National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Beatty Swamps Tornado of May 10, 1933


Shortly after midnight on May 10, 1933 an F4 tornado touched down in northern Overton County. It moved for 20 miles from near Livingston to near Byrdstown. Thirty-three of the 35 deaths were in Beatty Swamps, 6 miles north of Livingston. The half-mile wide funnel destroyed every home in the community, and killed or injured virtually every resident. Much of the area was swept clean of debris. Damage totaled $100,000. There were 150 injuries. (According to the family of Ewing Hull, the air after suppertime was very quiet, although stifling for May. The Hull cabin was blown away that night, and the family woke up on the ground.) This is the second deadliest tornado ever to strike Middle Tennessee.

Remains of a frame home in Beatty Swamps.


Crowd that attended the burial. Coffin is that of Una Cole, draped with a flag.


Cole family coffins lined up for burial in a neighbor's yard near the cemetery. The entire family was buried in a mass grave under one tombstone.

(Photographs were provided by Ronald Dishman, Overton County Historian.)


Following is the text of an article that appeared in the Livingston Enterprise after the storm:

20 Dead, Many Hurt in Overton Tornado



Cookeville Troops Guard Area As Searchers Scour Hills For Other Dead And Injured. Services For Victims Planned For Friday.




(Staff Correspondent)

BETHSAIDA, Tenn., May 10.--This little mountain settlement bore the brunt of Tuesday night's storm when it climaxed into a tornado early Wednesday morning, leaving more than a score dead and as many or more injured.

The dead:
Mr. and Mrs. Boss Lacy.
Mrs. Mary Reeser.
Ed Hopkins and daughter, Barbara Hopkins.
Eunice Cole and wife, and seven children.
Millard Allred.
Hughey Beaty.
Ray Reagan.
Hershel Phillips.
Mrs. Ambrose King and daughter, Epsie King.

While natives of this vicinity, two miles East of Monroe, searched the wooded hills of eastern Overton County for other bodies, residents predicted more deaths would be registered by the week-end. It will be impossible to make an accurate check of the death toll for some days, on account of the inaccessibility of the region.

More than twenty persons were reported injured at Smith's store here, where emergency relief was started Wednesday. Doctors from Livingston and Cookeville and other places were giving first aid. The bodies of sixteen of the dead were brought to Livingston where they were prepared for burial, perhaps today. Four members of one family will be buried at the home site.


Struck Suddenly

The tornado struck with terrible suddenness. Beginning at Eagle Creek, northwest of Bethsaida, the twister moved in a zig-zag line three-quarters of a mile wide, spent its fury here, and ended near West Fork, a distance of about eleven miles from its beginning. In its wake it left the worst destruction this section of Tennessee has ever seen.

Houses were torn down wholesale. Barns with their contents, including farm machinery, were swept away as if they had been match boxes. A farmer's binder was blown from his barn to a field 500 yards distant, and was left a worthless scrap of twisted iron. A new automobile was swept along for hundreds of feet and left a wrecked mass.

The horror of the storm was emphasized by the broken, twisted, torn bodies lying in a morgue at the Blount Funeral Home in Livingston. The most touching scene of all was the family of Eunice Cole, man, wife, and seven children, ranging in age from two to fourteen. All were killed, probably in their sleep. They were found near their home site in their night clothes, their bodies covered with grime and scraps of debris.

More horrible was the manner in which some of the bodies were found, their bones broken into an incongruous mass, and on two, parts of the heads were missing.


Wrought Freaks

The tornado brought its share of freaks, if one is a goodly share with dozens of others yet unknown. A square of floor linoleum was found driven into a tree; a two-by-four plank was driven completely through an automobile tire; a millet straw was found driven into a fruit tree.

But most peculiar of all was at the home of Will Crawford, whose house was blown away, as were all his outhouses and his barn. In his chicken house two hens were setting, and they were found this morning complacently perched in their nests under a pile of debris, busily hatching their eggs, oblivious to the destruction around them.

While searching parties scoured the vicinity for more dead, troops from Troop A, 109th Cavalry, of Cookeville, guarded the area to prevent pilferage, which had begun soon after the bodies had been removed.

