chains and driving railroad spikes through the chains into the logs at eighteen-inch intervals all around the outside of the raft. The best logs were placed in the middle of the raft and floated down river. Some of the largest logs would make boards four feet high and would have required four strong draft horses to pull. Yet, you could move with one hand the same log floating in the water.

The massive rafts were something to behold since the average length was three city blocks with some giant rafts being as long as seven city blocks. The rafts were always much longer than wide and were constructed with a station in the middle of the front end where the pilot would give directions to help guide the large mass of logs down the Mississippi River. At strategic locations along the front, sides, and back of the raft, large forks of wood were constructed into which long oars could be placed to help guide the massive craft.

The raft’s pilots were chosen because of how familiar they were with the river. The majority were seasoned veterans or “river rats” who seemed to know the meaning of every wave and current and were aware of the location of the majority of river hazards including rocks, tree stumps, islands, and sand bars. The rolling and turning Mississippi River is not static and often sand would shift producing new sandbars seemingly overnight that the pilot would have to avoid while keeping the log raft moving downriver.

In the 1870’s, some of the major sawmills in Iowa occurred along the Mississippi, including the river towns of Lansing, Dubuque, Clinton, Davenport, and Keokuk. The first Secretary of the American Forestry Association, Professor H.H. McAfee from Iowa Agricultural University in Ames, reported that by the middle of the 1870’s the lumber production from 15 Mississippi River towns stretching from Lansing to Keokuk annually produced almost 300,000,000 board feet of lumber.

The lumber business was one of the major occupations in Lansing with over 60 people being in the payroll of Shaw, Johnson, Wood, & Company and James Gilbert, S.J.W. and Company, who owned a superior steam driven sawmill located where Brennan Construction Company offices are today. In the heyday of sawmills, rafts of logs were stacked up along the river in Lansing from the middle of the old fish market all of the way up river to above the present day marina.

When my dad was a young man, he remembered watching miles of logs move down the Mississippi River held together in rafts. He also tells this story of the end of the lumber business in Lansing.

In the early 1920’s, the men working at the steam driven sawmill formed a union and were talking on a strike. The major shareholder and sawmill owner said,“Men, you can shut the mill down but you can’t open it.” So when the workers called a strike, the owner shut down the lumber mill and pulled out. A short time later, almost the whole block, sawmill and all, went up in flames. Sixty men were out of work and one of the biggest businesses in Lansing was gone.

A combination of factors caused the end of moving massive log rafts down the Mississippi River. The majority of quality old growth forests in Wisconsin and Minnesota were harvested and sent down river to be cut into lumber. The construction of the lock and dam system on the Mississippi River limited the size of material and boats moving up and down the river. By 1910, the majority of the needs for the state were met by rail shipments of soft wood lumber from the Great Lakes area.

-8-

Micky Madden and my dad stated that their grandfather, Tim Madden, always said "The Irish brought with them from Ireland a strong Catholic faith, farming skills, Irish traditions, and some wonderful Irish legends including stories of Leprechauns."

Leprechauns are members of the wee Irish fairy folk, being a mere two to three feet in height with slightly pointed ears. They wear a green or grayish jacket, red or green trousers, a leather apron for shoe making, and a red or green cap. Leprechauns like to live in wild areas with large grass hills and vast forests similar to the rolling hills of northeast Iowa.

Being a member of the fairy folk, Leprechauns can be invisible and may pass an unsuspecting person as a swish of wind or a small whirlwind of dust. In Ireland, many a man would lift his hat or women curtsy to the invisible Leprechaun after the passing of a dust whirlwind or a quick swish of wind.

Leprechauns are the self proclaimed guardians of treasure hidden in a pot or crock. They always carry with them two bags with coins. One bag contains an Irish silver shilling that always returns to the owner. The other bag holds a large gold coin used to bribe the Leprechaun out of trouble. Beware; the gold coin will change to ashes, leaves, or a hard rock shortly after being parted from the Leprechaun.

Leprechauns do not like rainbows, for at the end of each rainbow is a four-leaf clover garden where a Leprechaun has hidden his pot of gold. When a rainbow appears, the poor Leprechaun will try in vain to shift his pot of gold, but to no avail, for wherever the pot of gold moves the end of the rainbow follows. Leprechauns are forever in fear that a human will find the end of the rainbow and steal their pot of gold.

