National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Mr. Roy Greene:
Interview conducted May 14th, 2007

Mr. Greene was 17 years old at the time of the tornado. The first thing he remembers from that day was what the weather was like before the storm. "The air was almost so thick you could cut it with a knife", he said. He went on to say, "It was still, just dead still, very humid and it was the kind of day you just knew it just had to do something." "He remembers that he looked back towards the west southwest and it was black, but it was clear in town. He was outside and watching the storm as it was approaching and began to see the wind pick up in the trees. He said he soon realized that "something was going down." He said that he never had any experience with storms but he just knew that it was bad by how dark the sky was. "It was so dark, you had to have a light on to see by." He never did see the tornado, but stated that he had thought to himself "you better get underground."  So he took shelter in the storm cellar back behind his house, where his mother Gertrude and his three sisters joined him. He said that it was over in a minute but he described the noise he heard as a scream. "You could hear stuff popping together as it hit, like wood or whatever", he stated.  Roy revealed that the tornado probably started on the other side of Highway 19 in Shannon County, but that it was not too bad down there, but it was "building up a head of steam" as it headed toward Fremont. After stepping out of the cellar, he described the scene as a "wipeout". When asked if he was surprised to see damage of this magnitude, he said, "Not from what I heard while in the cellar. I knew it was going to be bad when we came out." Afterwards, he said "people began to gather up, looking for everybody." He said that his older brother was across the street in a store building, which had a basement. He had looked out and saw that the store was still standing, so he knew his brother was alright. Della Jones lived right next door and as you probably read from Junior Jones's interview, Della tried to warn her daughter in law (Marlene) and her two children about the tornado, but unfortunately, did not survive. Roy recalls, "As Della went by our house, she walked right up the hill past our house to get up to Marlene's, and Mom told her grab those kids and Marlene get back down here to the cellar." Roy said that the little girl, Theresa was found behind a rose bush, unconscious but alive. He said that his mother Gertrude babysat Theresa alot after the tornado. Roy and Junior Jones's younger brother Carl had found little Dewayne Jones about 150-200 yards from the house. Roy does not remember if the Red Cross had set up any shelters for the victims of the tornado, they just set up at the Methodist Church in town and gave out food and water. So he went to spend the night at his uncle's house out in the country.  His mother stayed with a friend in town and he wasn't even sure where his sisters ended up staying. "People just took other people in, relatives or not", he said.  His mother's house was heavily damaged and not inhabitable after the tornado.  "In the kitchen, there was a table and on that table was a tablecloth, and on top of that was an old mixing bowl that wasn't worth fifteen cents. After the storm, the table was there, and the old mixing bowl was there, but the tablecloth wasn't there!"


Mr. Albert Pennington:
Interview conducted May 14th, 2007

Albert was around 6 years old when the tornado struck. He remembers how clear it was before the storm hit. But he says "it was a mean looking thing when it showed up." He lived down in the valley about a mile and half from Fremont and was in his cellar when the tornado roared through town. He said the tornado did serious damage to his house.  It didn't total it but he was in a storm cellar behind the house. Since the debris from the tornado blocked the roads, they had to walk into Fremont. Even though he was a small boy at the time, he was coming to the realization that he was experiencing a serious situation, as he watched people being pulled from the wreckage on the lower end of town.  He recalls hearing about how many people took refuge in the basement in the store where Roy's brother sought shelter.  He said that the store owner began hollering to people on the street to get inside and into the basement.  He remembers that the tornado "twisted it (the store) and amazingly it straightened back up pretty good."  Mr. Pennington mentioned "the fortunate thing about this, if there is such a thing, it was the time a day it hit." He continues "if it hit at 3 o'clock in the morning, it would have probably killed a lot more people, there is just no doubt about it."  He recalls hearing about a bulldozer that was working on a bridge near a creek on the lower end of town.  The man on the bulldozer saw the storm coming and took the dozer out of gear and crawled under it. He said that the tornado did not move the bull dozer. However, another man, Jack, was cutting hay nearby and he did the same thing, crawled underneath his tractor. But the tornado dragged the tractor all over the field and injured Jack as he hung onto the tractor.  He said that his sister and other townspeople walked up the main street and it had looked like a bomb went off, with all the trees, cars and parts of houses all over the place.  After they searched for survivors, they took the bulldozer and cleared the streets. Albert said that they were lucky that the bulldozer was in town doing work, otherwise they would have been in trouble. They didn't have tractors and other machinery to clean up like we do now.  Since the main street was clear, cars could take people to the hospital etc.


