The Fargo-Moorhead “Hurricane” of 1890 killed 7 children in a family – InForum

The Fargo-Moorhead “Hurricane” of 1890 killed 7 children in a family – InForum

The Fargo-Moorhead “Hurricane” of 1890 killed 7 children in a family – InForum

FARGO — The other day, while researching the famous summer flood of 1975, I came across Forum clippings from other old newspapers.

The title of one caught my eye. The first part read, “Seven Fargo Children Killed by . . .”

The rest of the title was covered by the other clippings.

Since this was a storm coverage file, I thought the headline was part of a story about the tragic deaths of the Munson children in the 1957 Fargo tornado.

But when I shuffled the papers, the rest of the headline was revealed: “Seven Fargo Children Killed in Storm of 1890.”

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The headline of a 1950 Forum story recounts the terrible storm that killed seven children in a family in 1890.

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Not 1957.

I was shocked to read that 67 years before Gerald and Mercedes Munson buried six of their seven children, another Fargo family went through an eerily similar tragedy.

It began in the early morning hours of July 7, 1890, when “a storm of wind and rain burst upon Fargo with terrible fury,” according to Roy Johnson, in a retrospective story he wrote for The Forum in 1950.

At 2:30 a.m., the streets were deserted and quiet, Johnson wrote. “There was nothing to be heard but the roar of the wind and the crashing sound of flying debris.”

It must have been incredibly scary for Rose McCarty and her seven children to be awakened by the noise and chaos outside. Some of the older children begged Rose to let them shelter in the coal bin under a shed attached to the back of their house, located around Eighth Avenue and First Street North in Fargo, near Mickelson Field.

Rose, about seven months pregnant, reluctantly agreed, first sending two of her older daughters to the basket to help the little ones inside.

Rose would regret this decision for the rest of her life.

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Hundreds of people flocked to the McCarty home after the tragedy, which occurred when the back half of the home, seen on the right of this photo, shifted off its foundation and caused coal to pile into the dumpster where the family had sought shelter to he moved, suffocating. the seven children. Forum file photo

Fierce winds of more than 75 miles per hour blew for 17 to 18 minutes straight, according to the weather bureau. In no time at all, they had the McCarty house off its foundation, pushing it into the shed where the McCartys thought they would be safe.

All seven children were killed including; Rose “Belle”, 19; May “Mamie”, 16; Frances “Anna,” 14; James “Frankie,” 12; Justin “Justy,” 6; Luella “Lulu,” 3, and Josephine “Josie,” 21 months.

Rose miraculously survived.


After seven children of the James McCarty family died in their home in Fargo during a tornado that struck the city early on July 7, the funeral procession, led here by members of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Continental Hose Company, traveled on the 8 last july Lincoln School, which can be seen in the background.

Photo courtesy of Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo (51.52.4)

It’s already been a tough summer for the family. They moved to Fargo in 1880 from Osage, Iowa. Just three weeks earlier, the family patriarch, James McCarty, a Civil War veteran, died after a long illness.

Since her husband’s funeral was nowhere close to being remembered, Rose had to plan another one – for her seven children.

The only bright spot in the devastating night was that two McCarty children were not home during the storm. Laura, 18, was teaching at a rural school in Clifford, ND, and her sister, Katie, 8, had visited. They had stopped overnight in Hunter, ND the night of the storm before planning to come home the next day.

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The James McCarty family headstone is located at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Fargo.

David Samson/The Forum

Laura and Katie were with their mother as they grieved and with the birth of Rose’s tenth child, Jay, in September 1890. A family that should have been 12 years old was now only 3 years old.

Why was it called a hurricane?

Newspaper reports at the time called the 1890 storm “a hurricane.”

In a recent interview, WDAY Chief Meteorologist John Wheeler said in the 1890s, the weather bureau would have used the word “hurricane” to define a weather system that creates large-scale wind damage over an area large enough for a hour.

It is different from a spinning tornado that lands quickly or a thunderstorm.


“The Line Storm,” by John Steuart Curry, 1897-1946, a painting possibly inspired by the approach of a rights-producing storm in Curry’s home state of Kansas. 1934; Collection of Sidney Howard, New York; Lithograph at Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC)

Contributed/1934; Collection of Sidney Howard, New York; Lithograph from Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC/Photo is in the public domain in the United States.

“Everything I’ve read about that 1890 storm makes me think it was a ‘derecho,’ and that’s the new word we use to describe that type of storm in the late 1800s that would have been called a pure and simply a hurricane.” Wheeler said.

