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A 1928 tornado wreaked havoc on the town of Davis. Click to enlarge photo.
A 1928 tornado wreaked havoc on the town of Davis. Click to enlarge photo.

The Day Davis Nearly Disappeared

Mar 28, 2012

In the last 15 years, powerful tornadoes completely destroyed the town of Manchester in Kingsbury County, and nearly wiped Spencer off the map. In 1928, the town of Davis in Turner County almost met the same fate.

Tom Firney of Scotland sent us a photo showing the aftermath of the late summer storm. He found it while combing through old family photographs and planned to simply throw it away, but something about the compelling image made him hold onto it. I invited him to send it to our Yankton office.

The photo shows three people sitting on a curb, surrounded by piles of debris. Townspeople (presumably) are in the frame, surveying the damage. A note written on the back says, “Mamma and Dad were over Sept. 14, and said it was a pitiful sight.”

That day – September 13, 1928 – the town of Davis fell victim to a tornado outbreak in southeastern South Dakota and northeastern Nebraska that killed eight people and caused over $1 million in damages. At the time, 250 people lived in Davis. Almost half of them were injured.

Much of the damage occurred just across the Missouri River in Nebraska, where a twister demolished four country schools as it headed toward Sioux City. At the first schoolhouse, a nearby farmer who was watching the storm ran to the school and helped the teacher herd the children into an adjacent storm cave. Everyone survived, but the children at the next school were not as fortunate. There, the teacher told students to lie on the floor and hold hands as the powerful tornado lifted the schoolhouse and swept it away. Two students were killed. At another school, a farmer loaded his car with children and drove them to safety. He offered to take the teacher, but she refused. Her body was found after the storm with the doorknob of the schoolhouse in her hand.

The twister stopped just short of Sioux City. To many people, that justified an old Indian legend that the city is naturally protected from tornadoes because three rivers – the Missouri, the Big Sioux and the Floyd – converge there.

The event was surreal for those who lived through it. One survivor said the day “was like a person experiences when taking ether.” Those who lived through the Manchester and Spencer twisters would agree.


10:16 am - Fri, March 30 2012
Heidi said:
I've never heard of the three-rivers legend in Sioux City, but it makes sense. I'm not a meteorologist, but I sometimes think the changing climate over water can slow or alter a storm. I always feel a little safer living close to the Missouri River. Of course, this last spring didn't bring that same security as it used to.
02:22 am - Tue, February 5 2013
Dan Bong said:
My mother's sister, Henrietta (Reynolds) Cramer, was among those who died in the 1928 tornado that swept through Davis. She was survived by her husband Jake and their two daughters Mildred and Carol. A relative who lives in Moses Lake, Washington has several pictures, inherited from his mother, which show the devestation that the tornado caused.

Submitted by Dan Bong
Wenatchee, Washington
Son of Pearl M. (Reynolds) Bong & Lawerence W. Bong
04:35 am - Sat, March 2 2013
Jørn Rasmussen said:
My grandmother's brother Peter Holse lived in Davis in 1930, and I remember to have seen two photos of a town before and after a tornado. Unfortunately I don't know where the photos are right now.
09:18 am - Fri, May 24 2013
faith (Sylliaasen) Tyler said:
I have been told that my father"s( Leo Sylliaasen of Yankton) cousin Mildred Josephine Sylliaasen and her maternal uncle Oscar Haugen from Marindahl
were killed by the cyclone of 1928 She had gone to live with Oscar and his wife after her mother passed away when she was about 7 years old She was 11 when she died ..
12:59 pm - Sat, December 24 2016
If anyone has stories and/or pictures of Davis SD, before and/or after the tornado we would appreciate copies. My sister and I own The Solace Farm General Store in Davis and are tying to build a timeline of information and photos to display in our store..

thank you,
03:11 pm - Wed, April 7 2021
Derek Smit said:
My grandmother was Mildred Smit whose mother Henrietta was killed in the 1928 Davis Tornado. I would love to hear more about that side of my family if anybody has any information.

10:55 am - Fri, March 18 2022
Pamela Plimpton said:
Interesting as I read through the comments, Mr. Dan Bong references his aunt Mildred who died on the tornado. We have been very close friends of her daughter Carol for years. We have heard the story of Carol being found in a tree after the tornado. :( My uncle (Pete Meyer, Jr) is the relative in Moses Lake, WA that has the photos that you mentioned. Uncle Jr passed away Nov 1, 2021 & I have no come into possession of these photos. The devastation is unreal. What a small world! Derek Smit, I did not know Mildred well, but have known her sister Carol (the other survivor) for my entire life. I don't know a lot about the story, just that Carol had told us that she was found in a tree after the storm.
10:56 am - Fri, March 18 2022
Pamela Plimpton said:
Sorry, Dan. Not your aunt Mildred. I meant to say your aunt Henrietta. Got the generations mixed up there......
09:03 pm - Tue, July 11 2023
Derek Smit said:
Pamela, I was always told that Henrietta was holding on to Mildred and Carol when she was hit with a piece of debris that killed her. I was also told that Carol was found in a tree. Pretty remarkable story.

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