Izard County Tornado of 1883

A tornado tore through north-central Arkansas on November 21, 1883, killing around eleven people, injuring dozens, and devastating Melbourne (Izard County) and LaCrosse (Izard County).

The storm’s path started about a mile and a half southwest of Melbourne and moved to the northeast, the width of its devastation ranging from 200 yards to three-quarters of a mile wide. When it reached the Izard County seat of Melbourne at around 4:00 a.m., most people were in bed. A newspaper reported that “for five minutes nothing could be heard but the roar of the winds, the crash of falling buildings, drowning the shrieks of the terrified inhabitants.”

The home of former sheriff and Melbourne merchant and cotton buyer John Hinkle, located two blocks north of the Izard County Courthouse square, received a direct hit. His wife Frances was later found 150 yards from the house, “literally severed at the waist. The viscera having been found twisted about a firm-rooted cedar and the parts thrown to two sides.” Hinkle was found nearby, “his skull crushed to a jelly-like mass.” The body of their infant daughter was found 300–400 feet from the house; another daughter and Mrs. Hinkle’s thirteen-year-old sister were also killed, and two sons were badly injured. Only their oldest son, who was sleeping in their store that night, escaped injury. At least thirteen other people were hurt, some seriously, in Melbourne, and many buildings were damaged, with a witness stating that they were “not merely careened or tumbled, but shivered into atoms.” A door from the Hinkle home was found twenty miles away.

The cyclone next slammed into LaCrosse, killing three people and injuring 145, forty-five of them seriously. The town was essentially destroyed, losing thirty-five homes, five businesses, two churches, the Masonic hall, and the LaCrosse Collegiate Institute. The storm continued into Randolph County, where a man was reported killed and his wife injured, and Sharp County, where two people were killed near Williford (Sharp County). Around seven inches of rain fell after the tornado, exacerbating the disaster.

Injured and homeless people were taken into surviving residences in the aftermath of the disaster, and the people of Batesville (Independence County) and Evening Shade (Sharp County) were particularly noted for their assistance.

Damages from the tornado were estimated at between $300,000 and $400,000, which would be from $8.8 to $11.8 million in 2022 dollars.

For additional information:
De Mahler, M. L. “Awful!” Arkansas Gazette, November 28, 1883, p. 2.

———. “The Cyclone.” Arkansas Gazette, December 2, 1883, p. 5.

“Storm and Flood.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 22, 1883, p. 2.

“Swept By a Tornado.” Fayetteville Weekly Democrat, November 29, 1883, p. 1.

“Wind and Water.” Arkansas Gazette, November 23, 1883, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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