Archive for Saturday, May 13, 2000

Storm destroys legend of Chief Tonganoxie

May 13, 2000

Legend has it that Chief Tonganoxie once predicted a tornado would never touch down in these parts. Whether he actually made such a proclamation is up for debate.

"It might have been a drunken pioneer who made that one up," said longtime resident John Lenahan.

Up until Thursday night's tornado, which touched down on the west side of town and caused damage to several structures, not to mention hundreds of trees, Chief Tonganoxie's alleged prediction had proven to be somewhat prophetic.

"Basically, I'd have to say we've been very fortunate in this area," said Fred Leimkuhler, who has lived on the outskirts of town since 1929.

There was that small twister that blew off the front porch of Leimkuhler's home in the mid-1970s and caused some damage to a barn, Leimkuhler said.

"There was no big damage," he said. "The insurance company came out and couldn't believe there was more damage.

We have a house that was built in 1865 and it is still standing. "That tells me there hasn't been many tornadoes in these parts."

Nearby Oskaloosa lost its courthouse at that time the oldest courthouse in Kansas during a tornado in the 1960s, according to Leimkuhler.

There was also wind that blew through town in 1896 and knocked the roof off Laming Hall, where the Kansas Populist Party, a political power in that era, was having a meeting.

"Many local folks thought that was an omen for the Populist Party," Leimkuhler said.

Lenahan, who has written two books on the community's history, remembers a bad wind in 1939.

"It came through and got a couple of chicken houses and tore up a roof, but it was nothing major," he said. "This is probably the worst I've seen. We've had winds, but this was a tornado. This had a vacuum. It sucked the roofs right off the buildings. This was bad."

Bad enough to make Lenahan question Chief Tonganoxie's proclamation.

Some local historians had discounted that theory years ago.

"Anyone like Chief Tonganoxie always has a lot of legends attributed to him," Leimkuhler said. "We always have to separate the man from the legend. That happens when a person like him comes along.

"It's just a nice story, but he certainly wasn't right, was he?"

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