Volume 8, Number 6 - Winter 1984

A Re-Evaluation of the Tornado Outbreak in Missouri of April 18, 1880

The Marshfield Tornado Day
by Grant L. Darkow, Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Missouri-Columbia


During the afternoon and evening of April 18, 1880 one of the most devastating outbreaks of tornadoes ever to have affected Missouri killed more than 150 people in southwest and central Missouri. The city of Marshfield (Webster Co.), the villages of Licking (Texas Co) and Barnettsville (Morgan Co) experienced almost complete destruction of all buildings.

In several instances two or more tornadoes occurred within tens of minutes of each other following near parallel paths. The proximity of damage paths in both space and time led to some degree of confusion as to the number and true path of the tornadoes. This study is an attempt to re-evaluate the tornado paths and to resolve some of the confusion that existed in the storm summaries compiled shortly after the event on the basis of meager and incomplete reports.

1. McDonald Co.: (The Pineville-Powell Mike’s Fork Tornado) This tornado, the first of a series of tornadoes during the afternoon of April 18, 1880 which ravaged portions of southwest and central Missouri, produced an intermittent damage path from about one mile south of Pineville, east northeastward through the present location of the communities of Cyclone and Powell on the Big Sugar Creek. The tornado appears to have terminated on the Mike’s Fork Creek about three miles ENE of Powell. One child was killed about 1 mile ENE of Powell. The present community of Cyclone, MO was so named because it had been close to the path of this tornado. Path Length: 16 miles - intermittent. Deaths: 1

2. McDonald, Berry, Stone, Christian, Webster and Wright Counties: (The Finley Creek Tornado) This tornado appears to have originated in NE McDonald Co. on the upper reaches of Mike’s Fork Creek about 2½ miles south of Rock Comfort. It moved east-northeastward into Barry Co. passing 1½ miles SE of Wheaton and 3 miles SE of Corsicana through McDowell and into the Crane Creek Township of extreme NE Barry Co.. It exited Barry Co. about 3 miles south of the Lawrence Co. line. Ten persons were reported killed in the "Crane Creek Steelment" and an additional six persons reported killed on "Flat Creek." (The "Flat Creek" deaths may have been in the vicinity of McDowell.)

In northwest Stone Co. the path crossed Crane Creek about 1½ miles SE of the present location of Crane, MO. Moving northeastward it crossed the James River in NE Stone Co. about 2 miles south of the Christian Co. line.

The tornado path passed 3/4 of a mile N of Ozark (Christian Co.) and about l½ miles N of Linden (Kenton P.O.) and into extreme southwestern Webster Co. The tornado was particularly intense in this area of Christian Co. Two people were killed and 33 injured near Ozark and six people were killed and 19 seriously injured in rural areas near Linden (Kenton). Thirty-five farms were destroyed in this area.

In Webster Co. the tornado passed close to the community of White Oak Springs (2 miles ENE of the present Rogersville, MO), through the Dry Fork area of Panther Creek, just north of the present location of Fordland and continued ENE to cross Teagues Creek just north of Hazelwood (5½ miles N of Seymour). At least seven deaths were reported along this track in S Webster


Co.; three deaths in a family by the name of Rose, three deaths in a Scott family and a Mr. Ruben Yates. This tornado passed through southern Webster Co. some time after the James River-Marshfield tornado. Time difference estimates ranged from 20 to 55 minutes. One observer on a high ridge between the valley of the James River to the NW and the Finley Creek valley to the SE was able to observe both storms.

The tornado track appears to have entered Wright Co. approximately 9 miles west of Hartville and may have been continued into Union Township SE of the present village of Grove Spring.

The determination of the damage path in Wright Co. was complicated by the apparent occurrence of earlier (2-3 p.m.) damage in the area just west of Hartville described as a tornado with associated torrential rain along a south to north path. (It is possible that this earlier damage may have been straight wind damage associated with a severe thunderstorm rather than a tornado.) Path Length: 93 miles. Deaths: 31.

