Destruction & Recovery

couple’s book documents 1958 Colfax tornado

Kellie Williams

PATH OF DEVASTATION. Scores of photographs compiled in a new book, The 1958 Colfax Tornado, illustrate the devastation caused by the storm, which left 12 people dead in that Dunn County community.
PATH OF DEVASTATION. Scores of photographs compiled in a new book, The 1958 Colfax Tornado, illustrate the devastation caused by the storm, which left 12 people dead in that Dunn County community.

It was muggier than a typical day in June and storms were reported to the west in Minnesota, but on the evening of June 4, 1958, those storms transformed into an F5 tornado that tore through the Dunn County village of Colfax, leaving a path of destruction and 12 people dead. Those who visit Colfax now would never suspect something this devastating ever took place, and that’s why authors Troy and Michelle Knutson wrote their newest book, The 1958 Colfax Tornado.

Through a collection of captioned photos, the book illustrates the aftermath of the storm and how a community came together to rebuild and recover. The Knutsons spent three months working through photographs donated from local residents’ private collections to recreate the town and the path of the tornado. Included in the collection are photos of upturned cars found miles from where they were parked, houses that were obliterated while the neighbor’s homes were untouched, and neighbors helping each other distribute piles of clothes donated to the victims. With 12 people killed, hundreds injured, and millions of dollars of property damage, everyone who survived the storm was affected.

“My biggest goal is to document and preserve the history,” Troy Knutson says.

Knutson describes himself as the “unofficial Colfax historian,” but humbly adds that he’s not the expert. His years of research and data collection give him a bank of knowledge about the history of the area. He’s been collecting Colfax stories and artifacts since 1991 during his sophomore year of high school when his class spent months researching and learning about the area’s history for a class project. Knutson has continued to collect the area’s history ever since, and he is active in the Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group and the Colfax Historical Society. Troy and Michelle Knutson self-published their first book, Looking Through the Lens: Colfax History Through Pictures, in 2014. That book is a more comprehensive look at the village’s history.

The Knutsons are always collecting more stories and artifacts from the Colfax area, especially any of the unusual objects and stories from that tragic June day in 1958.

Published by Arcadia Publishing & The History Press as part of the Images of America series, The 1958 Colfax Tornado is available at the Colfax Public Library, the Colfax Messenger, and the Colfax Arts & Antiques Mall, as well as Amazon.com.  Starting in July, it will be available at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire.

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