Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mary Ellen (Coppenbarger) Waggoner: Survivor of a Twister (#10 of 52 Ancestors)

My great, great grandparents, Josiah Randolph Coppenbarger & Elizabeth (Bennett) Coppenbarger lived in the small community of Ashton, Kansas near the Oklahoma border. In 1899, four of their children, including my great grandmother Myrtle Mae, were still living at home. I'm not sure where one son, Alva, was living, but their oldest daughter, Mary Ellen or "Ella," was married and living nearby with her husband, D. V. Waggoner, and their 10-month-old baby, Floyd.

Living in Tornado Alley, the family must have been accustomed to the fear of twisters. But, on the night of May 31st, those fears became reality as a small tornado touched down in Ashton. Though not large, it did damage throughout the community. One family was particularly affected: t wasn't a large twister, but it directly affected the community of Ashton and my Coppenbarger family.... especially the small family of daughter Ella, her husband, D. V., and baby Floyd.

"Dszpics1" by Daphne Zaras posted on Wikipedia
Here's what the nearby Arkansas City Daily Traveler reported:


Visits Ashton and Mixes the Small Buildings up in One Conglomerated Mess - One Man and One Woman Injured

Last night the town of Ashton was visited by a small cyclone, which, while not one of monumental proportions, was large enough to seriously inconvenience the residents of that place for several days.

At 11:15 last night the storm burst upon the town preceded by a severe electrical storm and dashes of rain. The path of the twister, which was a small one, was in a southwesterly direction. It struck the town coming from the northeast.

The residence of D. V. Waggoner, a one story, five room house was entirely demolished. Mr. Waggoner was blown about 450 feet and badly cut about the head besides being severely injured by falling timbers. The little baby was blown about 150 feet and not injured at all. 

[Here I'm skipping some of the article which tells about other damages.]

All the small buildings in town were either blown down or twisted out of shape but Waggoner's house was the only building of any size that was badly damaged.

A letter posted the following week in the paper adds a few details:

Dear Sir: A cyclone struck Ashton about 12:30 o'clock a.m. completely destroying D. V. Waggoner's residence and all contents, badly wounding him, and his wife slightly injured. The baby found out by itself uninjured. Waggoner's loss is complete as there was no insurance.... Rubbish was carried several hundred yards and cars on siding were some damaged, one S. F. badly, part of roof of Waggoner's house was carried about three hundred yards and lodged against the depot.

I can barely imagine the fear that the Waggoner's experienced as the tornado approached them. I grew up near Ashton and have had a few scares, but only minor damage. How did D. V. and Ella find each other after the tornado? How did baby Floyd end up by himself... was he ripped from his mother's arms? Did they have to dig D. V. out from under the timbers? How long did they search for each other? Did they find baby Floyd by following his cries? And, how badly was D. V. injured?

Besides the fear, pain & loss that the three Waggoner's experienced, I wonder what Ella's parents and siblings felt. When did they learn that Ella's house and all of her belongings were destroyed? Did Ella's family move back in with her parents for months? Was the house crowded?

Thankfully, the story turned out alright. Though there was much loss, there was no loss of life. But, what a terrifying ordeal.

My Line of Descent
  • Josiah Randolph Coppenbarger (1844-1934) m Elizabeth Bennett (1849-1914) 
  • parents of both Myrtle Mae & Mary Ellen "Ella" Coppenbarger 
  • Myrtle Mae Coppenbarger (1880-1970) m Emil Wilhelm Peters (1877-1955) 
  • Hazel Lucille Peters(1910-1975) m James Edward Stewart (1910-1972) (my paternal grandparents) 
(Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow at "No Story Too Small" for creating "52 Ancestors" where we can share our ancestors stories, one week at a time. This week's optional theme was "Bad Weather"]

  • A Small Twister, Arkansas City Daily Traveler, Arkansas City, Kansas, 01 Jun 1899, page 5, column 2, 
  • digital image, ( accessed 30 Sep 2014) 
  • A. N. Brown Letter, Weekly Republican-Traveler, Arkansas City, Kansas, 08 Jun 1899, page 7, column 1, digital image, ( accessed 10 Mar 2015) 
Do we share common ancestors? I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or write me at


  1. Interesting! It's always fun to find out about our family's involvement with dramatic events.

  2. I am loving the storm stories this week. Thanks!

    1. I agree, Schalene. These "storm" stories have been great!

    2. I agree, Schalene. These "storm" stories have been great!

  3. After living in Tulsa for over 20 years I've seen the devastation that a tornado causes and the heartbreak...SO glad no one was killed.

    1. I lived in Kansas & Oklahoma for over half my life & still have family in both states. The damage they can cause is unbelievable


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