In addition to the damage to the McCarty home, dozens of other homes were destroyed, and a Northern Pacific train was overturned by the wind, injuring 18 people inside.

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The storm, which some called a tornado, of July 7, 1890, was strong enough to throw a Northern Pacific train off its tracks. Forum file photo

What happened to the McCarty family?

It probably didn’t matter much to the McCartys what the storm was called. For them, the storm changed their lives forever. Unfortunately, the sadness wasn’t over for the McCarty family. A little over a year after the storm, in July 1891, Katie died of an illness.

(In the 1890s, infectious diseases, including typhoid and diphtheria, hit North Dakota hard. )

Laura married William Ruthruff in 1893. She gave birth to three sons. Only one survived to adulthood. It was too much for Rose, who recovered physically from the storm’s injuries, but never recovered mentally from the deaths of so many loved ones. He died in 1896 at the age of 49.

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Rose McCarty survived her family’s tragic accident, but never fully recovered from the loss. She died six years later. Danielle Teigen / The Forum

After her death, Laura took over raising her 6-year-old brother, Jay. She quit teaching, enrolled in a business course, and eventually took a stenographer’s job once held by her older sister, Belle. She eventually became the chief stenographer for the North Dakota Democratic Central Committee.

When Laura’s husband died in 1902, she took her surviving son, Edgar, and younger brother, Jay, and moved to Idaho, hoping to put the sadness behind her.

She built a life there working as a justice of the peace for Clearwater County and remained active in the Democratic Party. He died in 1943 at the age of 70.

Jay McCarty told The Forum in 1950, when he had just turned 60, that his sister, Laura, raised him as if he were her own son.

“She was everything a mother could be. She gave me an affection that was everywhere. And not only was she a mother to me, but a loving sister and best friend all rolled into one person,” he wrote.

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Jay McCarty was born two months after seven of his family members were killed in a tornado on July 7, 1890. Katie, who was 8, was visiting her older sister, Laura, right, who was on a mission of teaching near Clifford, ND.

Forum/July file story

Photographer David Samson and I visited the McCarty graves at Holy Cross Cemetery just before the Fourth of July. It was a beautiful sunny day, so different from the last day of the McCarty children’s lives. As we stood looking at the tall marker noting their deaths, I wondered how many other people stood at the plot we were now in and noted how incredibly sad it all was, just like Dave and I.

Sometimes I wonder why we tell some of these old sad stories, cherishing the past. We debate the ethics of this, probably more often when it involves a true crime (like a story I wrote about the murders of a family near Turtle River in 1920.)

I know those of us who relate tragic stories, old or new, lose sleep over them. Maybe those who read them do too.

After all, the names on the tombstones were real people, and the dates inscribed in stone often represent lives cut too short.

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The James McCarty family headstone is located at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Fargo.

David Samson/The Forum

After Dave took the photo you see in this story, I went back to my car. Walking down the cemetery road, I looked at the headstones and thought about how many other stories of hardship and loss lie here. Is there something more than curiosity or voyeurism that we the living can glean from their experiences?

We can’t help but feel the heartache of the McCarty family and others, but perhaps, as history often says, we can learn from it.

On the surface, we can appreciate that science has given us advanced severe weather warning systems and greater knowledge of how to protect ourselves.

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Laura McCarty survived the storm of 1890 and raised her younger brother, Jay, as her own. He moved to Idaho and built a successful life for himself.

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We can also be thankful that childhood diseases that have killed millions like Katie McCarty have been largely eradicated by immunizations and antibiotics. (In an ironic twist of fate, I’m doing the final edits on this story with a bandaged hand after badly cutting my hand on a glass bowl over the holiday weekend. I was rushed to a hospital 15 minutes away, I was stitched up and given antibiotics. It hurts, but would I have been fine in 1890?)

We can also appreciate the grit and strength of survivors like Laura McCarty Ruthruff, who endured so much loss but thrived in the life she was given – lessons in perseverance.

So perhaps through sad stories we learn not only tangible things from the past, but also gratitude for the present.

We are so lucky. I have to remember that.

Next time I go to the cemetery, I must bring flowers.


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Tracy Briggs, “Back Then with Tracy Briggs” columnist.


Hi, I’m Tracy Briggs. Thanks for reading my column! I love going “Back Then” every week with stories about interesting people, places and things from our past. Check out a few below. If you have an idea for a story, email me at [email protected].