Thursday, April 15, 1886: St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids in ruins

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Minneapolis Tribune copy editors of 1886 faced a challenge beyond anything we encounter in today’s newsrooms. Day in, day out, the big story on page one required a half-dozen or more subheadlines. Let’s give it up for the anonymous craftsman who managed to write 13 dramatic and informative subheds for the story below. At the same time, he could have done a better job editing the story, which is filled with overwrought prose, tangled syntax and contradictory assertions. My favorite is the writer’s habit of saying a scene is impossible or “too piteous” to describe — and then describing it in great detail. Must be an 1880s thing.

Which is not to say that the tornado that hit St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids on April 14, 1886, was anything but a disaster of historic proportions. It’s the deadliest tornado in Minnesota history. More than 70 people were killed, and Sauk Rapids was all but blown off the map.

Unroofed: The first house struck by the tornado in St. Cloud. (Photo courtesy


St. Cloud and Sauk Rap-
ids Swept by a Tor-

Thirty People Killed and
A Hundred or More

Many of the Injured Will
Not Recover From
Their Wounds.

Three Hundred Buildings Des-
troyed and Railroad Bridges
Torn to Pieces.

The Storm Clears a Path 600 Feet
Wide Through the Town of
St. Cloud.

And the Strongest and Finest
Buildings Crumble at
Its Touch.

The Village of Sauk Rapids Almost
Blotted Out of Exist-

Men, Women and Children
Crushed in the Ruins Dead
and Dying.

A Scene of Desolation Never Before
Witnessed in the North-

Private Houses and Hotels
Doing Sad Service as

A Well-Known Citizen of St. Paul
Killed – Incidents of the

Sketches of the Two Wrecked
Towns – Plan of St. Cloud
– The News Here.

Many Miraculous Escapes From
Instant Death Reported at
Other Points.


St. Cloud, April 14 – This place was today the scene of the most terrible calamity that has ever visited the Northwest. It is impossible yet to say entirely how terrible it is.

St. Cloud’s rail yard did not fare well. (Photo courtesy

The morning was stormy. Last night a severe thunderstorm passed over us, and during the forenoon there were frequent showers with occasional flashes of lightning and the noise of distant thunder. Soon after noon the storm grew heavier and became severe at 2 o’clock, but seemed to have again passed off by 2:30. Shortly before 4, however, the air darkened again, and sharp gusts of wind, bringing sudden showers of rain and hail, shook the city. Nothing of any moment, however, occurred until about 4:30. The air was then dark and thick, and growing momentarily darker. Suddenly the sky toward the southwest deepened from dark to absolute black. The air was close and sultry; but still no one seemed to fear anything more than an ordinarily severe thunderstorm.

Your correspondent was standing with a knot of men in the shelter of a doorway looking at the blackening sky. Some one jestingly suggested a cyclone. Then the talk turned lightly on former cyclones – these at Rochester, New Ulm, Highmore; and reminiscences of the ruin caused by the storms went round. Meanwhile the wind had dropped and the rain ceased. Everything was still and close. Your correspondent walked up the street – his back toward the threatening quarter. Suddenly a cry arose, and people rushed from door to door. Simultaneously came another fierce, sudden burst of rain-laden wind. Fiercer and fiercer it blew. Turning to the southwest your correspondent saw

More of the devastation in Sauk Rapids. (Photo courtesy

A Solid Mass of Cloud,

dense black except where it was tinged with a strange greenish color, sweeping apparently towards the city. The lower end of the cloud appeared to rest on the ground, being narrow. Thence it broadened upwards until the top of the funnel – or inverted pyramid – covered half the sky. But there was not much time to study it. The wind, already a gale, grew momentarily worse; first a tempest, then a tornado. Above the wind one could hear the crash of houses, the breaking of timbers and the shock of falling walls. It was probably only a few seconds while the storm was passing; but they were terrible seconds – utter blackness and an inconceivable din of crashing buildings and roaring storm. Then came the rain again – not in drops, or bucketfuls, but sheets – driving before the gale like vertical sections of solid waves of water. Then the air slowly lightened. The sky towards the southwest had grown gray again, and the terrible, black mass blotted out the northeastern horizon. The cyclone had passed.

Around where your correspondent was no damage was done. All the buildings still stood. It had fortunately missed the central business section in the city. As fast as possible I made my way towards the northwest part of the city, which is chiefly

Made Up of Residences.

Everybody else (those who were not still hiding, terror stricken, in cellars and corners of their houses) rushed in the same direction. Turning a sudden corner we found the road apparently barricaded halfway down the block. It was the edge of the cyclone’s path, and three houses which had been together were in ruins across the street. Climbing over the wreck were a dozen men and women. On one side a knot was gathered where a child lay stretched on the sidewalk – dead.