Leprechauns enjoy drinking poteen (whiskey made from potatoes) followed by a good smoke in their little clay pipes. This is another way to locate a Leprechaun by following the foul smell from their strong tobacco.

Irish courtesy demands that a Leprechaun must tell the truth as long as you look him in the eye. Yet, a Leprechaun is extremely fast for his size and if you should take your eyes off one for just a second, he will be gone.

Leprechauns are the world’s best shoemakers and make the shoes for all of the other fairy folk. One of the best ways of finding a Leprechaun is to listen for the tap-tap-tapping of the Leprechaun’s hammer as he continuously works making fine quality shoes.

Legend has it that if you should be lucky enough to catch a Leprechaun, he will take you to his pot of treasure, but a Leprechaun would much rather give you three magical wishes instead of his treasure. Choose your wishes wisely for Leprechauns like to trick humans into wasting wishes on worthless whims.

In the early 1900’s, Mike Mullarkey described a Leprechaun as “A small lad with a big head and little feet who likes to make shoes and if you catch one he’ll tell you where he keeps his treasure.” This is my favorite story that has been passed down from early Irish settlers.

Paddy Mack swore that he heard the tap-tapping of a Leprechaun and spotted him in a patch of clover, but a pesky little fly distracted him for a mere second and “POOF” the Leprechaun disappeared. Oh, for the shame of it; all of that treasure was but a hand grasp away.

Many of the Wexford pioneers believed that Leprechauns came across with them to Northeast Iowa, because of the excellent quality of clover including the occasional four-leaf clover. You see, St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover as a way of explaining the Trinity. The leaves represented the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost connected together in one.

An occasional clover will be a four-leaf clover that Leprechauns have sprinkled with luck. The leaves on a four-leaf clover represent Faith, Hope, Love, and Luck. Many an hour has been spent by the lads and lassies in Wexford looking for four-leaf clovers. Some had a better eye at finding four-leaf clovers than others.

The Kellys, Fitzgeralds, and Maddens were quite good at finding the lucky four-leaf clovers. Father Lafflan in his younger days could hold his own finding them, but Bernard Houlihan from nearby Harpers Ferry could often locate and pick two or three in the same time it would take others to pick just one well hidden four-leaf clover.

Leprechauns have been known to become quite attached to a family and may adopt them to the point of sharing the same residence or living in their wine cellar. The signs of Leprechauns being in your house are many including: the furniture in a room being unexplainably moved, things start disappearing from where they were placed only to reappear at another, and whiskey and beer containers seemingly to go down unexplainably only to be topped off with water at a later time.

There are also two other fairy folk (Cluricauns and Grogochs) that are similar to Leprechauns in size and shape but different in many other ways.

The Cluricauns have pink tipped noses and enjoy dressing in garnish colors with large silver buckles on their shoes, gold laces, and bright blue stockings. They are lazy, destructive troublemakers who enjoy emptying food larders and drinking dry the liquor cabinets while wreaking havoc on houses. They enjoy riding and racing domestic animals for amusement. Many a farmer has come out in the morning to exhausted goats, sheep, or dogs and unfairly blamed Leprechauns, who thoroughly dislike Cluricauns for giving them a bad name. However, many Irishmen think that a Cluricaun is nothing but a Leprechaun out on a night of drinking and trouble making.

The Grogochs are poor, hard-working fairy folk that are completely covered with rough, reddish hair. They tend to stink like a pigsty and are much in need of a good bath. Grogochs are by nature good-hearted and have been known to help out farmers during harvesting and threshing.

Did you know that you can avoid a pile of bad luck simply by keeping the wee fairy folk happy by leaving out little treats and small amounts of water or milk? For really good luck, leave the last dregs of your drinks, especially Irish whiskey or bitter dark beer, which seems to really satisfy Leprechauns. Unfortunately, the younger generations have forgotten how to treat Leprechauns and are forever getting “THE BAD LUCK.”

Remember to treat the wee fairy folk with respect and good things will happen. May the “LUCK OF THE IRISH” be with you and yours!

-9-

Early Wexford pioneers also told tales of unusual noises in the night - perhaps the call of a Banshee. Another of the Irish fairy folk is the Banshee, a female ancestral spirit that warns of impending death.

