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Peggs, OK Devastating Tornado, May 1920



By the Associated Press.
Muskogee, Okla., May 3. -- Thirty-seven bodies have been recovered by rescuers from wrecked houses in the storm demolished town of Peggs, according to a telephone report from Tahlequah. This information was brought from Peggs by the first man to arrive at Tahlequah from Peggs today. Twenty of these bodies are reported to have been taken from one building alone.
JOHN LITTLEFIELD, his wife and six of their seven children were among those killed in the storm, a report to Tahlequah said. The only physician in the town, DR. W. R. HILL, also was killed.
Tahlequah, county seat of Cherokee county fifteen miles south of Peggs, is the nearest railroad town to the storm area.
Those familiar with the roads in the vicinity say it is impossible to reach Peggs by motor car. The Tulsa Tribune started a newspaper man by airplane to the stricken district this morning.

Muskogee, Okla., May 3. -- Fifty persons are reported killed and more than one hundred fifty injured in a storm that wiped out the little town of Peggs, Oklahoma, Cherokee county at 9:30 o'clock last night.
Reports from Locust Grove and Tahlequah where dead and injured from Peggs are being taken said that not a house was left standing in Peggs.
A special train carrying doctors and nurses and equipment left Muskogee for Peggs this morning. All doctors and nurses in Tahlequah also have gone. Practically every store in Tahlequah, county seat of Cherokee county, has closed and several hundred people have gone to Peggs to do rescue work.
Direct communication with the stricken town was impossible this morning, as all wires from Muskogee to Tahlequah are down.

Muskogee, May 3. -- Forty-three bodies have been recovered at Peggs by rescue parties up until noon today. Families were crushed to death when their homes were torn to pieces by the force of the gale. Nine members of the STEVENS family were killed, seven of the LITTLEFIELD family, eight persons by the name of FRANK and five members of the WILKERSON family are now numbered among the dead.
Only three buildings remain standing after the storm at Peggs.
Forty-two coffins are being sent to the scene of the storm from Tahlequah. This is as many as could be found in the city. Temporary hospitals have been organized amid the wreckage and scores of slightly injured are being given first aid. If they can stand the trip to Tahlequah, they are being taken there. When rescuers arrived in Peggs they found the twisted, mud-splattered bodies. Heavy rain and hail accompanied the storm and when the rescuers began collecting the bodies from the wreckage, many were so plastered with mud that they had to be washed off before their identity could be established. The dead were collected in shelters of walls that were left standing. Twenty bodies were piled in one corner, while the searching party ranged the immediate vicinity. Doctors and their assistants pressed into service have worked incessantly since early this morning caring for the dead and injured.

The Ada Evening News Oklahoma 1920-05-03



Peggs Tornado

My grandparents were living in Peggs at the time. My grandmother was pregnant with my father (he was born two months after the storm). The strength of the tornado was so great that it ripped the door off the cellar and then took the roof. My grandfather locked his legs around the shelving supports (everyone canned vegetables at the time and stored them in Mason jars in their storm cellars) and literally grabbed my grandmother's legs as she was being swept up into the storm. That's how close I came to not being here today.

They told stories of their chickens (at least they assumed they were their chickens, as they were completely plucked bare by the storm) returning home for days afterward. The same was true with some livestock that had somehow survived. I remember well their story about the death of the doctor.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence (my grandparents relocated to Tahlequah and I was born and grew up there), we journeyed annually to the cemetaries at Peggs and New Home for "Decoration Day" (Memorial Day). My grandmother, an avid gardener, always brought extra flowers, and I made a point of putting Sweet Williams on each grave of all the children killed. I can't recall which family (either Stevens or Littlefield) had a succession of gravestones, each smaller than the next, denoting the ages of the children who died.

To the end of their lives, my grandparents (and my great aunt and uncle, who were also survivors) went to the cellar (and later their basement) whenever a storm approached. Depsite having lived all their lives in Oklahoma with all its thunderstorms, that one day in May forever changed their lives. I have many, many memories of sitting in the cellar by candle light among Mason jars filled with green beans and applesauce watching pale night crawlers wriggle across the damp floor at the storms raged outside.

Peggs 1920 Tornado

I have a newspaper a clipping about this tornado. I don't know what newspaper it is from. It was in the belongings of my stepfather, Bert Neel, who past away in 1994. It is written by Rick Welch interviewing a survivor of the tornado, Walter Neel. It is the tale about "the cyclone that blowed Peggs, Oklahoma away" In 1920. It left 100 people dead as told by eyewitness Walter Neel. Walter Neel was my stepfather's uncle. Here is what it says:

Walter remembers May 2, 1920 as if it were yesterday. More than 100 people died that day. Neel lived though "the cyclone that blowed Peggs away". Being left with an emotional scar, Neel said, "It was hard on me". Neel gave an account of what happened to the community 15 miles southwest of Tahlequah in the path of the twister.

Peggs was a nice little country town, It had about 5 houses, two drug stores, a hotel, pool hall, and about three______. There was a jailhouse in the middle of the town that didn't have a board blowed off it. The next day some of the people were caught stealing. It was Sunday, on a hot, hot day, I went to church and a boy friend came with me by the name of Wyly Wilkinson who stayed all evening with me, We went back to church that night on horseback. We got a half mile from my home, that was two miles from Peggs, and the cloud was coming up fast. I got him to come with me to wait and see what the thing was going to do.

