At Home In
Ellis County, Kansas
Historical Book Committee
Ellis County Historical Society
Taylor Publishing Company
Tornado of 1918
Other counties in Kansas can point to far more destructive tornadoes, but several tornadoes are sighted practically every year in Ellis County, and they have touched down with their destructive force on an average of about once a year.
So far as known, the worst has been the one that swept Trego, Ellis, Rooks, and Osborne counties on the night of Monday, 5-20-1918. What follows is verbatim the account that appeared in the Ellis County News for 5-23-1918.
"Last Monday night at about nine o'clock a tornado began destruction of life and property at the James McIntosh farm home some twelve miles northwest of Hays and traveled in a northeast direction, leaving death and wreckage in its path which was about a mile in width, though considerable damage was wrought beyond the mile of greatest fury. The United Telephone Company reports today eight miles of toll lines entirely wrecked by the storm.
"At the home of Alex Geist, the twister carried away every board of all the buildings, killing both Mr. and Mrs. Geist. One half mile northof the Alex Geist home the storm killed three children of Adam Geist -ages ten months, two years, and five years. Mr. Geist was severely hurt and his wife slightly injured. At Codell at least three were killed; Mrs. Walter Adams and baby, and a child of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Jones. Reports of others killed there have been current but it is impossible to get telephone communication at this time. Six victims of the storm are not at St. Anthony's hospital in varying degrees of danger from wounds and injuries sustained. Homes and buildings of the following were totally destroyed: Wm. Harmon, Geo. McIntosh, Alexander Geist, Adam Geist, P. J. Deanne, George Balls, the Berry farm improvements (unoccupied), and Henry Kleinschmidt. The homes John Garrels, Ed Feldkamp and numerous others were partially destroyed.
"Other tornadoes have visited the county, but none of such large proportions, and none so great in violence.
"Mrs. Bert Stanton was brought to Hays last night from southwest of WaKeeney suffering from injuries sustained by this same storm where it dipped into Trego county before reaching here.
"The house of Mr. George Balls was carried by the storm over one-fourth mile and when set down the sides fell outward, leaving the family offive within, unhurt. Rods and rods of fencing were destroyed, the posts being jerked out of the ground. The cement silo on the Deane ranch was not only blown down and to pieces but was carried a goodly distance in the process. There are plenty of strange antics of the storm where in the midst of destruction some object was left untouched and unmoved.
"The many stories of heroism that are brought us by those who werein the storm district indicate that we have plenty of civilians at homewho can and will go over the top as bravely and effectively as the soldiers abroad. The News deeply sympathizes with those who have suffered so severely."
A Night of Terror
It was the 20th day of May 1918, a usual spring day, some breeze, low feathery clouds floating overhead. We lived on my father-in-law's farm, E. E. Balls, about 14 miles northwest of Hays. We lived up on a ridge, we had a five room house, four frame and a stone room on the south.
The storm started around 8 o'clock. I left my son Fred, 3 mo. oldand my son George 8 and my son James 7, while I went to do the milking. My husband George had gone over to my brothers about 2 miles away, he cam home soon after the storm struck. By the time I got back from milking it started to rain and the wind blew hard from the southeast.
Our windmill was close to the house, and the guide-wire was broke and the wheel was sure spinning. I was afraid it would fall and crash through the roof.
I put my baby to bed, and the boys were playing around. George and I were sitting at the table reading. Just before 9 o'clock, George got up and went to the south door and stood there. I got up and went to the door, and all I could see was a heavy black cloud hanging over Hays and continual streaks of lightening. I said they're sure having a bad storm over Hays.
We came back and sat down to read. George said he remembered the wind dropping all at once. It had been raining hard and blowing all the time. All at once the big glass window in the east side of the stone room crashed in. Not a word was spoken. I ran as fast as I could and grabbed my baby out of bed and ran to the kitchen.
By that time the east door was starting to come in. My husband was braced against it. I hurried and turned off my oil stove and stepped back in the doorway to the north room. All at once the stone room walls caved in, and the door into the kitchen crashed in and all the windows went out. Our lamp went out and we were in the dark.
By this time the bedrooms on the east were gone. We were left in the tow rooms originally built. It seemed like the heavens above were crashing in on us. We got inside the north room and stood in the northeast corner. I held the baby, the older boys held onto me and my husband put his arms around us and held us all together. When the house started to leave the foundation I screamed, "O my God."
I will always believe he was with us. It carried us up in the airfor almost a quarter of a mile. All this time the house was falling apart. The roof went off and the sides and the northwest corner hit the ground. We were standing in the northeast corner. It threw us up in the airand went over us and turned upside down.
We fell to the ground, we were stunned for a few minutes, then I realized I was lying on my back on the ground. I had ahold of my son James and ahold of my son George. Then I realized I had lost my baby. I screamed, my baby is gone. George had fallen beyond us and the baby beyond him, he began feeling around and found him and said, "I thinkhe is dead." He pulled him over and laid over him to protect him from the storm. It was raining hard and some hail, it was pitch dark.
Later the wind slowed down, so I could sit up. When it lightninged George seen a rag rug and got the baby to me and I wrapped him in this cold wet rug. I felt him move, and I said, "He is still alive."
Most of our clothes were torn off us, and my slippers were gone. A few pieces of furniture was crushed side of us, and the brick chimney fell in big chunks around us, and barb wire all around us.
My husband crawled around to try and find out where we were at. He found an old road that went through the pasture. He said we will follow it till we can tell where we are at. We came to our pasture gate and we knew where we were at. During this time the wind struck us again and we laid in the deep ditches till it passed over.
When we got to the corner of the field, the Geist family lived close to the corner. When it lightninged we seen their house and everything was gone, so we started through the pasture about a half mile to Bill Harmon's. It was some ordeal walking with no shoes, slipping and sliding, carrying a baby in the dark only when it lightninged.
We got there. They had a new house, it was torn off the foundation and some windows blown out. We stayed there till help came. We had a beautiful saddle horse, it picked the horse up and carried it 3 miles and dropped it dead in a ditch. Some photos were found 6 miles down the Saline River, and some of the children's clothes were found miles away.
We lost everything we had except our old Ford, it was in the shed and a 5 gal. Can of oil standing side of tit. Everything on the place wasgone but the car and the oil can wasn't touched.
Written by Clara McIntosh Balls; submitted by Mrs. Fred V. Balls.
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