Legend of the Banshee dates back to the eighth century when women singers, called “Keeners”, would sing the traditional Irish death lament at funerals for dead kin (male or female) within a clan. The English translation described the lament as a weeping mournful wail that heralds the death of a family member. The Banshee’s cry predicts death in one’s own family or the death of an individual who happens to look at the Banshee.

A Banshee may have more than one visible form and has been reported as a beautiful young woman, an ugly old hag, or a magical animal (crow, stoat, hare, or weasel). Banshees have been described as having long glowing hair and being dressed in flowing white, green, or black robes with a gray death cloak.

This Irish fairy is the free flowing soul of someone who is strongly attached to the family either as a loving and caring family member or as a life-long enemy. For a loved one, the Banshee is a beautiful vision with a gentle voice singing a tender soft soothing chant calling the soon to depart into a wonderful new life.

For a life-long enemy, the Banshee is a ghastly ghost with a piercing call - a wailing demonic howl of delight for the near death of a mortal enemy - forever damning the soul of the soon to be departed to a place of pain and torment.

In the early evening when the sun was just setting, an unearthly repeating call echoed through the hills and valleys of northeast Iowa’s Wexford valley, causing many an early pioneer settler to drop on their knees in the darkness to pray for the soul of a kinsman. To some, the sound was a mournful woman weeping uncontrollably into the darkness of the night over the loss of a loved one. Others said the sound was similar to the crying of a baby calling into the bleakness of the night for a loved one’s help.

The French pioneers and Winnebago Indians said the noise was only that of a love-struck wildcat (panther or lynx) calling through the woods for a mate. However, the early Irish immigrants knew better and left the nighttime source of the spine-tingling noise reverberating from the hillsides alone. But, their children and grandchildren were curious and searched in vain for the source of the nighttime noise.

My dad Hugh, cousin Anne, and brother Jimmy tell of times when people searched for the source of the sound. Dad talked about a weird weeping noise floating down the Wexford valley seeming to originate from the hillside above Marley’s house. His favorite hunting dog, a fox terrier named Hearty (named for the dark heart shape on his back), started snarling in the direction of the wailing noise with his hackles standing straight up.

Dad let Hearty loose and heard him in hot pursuit for hours going up and down the hills trying to catch the source of the unearthly cry. Late the next day, Hearty limped home unhurt, looking tired and sore.

Anne recalled a time in late summer at Whittle’s when the sound like that of someone moaning was heard coming from the valley below. A number of friends and neighbors jumped into old Ford and Chevy trucks and searched for the source of the uncanny noise. Jimmy said they followed the noise at least two and a half miles down the valley to the Mississippi River. Some members of the group claim the noise was made by the squeaking of a windmill’s rotor but could not explain why the source of the noise seemed to have moved up over the top of the hill then traveled down the long valley.

My favorite Banshee story from the early Wexford days is one my dad told about unusual noises that occurred near Heatleys. Jim heard the sound like that of a women crying echoing from the hills. Friends and neighbors with three to four people per group tramped through the woods with lanterns and hunting dogs trying to find the source of the sound.

When released for the hunt, the younger dogs set out quickly barking into the night at the reverberating noise, but soon returned whining with head down and tails between their legs. The older veteran dogs took up the trail but the unearthly wailing sound seemed to always be over the next ridge or on the next hillside. No matter how fast the dogs trailed, they never seemed to run down, catch, or tree the source of the uncanny noise. Old timers shake their head and wonder why anyone would want to search out and try to find a Banshee!

Still to this day at certain times of the year, the mournful wailing call or weeping cry comes out of the darkness and echoes across the rolling hills. Perhaps the Banshee roams up and down the hills and through the valleys of northeast Iowa, so be careful when you travel at night.

-10-

Many of the settlers along the Wexford valley have experienced the power and fury of a tornado, another of Mother Nature’s devastating events which occur much too often in northeast Iowa. These unpredictable large, funnel-shaped, clouds with turning and twisting winds, rotate around a vortex or eye, and can cause incredible damage and destruction.

The damage scale (F-scale was developed for tornadoes by Theodore Fujita in 1970) is based on the speed of the internal winds and amount of damage produced. Over 90% of all tornadoes are classified as F-0 or F-1, lasting only a short time with little damage. Tornadoes F-4 and above are less than 1% of all reported tornadoes but produce most of the damage and over 70% of deaths. These monster cyclones can last over an hour, causing incredible damage and destruction over vast distances of 200+ miles.

