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The Children's Blizzard

Published February 08. 2013 05:02PM


What do Drako, Gandolf, and Magnus all have in common?

For those of you who watch the weather channel these are the names of snowstorms that have swept across the United States so far in this 2012-2013 winter season.

The reasoning behind the naming of a storm is that is raises awareness, is easier to follow and makes it simpler to remember and to be referred to in the future.

No one can argue that it is better to be pre-warned when nasty weather is due to arrive.

This was not the case on January 12 1888. A blizzard blasted the Midwest and was named "The Children's Blizzard." It was so wicked that 125 years later we still speak of it.

The day before the fatal blizzard was unseasonably warm with the temps in the 60s. This gave the settlers on the prairie a great respite from the usually cold and long winter. The next day dawned just as abnormally warm so mothers sent children to county school with short sleeves, no hats or mittens. Farmers took off to tend fences in just flannel shirts on that sunny morning.

Unknown to all, a raging killer storm had developed overnight in Canada and was racing directly toward the Great Plains. In Montana the temperatures had fallen to minus 50 degrees and had dumped several inches of snow and already claimed many lives.

By noon the storm hit central South Dakota with much intensity. Strong winds, darkening storm clouds and snow smothered the prairie. The wind-driven snow felt like stinging ice pellets as they landed and froze on contact to humans and animals. Livestock that was not in a shelter laid down where they stood, many of which never got up again. They were found days later frozen under five-foot snow drifts.

Visibility was said to be only three to five feet in the blinding whiteness of the storm. Some of the farmers and ranchers made it back home. Some did not. The ones that had wagons let the horses free, overturned the wagons and crawled under for shelter. They were found alive but with severe frostbite to feet and hands.

Stories were told of men so disorientated from the intense cold and near zero visibility that they were frozen just yards from the shelter of their homes.

Another story told of the farmer who followed the sounds of his wife blowing on her trumpet leading him back to the safety of their warm home.

Over two hundred people died in that blizzard and most of them were school age children. This storm is also referred to by, The Schoolhouse Blizzard and The Schoolchildren's Blizzard.

When the early afternoon storm struck, a number of teachers decided to leave the schools and walk with the children to the nearest homesteads. Some made it safely while others were found huddled together frozen in the snow. Some children decided to strike out for home on their own and never made it.

One account was how one group was rescued by two men as they tied a rope to the school house and the other end to the nearest house. The children then had to walk hand over hand holding the rope as they waded through drifted snow banks, subzero temps and battled gale force winds all the while making their way to safety.

Many of the teachers decided to keep their flock together in the one-room school house until they would be rescued. Throughout the long night, the storm raged outside. They sat huddled around the small wood-burning stove praying the roof would not blow off.

The next morning the skies cleared, the wind died down, but the subzero temperatures remained. The 18 hours of terror was over. Many parents were relieved beyond belief to see their children scampering home over the snow drifts when they were positive they had perished in the storm.

Other parents were not so lucky and would have to wait days until the snow drifts started to melt to find out that their worst nightmares were confirmed. Their children were casualties of the blizzard.

The Children's Blizzard of 1888 occurred quickly and without warning, catching men, women and children unprepared, and they paid the ultimate price.

I am grateful we live in the wonderful world of today's technology so we can be forewarned when Mother Nature decides to lay down her wrath.

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