two-story frame school that was blown away by the Great Tornado of 1929 as students
huddled under their desks. |
Courtesy of Jenny Mays Cunningham
|Old-timers still recall
Slocum's Great Tornado of April 24, 1929. Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not oddities
occurred, like the mule stuck high in a tree. Rescuers had to cut down the tree
to get the startled mule to safety. |
"There was a gigantic saw from the
sawmill stuck inside a tree as if it had been growing there," remembers Vic
Lively, who was eight years old at the time. Vic's cousin's house was picked
up and set down to face another direction. A large door was found across the river
miles away. A wagon with team still hitched was carried up and away over tall
trees and set down in a pasture. The horses, one of whom had a 2X4 sticking out
of its back, survived. Believe it...or not!
Almost all of Slocum was
destroyed-grocery stores, cotton gin, mechanic's garages, and houses; eight people
Estelle Mosley was a young woman who lived several miles
from town. The terrific noise of the tornado was alarming, but the first indication
that a great calamity had occurred was when she saw car after car rushing by her
home toward Slocum. "People came from near and far to see the damage," she says.
What did they see? As if decorating the flattened town, bolts of "yard
goods" (for young readers, these are bolts of cloth) from the destroyed Davis
Store had flown up into the trees, unfurling into long trails of colored fabric
flying in the breeze, Estelle remembers. Strips of cloth were then used to wrap
up bleeding wounds.
There was the pathos of the little girl who carried
the body of her dead younger brother two miles home. That was all she knew to
do. Another child who had had a birthday party the previous day saw all her gifts
blow away, never to be found.
Hero of the day was Mr. Thomas Gatlin,
beloved superintendent of the two-story frame building that was Slocum School.
Despite his characteristic limp and use of a cane, he hurried about the school,
ordering kids inside from lunch and under their desks. The building blew away
around them, but his quick action saved many lives.
school complex at Slocum|
Photo courtesy Sandy
|Located 12 miles southeast
of Palestine in Anderson
County, Slocum was founded by Edgar Threadgill McDaniel of Arkansas, who
had established a store at the crossroads of wagon tracks; hence, the spot was
called Crossroads. However, application for a U.S. Post Office revealed
that the name had already been taken. In 1897 Mr. McDaniel invented the name Slocum,
a combination of two words. Reported reasons are varied: "Fortunes will be made
here, but they will be slow coming," is one quote from McDaniel. Other reports
had him saying that the post office was slow in coming or that town growth would
be slow in coming. Who knows? Maybe he said different things at different times.
Because county seats were too far away to travel to and from in one
day by horse and wagon, little towns like this were vital for isolated farm families
to conduct business. In the early 1900s Slocum sported a famous amateur baseball
team whose star was pitcher F. Ernest Day, later a coach and teacher. By 1927
the farming and livestock community of Slocum had a population of 200. Development
of Slocum Oilfield in the 1950s brought a noticeable boom.
the pride of Slocum is its "Exemplary" Class A school with 380 students. The high
school track team has competed at state level although the school has no track.
Students train by running on pastures.
Slocum has spirit. Hundreds attend
the annual community-wide reunion held on Saturday before Mother's Day at the
school cafeteria. The Volunteer Fire Department provides BBQ while townswomen
contribute homemade cakes and side dishes.
It is hard for us to imagine
the vitality and self-containment that small communities like Slocum had before
the time of cars and highways. While generations of some families have stayed
in the area, many have left for Houston
and other commerce centers to seek those fortunes that were too slow in coming.
However, today new houses springing up on county roads all around give evidence
of a rebirth of interest in villages like Slocum as "re-pioneering" families and
retirees from the "big city" rediscover tranquility and independence here.
Topics: East Texas Towns
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