He believed he could make it home. He left and I went to my house. He got home and was killed. They had a good concrete cellar about from here to that point. He pointed to a tree approximately 20 feet from where we sat. His family and some friends stood outside of the cellar. Some wanted to go in and some stayed out there until the storm struck and then couldn't go in. Wyly, his brother Jack, two little girls, his father Jim, and another boy Jack Bond were all killed.

Jim Wilkinson had a wide tire wagon. The storm had broke the spokes out and just left the tire and rim. When it was over, he was sitting inside the tire. I don't know how he go there I helped wash and lay Wyly and Jack Wilkinson out the next day. It was hard on me. We were close friends, I pulled a piece of pine board out of Jack's head. That was pretty rough. There was pine board behind his ear and came out about the middle of his forehead. It didn't break the skin, but you could see where it was pushing out on his forehead.

Jim lived a week. The had taken him to Muskoge hospital and took one leg off. But, he died about a week later. Pete Wilkinson was at the Stevens place. He was hurt, but got well. Stevens had cotton ground listed about this high (approximately three feet), It blowed it down. Hugh Stevens had been visiting his father in Western Oklahoma. He stayed all night in Muskogee on his way back. He picked up a newspaper and seen where Peggs was blowed away. They didn't have communications like we do now. There were 13 of his family that were killed. He had one little boy and two grandchildred left. The boys skull was busted. Now he wears a silver plate in his head.

"I seen chickens walking around that didn't have a feather in them. They acted like nothing was wrong with them but they didn't have any feathers. Jim Wilkinson had two quarter horses. One little brown horse hit a tree with his head and busted his brains out. I had seen some cows that were killed the same way. I saw a white mule with a 2 x 4 blowed through his stomach. At the Wilkinson's place, I picked up a silver dollar that looked like it had been put in a vice and turned half way around.

Peggs had a county doctor by the name of Dr. Hill. About a half mile from the doctor's house, there was a woman expecting with another women sitting with her. He usually went horseback but this time he went a foot and had to cross two wire fences. They found his body wrapped up in wire.

The baby was born at the time the storm struck, It had blowed the house away and killed that other woman there But, it never touched the bed and woman and her baby never got a scratch.

"Del Robinson had a store with a concrete building. The storm blowed it to the ground. He had a little alarm clock sitting on top of a table that never moved. The next day that clock was still running. Uncle John Littlefield lived there in town. It blowed his house away and killed him and a little grandson. There was a hen sittin under a tub in the yard that never moved. The next day, the tub and the old hen was stil sitting.

I couldn't say for sure but I think around 100 people were killed. They died for two or three weeks after trying to get well in the hospital. Peggs never did build back much. There are two churches and a post office there in the old part of town now. You better believe it when they say those storms can kill you.

Del Robison was my grandfather. He rebuilt his general store and ran the it for years with my grandmother Fleta. My dad was raised in Peggs. My stepfather, Bert Neel was raised in Peggs. My dad and mother moved to California in the 1940's. I have heard about this tornado several times over the years.

Carolyn Powers

thank you

thank you so very very much for sharing this article and personal information with everyone. I personally appreciate when someone takes the time to enter extra information on articles I researched

Peggs Cyclone

My mother and many relatives and friends were in Peggs that terrible day. As I grew up hardly a day went by without some mention of the Peggs cyclone.The names Wilkerson,Stephens and Littlefield are connected to me through blood and marriage.
Thank you so much John Easley

Peggs tornado

Lynn Musgrave;
My parents lived in Peggs and survived the storm . My father was Lunda Easley and my mother was Delpha Miller. I assume you are related to Jim Musgrave. He was a good friend of my dad. Please email me as we have lots to talk about

1920 tornado

I am so excited to finally find an artical on the 1920 tornado. I have so many questions but first let me tell you who I am. R.J.Stephens and baby Stephens (Anna Lou) (the two Stephens that survived are my first cousins. They were raised by my Grandparents here in Hobart Okla. (Shelton family) R.J fought in ww2 and flew with the Doolittle Gang and was bombardier on the flight to Japan. He was declarated with the purple heart and many other awards. After the bombing he bailed out in China and friendly chinese found him nursed him back to health. The article cleared up about the steel plate that R.J. had, some of my family thought this happened during the war because how could he have been enlist with the steel plate in his head. But I had been told it was because of the injury he recieved in the tornado. My husband, sister and I are leaving tomorrow to visit the cemetery in Beggs. Another question is the article calls it Peggs Ok. is there a reason?

thank you

thank you for your very informative reply ...
The Peggs name is directly from the news articles as transcribed ...
thank you

Peggs Tornado

This is to Karen Denton.

I saw your history on the web. R.J. Stephens would be my second cousin. He was of course raised by Grandma Shelton, My Great Grandma. Viola his mother would be my great aunt. My Grandma Etta (Sheton) Womack was the older sister of Viola.

Anna Lou lived in Daly City, CA until her death in death in her 90s. We went to see them several times when we were out their. she married Evertt Martin.

My cousin Janet Brewer has some pictures of R.J. I have taked to Janet as she is looking up those pictures. Janet also has som articles when RJ was in Doolittle Gang.

Please get in contact.

For John Easley

John, I just read your post from October last year....if you see this, you may write me at Jim Musgrave was the brother of my grandfather, Homer Musgrave. My grandmother's maiden name was Gore--their entire family lived in Peggs.

In response to Karen Denton

In response to Karen Denton (a little late), Beggs, OK is in Okmulgee county. Peggs, OK is in more northeastern Oklahoma in Cherokee County. I have lived In Peggs for 10 years. The story is still fascinating to me.

article | by Dr. Radut