Funeral services for the victims were being planned for Friday, although no definite arrangements had been made. It was thought probable the a community service for all would be conducted. One family will be buried together in a cemetary adjoining the bare ground where their home once stood.


Are Brothers

The community here turned itself into a corps of searchers, nurses, and builders after the ravages of the tornado had made them all brothers. A nurse from Livingston, employed by the county, came to Bethsaida this morning seeking some of the injured. She was told where they were, but that the road was impassable. She got a mule, and with a quantity of cotton, bandages, antiseptics and healants boarded the mule and went to the suffering.

The Southern Continental Telephone company placed an emergency telephone in the store here for the use of reporters, doctors and other rescue workers. The Red Cross began a systematic survey for the purpose of providing food and clothing for the homeless.


Wide Streak

Although the tornado Wednesday missed Livingston, it went in a wide streak in this mountainous country. Wire reports from other sections adjacent led to the theory that they all gathered at Eagle Creek, cut their swath in one gigantic rush through here, and ended on West Fork, seven miles from Bethsaida. Clay and Putnam counties were not harmed, and Pickett's only harm was her loss of trees and other small property damage. It was impossible to estimate the property damage done in the tornado's path.

This tornado exceeds in death and destruction the one in Nashville several weeks ago, and is perhaps the worst the State has ever had. It bore a close resemblance to Texas and Kansas tornadoes, the only difference lying in the fact that those states are flat, and the mountains here allay the storm's fury.


Sky Hazy

Throughout Tuesday the hills and valleys of Middle Tennessee were clothed in a thick haze, and during the early part of the evening and until late Tuesday night the air was stuffy, with a flashing electrical storm and a high wind predicting heavy rain. The rain in the tornado area was of flood proportions.

Trouble and horror have been visited upon these people, but the survivors seem to cling to something that carries them on against bitter odds. They cannot be cheerful, but there is no whining among them. Doubtless such destruction has brought a misery that showed when ambulances from Livingston, Cookeville and Monterey carried away dead and injured; but they have turned this early to a rehabilitation -- they are stooping, with worn-out tools, to build again -- with something of a quiet strength which must have been inherited from their native hills.

The White family and the Ewin Hull family, at first reported killed, escaped the tornado, save Hull, who was injured.

Communities near the stricken area, the Red Cross, the Save the Child Fund and American Legion are co-operating in giving the region first aid.

Mr. and Mrs. M. H. Hankins tendered the use of the Commercial Hotel and the injured have been removed from the Methodist Church to that place.

Funeral services for the Cole family will be held this morning (Friday) at 10 o'clock in Livingston, followed by burial in the Red Hill Cemetary.




The Tennessee death list:

Near Beaty Swamps

Mrs. George Reeser, 68.
Edgar Hopkins, 35.
Hopkins' daughter, Barbara, 6.
Hughey Beaty, 35.
Ray Reagan, 23.
Mrs. Ambrose King, 45.
Miss Epsie King, her daughter, 22.
Mr. and Mrs. Boss Lacy, 40 and 31.
Miller Allred, 60.
Hershal Phillips, 40.
Mr. and Mrs. Una Cole, 40 and 35.
The seven Cole children, Magnus, 15; Carrie, 12; Edith, 9; Marian, 8; Ruth Dean, 5; Anna, 3; and Marse, 1.


Near Lebanon

Ed and Kate James, negroes.


Injured Near Beaty Swamps

Garfield Allred, Mrs. Hewey Beaty, Mrs. Edgar Hopkins, Ewin Hull, Ambrose King, John King, Mrs. Maggie Lacy and her child, Joe Lacy, and four members of his family, Robert Reeser, Hershel Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Ostie Taylor, Christine Lacy, Mrs. Dallas Sams, Mrs. Joe Phillips, Ozelle Phillips, Clarence Lee Phillips, Thurman Phillips, Nina Phillips, Rilda Sams and Mrs. Will Sams. Of these Christine Lacy, Mrs. Joe Phillips and her daughter, Ozelle Phillips, are in a critical condition. Joe Phillips, 50, his daughter, Estelle, 17, are in Protestant hospital, Nashville, in a critical condition.


You can read more about the Beatty Swamps tornado and view additional related photographs here.