Remembering the 100th anniversary of the Melva tornado

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MELVA, Mo. – Just one week ago, Nashville was devastated by a tornado that claimed at least 24 lives.

The south and midwest know all too well how life can change in a matter of minutes all because of mother nature.

It was 100 years ago tomorrow, March 11, a town called Melva was here and then not.

At the turn of the 20th century, this area south of Hollister was a mining district.

And right here was a whistle-stop on the railroad. But a hundred years ago, that all changed.

“Storm system had produced a major tornado that started around the Long Creek Bridge/Big Cedar Lodge, and it came across Turkey Creek and hit the families of Melva destroyed the town,” Tammy Morton a historian said. “Eleven people died. Right here. Nine of those were children.”

This tiny Ozarks town became a place of tragedy on that march day in 1920.

“The Mahnkey children went to the Box children to play,” Morton said. “Their house was right on the creek and when the tornado hit they were all thrown into Turkey Creek which was at flood stage.”

For Morton and Angel Wolf, these stories are personal.

“My great-great-grandparents were Mary Elizabeth and Preston Mahnkey,” historian Angel Wolf. “They owned the general store and post office.”

“Little Bill was the youngest child of Preston and Mary Elizabeth Mahnkey,” Morton said. “He was seven years old.

Little Bill was playing with his big brother Reggie.

“At one point I think he even had ahold of Little Bill’s coat but the current was too swift and it swept him on downstream,” Wolf said.

“His mother was a writer and a poet and she wrote a poem called, ‘Lost,’ Morton said. “And basically, a lament about ‘how could we have failed him, Lord? To let him struggle in the dark waters to die alone?'”

Both historians find profound meaning in their research.

“We don’t want to remember the tragedy as much as we want to remember the people and all the good stories that came out of Melva,” Morton said.

“There were people living ordinary lives and it, just like that, it can change,” Wolf said. “I think any lesson anybody could take out of it is you don’t know how much time you have.”

Tomorrow, March 11, is the anniversary of the tornado.

If you want to learn more, there will be a Melva presentation at 5 p.m. at the Branson Centennial Museum.

As well as a 2 p.m. Tuesday talk on March 17 at the Branson Centennial Museum.

A presentation at Hollister’s Hat-titude Ball is planned as well on May 1.

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