El Paso Remembers April 18, 1880

From the White County Historical Society

El Paso is on a line that divides the Arkansas lowlands and uplands. This has always been an area of tornadic activity, and El Paso has had its share of severe storms.

Sunday, April 18, 1880, is a date the town would like to forget but probably never will.

About 9 that evening a storm that had been brewing for some time in the southwest burst upon the town with a wild fury, carrying away virtually everything in its pathway, tearing down trees and taking them off as if composed of the lightest material.

Five people lost their lives, including a mother and three children.

According to a state newspaper’s (Arkansas Democrat) account, nine homes were "blown away," several farms received major damage and countless property was blown out of sight.

Otha Poole of El Paso was badly injured but survived along with this daughter Martha. However, his wife and three other children were all found dead. They included William, 6, who was found three-fourths of a mile from the family home; Calep, 3, who was found a half-mile away; and an infant, Elberta, who was found in her mother’s arms.

John Aclin of El Paso was seriously injured and died the following day.

Distraught and still suffering from his injuries, Poole died (committed suicide) the following year. His employer, Calep Warren, acted as guardian to his daughter Martha and later funded her education at Ouachita College in Arkadelphia.

According to another state newspaper (Arkansas Gazette) article, about $35,000 in cash was carried off by the wind. Most of it was recovered but one package of $1,000 and $500 in gold was never found.

The town is almost gone today but in 1880 it was difficult to find a vacant hitching post for your horse. The post-war years were prosperous for the people of El Paso. Merchants were busy and the saloons were full. Until the early ‘80s, the flour and grist mills were humming and the cotton gins were kept busy in the fall. Although the people worked together and rebuilt the town after the tornado, El Paso is much different today.

The White County Historical Society may be contacted at P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145.