Mrs. Ann Simpson:
Interview conducted May 14th, 2007

Mrs. Ann Simpson did not live in Fremont at the time of the tornado. She and her husband Don lived in St. Louis. However, Don was from Fremont. Shortly after the tornado occurred, Ann said that she received a phone call from her aunt who said that Fremont had been blown away. Her aunt had heard about it on the news in St. Louis. Don's mother, Maude Simpson and his sister Mary Lou and her husband lived in Fremont. After the call from her aunt, Ann and Don immediately drove down to Fremont that evening. Once they arrived at Fremont, Mr. Simpson jumped out of the car and talked to a man who was standing there, who happened to be a friend of his named Don. Ann said that her husband asked Don "Did she make it?" And Don said "No Don, she didn't." Ann's husband was asking about his mother, Maude. There was a state highway patrolman there who was preventing people from going into town. Ann remembers that her husband's friend Don told the patrolman "this man has every right to be down there."
Ann said that the first place they went to was Mary Lou's house. Ann recalls that "nobody wanted to go to bed, everybody was scared." Ann had a brother in town, which she knew was ok, but at 200 am, she decided to walk down the street to check on him. She knocked on the door and nobody answered. She went inside and saw that no one was home...she soon figured out why. She looked up and there was no roof on the house! Her brother was staying with someone else.

Mary Lou had been down at her mother's house (Maude), which sat right on Main Street. She was helping her mother clean up after a flood occurred about a week or two before. Mary Lou was down in the cellar with her mother helping her clean up, when she came up and looked outside. Mary Lou exclaimed, Mom it looks really bad and I've got some windows open back at my house; I better go up and close them. Mary Lou got to her house and closed her windows and she said to her kids, it looks really bad out there, let's go up where your Dad (Red) is at. Red had a garage up on Highway 60. Red was standing in the doorway watching the clouds it blew him out of the station but he was alright.  Mary Lou had loaded up her 3 kids and started to drive up the hill to the junction (Hwy 60) and she saw the school blow away.  She huddled her kids down in the car and a wire fell on the car. She looked up and saw Red running down the road to check on them. Ann made it clear that I needed to verify this story with her sister in law (Mary Lou).  I hope to be able to speak with Mary Lou and/or Red in the future.

Mrs. Patty Smith:
Interview conducted May 22nd, 2007

Patty and her husband owned a general store in Eastwood at the time and saw the storm as it passed by to their north. After the tornado, Patty went into Van Buren to see if she could help out somehow. She was a Practical Nurse. There was a doctor’s office in town that she periodically volunteered at. She decided to see if the office needed some help with the injured. When she got there, the nurse on duty was just hysterical and the doctor decided to send her home. When Patty asked the doctor whether or not he needed her help, he said absolutely! She said that she saw about 10-12 patients. One patient was a fisherman who hid under a bridge when the tornado struck in Van Buren. His head was cut open and she helped the doctor sew him back up. She also saw little Theresa Jones, whose mother Marlene and brother DeWayne were killed in the tornado in Fremont. Theresa was found in the top of a tree that had fallen, about a half mile from her house. She had a broken thigh and a stick was driven into her head behind her ear. Patty said that Theresa was unconscious when she arrived, but her wounds were taken care of and then she was sent to the hospital in Poplar Bluff. Patty said she also saw a woman who had a heart attack when someone had told her that her husband (James Renick) had died in the tornado. Patty said she remembers that the damage in Van Buren was the worst right along the river. However, Patty spent most of her time trying to help whoever needed assistance after the tornado.

Mr. Junior Jones:
Interview conducted May 11th, 2007

Junior was 17 years old at the time. He was driving with his father on US 60 east toward Fremont. They were about a half mile from town when they had to stop and let the monster storm pass right in front of them. Little did they know what was going to greet them when they arrived in town. As the storm passed in front of them, Mr. Jones said he saw trees, limbs and other debris rolling across the road and even heard a roaring sound, but he said he had no idea there was a tornado. After they let the storm pass, they continued into town and began to see the devastation. The first thing Mr. Jones said he remembers seeing was the school house, which was flattened. He mentioned that as much as he hated school, he was sure saddened by seeing the destruction. As he was heading downtown, he looked up toward the hill where his cousin (Edward Jones) and his wife (Marlene Jones) and two children (Theresa and DeWayne Jones) lived. He saw that the house was completely gone. When he went to investigate the damage, he found Marlene and Dewayne did not make it. Theresa was alive but very badly injured. He also discovered that Marlene’s mother in law, Mrs. Della Jones, did not survive. Mr. Jones found out that Della was actually running up the hill to try and warn her daughter in law and grandchildren of the storm, but got caught in the tornado.


