The storm that killed James Robertson began somewhere deep in the western plains of Oklahoma. It was a cold front that moved like a soul-less, mindless monster steadily northeast, churning and pushing up the warm, humid May air as it went. It crossed into Kansas and produced thunderstorms that swept across the dusty, over-worked, nutrient poor farmland. It moved into southern Missouri and created a wave of tornadoes that followed the Arkansas state line.
Finally, it reached Poplar Bluff. The cold front met the soggy, warm spring air and pushed it upward, creating a swirling vortex. The tornado that resulted was the worst in local memory.
That town was essentially destroyed. The Missouri Pacific Depot downtown experienced only superficial damage, but the great, four-story Davidson Hotel across the street was leveled. After the storm passed through, downtown Poplar Bluff looked like a demolition zone.
James Robertson, who worked at a mill just outside the limits of downtown Poplar Bluff, was doomed. As the air turned a sickly green-gray and the winds started to whip around the mill yard, James and his co-workers tried to take shelter inside. But the building they entered was too flimsy to be of any use. The great storm tore the roof off the structure, and then it started tearing gaps in the wooden planking of the walls. Wind and rain swept through the small building, and so did a huge tree branch, which plowed through the wall and into James Robertson. He died instantly.
This was in May of 1927. Hubert Robertson was barely a year old.
The next day, The Daily Republican, Poplar Bluff's afternoon newspaper, published a list of the dead. The only obituary James Robertson received was a single line misstating his name his name as James Henry Robinson.
Hubert’s older brother, Harold – who was four years old when their father died - would later say that the only thing he remembered of his father was making the trip from Stringtown into Poplar Bluff for James Robertson’s funeral. Too young to understand what was happening, Mildred, Harold, and Harlan – the three children closest to Hubert in age – sat quietly in their Sunday best clothes, bored and fidgety, as the Baptist preacher talked about faith in Jesus Christ and about a land across the Jordan River where there is no more sorrow or weeping. Throughout the funeral, Hubert slept in his grandmother’s arms, stirring only when the preacher’s voice hit a particularly enthusiastic note and momentarily woke him from his infant dreams. Hubert would never have any conscious or unconscious memory of his father.
A street in Poplar Bluff following the May 9, 1927 tornado.