Wally & Betty Shaklee’s Oklahoma Tornado Story - 1949
As told by Wally’s brother, Bill Shaklee
Wally's first horrific experience was in WWII serving in the Marines on Iwo Jima. His second and probably even more traumatic experience was the night of May 20, 1949, when a tornado hit his farm home in southern Blaine County, Oklahoma. He and his wife Betty lived in a small frame house with their six-year-old twins Robert and Roberta, and one-month-old daughter Teresa. Storms had been raking western Oklahoma almost every night the previous two weeks.
Our parent’s farm home was about two miles north of Wally’s home. When the wind became very severe shortly before midnight, Mom and Pop took shelter in their storm cellar. They stayed in the cellar until the wind abated. The wind blew the roof off their barn taking both gable ends with it. The south gable fell on one of the Holstein cows, killing her. It also blew away one of the steel grain bins. During the storm and afterward it rained in torrents and Mom and Pop were soaking wet when they got back in the house. The electricity was off so they put on dry clothes and went to bed.
At 12:50 a.m. our brother Pierce arrived in his car at Mom and Pop’s home. Pierce and his wife Wilma had gone to Watonga to a church supper and when the storm came up they went to the town home of friends, where they all went to the cellar. After the heavy rain Pierce and Wilma decided they probably could not get to their farm home near Wally’s place and went to bed at their friend’s house. Pierce could not get to sleep and decided to get up and see if he could get out to Mom and Pop’s place. After finding Mom and Pop O. K. he drove down to check up on his home. Mom and Pop went back to bed and at 2:40 a.m. Pierce was back and with him was the Oyler family, who lived on the corner north of where Wally lived. Also with him were Betty, Wally, Roberta and baby Teresa. Robert had stayed all night at Norman Lee Knisley's. Betty and Wally had been at Knisley's in the evening and made ice cream. When they were ready to go home at 9:30 Robert was asleep and they left him to spend the night.
When they got home Roberta went to bed and Wally was ready for bed. Wally was laying on the bed in his shorts and Betty was in the kitchen fixing Teresa's formula when the storm struck. The house began to shake so Wally got Roberta and was going to put them all under the bed but never got that far. The west side of the house lifted up a few inches, then settled back a couple of times. He had the baby in his arms when the house blew over. He held on to Roberta's hand and tried to shield Teresa with his body as much as possible and she did not get a scratch.
When Wally found himself in the clear he took Roberta and the baby over behind a truck loaded with baled hay which had not blown away. Roberta held Teresa and Wally went back to look for Betty. She was unconscious but he managed to get her over to the truck. When it would not start he tried the Ford tractor which started right off. He put Betty in the tractor seat and, although not rational, she instinctively took the baby and held her. Roberta sat behind the seat and Wally stood on one foot and drove the tractor to the Oyler's who had a good cellar. The Oylers had gone to the cellar right after supper and had gone to bed there. The storm took the roof off their house, shoved it off the foundation, and destroyed their barn, granary, garage and all but one small chicken house.
Wally had nothing on but his shorts, Teresa was naked and covered with mud and they were all soaked to the skin. They stayed in the cellar until the storm was over and then managed to find enough clothes at the Oyler's to cover them all up with something dry. Mrs. Oyler said Betty was still in bad shape from shock and they almost had to pry Betty's arms loose from Teresa in order to clean her up.
When they saw lights at Pierce's home, Wally and Mr. Oyler got on Wally's tractor and went to see how things were there. The creek near Pierce's house was the highest it had ever been and he had gotten his car stuck where the creek had crossed over the road. He had waded to the house and found everything there O. K. He started his tractor and pulled his car out of the mud but before he was ready to start back he saw lights coming down the road from the east. He waited to see who it was and it was Wally and Mr. Oyler. They drove both tractors back to Oyler's since Pierce could not get there in his car, loaded both families on the tractors, went back to Pierce's place and Pierce took them all up to Mom and Pop’s home in his car.
Betty was still in shock and her side was hurting her. Although the baby apparently was O. K., Mom thought she and Betty should both be seen by the doctor. Roberta stayed with Mom and Pop while Pierce took the rest to town. The doctor gave Teresa a thorough check-up and found nothing wrong.
He said Betty's side injury was not serious but she had two or three bumps on her head so he gave her some tablets and told her to go home and go to bed. She had several purple bruises over her body. Probably she was still suffering from shock more than anything else. Wally said he wasn't hurt but he was limping around the next morning and Pop asked him what was wrong. He finally showed him his left leg. It was skinned on the outside from his hip to his knee and was black and purple. He had several holes in his feet where he had stepped on nails as he got the kids out and went back to look for Betty. Roberta had a purple bruise on her back over one kidney, but she never complained so probably it was just a skin bruise.
The house apparently rolled over once before it broke up. When it turned upside down, all the furniture and the kids hit what had been the west slope of the roof, which was the closest to the foundation. The weight of the furniture, brick flue and the kids bodies was enough to hold that section down and the balance of the house rolled off of them and left them in the clear. From the appearance of the wreckage it was hard to see how one person could live through it, let alone four.
Mom and Pop went down early the next morning and gathered up all their clothes they could find. They found a lot but many of the clothes were never found. Their furniture was almost a total loss. Their Electrolux icebox was dented but it still worked. One little metal kitchen stool didn't have a scratch on it. The rest of their furniture was almost completely destroyed. Probably it was fortunate that Wally did not get them under the bed, because if he had, very likely when the house turned upside down they would have been on top of the bed, and the mattress was found more than a mile away to the southeast. The bedsprings were found about the same place but were torn to pieces. Their house and the rest of their clothes were scattered all over the pasture. The Red Cross bought a new gas range for them, a used dining room suite, twin beds for the kids, a rocking chair, and helped pay for a bedroom suite for Betty and Wally.
Pop asked Wally whether he was scared worse the night of the storm or on Iwo Jima. He said the only time he was scared on Iwo Jima was when the boats discharged them on the beach. Afterwards he was too busy. The night of the storm the only time he was scared was when the house was jumping up and down before it blew away. Afterwards he was too busy.