The tornado flattened much of Sauk Rapids. (Photo courtesy

From there on the scene was terrible. Description is impossible. One every side lay piles of ruins, where there had lately been comfortable, happy homes. From some, strong hands were lifting the dead and insensible. From others the shrieks of persons still imprisoned were heart-rending. Block after block was desolated. Yet here and there, in the very central path of the storm, houses stood – not always the stoutest or largest, and with no other reason why they should have escaped the wreck of their neighbors than the caprice of the storm as it passed.

After the Storm,

The whole population of the city had crowded to the ruined quarter. Business men rushing to their homes, found in their stead masses of ruins. Some found the bodies of their wives and children already extricated from the wreck. Others came in time to help them out, and save their lives. Others only in time to help to lift out their corpses. Not a few had to wait for hours before they knew whether the heaps of shattered timbers in front of them covered all that they loved on earth or not.

Some of the scenes were too piteous to be described. A mother who had been down town came back only to stand by and listen to the shrieks of her buried children grow fainter and fainter, as the workers above tried to make their way to them. In another place your correspondent saw a girl carried away raving and apparently hopelessly insane as the moving of a timber disclosed her mother’s face – pale, save for the blood which had flowed from the blow that had killed her. On every side friend was calling for friend; child for parent; parent for child, and strong men sat on what had been their homes and sobbed like children over the bodies of their wives. It is too horrible!

The ruins of a school in Sauk Rapids. (Photo courtesy

In all some thirty dwelling houses are destroyed – and not one of the thirty but in its fall either killed or horribly mutilated some of its inmates. Cutler and Webb’s brewery is completely demolished. Round this and the Manitoba freight depot (which also lies in ruins) surged the greatest crowd. It is impossible to say yet who may not lie dead in the ruins of either. The brick house of John Swartz is merely a chaotic pile – close beside it a frame house sands unroofed, but the walls still standing.

The path of the cyclone seems to have been about 600 feet wide – cut as clean as a swathe in a hay field. Sauk Rapids has also suffered badly. The bridge across the river is down. It is impossible yet to learn what the loss of life has been.

All the while that the search went on the rain descended in torrents. Now and then it clears for a space; but soon thickens again. Overhead there is a continual rumble of distant thunder, and vivid flashes of lightning ever and again throw the desolate scene into awful relief. It was some time before any organized system of working on the ruins could be arranged. Every man was doing all he could, but the confusion was hopeless. The mayor and city officials worked well, and the members of the fire department. Assistance was promptly telegraphed for to St. Paul and Minneapolis. The work of searching in the ruins was not unattended with danger, for in many places the dismantled walls still stood, rocking in the wind, and at intervals the crash of falling timber was heard over the cries of the wounded and the wailing of the bereaved. More than one person has been hurt in this way in trying to save others.

Many of the dead bodies taken from the ruins are mutilated beyond recognition. As nearly as it can be ascertained now the number of dead in the two places – for Sauk Rapids has suffered at least as badly as St. Cloud – is 30, and about a hundred more are more or less mutilated. The court house here is unroofed and the county records are exposed.

Sauk Rapids courthouse was reduced to a pile of rubble. (Photo courtesy
Two stores once stood on this site in Sauk Rapids. (Photo courtesy

Tuesday, Feb. 2, 1971: Burning money to survive

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Jim Marshall of the Minnesota Vikings and Minneapolis Star columnist Jim Klobuchar were among 16 snowmobilers who set out from Red Lodge, Mont., for a 55-mile mountain ride to Cooke via Beartooth Pass one morning in late January 1971.

Conditions were fine at the start, but by afternoon winds began to rise, with gusts up to 100 mph. Blowing snow reduced visibility to nothing, and windchills dropped to 80 below zero. One by one, the machines began to fail and were abandoned. The party broke into smaller groups and sought shelter on foot. Hugh Galusha, 51, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, and another man built a snow shelter along the highway. But it wasn’t enough: By 7 a.m., Galusha was dead, the victim of exposure.

In an interview with Tribune columnist Sid Hartman a few days later, Marshall recounted his tale of survival.

Marshall Burned Money
to Keep Alive on Trek

Minneapolis Tribune Staff Correspondent

Jim Marshall had to burn his money to stay alive. The Minnesota Viking defensive end, one of a party of 16 that was stranded in deep snow during a blizzard on Beartooth Pass, Wyo., gave his account of the trip that cost the life of Hugh Galusha, 51, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank.

“After we were stranded, we walked from about noon Saturday until about 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning before we found a place we felt would provide suitable shelter,” said Marshall on his return to Minneapolis Monday night.

