1933 Tornado


On Friday, May 12, 1933, the front page of The Livingston Enterprise reported what was called "the worst disaster of this section." A staff correspondent, Samuel K. Neal, described the scene at Bethsaida, Tennessee, following a tornado that struck that area. Here are parts of Mr. Nealís story:

"Bethsaida, Tenn., May 10 - This little mountain settlement bore the brunt of Tuesday nightís storm when it climaxed into a tornado early Wednesday morning leaving more than a score dead and as many or more injured. More than twenty persons were reported injured at Smithís store here, where emergency relief was started Wednesday. Doctors from Livingston, Cookeville, and other places were giving first aid. The bodies of sixteen of the dead were brought to Livingston where they were prepared for burial. Four members of one family will be buried at the home site. The tornado struck with terrible suddenness. Beginning at Eagle Creek, northwest of Bethsaida, the twister moved in a zig-zag line three-quarters of a mile wide, spent its fury here, and ended near West Fork, a distance of about eleven miles from its beginning. In its wake it left the worst destruction this section of Tennessee has ever seen. Houses were torn down, barns with their contents, including farm machinery, were swept away as if they had been match boxes. A farmerís binder was blown from his barn to a field 500 yards distant, and was left a worthless scrap of twisted iron. A new automobile was swept along for hundreds of feet and left a wrecked mass. The horror of the storm was emphasized by the broken, twisted, torn bodies lying in a morgue at the Blount Funeral Home in Livingston. The most touching scene of all was the family of Eunice Cole, man, wife, and seven children, ranging in age from two to fourteen. All were killed, probably in their sleep. They were found near their home site in their night clothes, their bodies covered with grime and scraps of debris. More horrible was the manner in which some of the bodies were found, their bones broken into an incongruous mass, and on two, parts of the heads were missing."

A tire torn from a car owned  by Mrs. George Reeser had been pierced by a 2X4 timber during the storm.  Mrs. Reeser's daughter and son-in-law were among the casualties of the devastating tornado.


"The tornado brought its share of freaks. A square of floor linoleum was found driven into a tree; a two-by-four plank was driven completely through an automobile tire; a millet straw was found driven into a fruit tree. But most peculiar of all was at the home of Will Crawford, whose house was blown away, as were all his outhouses and his barn. In his chicken house two hens were setting, and they were found this morning complacently perched in their nests under a pile of debris, busily hatching their eggs, oblivious to the destruction surrounding them."

An additional story included in the May 19, 1933 issue of The Livingston Enterprise tells how a young couple, Ray Reagan, age 23, and Epsie King, age 22, who had plans to be married were among the victims of the tornado. The article written about this couple told how the two had been sweethearts since childhood and had plans to be married soon. Then came the storm and each life was snuffed out. They were buried side by side at the Smith Cemetery.



A quartet sings as the crowd of friends and relatives walk by the caskets to pay their last token of respect and to view the remains of the Una Cole family.


Others who lost their lives in the tornado included the Una Cole family, husband and wife, and seven children. Mr. Cole was 40 years old, his wife was only 35. Their childrenís names were: Carrie, age 22, Magnus, age 15; Edith age 9; Marian age 8; Ruth Dean, age 5; Anna, age 3, and Marse, age 1. Funeral services were conducted on the Saturday following the tornado at the Red Hill Cemetery with Rev. John Coleman and Rev. H.C. Geiger in charge. Masonic rites were included for Mr. Cole at the grave site by the Eagle Creek Lodge of which he was a member. Mr. Cole was a veteran and was wounded twice while in action in France. The entire family of nine were buried in one grave. According to the newspaper report, this is the largest number ever to be buried in a single grave in this section.

"Others who lost their lives in the tornado were: Mr. and Mrs. Boss Lacey, ages 40 and 31; Mrs. Mary Reeser, age 68 (mother-in-law of Ed Hopkins); Ed Hopkins, age 35 and daughter, Barbara Hopkins, age 6; Miller Allred, age 60; Hughey Beatty, age 35; Hershel Phillips, age 40; and Mrs. Ambrose King, age 45, mother of Epsie King."

"The hills and valleys of the area on the day the storm struck were described as being clothed in a thick haze, and during the early part of the evening and until late Tuesday night, the air was stuffy, with a flashing electrical storm and a high wind predicting a heavy rain. The rain in the tornado area was of flood proportions."

To document the results of this devastating tornado, Perry Ledford was commissioned to photograph the storm damaged area. I am including two of his photographs with this story. Mr. Ledford was the son of Nanie Copeland Ledford and husband Elmer Ledford who lived in the Oak Grove community between Livingston and Alpine. Nanie Copeland and my Grandpa Elza Copeland were brother and sister. Perry Ledford was the only child of Nanie and Elmer Ledford. The camera he used was a Model B-4 Eastern Kodak. That camera, along with additional pictures, has been donated to the Overton County Museum by Perry Ledfordís daughter, Theora Ledford Stumpf of the Rickman community. A display of the Ledford photographs and camera can be seen at the museum. Mr. Ledford left detailed explanations about each one of the picture taken. One of the photographs describes "logs and wreckage from under which was taken the body of Mrs. Una Cole and that of her small baby to whom she had clung even until death had relaxed her grip."

One of the newspaper articles summed up the spirit of those made it through the storm: "In spite of living through such a catastrophe, those who survived were described as clinging to something that carried them on against bitter odds. They cannot be cheerful, but there is no whining among them. Doubtless such destruction has brought a misery to their hearts, but they are stooping, with worn out tools, to build again, with something of the quiet strength which must have been inherited from their native hills."


Perry Ledford's Eastern Kodak Model B-4 camera is on display along with his photographs taken following the tornado that struck the area around the Bethsaida community of Overton County, TN in 1933.