Cisco’s Oakwood Cemetery, five graves
bear the same last name and the same date of death – April 28, 1893.
was the day a killer tornado struck the then prosperous Eastland County railroad
town. The twister, later estimated by the National Weather Service as an F-4,
roared into the city of 2,500 from the southwest at 9:40 p.m.
It was a
Friday night, and Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Hickman had already put their five children
to bed. The couple ran a café on the ground floor of the two-story Blake Building
on Main Street and lived on the second floor. When they heard the howling wind,
they started up the stairs toward their children.
But before the Hickman’s
could reach them, the building collapsed. The couple somehow survived, but their
five children – ranging in age from nine to three – all died.
were not the only ones touched by tragedy that night. At least 23 people died
in the storm, though some believe as many as 30 died. Scores suffered injuries,
some of them so severe that doctors initially predicted that at least 40 of their
patients would die.
Texas has had more than
its share of killer tornadoes, but the Cisco
storm is notable in that it marked the deadliest tornado to that point in Texas
“The most terrific cyclone that ever visited Texas
devastated Cisco,” one newspaper reported
on May 6, “laying waste everything in its path, which was about three-fourths
of a mile wide.” The twister stayed on the ground for five miles.
newspaper said “the town was almost wiped from the face of the earth.”
survivor was W.L. Wilson, editor of the Cisco Apert. In his first account of the
storm, he wrote that 40 large buildings were destroyed in the town’s business
district, with only one significant structure left intact. Elsewhere, most of
the houses in town were leveled or damaged. Of an estimated 400 residences, only
one escaped any damage.
“Where once stood happy homes and busy, hustling
marts of commerce naught remained but desolation, ruin and death,” Wilson wrote.
Tornado winds ripped a heavy metal safe from one business house and hurled
it across the street and through the brick wall of another building. Near the
train station, the storm derailed a 20-ton locomotive, its engineer among the
Damage was estimated at a staggering $2 million in 1893 dollars.
The Texas Legislature, then in session, appropriated $10,000 for the stricken
community, an act the editor of one state newspaper termed “charitable but out
of place as a state appropriation.”
Lightning will strike twice and so
do tornadoes. A smaller tornado, spawned by a weather system that claimed 10 lives
in Texas and Oklahoma on April 8, 1922, killed one
person in Cisco. In 1950 and again
in 1976, large killer tornadoes missed Cisco
by less than 40 miles.
A Web site that posts statistical profiles of U.S.
communities notes that “Cisco-area
historical tornado activity is slightly above Texas
state average” and 121 percent above the national average.
local folklore held that all National Weather Service tornado records trace from
April 28, 1893. But if that were ever the case, subsequent research has pushed
the Texas tornado list further back, if not by much.
two Texas tornadoes are known to have caused multiple deaths prior to 1893, a
May 28, 1880 storm in the Fannin County community of Savoy
that killed 14 and a May 8, 1890 tornado in the Hood County town of Falls Creek
that left 5 people dead.
claim on having survived the state’s deadliest tornado held only three years.
On May 15, 1896 a tornado struck Sherman
and killed 85 people.
In the 20th century, as Texas
became increasingly urbanized, the pace picked up. A tornado struck Goliad
in 1902, killing 114 people. Though some believe the death count may have been
even higher, that number – tied in 1953 with the May 11 Waco
tornado – still stands as the state’s highest tornado death toll.
mean little to those whose family histories were brutally altered by those early
day Texas tornadoes, including the Hickmans. No one seems to know whatever happened
to them after the storm, other than the psychological impact they must have suffered
in losing all their children at one time. Wherever the couple ended up, they are
not buried with their children.
© Mike Cox
29, 2010 column