This excerpt from the "Capital View of Cape Girardeau" lithograph published 1858 shows that the town seems to have recovered from the tornado that struck eight years earlier on Nov. 27, 1850.
Sharon Sanders recently posted several accounts of the destructive tornado that ripped through Cape Girardeau on Nov. 27, 1850.
In the weeks following the disaster, newspapers across the country published stories about the tornado (or "hurricane"), although the details varied widely. One newspaper in Ohio, for example, reported that "a cow was unceremoniously lifted up and deposited in the top of a tree, about 40 feet from the ground." By the time this report made it to the New York Daily Tribune, the story had become more exaggerated, with the cow ending up in a tree 60 feet above the ground.
A local newspaper, the Cape Girardeau Eagle, published a detailed story about the tornado's destruction. Although the archives of the Eagle are not readily available online, it just so happens that the New York Herald republished the story on Dec. 16, and this edition is conveniently available from the Library of Congress website.
Here is a transcription of that story. A few words from the original are difficult or impossible to decipher, which I've noted. Also, since the writers of the 1800s enjoyed composing impenetrable walls of text that we would consider unreadable today, I've added more paragraph breaks.
The Late Tornado at Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Tremendous Destruction of Property--Lose of Life--The Course of the Tornado.
[From the Cape Girardeau Eagle, Nov. 30]
Our city was visited on Wednesday afternoon last, by a most terrific and destructive tornado--such as was never witnessed before in this region of the country.
There had been rain storms for several days previous, but about 3 o'clock on Wednesday, the clouds were seen flying in every direction, and the commotion in the atmosphere extended to the north, first in torrents of rain, and ended in a hurricane which swept almost everything before it. Trees and houses were mere playthings within its vortex, and steamboats fared but little better. The Saranac, heavily laden for New Orleans, had just landed by the side of the wharf boat Champlain, when the storm commenced, and suddenly there was such a crashing as we never heard, and such a scene as we hope to see no more.
The persons on the boats aimed for the shore, and though many reached it, some were blown into the river, and swam or waded out. Quite a number remained on board each boat, in imminent danger of their lives, until the terrible tornado had passed. The pilot house and Texas of the Saranac were blown on top of the wharf boat, and James McCoy, who was at the wheel, was in it. He was badly hurt, but will recover. Her chimneys also fell on the wharf boat. The cabin of the Saranac was blown to pieces and her starboard wheel thrown out of place. Her hull and engine escaped injury, and her freight, except that which was on deck. Some freight in sacks and barrels was blown overboard but we have not learned the quantity. The books, papers and money were all saved. No one was killed or missing, and no one on board the boat was badly hurt, except one of the pilots and an engineer. The boat was insured, but whether the policy covers a loss of this kind, we know not.
The cabin of the wharf boat is broken and blown to pieces, but we believe she is not much injured in other respects. S.H. Kimmel, who remained on the wharf boat, was struck on the head, but was not badly hurt, though much stunned. One of our citizens, who had charge of a lady and her little daughter, to place them on board the Saranac, with one hand held to a post with the other the mother, and took the child between his knees, and by that means it is very probably saved their lives.
We were on the wharf boat, and jumped on shore, and as fast as we attempted to rise were blown over, and did not recover until we were carried thirty steps along the shore. While thus forced along, we saw a boy, lying, as we supposed hurt, and was about to take him along with us, as the fragments of the beats were falling fast around us, when we were struck by a piece of timber on the shoulder, which rendered that arm powerless, and were drive along several yards further, and it was with the greatest exertion that we saved ourself from being blown into the river--being within a few feet of it when the storm abated. Our clothes were drenched with rain, and covered with mud, through which we rolled, and our hat was blown away. In this not very pleasant condition, and nearly exhaused, we clambered up the banks as well as we could, and reached the office, where we found the printers and young Eagles unhurt, and the building but little damaged. A part of one of the gable ends had fallen, and a few panes of glass were broken.
