June 12 is the anniversary of Wisconsin’s deadliest tornado. On this day in 1899, a giant twister swept through New Richmond in St. Croix County and killed more than 100 people. There were no warning sirens or National Weather Service bulletins back then, but the town’s four-legged inhabitants seemed to have premonitions of approaching disaster.
One survivor noted: “There was something very remarkable in the actions of animals previous to the storm. They seemed without exception ... to be unrestful, nervous, and incapable of being quieted, though cared for and petted more than usual.” Residents thought the constant whinnying of the horses and mooing of the cows was odd but didn’t know what it signified.
One very large St. Bernard dog was especially uneasy: “The faithful animal showed more affection than usual, particularly towards his mistress. The animal left home a few hours before the cyclone struck and returned safely the day after. The poor faithful ‘Judge’ returned to find his master’s home in ruins, and to seek in vain for his dead mistress.”
Investigators found that as many as 30 dogs had left their homes shortly before the tornado arrived and taken refuge under an embankment out of its path.
Other animals were not so lucky. Three hundred sixty horses died, and so many cows were euthanized that the number could not be accurately counted.
—Wisconsin Historical Society