3. Berry, Stone, Christian, Greene, and Webster Counties (The James River-Marshfield Tornado) The tornado which was to eventually devastate the city of Marshfiled, MO had its origins in the Camp Bliss Springs area of NE Barry Co. (about 3 miles NE of McDowell). McDowell was to be hit a short time later by another tornado (The Finley Creek Tornado) moving along a parallel path. The tornado moved east-northeastward to cross the upper reaches of Jenkins Creek and enter the Little Crane Creek areas of Crane Creek Township. The path may have momentarily crossed the extreme southeast corner of Lawrence Co. A Pair of parallel tornado damage paths separated by 3 to 4 miles was reported in NE Berry Co. and NW Stone Co. south of Aurora, MO.

Several observers reported the reformation or reorganization of the tornado as it crossed sections 16 and 11 in Range 24 W, Town 26 N in NW Stone Co. (3½ miles N of the present location of Crane, MO).

The path entered Christian Co. due south of the present community of Clever, passed about 1 mile N of the present location of Boaz and entered S Greene Co. 4 miles NNE of Nixa. This portion of the path was surveyed by a Professor F.E. Nipher, Professor of Physics at Washington University, St. Louis. He described the path as intensifying to a width of 1800 feet in this area.

Damage was quite extensive in SE Greene Co. and produced at least 7 deaths and 16 injuries in the area S and SE of Springfield.

The path entered western Webster Co. in Sec. 6 R 29 N T 19 W paralleling the James River. The tornado struck the community of Northview on the St. Louis and San Francisco R.R. about 7 miles SW of Marshfield. The tornado paralleled the RR tracks into Marshfield arriving at about 6 P.M. Sixty-nine people were killed within a few seconds as the storm all but destroyed the city of Marshfield. Twenty-three additional deaths occurred over the next few weeks as a result of injuries sustained during the storm bringing the final death toll to 92. Approximately 150 to 200 additional people in this community of 1100 sustained serious injuries. All but 15 of the buildings in town were destroyed.

The tornado continued northeastward to cross the railroad again at the community of Niangua about 6 miles from Marshfield. The tornado apparently dissipated a few miles beyond this location. Path Length: 64 miles. Deaths: 99

4. Texas and Dent Co. (The Licking Tornado) A tornado which apparently first touched down on the Big Piney River seven miles SW of Licking, MO moved northeastward and struck Licking at approximately 8:15 p.m. All but 3 of the 67 houses in the community were heavily damaged or destroyed. Surprisingly, only one death occurred and only 17 were injured. Some evidence suggests that this tornado may have continued along an intermittent path into Dent Co. to an area approximately 3 miles


south of Salem. Several investigators have suggested that the Licking Tornado was a continuation or extension of the Finley Creek tornado which passed through portions of Christian, S Webster and Wright Counties earlier. The present investigation could not support this finding or supposition. Path Length: 25 mi - intermittent. Deaths: 1.

5. Laclede Co.: (The Conway Tornado) A tornado touched down briefly in Conway destroying a house and killing two children. Path Length: Unknown. Deaths: 2.

6. Taney Co.: (The Forsyth Tornado) A tornado moving from SW to NE across Taney Co. cut a path through the business district of Forsyth. Two persons were killed and several injured. This tornado may have been an extension of or associated with the one which hit Eureka Springs, Ark. Path Length: Unknown. Deaths: 2.

7. Crawford Co.: (The Cuba Tornado) A storm described locally as a tornado swept through the Cuba area during the evening of the 18 of April. There was considerable structural damages but no deaths or serious injuries were reported. The Catholic Church was destroyed.

8. Camden, Morgan, Moniteau, Cole, and Gallaway Counties (The Barnettsville-New Bloomfield Tornado) A tornado which touched down about 5:30 p.m. in extreme N Camden Co. about 2 miles south of the horseshoe bend on the Osage River (4 mi NE of Climax Springs) moved northeastward and ascended as it crossed the river. The tornado touched down again near Mill Creek where it crossed the range line between ranges 17 and 18 W. Five people were killed as the tornado intensified and crossed rural areas of S Morgan Co. and bore down on the village of Barnettsville. Barnetsville was destroyed with the loss of eight lives. The path of total destruction was described as being at least a mile in width at this location. The village of Barnettsville never recovered from this devastation and was replaced by the present village of Barnett about one mile to the South.

