|X's mark where houses once stood after 1913 Lower Peach Tree tornado.|
Today, March 21, marks the 105th anniversary of the deadliest weather event in Wilcox County history – the 1913 Lower Peach Tree Tornado.
This lethal tornado was part of one of the worst severe weather events in American history – the Great Easter Flood of 1913, which was the result of an enormous winter storm system that resulted in hundreds of fatalities and property damage across the nation. The storm system, which raged on and off for at least two weeks, struck a total of 15 states and resulted in fatalities across the country with Alabama being the hardest hit. No community in Alabama suffered more than Lower Peach Tree, a community of about 400 residents in 1913.
Much of what is known about the Lower Peach Tree Tornado comes from newspaper accounts of that time, and almost every report agreed that the tornado struck between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. on March 21, which was Good Friday. Newspapers reported that this powerful tornado “practically wiped out” Lower Peach Tree, sweeping a large section of the town completely off the map. The path of the tornado, which had a path about a quarter-mile wide, “reduced to kindling in a twinkling” many of Lower Peach Tree’s stores and residences.
In its wake, the tornado left at least 27 people dead, at least 68 with serious injuries and up to 30 people missing immediately after the storm. According to newspaper accounts, the dead that day included George Williamson’s wife and son, Mrs. L.D. Bryant and her four children, a Mrs. Cooper and her daughter, two children of Jim Baker, and Mr. and Mrs. Jim Clarke. Many of these corpses were found with the “hair stripped from their heads and divested of every thread of clothing” by the tornado’s winds.
The dead that day also included Mary Watson of Selma. Watson was in Lower Peach Tree visiting the Stabler family and was crossing a hallway when the tornado hit their house. She was reportedly swept down the hallway, out the back of the house, and was blown against a tree, breaking her back.
The seriously injured that day included Mrs. and Mrs. Jim Baker and their two children; Misses Ida, Irma and Johnnie Cooper; Portis Stabler, his wife and children; Mrs. Stabler’s mother; Dr. Ed King; a Miss Williamson; Mr. and Mrs. Sam Irby; Mr. Milledge; and J.M. Kirk and his wife. The Red Cross responded immediately to the disaster and reported that at least 200 Lower Peach Tree residents were left homeless by the tornado, which destroyed an estimated 100 homes.
Modern researchers estimate that the Lower Peach Tree Tornado was a F4 tornado on the modern Fujita scale. In addition to the damage mentioned above, the Baptist Church at Lower Peach Tree was blown from its foundations, high winds stripped the bark from trees and fence pickets were driven deep into tree trunks like wind-driven nails. One account said that the tornado sucked an entire iron bedframe from one house and wrapped it completely around a tree.
In the end, there is little doubt that this was one of the most catastrophic weather events in not only Wilcox County history but also in Alabama history. With that said, I am trying to compile a complete list of those killed at Lower Peach Tree on March 21, 1913 and I currently have only been able to assemble a partial list. If anyone in the reading audience has more information that they would like to share, please let me hear from you.