When we looked out [unreadable] was the new three story brick house of Captain Surrell, into which he had lately moved, a heap of ruins--from which he had just been extricated, and the citizens were removing the rubbish in order to rescue his wife, little son, and a negro woman. There was a tremendous excitement, and exertions almost superhuman were made to release them. In a very short time Mrs. S. was found, and though badly bruised, she was yet alive. She was taken out and carried to the house of Mr. Penny, where after a short time she was restored to consciousness, and though much hurt she will recover. She was in the door of the passage on the lower floor when the house fell in, and though pressed very closely, she was saved from being crushed by timbers which had fallen on something which upheld them. Persons were still laboring with all their might to find the child and negro. At length the basement was reached, where the negro was found entirely unhurt, and the child had only received a wound on the head. This is the most marvelous escape that we ever heard. It scarcely has a parallel.
The Captain was standing in the front door when the storm commenced, and the lodgement of a piece of timber against the wall saved his life. Though the Captain has universal sympathy for his misfortune -- yet there is much rejoicing on account of the preservation of his own and the lives of his family. The third story of this house was occupied by the various orders of the Sons of Temperance in this city as a hall, and was dedicated only the day before. There was, considering the weather, quite a large number of persons present, and it is truly fortunate that the storm cloud did not blow upon that day. The lost sustained by orders of temperance, in furniture, etc., is considerable.
The tornado commenced its ravages about a mile below the town at the hillfarm of J. Cross here it blew down the fences, upset one or two corn cribs, scattering the corn in every direction and blew over a negro cabin, injuring three or four negroes severely, but not mortally.
In approaching the city, it passed over the farm of A. Giboney, prostrating his fences, his dwelling and out houses, besides injuring several negroes, and one, it is feared, mortally. We also learn that the priest's farm, about two miles below the city was much injured in fences, fruit trees, and houses, and several cattle and horses were killed.
When it reached the town, it commenced its work of destruction upon St. Vincent's College, and the building appertaining to it all of which were levelled with the earth (one or two small ones excepted), and the south end of the main college building lies a heap of ruins; the north gable is blown out, and the whole building is entirely unroofed; the enclosures and ornamental trees are all down. The damages sustained are estimated to be between $20,000 and $30,000. Wonderful to relate, of the large number of students which were at this institution, only three were hurt, and they not mortally. An old negro man, residing in an out-house, was crushed to death which was the only death about the premises.
The Methodist church, a little north of the college, a frame building, is blown into atoms. A frame dwelling, in which resided Mrs. Juden, fell, badly injuring her son Charles, herself slightly, and her negro woman severely. A frame house belonging to Mr. McWilliams, and one owned by John Mattingly, were both destroyed. Several houses in the same neighborhood were more or less injured, but no one was hurt. The new house of Hineman [?] was moved some ten or fifteen feet, a portion of the roof and one end broken out.
As you approach the river, a scene of destruction such as we never beheld, presented itself. The whole ground was strewn with fragments of houses, furniture, etc. A frame house occupied by Mr. Zeigler as a cigar factory and grocery, was torn into atoms, but not one of his family was hurt. He lost nearly everything. A new brick house owned by Mr. Henry Deane was blown down, but his family received no injury. A large brick house, with two tenements, belonging to the College, had the roof all torn off, but we have heard of no one being hurt.
A new frame house belonging to the Messrs. Buchanan [?], had a portion of the roof blown off and the building injured. A house occupied by Mr. Steel and family was much damaged, but no one was hurt. A frame house a little south, owned by Justice Watson, and occupied by himself and lady, and by Mr. Whalling [?], was much injured. The residence of Mr. P.H. Davis, was considerably damaged. Farther south, on the same street, a two story brick house, occupied by Gen. Jackson and the widow Smith and daughters, had all the dormant windows blown off, the lower windows blown out, and it was otherwise injured. A log house adjoining, in which a man lived named Carroll, was levelled with the ground, and a woman that was in it at the time was badly bruised.
