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The Black Blizzard of 1888

Schleswig Leader, Thursday, January 13, 1966.

Black Blizzard of Jan. 12, 1888 Hits Schleswig Area, Killing Lady

Editor's Note The following feature story was written by Myra Hamann. Miss Hamann's parents, were 11 years old at the time of the blizzard and much of the information was gleaned from hearing them tell of the storm. Miss Hamann resides with her mother, Mrs. John Hamann in their home just south of Schleswig.

The Black Blizzard of January 12, 1888, which left scores of persons dead and an unestimated number injured, whipped across the Midwest 78 years ago this week.

The Hohenzollern area - Schleswig was not mapped out until 1899 - lay in the path of the big storm. The winter up to the time of the blizzard had been moderate and only light amounts of precipitations had been reported locally.

For Hohenzollern settlers, Friday, January 12, 1888, began mild and cloudy with an ominous stillness in the air. Shortly before the storm hit, the stillness was broken by the sudden, low howl of the wind as it raced the blizzard into the locality from Nebraska and the Dakota Territory. (North and South Dakota became states in 1889.) Farmers, working outdoors in near spring like comfort, were alerted to the oncoming blizzard and hurried to feed and shelter farm animals. Emergency supplies of fire wood, coal and cobs were brought indoors to keep occupants warm through the storm period.

Around 4:30 p.m. the Black Blizzard arrived with unpredicted speed and violence. Enormous amounts of snow and dust, driven by winds up to hurricane velocity, created an instant blackout. The temperature began dipping to subzero marks. The lowest reading for the Hawkeye State stood at 42 degrees below, observers noted. The storm pounded Hohenzollern most of the night, piling snowdrifts estimated at 15 feet deep, which remained until the spring thaws set in.

The morning of January 13, 1888, brought sunshine and bright blue skies. The wind was calm but the bitter cold held its grip for sometime.

The Black Blizzard claimed the life of an area resident, Mrs. Jurgen Jepsen. Jurgen Jepsen and his family, it is said, were caught in the 1888 blizzard as they were returning home from nearby relatives, whom they had assisted with a butchering job. Jepsen, according to reports, was taking a short cut through a cornfield when the double-tree of his wagon broke and the team of horses ran away. Turning the wagon box over to shield the family from the raging storm, Jepsen set out retrieve his runaway team.

When Jepsen failed to return, it is assumed that Mrs. Jepsen grew apprehensive and went to search for her husband. Unable to find back to the wagon, she apparently collapsed in the sub zero temperature. Searchers recovered Mrs. Jepsen's body the next day, whereas her family survived the dangerous storm.

A former Schleswig carpenter, Teddy Jepsen, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jurgen Jepsen and is said to have accompanied his parents on that disastrous January 12, 1888, trip home. Ted's fingers were frozen and his left hand crippled the rest of his life.

Lists of the dead and the injured were reported in sections of the storm-battered Middle West. Hard hit were parts of Kansas, Nebraska and Dakota, where the Black Blizzard reputedly was of longer duration than in western Iowa. In Dakota alone, for example, 148 known deaths were attributed to the weather, pioneer history asserts.

Topping the list of casualties were small children, who froze to death as they were returning home from rural schools. Farmers out in the fields when the blizzard sprang up were frequent victims. Although the Midwest has had numerous destructive blizzards, perhaps none set a deadlier record than the Black Blizzard which headed into the local area 78 years ago.

Contributed by Bob Kuehl