Fujita scale
• F-0 has winds below 73 MPH producing little damage but can break large tree branches.
• F-1 winds range from 73 to 112 MPH causing moderate damage: moving mobile homes and blowing cars off of the highway.
• F-2 wind speed ranges from 113 to 157 MPH producing considerable damage: removing roofs from houses, destroying mobile homes, blowing boxcars from railroad tracks, snapping large trees, and lifting cars off of the ground.
• F-3 winds range from 158 to 206 MPH causing severe damage: uprooting trees, removing roofs of well constructed houses, and destroying walls.
• F-4 wind speeds are from 207 to 260 MPH producing devastating damage: leveling and destroying houses and structures, cars and debris are thrown like projectiles, and trees are destroyed.
• F-5 wind speed from 261 to over 300 MPH causing incredible destruction: houses swept away, automobile-size hazards fly over 100 yards, and trees are totally debarked.

Tornadoes have been known since ancient times. A bible passage from Ezekiel in 593 BC describes a tornado in a lighting storm. The famous Greek Philosopher Aristotle in 350 BC described the formation of a tornado. The first well documented modern account of a tornado was in 1090 AD describing a tornado that struck Ireland.

Tornadoes have been reported in all fifty states, but the area of highest activity in the United States, known as Tornado Alley, stretches from Texas northward to North Dakota and Minnesota. The majority of tornadoes in the southern states occur from March to May and in the northern states from May to July, but tornadoes have occurred in or near northeast Iowa from early March all the way to mid-November. Iowa averages 33 tornadoes a year and has had 26 killer tornadoes from 1953 to 1995. The majority of tornadoes in Iowa occur in the afternoon and evening between 1 p.m. and 11 p.m.

The early settlers in the Wexford valley heard by word of mouth and newspaper accounts of the destruction of an F-3 tornado that devastated areas in Clayton, Fayette, and Allamakee counties in late September 1881. Three houses, several barns, the Marketplace Schoolhouse, the Lybrand Schoolhouse, and the old Lybrand Hotel were destroyed.

When their house was torn apart, Mrs. Harding and her children were lifted off of the ground and scattered in all directions. One child received a bad cut to the head, another a broken arm, and a third a dislocated shoulder but luckily no fatalities. The tornado broke off hitching posts and twisted pumps from the ground. Mr. Dresser reported his corn being torn-up, husked, and piled in heaps and said many of his chickens had their feathers blown clean off.

During an 1882 tornado near Grinnell, IA, Mr. Foster reported seeing “in lighting flashes” his herd of 30 prize cattle being lifted up out of the barnyard to a height of 300 to 400 feet. The cattle were found dead the next morning piled up in a heap inside a gully a distance of three football fields from his barnyard. In another case, Mr. Wishart’s barn was lifted up and split in half with the main section moving to the east and the manger with his 1600 pound horse moving west. After the storm had passed, the large draft horse was found shaken-up but unhurt 1000 yards from where the barn had originally stood.

Tim Madden took the articles from the papers seriously, building a storm shelter dug into the earth a short distance from the back door of the house and secured with a sturdy bolt that slid between the solid double wooden doors. The storm shelter came in handy in June 1915, when according to one story, Tim’s sister, Aunt Bea yelled “Twister” and everyone ran to the storm shelter. Aunt Bea opened the doors, stopped, and quickly “checked for rattlesnakes”, before letting everyone in and bolting the doors shut as an F-4 tornado swept across the Madden farm lifting and rotating their garage before totally destroying their barn leaving pieces in all directions. This killer tornado started near Waterville, traveled across Allamakee County, before moving 30 miles into Wisconsin, killing nine people (two at Heytman’s in Allamakee County) and injuring 50 others. Three houses near Heytman’s and eight houses in Wisconsin were destroyed.

My mother, Alice, tells this tale of a tornado that struck her dad, Joe Kernan’s residence. Great grandma Ellen Kernan had gone upstairs into her bedroom to shut the windows when a large wind came up, slamming her door shut. She heard an awful loud noise like a slow moving train and jumped under the bed. The roof started creaking and crackling and when the tornado had passed she looked up from under the bed into a cloudy sky because most of the roof above her bedroom had blown away. Uncle Stephen was outside during the tornado and grabbed hold of a large tree limb from a white pine tree in the wind break. Luckily, he held on as the winds lifted him up off of the ground and pulled him into an almost horizontal position until the tornado passed.

