Cisco’s Oakwood Cemetery,
five graves bear the same last name and the same date of death –
April 28, 1893.
That was the day a killer tornado struck the then prosperous Eastland
County railroad town. The twister, later estimated by the National
Weather Service as an F-4, roared into the city of 2,500 from the
southwest at 9:40 p.m.
It was a Friday night, and Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Hickman had already
put their five children to bed. The couple ran a café on the ground
floor of the two-story Blake Building on Main Street and lived on
the second floor. When they heard the howling wind, they started
up the stairs toward their children.
But before the Hickman’s could reach them, the building collapsed.
The couple somehow survived, but their five children – ranging in
age from nine to three – all died.
The Hickmans were not the only ones touched by tragedy that night.
At least 23 people died in the storm, though some believe as many
as 30 died. Scores suffered injuries, some of them so severe that
doctors initially predicted that at least 40 of their patients would
Texas has had more than its share of
killer tornadoes, but the Cisco
storm is notable in that it marked the deadliest tornado to that
point in Texas history.
“The most terrific cyclone that ever visited Texas
devastated Cisco,” one
newspaper reported on May 6, “laying waste everything in its path,
which was about three-fourths of a mile wide.” The twister stayed
on the ground for five miles.
Another newspaper said “the town was almost wiped from the face
of the earth.”
One survivor was W.L. Wilson, editor of the Cisco Apert. In his
first account of the storm, he wrote that 40 large buildings were
destroyed in the town’s business district, with only one significant
structure left intact. Elsewhere, most of the houses in town were
leveled or damaged. Of an estimated 400 residences, only one escaped
“Where once stood happy homes and busy, hustling marts of commerce
naught remained but desolation, ruin and death,” Wilson wrote.
Tornado winds ripped a heavy metal safe from one business house
and hurled it across the street and through the brick wall of another
building. Near the train station, the storm derailed a 20-ton locomotive,
its engineer among the dead.
Damage was estimated at a staggering $2 million in 1893 dollars.
The Texas Legislature, then in session, appropriated $10,000 for
the stricken community, an act the editor of one state newspaper
termed “charitable but out of place as a state appropriation.”
will strike twice and so do tornadoes. A smaller tornado, spawned
by a weather system that claimed 10 lives in Texas
and Oklahoma on April 8, 1922, killed one person in Cisco.
In 1950 and again in 1976, large killer tornadoes missed Cisco
by less than 40 miles.
A Web site that posts statistical profiles of U.S. communities notes
that “Cisco-area historical
tornado activity is slightly above Texas
state average” and 121 percent above the national average.
For years, local folklore held that all National Weather Service
tornado records trace from April 28, 1893. But if that were ever
the case, subsequent research has pushed the Texas tornado list
further back, if not by much.
Only two Texas tornadoes are known to have caused multiple deaths
prior to 1893, a May 28, 1880 storm in the Fannin
County community of Savoy
that killed 14 and a May 8, 1890 tornado in the Hood
County town of Falls Creek that left 5 people dead.
Cisco’s claim on having
survived the state’s deadliest tornado held only three years. On
May 15, 1896 a tornado struck Sherman
and killed 85 people.
In the 20th century, as Texas became
increasingly urbanized, the pace picked up. A tornado struck Goliad
in 1902, killing 114 people. Though some believe the death count
may have been even higher, that number – tied in 1953 with the May
tornado – still stands as the state’s highest tornado death toll.
Statistics mean little to those whose family histories were brutally
altered by those early day Texas tornadoes, including the Hickmans.
No one seems to know whatever happened to them after the storm,
other than the psychological impact they must have suffered in losing
all their children at one time. Wherever the couple ended up, they
are not buried with their children.