TOWN THAT BLEW AWAY
The Great Tornado of April
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 were killed.
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.
Townspeople quickly rebuilt Slocum.
frame school that was blown away by the Great Tornado of 1929 as students
huddled under their desks.
Courtesy of Jenny Mays Cunningham
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.
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.
complex at Slocum
Photo courtesy Sandy
in America in the early 20th century were sometimes punctuated by
violent outbursts. One such occasion began near Slocum and Denson
Springs and spread across a wide area near the Anderson-Houston
Beginning on the morning of July 29, 1910, groups of armed white men
shot and killed African Americans, first firing on a group near Sadler's
Creek. Murders in the black community continued during the remainder
of that day and night. Accounts in state and national newspapers brought
widespread attention to the situation. Judges ordered saloons and
gun and ammunition stores to close, and state militia and Texas Rangers
were dispatched to the area. The murders of eight men were officially
recorded. The victims were Cleveland Larkin, Alex Holley (Hollie),
Sam Baker, Dick Wilson, Jeff Wilson, Ben Dancer, John Hays and Will
Burly. Many African American families fled the area and did not return.
Eleven white men were soon arrested, and district judge Benjamin H.
Gardner empaneled a grand jury within a week. When its findings were
reported on August 17, seven men were indicted. The cases were moved
to Harris County
but were never prosecuted.
The events which came to be known as the "Slocum Massacre" largely
disappeared from public view in subsequent generations. In 2011, the
82nd Texas Legislature adopted a resolution acknowledging the incident
and stating that "only by shining a light on previous injustices can
we learn from them and move toward a future of greater healing and
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing
Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history and vintage/historic
photos, please contact