Editor’s note: This is the third part in a series of columns by Dusty Williams detailing the history of the city of Canaan.
Another old account of the tornado event was as follows:
Storms were battering the countryside as far north as Oklahoma. The residents of neighboring Delba, Trenton, Whitewright and Canaan lay awake listening to the howling outside their homes. A Katy freight train chugged toward Canaan through the downpour. The force of two cyclones moving from the southeast shattered the drenched night.
When the funnels had passed minutes later, 24 persons in the area where Grayson, Fannin and Collin counties meet were dead or dying. Canaan’s Presbyterian church building, school house, general store, Vaughn & White gin plant, and warehouse, railroad cotton wharf and five cottages near the gin were destroyed. Three other residences were also destroyed.
A tombstone on the grave of the father of J. B. Hamilton of Whitewright was picked from its place and dragged backward through the air to land in the Bois’d Arc Creek east of Whitewright — the direction from which the tornado came. An old man plowing a field found it there a year later and returned it to Hamilton.
Flight to Oklahoma
A picture of Whitewright Mayor Russell Summers’ uncle was blown from the house of his grandparents — and found later in Oklahoma. A garage door from Trenton dropped to earth in Whitewright.
Half of the gravestones in Whitewright’s Oak Hill Cemetery “blew over as if they were paper” in the words of Whitewright City Clerk Harold Doss. Rocking chairs leaning against the wall of a Trenton furniture store were still in place after the wall was scattered rubble.
Hen stays on nest
And although the house and outbuildings of Tom May crumbled into stone and dust, one of May’s hens remained sitting undisturbed on her eggs.
Ironically, the hen survived May and his wife, the parents of Sherman’s Gomer May, according to Doss. The fate of the couple was one of the tragedies wrought by the killer storm. Their home stood near the path of the huge, funnel-shaped electrical cloud as it moved slowly northwest, its small end sweeping the ground. Mrs. May died in the afternoon a day later, while her husband lay unconscious until he died the following Tuesday.
As the tornado approached the southeast part of Whitewright, apparently following the draws except where they led into abrupt turns, it split in two. One funnel continued toward its rendezvous with Canaan, the other heading toward Ector, where it swept away the Huffaker home, killing Sam and Carl Huffaker, who preferred to stay in the house rather than follow their family into the storm cellar.
Saved in cellar
As the fury spun through Canaan it smashed five cottages near the cotton gin, Frank Clark and children, Walsh, Clements and family and a Mr. Yelvington and family, occupants of three of the buildings, took refuge in storm cellars. One other building was occupied by Grover Atnip and family who, like the Huffaker boys, stayed in their home.
Mrs. Atnip and the children were later rescued from a wheat field into which they were blown 100 yards north of the cottage. Atnip was not found until water brought by the tornado’s torrential rains had subsided in a nearby ravine. The father was laying on a mattress at the bottom — bruised, bloody and dead.
Watched storm cloud
Summers was in his family home near Trenton at the time. Because of three feet of water standing in the storm cellar, the family had to remain in the house.
“I was sitting in my upstairs window, and I could watch the black cloud pass,” Summers said.
The house of one of his uncles, M. H. Barrett, was endangered, the mayor recalled. When friends came to his rescue the next morning, Barrett was calmly playing his fiddle.
But in Canaan the aftermath of the tornado revealed the entire 40 to 50 population of the neighborhood to be homeless. The community’s obituary was a simple one — Canaan was part of the result of the exodus of displaced Southerners to the Whitewright area after the Civil War, according to Hamilton. Presbyterians and Methodists staked their claims in the neighborhood around the cotton gin. Soon there were a store and a school. Fifty years later, in 1919, the wandering Southerners were forced to resume their wandering, this time not far from the immediate area, however.”
Today, Canaan has completely disappeared and there are few, if any, local citizens who recall the small community. At one time, all that was left of the community was the storm cellar that accompanied the school house west of the railroad tracks.
Dusty Williams is a ninth generation Grayson County resident, author and local historian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org