The fine brick building situated on the river, the summer residence of Benj. Horrell, of New Orleans, is a perfect wreck, both inside and out, and nothing remains but the bare walls. The out houses, kitche, and ornamental trees down--a negro woman was had charge of the house was much hurt. A small house but a short distance south, in which Mr. King, a German lived, was blown over, and his wife was killed. A house owned by Skillman [?], and the residence of himself and family, and Robert McNeeley and lady, was blown to pieces, and several of them no doubt would have been killed, but they all, when the crashing commenced, ran into the kitchen and escaped. The convent and seminary attached, were much injured, and notwithstanding the number of pupils and ladies within the buildings, no one was hurt, except a negro woman--and she but slightly.
The dwelling house of Capt. M.C. Wells, on the northeast corner of the same square, was entirely unroofed, and his lady was pretty much bruised. A lengthy building, situated just south of the Catholic church, which was occupied by the two Messrs. Morgans and the widow Berry, was entirely unroofed, the furniture of the families entirely broken up, some of their beds, tables, etc., were blown into the river, the distance of fifty yards, and strange to tell, notwithstanding their imminent danger, no member of the families was hurt seriously.
The Catholic Church, beautiful stone edifice, is utterly destroyed, together with everything that was in it. It was a handsomely and tastefully finished building, and a large congregation is now left without a house of worship. Several frame buildings on the square between the church and Independence street were destroyed.
A brick house on Spanish street, in which Mr. Dolman, a French gentleman, and his wife and daughter resided, had the whole one one end broken out, and his daughter was very badly bruised about the head. It was thought that she would die, but she will recover. The large brick building of Mr. A. Giboney, at the foot of Independence street, occupied as a store and warehouse, had the roof crushed in, and the south wall injured. A small brick house, situated at the mouth of the creek, occupied above stairs by Graham and Landsman cabinet makers, was blown to pieces, and their loss in utensils, cabinet ware, etc., is considerable. They saved but few things of any value.
The planks on the bridge were nearly all blown away. At the north end of the bridge, the two houses of Mr. Simpkins, the baker and confectioner, were unroofed, and otherwise injured. One of the houses was new, and not quite finished. Fortunately, none of his family were hurt. His loss in his business, the comfort of his family, and the expense of building, is a sad one. On Spanish street, the brick building of Capt. J.C. Watson had both ends blown out--but his family received no injury.
The row of brick houses on Main street, occupied by Mr. Riley, Mr. Justi, and Mr. Graff, were pretty much injured. The large brick building owned by Messrs. Sloan & Byrne, had nearly all the zinc torn off the rooof, but otherwise received no injury. The gable end of Mr. Penny's brick building was blown in. Mr. Cannon's new brick building, on the same square, recently covered in, was torn asunder. The south end of the brick building occupied by Messrs. Garaghty & Gale, and in which the family of Mr. Garaghty resides, was much injured.
The south end of the warehouse lately built by Messrs. Hezier & Mattingly was thrown down. On the opposite side the brick row owned by Mr. Lacey and Mr. E. Deane, and occupied by Messrs. Lacey & Gale, Mr. Marchildon, and in the upper room of one of the tenements was the Masonic Lodge, was seriously injured. The gable ends of the store and residence of Messrs. Clark & Greer were also injured. The tornado passed up the river, blew over a cooper's shop, broke in one end of Col. Sturdivant's brick mill, doing considerable injury.
The tall telegraph masts on each side of the river a mile above the city, were broken to pieces. We have not time nor room this week to continue our account of this destructive tornado. We will give other items next week.
It is impossible to ascertain each man's loss, but the aggregate loss is estimated at one hundred thousand dollars. Though there has been a most miraculous preservation of life--there being one two killed and twenty-five wounded--yet a large number of persons have lost nearly everything of value, and are destitute. Their situation appeals strongly to the humanity of the people here, and at a distance. Their wants must be supplied, and they must be protected from the winter's cold. Though the calamity is truly lamentable, yet it is the act of a Being that cannot err, and to whose dispensations we must all submit.