Bottineau County Tornadoes of 1911
On this date in 1911, the citizens of Antler, Sherwood, Westhope, and the surrounding communities were calculating their losses after a series of deadly tornadoes. Downed wires made the news of casualties and losses slow to spread. Speculation and miscommunication lead to widely differing tallies, as well as cases of mistaken identity. Martin Fryberg, a young farmer and a survivor of the storm, was reported dead in some dispatches, while purportedly only injured in others.
In the end, it was found that four area residents had been killed, while 20 or so had been injured. Two of those killed were at the Manning Grove picnic area just outside of Antler. Families were spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon in the grove when they were caught off-guard by the violent weather. As the tornado enveloped the park, townspeople scurried to take refuge in the narrow pavilion and among the trees. The storm uprooted the entire grove, leaving the dead and injured strewn about the grounds.
A total of six cyclones struck Bottineau County. Another of the victims was farmer Elmer Carlson’s three year old daughter, Margaret, who perished when the winds tossed aside the family home and outbuildings, located along Cutbank Creek, just outside of Westhope. The winds demolished many houses, barns, and granaries. The storm also took its toll on livestock, as eight horses were killed at the Smith farm near Antler.
The Antler tornado was photographed by several townspeople, and has since been categorized as an F5 – the most severe and damaging breed of tornado – based on the photos and firsthand accounts.
Catastrophes like the Bottineau County Tornadoes of 1911 eventually lead to the development of modern warning systems and weather forecasting technologies. In the early 1900s, though, North Dakotans relied only on nonscientific means to interpret weather patterns. However, as we all know, weather on the plains can be unpredictable to say the least. It would be several decades until Civil Defense sirens and other warnings would be implemented to alert locals of extreme weather. Even then, it wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that meteorologists began to use radar, which took several decades more to evolve into its current form.
Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, and local law enforcement use a plethora of technologies to predict, detect, and communicate the outbreak of severe weather. The combined efforts of these organizations make it possible for all of us to avoid the type of unfortunate surprise that the citizens of Antler, Westhope, and Sherwood experienced on that fateful day. Yet despite these advancements, it never hurts to stay on the lookout for changing weather conditions in your own backyard.
Dakota Datebook written by Ben Lundquist
“Antler History.” Antler, North Dakota. 2010.
Atlas, David. "Radar in Meteorology", published by American Meteorological Society.
“History of Westhope.” Westhope, North Dakota. 2010.
“Six Cyclones Swept Through Bottineau County Last Night.” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Monday August 21 1911.