NE of Barnettsville the tornado path of near total destruction as it crossed the southeast corner of Moniteau Co. passing about 1 1/2 miles southeast of High Point.

The tornado entered Cole Co just SW of Russellville. Passing through the Russellville area, through Stringtown (renamed as Lohman) and northeastward to Grays Creek. The tornado crossed the Missouri Pacific Railroad half way between Scotts Station and Cole Jct. (4 3/4 mi NW of the State Capitol Building). The tornado caused considerable property damage and numerous injuries but no loss of life. Debris from the tornado contributed to the wreck of a passenger train on the Missouri Pacific Railroad about midnight. Two injuries resulted to train crewmen.

The tornado crossed the Missouri River, turning the surface water to a foam and entered extreme S Callaway Co. A gap in damages occurs at this time as the tornado apparently lifted but it appears to have reorganized and descended with renewed vigor touching down about one mile south-southeast of New Bloomfield. The tornado caused considerable structural damage, one death and at least four injuries along a six-mile long path passing about one mile east of New Bloomfield and following the Old Jefferson City Road north of New Bloom field. Path Length: 66 mi. Deaths: 14.

9. Cole, Boone and Gallaway Co.: (The Elston-Carrington Tornado) At about the same time that the Barnettsville tornado was crossing Cole Co a second tornado appears to have formed over NW Cole Co and touched down in the area between Centertown and Elston. The tornado moved northeastward on a path paralleling the Barnettsville-New Bloomfield tornado track but about 3 mi to its northwest. The tornado crossed the Missouri River


and crossed the extreme S tip of Boone Co in the Claysville area and continued northeastward to pass about 3 mi west of New Bloomfield, and throughout the Guthrie and Carrington areas.

Two deaths and at least eight injuries were reported along the portion of the path in Gallaway Co. The tornado apparently lifted and dissipated a short distance beyond Carrington. Path Length: 21 mi. Deaths: 2.

10. Callaway Co.: (Calwood Tornado) Callaway County’s third tornado in about 30 minutes occurred when a tornado touched down about 3 mi east northeast of Fulton and moved north northeastward for seven miles. The tornado lifted about 3 1/2 miles NE of the present location of Kingdom City. No injuries or deaths were reported with this tornado.

11. The path of wind damage from the Aurora area through Marionville and Billings referred to in some accounts as the "Billings Tornado" has been classified as straight wind damage produced by a severe thunderstorm in this summary. This classification was prompted, in part, by the description of the storm by an eye witness who reported "the Billings tornado was not funnel shaped but rolled on a horizontal axis like a log". One death was reported with this storm in Aurora as Leney’s Mill collapsed.

Deaths by County due to the Tornadoes of April 18, 1880

McDonald Co


Barry Co.


Christian Co


Green Co


Webster Co.


Marshfield Tornado


Finely Creek Tornado


Laclede Co.


Texas Co


Taney Co


Morgan Co


Callaway Co




Resource Materials

Sources of information used in the current evaluation were:

The newspaper microfilm files of the Missouri State Historical Society
Missouri County Histories-particularly the series published by Goodspeed in 1889.

Monthly Weather Review, April 1880 Marshfield and Her a cyclone, Maria Allis Wilson, 1881

Missouri Climatological Data, Annual Issue 1918
The Character of Six Hundred Tornadoes; J.P. Finley, 1882
(Prof. papers of the signal Service No VII)

State Tornado Charts-Missouri; J.P. Finley, Amer. Met. Jour. V5 (1888-89) pp 545-546

*The author was unable to locate copies of the daily papers from Springfield, MO for April 1880. If located they may prove to be a particularly valuable source of additional information.


The author would like to acknowledge the preliminary archival work performed in support of this study by the late Mr. Michael Placke and Mr. Mike Chenoweth. The assistance of the staff of the Missouri State Historical Society Libraries is also appreciated.


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