Mr. Cordell Smith:
Story submitted May 29th, 2007

I was 16 years old and was crossing the Current River bridge at Van Buren when the sky , all of a sudden, seemed full of everything,limbs, leaves, and just debris of all kinds. I turned my jeep around on the bridge and headed home which was about four blocks, very scary. My father, Luin Smith and I watched from our cellar door as the storm jerked a huge Mulberry tree away from the back of our house. When the storm had passed we heard Fremont had been blown away. We owned the telephone company and knew we needed to be at Fremont as soon as possible. When we reached Main Street it looked like there was nothing left including the telephone office. The wind had lifted the building up and off the concrete floor and laid the switchboard out in the back yard. The electric co.( Hawk Daniels and Charles Coleman ) lifted it into our truck with their line truck and we hauled it to our home in Van Buren. With their help we rolled it on planks and pipes into our kitchen and began to take it apart. As we did that my mother,  Dorothy Smith , began drying the relays and other parts in her oven. Each piece had to be cleaned and many had to be readjusted. This went on all night and into the next two days. In the meantime Luin contacted a contractor to set a new Armco metal building on the old foundation which was done in a few days and was ready. We took the switchboard back and set it in the new office and began to run lines to the few remaining houses getting service to as many as possible in the shortest amount of time. At the same time I helped the Ozark Border, Hawk and Charlie, pull new lines and carried tools they would need to but the lines in the air on their poles. When Luin turned the switchboard unit up, it worked like a charm and was in service for several years after that until we had to enlarge the whole office and system due to the growth of Fremont. This was a terrible and hard time for both Fremont and Van Buren, but as always, everyone pulled together and worked for each other and it wasn't long before the towns began to take shape again and began to look normal once more. But the people would not forget for a long time or possibly ever. There is a different kind of love and dedication to each other in these kind of times. I believe it comes from deep within the heart of hearts, from places reserved for tragedy and understanding of this magnitude. Just like one big family everyone worked together, leaving their own broken homes to go down the street or next door to help someone else. Its hard to describe but I know it is all from the love of God and fellow man and this is what makes good neighbors.

Mr. Jim Hilterbrand:

In May of 1957 with graduation approaching for Van Buren, Missouri high school, the tornado struck.  A young man named Dick Thornton lived on Trumble Hill with his family.  His cap and gown were lost to the winds of the tornado.  As I recall it was too late to get another so Dick graduated without a cap or gown.

Mrs. Diane (Burrows) Perry
Interview Conducted May 31st, 2007:

Mrs. Perry was 13 years old at the time of the tornado and living in Fremont at the time. Her mother and father went to Poplar Bluff for the day and left her Grandma and Grandpa to run their general store. Diane was at the store with her grandparents. They were all sitting on the front porch of the store with the Postmaster, L.D. Smith. and Mrs. Smith. They saw the tornado approaching and her Grandpa said, we need jump in the car and get down to the house (he lived a mile below town) and into the cellar.  And as a typical 13 year old, she said, No - Mom and Dad left me to run the store, and I'm gonna run the store! And she wouldn't leave. Later on, her Grandpa said that is probably the only reason they lived, as they wouldn't have had time to get to the house and into the cellar.  They would have probably gotten caught up right in the middle of the storm.  So, they can into the store and got down on the floor. They had opened the back door, because someone had told them to do that. And when the tornado hit, that back door was flopping back and forth and groceries were flying off the shelves and hitting the floor. She decscribed the scene outside as if you were swimming in muddy water.  It looked muddy water outside, as trees were flying through the air. Then the glass windows in the front of the store began to break and pieces of glass were hitting them in the face. They had to move to behind the counter, so after that, she was unable to see anything else. After it was over, they went back outside to survey the damage. Her Grandma and Grandpa wanted to go down to the far end of town to check on Grandpa's sister, Alice, and her husband Jack, who were killed. So Diane was left at the store by herself and she remembers people just walking around like chickens with their heads cut off. Diane wanted to leave the store to see if her house was left intact. So she took the money from the register and stuck it under some newspapers and just walked out of the store and left the door open. Her house was on the west end of town and it was just fine. She wandered down Hwy 60 and joined the rest of the townspeople who were just wandering around, not knowing what to do. Then she went back to the store and waited for her parents to return to Fremont, which they did, about 3 hours later. Diane later added that her father worked in the tie yard across the street from the store and the railroad ties were blown away. However, blades of grass were stuck into the ties.

