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Let's Reminisce: The Mulberry cyclone of 1919
By Jerry Lincecum
Apr 9, 2019
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Sight-seers arrive in wagons - photo courtesy of Gregory Hall
April 9 will mark the centennial of a terrible cyclone that wiped out the Red River community of Mulberry, killing seven people immediately and severely injuring many others.  On the following day the headline of the Sherman Courier read "Death Rides on Winds of Storm."  A current resident of the Mulberry community, Gregory Hall, has recently published a book entitled The Gathered Words of Mulberry, Texas (available from Amazon), which includes an interesting chapter of reminiscences about the storm:

 

Residents recalled the day preceding the cyclone as unusually warm, with evening hours feeling sultry, but a balmy breeze sprang up from the south as night came on.  Then towards midnight the gathering clouds lowered and lightning began to play across the horizon, while distant thunders were heard.

 

On Wednesday morning messages were received in Sherman and Bonham asking that physicians be sent to Mulberry at once, as there were far more injured people than the local doctors could take care of.

 

Fred Wisely, one of the victims, had said this in church on the previous Sunday: “Something terrible is going to happen to Mulberry if it doesn’t turn its ways to the Lord.”  Wisely was serving on a jury in Bonham that Tuesday, and as the men prepared to adjourn, one said, “See your tomorrow,” to which Fred replied, “If the Lord wills.”  The next morning he died, holding a door shut against the winds of the cyclone.  A Bois d’arc fence stave, shaped like a spear, struck him in the neck.

 

One of his neighbors tried unsuccessfully to remove it; the undertaker was forced to saw it off as the body was prepared for burial.

 

Ironically, Jesse Hope remembered that Mr. Wisely asked, as her father started work in their yard, “What’s that you’re digging?”  The reply was, “A storm cellar,” to which Wisely replied, “You’re in church every Sunday, but you’re not trusting the Lord.” 

 

The Hope family never forgot their dad’s reply: “If God has given me enough understanding to build a storm cellar, He’ll expect me to use it when the time comes.”  Similarly, the Wisely family never forgot their father’s warning about “something terrible” coming to Mulberry as God’s judgment.  It seemed unfair for the prophet of doom to be one of its victims.

 

Greg Hall has also created a short movie about the Mulberry cyclone that can be accessed on YouTube

(http://youtu.be/W189SOe3TQ8)

 

In a very effective manner it combines vintage photos with audiotaped statements from survivors and music of the era.  For example, you can hear Myrtle Cain reminiscing that her family did not make it to a neighbor’s storm cellar because her husband insisted on taking the time to close all the windows and blow out their kerosene lamps.  They had to lie down in a ditch, and Myrtle suffered a broken leg.  You can see numerous old photos that document the devastated homes, autos and farm equipment damaged by the cyclone.

 

A joint funeral service for eight victims of the storm was held at the Mulberry Cemetery.  The Fannin County Favorite newspaper reported that a number of singers from Bonham took part, singing “beautiful old hymns, and a “great concourse of people” from the vicinity were present. 

 

Hall’s book quotes from a report on the broader impact of the April 9 storms, indicating that while larger towns were spared, the “venom and fury” of the cyclone was spent on farming communities. By the evening of April 10, dispatches from northern Texas and southern Oklahoma showed that at least 86 persons were killed and more than 200 seriously injured.  The number left homeless was estimated at “upwards of 1,000.”

 

We are all indebted to Greg Hall for the considerable effort he has put into documenting the history of Mulberry in both print and movie format.

 

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories.  He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: jlincecum@me.com