In the late 1940’s, Anne recalled a trip to the Madden farm with my dad when a large tornado appeared above the Mississippi River moving upriver towards Lynxville, WI. Everyone was momentarily “stopped in their tracks” in awe as they gazed in disbelief at the roof of a barn floating just above the treetops slowly rotating in the middle of a large funnel shaped cloud. Eerily, the sun was shining brightly from where they watched on the Iowa side as the tornado came up the river toward them.

In May of 1964, an F-2 tornado formed near Rossville, moving 21 miles through Allamakee County into Crawford County, WI, destroying two barns in the Wexford area. I remember this day. The morning started cold and dry with winds from the north changing by late afternoon to warm, moist air with winds from the south. During a late afternoon thunderstorm that included marble-sized hail, a strange quiet occurred and the sky turned a sickly greenish black color with the giant upper level clouds rushing very fast toward the east. A short time later the telephone rang. My dad, older brothers, and all the neighbors rushed over to Jim Hawes and Leo Collins to help salvage what was left of their barns and help round up livestock.

Since 1965, there have been 25 tornadoes reported in the tri-county area of Allamakee, Clayton, and Winneshiek Counties, including an F-2 tornado in 1987 that destroyed the Waukon lumberyard, sending 2x4 boards moving like projectiles through the air towards nearby houses and buildings.

Most tornadoes are produced when two weather fronts meet with the humid warm air from the Gulf of Mexico moving under, then rushing through, cool dry polar air from Canada and the Rockies. Massive thunderstorm clouds as high as 50,000 feet form as the rapidly rising warm air cools and condenses. Changing winds at different altitudes in the atmosphere cause the formation of the tornado’s characteristic funnel shape often referred to as a “twister.”

When the bottom of the funnel touches the ground, the formation is called a tornado. If the bottom of the funnel touches water, it is called a water spout. Some tornadoes form beneath the giant thunderstorm clouds. Others form along small scale fronts as winds shift direction sharply, causing a source of rotation. The strongest tornadoes form on the southwest edge and follow the trail of the thunderstorm. Other tornadoes move to the right or left of the direction of nearby thunderstorms. Some rare tornadoes have been recorded moving in the opposite direction of the thunderstorms.

The largest, most destructive tornadoes are often called cyclones similar to the name given typhoons that occur in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. A Chicago Tribune sports writer in 1894 provided the nickname “Cyclones” to the Iowa Agricultural College (later known as Iowa State University) by comparing the damage from a destructive tornado that ripped through Grinnell, IA to their trouncing 36-0 win over the favored Wildcats. One of the deadliest tornadoes on record was an F-5 monster in March 1925 that traveled 219 miles through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, killing 695 people.

There are a number of things that you can do to help prepare for a tornado. Be alert to outside weather conditions and listen for a tornado “WATCH” when a tornado is possible or a tornado “WARNING” when a tornado has been spotted. The best place to go is a storm shelter or in a basement, away from the south and west walls. Hiding under a heavy work table or under the stairs may protect you from crumbling walls, chimneys, or flying debris. If you have no basement, go into a small, windowless, first floor, interior room like a bathroom or closet. A bathtub is often anchored into the ground providing a safer place to hide. Place a couch cushion or mattress over you for protection against falling debris and flying objects.

It is a good idea to have a disaster supply kit on hand in case of a tornado. The Red Cross suggests:
• First aid kit with medications
• Battery-powered radio, flashlight, and extra batteries
• Bottled water
• Canned and non-perishable food and a hand-operated can opener
• Good sturdy shoes and work gloves
• Written instruction on how to turn off home utilities (gas, electricity, and water)

Additionally, bring a cell phone to alert people to your location if you happen to end up trapped under bits and pieces of your house. I hope that you never have to experience the wrath of a tornado up close and personal, but just in case, be prepared.


page 1-- Introduction & Articles: 1-5
page 3 --
Articles: 11-15
page 4 --
Articles: 16-21
page 5 - Articles: 22 & 23

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