By John Hernandez
Monsoon season in Arizona usually brings badly needed rain to the deserts and mountains of the state, including the Copper Corridor. It also brings high winds, lightning and flooding, which on occasion have caused damage to people and property, sometimes severe damage.
We have all seen the damage the flooding of the Gila River can cause. Many of us have had wind and rain damage the roofs of our homes or seen power poles knocked down or snapped in half by the high winds, most recently along the highway near Dudleyville.
One of these monsoon storms caused tremendous damage and destruction to the towns of Winkelman and Hayden. This was before the term monsoon was used to describe our summer rain storms. Newspapers of the day referred to it as a cyclone.
On Friday, Aug. 18, 1911, the front page of the Arizona Republic had a story with the headlines: “Terrors of the Elements”, “A Tale of Two Cities, Winkelman and Hayden” and “Hundreds are Homeless”. The story told of a disaster that had occurred in the Winkelman-Hayden area due to what they described was a cyclone.
The Republic reported: “The later reports from Winkelman and Hayden, magnify the terrors of the cyclone which razed those places Wednesday evening and recite in growing number, incidents of deaths, damage and personal injury.”
“There were at least two deaths and an unknown number of injured, their hurts ranging from trivial bruises to broken limbs and battered faces,” the story continued. “The property loss is estimated at $250,000 and the worse feature of it is that while a large part of the loss falls on the Ray Consolidated and the business firms, the rest of it represents the entire earthly possessions of many poor families and it is estimated that a 100 families are homeless, save for the temporary shelter provided for them.”
“One fact is pretty well established,” the story read, “and that the storm was a genuine cyclone, a meteorological phenomenon that has rarely if ever been seen in Arizona before.”
From most accounts from eyewitnesses, it appears that one storm came from the Catalina Mountains down the San Pedro Valley crossing the river just above the town of Winkelman, where it met another storm coming down the Gila canyon. When the storms collided, they turned into a “twisting cyclone” which swept the ridge almost clean destroying the red light district at the eastern end of the street.
The lower part of the business district of Winkelman was somewhat protected by the ridge and the cyclone turned west towards Hayden, after the screaming winds took off the roof of the post office and a few other buildings in that part of town. The Mexican settlement near Hayden was destroyed and there was damage to the less sturdy structures in town.
An eyewitness named F.M. Poole, who owned the Kelvin Lumber & Supply Company stores in Hayden and Ray, reported on Aug. 17: “The cyclone struck Winkelman about half past six last evening. The worst damage was done to the residence district but the business district suffered a loss and all business was damaged some.
Poole reported the Commercial Hotel was a complete loss including furniture, worth $3,000. The Winkelman Hotel was a partial loss, “probably $2,500.”
Though hard to estimate, Poole set the total loss up to $250,000, the equivalent of $5 million in today’s dollars.
“It was the laboring people that suffered the most, living in cheap houses and tents,” Poole wrote. “Many houses were picked up and carried off, many with women and children in them yet most of the occupants escaped unhurt. Mrs. J. Brewer was killed by flying timbers. Many were injured but few seriously. One Mexican child was killed under a building. About one hundred families are homeless, many losing all their household effects, escaping only with the clothes they had on.”
“The storm acted in the most freakish way,” Poole continued, “demolishing a large section building and leaving a small house nearby intact, not even tearing the canvas. It was a twister, many times coming back to take a second twist at a building.
“The Winkelman Ice and Cold Storage Company, Hennes, Giffin, & Leonard, and the Kelvin Lumber Company suffered considerable damage,” he wrote. “It is a mystery why more people were not killed or injured.”
Poole reported that Hayden also suffered severely. The Ray Consolidated Copper Company buildings were greatly damaged by the storm, which he said came from the east with two black clouds rolling towards each other.
“When they came together it seemed as though all the furies were turned loose and the storm took a westerly course and left destruction in its path,” he wrote. “The wind storm lasted about thirty minutes, followed by a heavy rainfall that lasted one hour. We consider ourselves fortunate that so few were killed or injured, considering the great destruction of property.”
J.F. Goodrich, road foreman of engines for the Arizona Eastern Railroad, was near
Winkelman when the storm struck. He reported the winds were so strong they were snapping off branches from the palo verde trees. He said the Commercial Hotel and most of the buildings on the upper ridge were completely destroyed and that “three or four stores on the ridge and the Catholic church were also destroyed”.
However, “the undertaker’s place of business remained standing,” he wrote.
Goodrich said The Ray Consolidated office building had its roof blown off and the bunk house was damaged. A Mr. Jarrett reported that at Hayden Junction a half dozen people had boarded the train for a trip to the Ray Consolidated hospital at Kelvin. Two people were loaded on stretchers.
Near the river, heavy lightning strikes and hail were reported. One family said the arroyos were running with water and at their ranch house the floor was under six inches of water.
The storm left a great number of people without shelter or food. On Aug. 17, Mayor Christy of Phoenix received a request for aid. Christy referred the request to the Board of Trade and W.C. Foster and J.A. Moore were appointed to organize a relief fund. The Governor of the Arizona Territory also received a request for assistance from Ray Consolidated.
The Governor said that the Territory would render any assistance that it possibly could. While waiting for outside aid the people and businesses from the area began pulling together to help each other. By August 26, Phoenix had sent $400 they had raised from local business and individual donations.
Around the same time in August, ASARCO, owned by the Guggenheim family, was negotiating with Ray Consolidated to purchase the new smelting operations which were currently being built. The workers who had lost their homes were still employed and had plenty of work with the new smelter under construction.
On Oct. 29, the Republic reported that Dr. D.D. Northrup had returned from visiting the Ray area. He said that everything was booming in the area especially at the towns of Winkelman and Hayden.
“The new hotel is about completed and there is very little evidence of the wind that took place there earlier this summer,” Northrup wrote. “The towns of Winkelman and Hayden had survived the great storm and as Arizona was entering statehood they would become an important part of the economy and the growth of the young state.”