On a side note, Diane's sister, Linda Norton added a story about Alice and Jack Alley. About 3 weeks before the tornado hit, there was a flood that occurred in the lower end of town.  Jack and Alice lived near the creek that flooded. People were taking boats to the lower end of town to rescue residents living there. When they got to Jack and Alice's house, they found them on the very top of the house, just sitting there waiting for the water to recede. They refused to go with the rescuerers and adamently wanted to stay with their house. Three weeks later they were killed in the tornado, but they had stayed with their house.


D.J. Jones (Edward Jones)
Interview conducted June 19th, 2007:

D.J Jones was working about 10 miles south of Fremont cutting timber with his brothers. Someone had sent people to tell Mr. Jones that a tornado had struck Fremont and that he needed to come back to town. He remembers getting back into town around dark. By that time, townspeople had already found his wife, Marlene, son, DeWayne and mother, Della, had not survived the tornado. His daughter, Theresa, was found near his house, but was seriously injured. He says that the only way people were able to find her under the rubble was because she moved her arm and someone noticed her. He said that she spent 8 to 10 weeks in the hospital, and he remembers the numerous trips to Poplar Bluff to be with her. Mr. Jones's house was destroyed as well as his parent's house. Mr. Jones said that the tornado had pulled the plate right off the foundation and it was bolted to the foundation.  He also said that the tornado had blown his briefcase about a quarter to a half mile away from the house.
The documents inside were just fine. He mentioned that he remembers how blades of grass were embedded into the railroad ties from the two tie yards in town. He also remembers seeing a chicken with a straw blown through it. Mr. Jones, his brothers and his father moved to Winona while their homes were being rebuilt.  Mr. Jones's father stayed in Fremont until he died in 1988. One last thing Mr. Jones said was that he remembers the devasation to the school and how they were very lucky that school had just been let out the Friday before the storm hit.

Ivan Osborne

This is the account give to me by my dad, Ivan Osborne.  He had just turned 23 years old in April.  I was 10 months old at the time.  My mom, Shirley (Norris) Osborne and I were visiting her parents in Winona when the tornado hit.   Mom recalls that she remembers how bloody Dad was when he came to get us.  She thought at first that he had been injured, but it was from the other people that he had tried to help.

My husband, Sherman Shedd, had gone with his grandfather, Sidney Shedd, and Luin Roy, in Luin’s Sinclair truck to Van Buren or some point east of Fremont.  Sherman was too young to remember where they went, but he does remember that on the way back, the elder men realized there was a tornado.  They pulled the gas truck alongside the clay bank across from Norris’ Garage, where they rode out the storm. 

Fremont tornado, as told by Ivan Osborne:
"At 6:00 am:  My sister in law, Alta (Breedlove) Osborne said, “It’s coming a tornado!”  She had been in one at Heber Springs, AR.  She told my brother, Jay, to take her to the cellar.  I thought, “Maybe she knows something I don’t know.”   2:30 pm:  Everything was still . . . the leaves on the maple trees were turned right side up. There were no birds or insects.  All nature was silent.  On the way to Alma Lee Johnston’s cellar, I almost got struck by lightening.  A walnut tree was blown over by the wind.  As I went into the cellar, the top branches hit me in the back and gave me a “boost” into the cellar. 

The bridge we had just crossed blew away.  Pappy (Thomas Winston Osborne, my dad) bailed in the creek.  He hung on to a guy wire (or anchor)  . . . everything turned black.  I remember seeing debris flying past.  Pappy was back in a “depression”.  The cellar had no door.  Air pressure was so low it felt like my body was going to blow up.  It only lasted about 3-4 seconds, followed by crystal clean air.  I couldn’t recognize Pappy, because he was so grimy.  It was dry dirt, with no rain.  There was no water in the creek. 

Old men had parked themselves on a bench in front of the mercantile.  I ran into Elmo Huddleston (brother to Bertha Basham), but couldn’t recognize him.  I could only see the whites of his eyes.  I had to ask who they were.  He had gone into the creek run about 300 yards from where Pappy had been.  He seemed ok, but had blood from abrasion cuts.  I found “Fodder” (Doss) and Mary Hedgepeth laying in their neighbor’s yard.  I got them up, and went on to the lower end of town.  Jack and Alice Alley’s house had been picked up and set over in the creek run.  I heard somebody moaning.  Alice was under the house.  I got a 2 x 6, and pried the house up off her.  Rolla Johnson came.  He sat on the 2 x 6 to hold the house up while I crawled under to get Alice.  He got excited, and the house came down on both of us.  Alice wanted to know about Jack, her husband.  She said they had both been standing on the porch.  I looked for Jack, stumbled on something soft.  He was lying right in the gate.  I had stepped over him twice.  The third time, I stepped on him.  His shirt had blown over his face.  Dirt and soot had covered his body.  I pulled his shirt up, and realized it was Jack.  His face was clean.  I went back and told Alice that he was ok.  I didn’t want her to know.

