Posted By admin on July 28, 2010
Monday’s tornado in northeastern Montana was the strongest of a series of twisters that have done damage in the state this summer. The best known was the one in Billings on Father’s Day that ravaged the state’s premier indoor arena, the Metra, but this one was deadlier, killing a child and a 46-year-old man on a ranch near Reserve (population 37), which is between Plentywood and Medicine Lake in Sheridan County, the state’s northeastern most county.
Some reports said it was the deadliest tornado to hit the state since June 10, 1923, when two men were killed by a falling tree as a tornado hit a copper mine near Rivulet in, of all supposedly tornado-proof places, Mineral County. But newspapers of the time said two also died when a tornado hit the Fort Peck area on July 8, 1935. The fatalities were in Wheeler, one of 18 “mushroom” towns that sprung up during construction of the Fort Peck Dam (1933-1940). Here’s how the New York Times cast the aftermath:
“GLASGOW, Mont., July 9, 1935 — Two thousand homeless sought refuge tonight from the desolation wrought in the Fort Peck Dam area last night by tornadoes which lashed little “pasteboard towns,” killed two persons, injured thirteen seriously and put the mushroom villages in shambles.”
Wheeler, which was leveled when the tornado followed a night of torrential rain, was built outside official government jurisdiction. Another newspaper report at the time said Wheeler was constructed on a high knoll on the banks of the Missouri, some six or seven miles from the dam itself. A story on Fort Peck in a 2004 edition of Montana Magazine quoted Ernie Pyle, the famed war correspondent:
“You have to see the town of Wheeler to believe it. When you drive through, you think somebody must have set up hand-painted store fronts on both sides of the road, as background for a western movie thriller. But it’s real. At night the streets are a melee of drunken men and painted women, as they are called in books. Gambling and liquor by the drink are illegal in Montana. But Wheeler pays no attention. You can sit in a stud game, or keep ordering forty-rod all night.”