“Before my snowmobile quit operating, I had a narrow escape when my machine went over a cliff and almost rolled on top of me.

Jim Marshall, snowman
As a Minnesota Viking, Jim Marshall was no stranger to snow. Here he embraced the elements at a Met Stadium practice in December 1961.

“There was a 2,000-foot drop at the spot of my accident. After I had dropped about 30 feet, I was lucky enough to be able to grab on to some rock. Then with the aid of some of the other members of our party I was pulled back to safety.”

Marshall said that he, Paul Dickson (Viking tackle) and Bob Leiviska Jr. and Vern Waples, the guide on the trip and his wife, had started walking with the idea of reaching a place called Top Of the World – a store and motel in the area that is frequented by tourists in the summertime – after their machines quit operating.

“It got to be dark and we were afraid to stop for fear we would freeze to death.

“The snow reached the waist of Dickson and myself. The lighter people could walk on top of the snow and not get stuck. Paul and I would take three or four steps and we’d be worn out.

“We passed about three or four stages of total exhaustion before we finally decided we couldn’t go any farther.

“Finally, young Leiviska (15 years old) located a piece of land with a grove of trees and a hill in back of it to block the wind. We decided to try and stay there for the night.

“The snow was about 10 to 15 feet deep in this area.

“Dickson took out his lighter and we started the fire with five one-dollar bills, some candy wrappers, my checkbook and billfold.

“The snow melted, giving us a hole about six feet deep by eight feet wide.

“Dickson had some $20 bills to keep the fire going.

“Money didn’t mean anything at this stage,” Marshall said. “You can’t beat nature with money. We would have burned everything we had if necessary.

“We kept the fire going with any wood which would burn, including boughs and pine cones. We also stripped the low branches of 15 to 20 trees.

“We were afraid if we went to sleep we might freeze to death. You’d get that warm feeling with a strong desire to go to sleep. You had to work hard to stay awake. You’d stop shivering. You felt so good you wanted to lay down. It was a tough battle to stay awake.

“We were sure at the time that nobody else in the party had survived.

“Sunday morning Mrs. Waples and Leiviska left to try and get help.

“When help hadn’t reached us about an hour before dark Sunday night, Dickson and I decided it would be unwise to spend another night in the open.

“We walked about a mile, and saw some snow vehicles that had come to pick us up. You can’t imagine how happy we were.

“We also finally got reunited with the rest of the party.”

Marshall described the experience as “the toughest thing I’ve ever encountered in my life.”

The star Viking didn’t think his physical condition had anything to do with his survival. “It was more the lessons of determination and competition one learns in football that helped me the most.

“I never worked so hard in my life to stay alive. It reached a point where I thought it was virtually impossible to go on. Yet I was able to catch my second, third and fourth wind and go on another two or three miles when the going was the toughest. This is where football helped.”

Marshall and his group went some 36 hours without food or water except for a couple of candy bars and a small piece of salami.

“I’m going into the hospital for a week to get my body back in shape,” said Marshall. “But I’d go back and try again if I could get myself in condition.”

Tipped sled
Jan. 30, 1971: As conditions deteriorated, Jim Marshall’s sled hit a snow ridge and slammed into a guard rail, pitching him over the rail. He rolled down the slope for 30 feet before he managed to dig his feet and fingers into the loose rock, averting a 2,000-foot fall to the bottom of the canyon. This photo, filed without caption information in the Star Tribune library, would appear to be Marshall’s sled, based on several newspaper accounts published in February 1971.

Tuesday, July 7, 1936: How to keep cool

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

July 1936 was among the hottest months of the 20th century in the Upper Midwest. The mercury topped 100 degrees on seven of 10 days in Minneapolis in early July, and a reading of 108 on July 14 is the record high for the Twin Cities. The heat wave was blamed for nearly 800 deaths in Minnesota. The news dominated the front page of the Minneapolis Star, which offered readers these hot-weather tips:

Short Cuts to
Keeping Cool

Do you want to keep cool and avoid illness during this hot weather? Then, says Dr. F.E. Harrington, city health commissioner, do this:

Wear clothing that permits free movement. The outside clothing should be white or light. Underclothing should be of cotton or linen rather than silk.

Drink plentifully of liquids to replace the moisture lost through perspiration. Lemonade – rather weak – is best.

Eat food easily digested. Four small meals are better than three big ones.

Make use of fresh fruits.

Don’t go around half naked and get sunstroke.

Ice ice baby
At the St. Paul Daily News, staffers beat the record heat with 400 pounds of ice and electric fans. Watch out for those fan blades, ladies! (Photo courtesy of