Charley Hart, Elza Abrams, half a dozen men were sitting there.  I guess they were in shock.  I got up, and went down what used to be the street.  A man had been dozing down by the Pentecost Church.  Fodder had hired him to clear out his creek run.  His name was Roy Rogers.  He lived at Birch Tree.  He just died about two months ago.  He ran a dozer for Shorty Powell.  I asked him if he would take the dozer and clear a path out by Fodder’s dairy barn – between town and Norris garage.  He said, “I’ll do it if you’ll walk in front.” Bead (Calvin) Bell, married to Ruby Norris, put the injured in the back of his pickup so they could get to the Methodist Church on the west end of the street.  Phil Lueckle and Seaton Pruitt had the only ambulance (at Van Buren).  People began to show up.   They couldn’t get to the lower (east) end.  They had found Mary Lou Norris’ mom.  She was in her front yard.  Delmar Jones’ wife, Della, had run up on top of the hill to warn her daughter in law and two children about the storm.  They didn’t find Della until late that evening, down by the rail road tracks, entangled in fence wire.  Red and Earn’s garage blew away, and pulverized the building.  Delmar and Edward had been working in the log woods.  Delmar lost his saw mill, no insurance.  Salvation Army and Red Cross came and set up at the Methodist church.  They provided blankets, meals, and clothing.  Dark came, people had gathered the living and took them to the hospital at Poplar Bluff.  Alice Alley died on the way to the hospital."

On a lighter note:  For all of you who know my Dad, you can choose to believe the following story at your own risk.   He says he heard a rooster crowing.  He finally found it inside a brown ½ gallon Purex bottle.  He said he had to break the bottle to get him out.

~Submitted by Michelle Osborne Shedd. Dec. 23, 2007.



Donita Barkley

My memory of the Fremont tornado… I was about 6 ½ years old at the time and was with my parents (Don & Lois Barkley) at Winona, standing on the porch of my grandparents’ (John & Esther Barkley) home, looking at the sky, watching the tornado or the weather that created the tornado, that hit Fremont. The mood was somber, anxious, foreboding. My dad was holding me up so I could see and we were gazing in an east-southeasterly direction, to where Fremont was located about 10 miles from Winona. I remember the greenish-black clouds, the stillness, the quiet of that awful day. When word was received that Fremont had been devastated by a tornado, my dad, and probably other family members, went down there to help. My mom had family (Norris, Jones) living there. ~Submitted by Donita Barkley.

Carol Black Duff

The following is my recall of that horrible day.  I was 7 years old when this tornado struck.  The Freemont school had only been out for the year for a few days.  On that Sunday morning, I remember that the skies were clear but it was very warm and humid.  My dad, Loyd Black was a forest ranger and we lived at the tower site about 3 miles out of Freemont.  Our family had to make a trip to Willow Springs that day as my grandmother had passed away the week before and my mother, Johnabell, wanted to spend the day with her sister and tie up loose ends of my grandmothers estate.    When we left Willow Springs, my mother wanted to stop in Mountain View so she could get some Thank You cards from the funeral home that handled my grandmothers funeral.  My dad went into the funeral home and when he came out, he was very pale and shaking.  When mom asked what was wrong, he said that Freemont had been struck by a tornado and there was nothing left.  That the tower was still standing but that there was no information on whether the house was still there.  My oldest brother, Larry, had stayed home that day so they were very concerned about his well being. Once we made it home, the house was intact but my brother was not there.  My dad left then to go to Freemont to try to find him and help where he could.  It turned out that Larry had gone to town to help.    As so many people had lost everything, my parents opened up our small house to whoever needed shelter.  We had people sleeping on the floor or anywhere else they could find to lay their heads.  Not that much sleep was possible as we spent a good portion of the night in the basement.  My mother swore that several tornados passed over that night.    The next day, the Red Cross showed up and set up camp in our front yard. Our family were close friends of Red and Mary Lou Norris.  Red had lost his service station and began moving what was salvagable to our garage. I can't remember how many days that my parents offered food and shelter to those without a home, but it was several.    As Freemont was such a small town, our family knew each and every person that died that day.  To this day, whenever I have the occasion to drive through Freemont, I always look up at the hill where the school house was and down the street where so much was lost.  These are my memories.