The 1920 Sherman Tornado

by Karen Cummins

This information about Sherman was given to me by Mrs. Robert Atkins.  I think it is all very interesting, but the most exciting part is the tornado that hit Sherman in 1920. 

 At 8:45 a. m., March 12, 1920, the tornado struck Sherman without warning.  Traveling from east to west, it first struck a small residence one-fourth mile west of the post office on the Sherman Mt. Zion Road.  It tore out the south side of the house, taking the chimney with it and scattering some of the contents out in the field.  A baby lying in a cradle by the wall was covered with soot, but otherwise unhurt.  The tornado next hit the three-room schoolhouse; three teachers (one of whom was Miss Anna Beasley) and seventy pupils were inside.  It seemed to pick the building up and set it down, bursting it at all corners and caving the roof in.  A concrete foundation under the furnace was pulled up out of the ground.  The building was left twisted, and all the windowpanes were broken, but nobody was killed, a few were hurt.  One little girl sitting by a brick flue was completely covered with brick.  Two men, walking past, saw the bow of ribbon on top of the pile of brick. He reached down to pick it up for a souvenir and found it fastened to a plait of hair.  When they dug her out, she had a broken a collar bone and a broken jawbone.  She was the worst injured of all the children.  The little girl was Grace Fornash (now Mrs. Howard Winnans).  When interviewed, she said that her hands and neck were burned when the chimney and stove fell on her; her arm and leg were broken, and she was blind for three weeks..

 The storm next struck the J. T. McCormick residence, doing quite a bit of damage.  The tornado hit the barn of Charles Atkins, completely destroying it, leaving the ground bare where it stood.  It had hit the Atkins store building making a clean sweep, leaving nothing but the first floor and four counters on the floor.  Mr. Atkins was alone on the second floor when it hit the west end of the buildings.  The crushed building began whirling in a counter-clockwise motion, disintegrating in all directions.  He lost consciousness for a moment, but came to in the air, flying feet first and face up.  He was let down on the Mt. Zion Road, amidst piles of lumber.  He said he landing on his back as easy as you could lay a baby on a bed.  A little later he saw his father searching through a pile of lumber that was on fire.  His father thought he was under it.

 A. T. Spillman had come to the tore driving a Shetland pony in an open-topped pony buggy.  He hitched the pony to one of the porch pots.  He went out to see about the pony just as the storm struck.  The wind was blowing so hard, the pony was standing straight up on its hind legs.  The wind then lifted Mr. Spillman and floated him face down above the porch floor.  The ceiling came down on the back of his head and pressed him down until his nose touched the floor; then it all lifted, blowing him across the highway.  While he was in the air, he sighted a guy wire to a telephone pole.  He grabbed this wire and held on with both hands.  He said the wind whipped him like he was a sheet tied to a clothesline.

 Lumber and debris from Mr. Atkins' barn and store went through the telephone wires across the highway, blocked the roads, and filled a railroad cut so that trains could not get through.  The Western Union wires were out, and no messages of any kind could be sent from here.  Items from the store were found twenty miles east of Sherman where they were carried by the tornado.


From a collection of essays written in American Literature Eleven.  The class was taught by Ms. Hazel Ogden of Grant County High School in the 1963-1964 school year, and was typed by the typing classes of Mrs. Mattie Cox.  It is copyrighted by the Grant County Schools, and is used here with their kind permission. We found a copy in UK's King Library.