Since we are writing about historic snowstorms,
we must include the storm in 1888 that some call the
greatest blizzard of all times. It is also known as
"The Children's Blizzard" because of the
large number of children who died. This event has
special interest to southwest Iowa because the blizzard
came this far although was not as devastating, and
because of a personal story from one of our own.
January 12, 1888, started out as a warm, pleasant
day. Farmers and ranchers were delighted to get
their livestock out to pasture, children were playing
outside and walking to school dressed in light sweaters.
Mothers were doing the wash and hanging the clothes
out in the sunshine.
The first signs of the storm started late morning
in Montana. It moved south and a little east just
as the jet stream carries storms today. It came
across the Dakotas and into Nebraska and western
Iowa and was tracked as far east as central Iowa.
It eventually impacted Mexico with cold temperatures.
It reached Iowa in late afternoon. Children were
home from school. Most men had returned from work
or had finished the farm chores so fatalities were
fewer here. Further north where the storm arrived
earlier, the stories are legend of teachers who
saved students in drafty school houses by burning
the desks and anything wood to survive. Children
that tried to walk home often never made it.
Stella Culley, long-time resident of Sidney, was
born in 1879 near Red Cloud Nebraska, so was nine
years old at the time of the blizzard. Her father
had purchased an unimproved farm and was in the
process of building it up. His herd of purebred
Herefords, one of the first in that part of the
state, were important to his venture.
After dinner Stella's father took the cattle to
the stock field. Suddenly the storm approached--a
huge black cloud full of wind and snow shards, sharp
pieces of ice and snow. Stella and her mother heard
Mr. Culley shouting for them to open the gate into
the barn yard. The mother told her daughter to go
out and swing open the gate for her father.
Stella ran out into the mild air without pausing
to put on a wrap. By the time she opened the gate,
she could hear the terrible roar of the wind. The
cattle, in a panic, ran through the gate. Now, thoroughly
frightened herself, Stella ran toward the house
just as the storm hit. Before she could get inside
her fingers were freezing. The temperature that
had been 40 degrees earlier was now 9 below zero.
The wind was reported at over 45 miles per hour.
As Stella's father shut the gate he was blown up
against the chicken house. He struggled to his feet
only to be shoved down again. Completely exhausted,
he fell a third time. The family believed that providence
was the reason his last fall brought him against
the kitchen door. Hearing the noise, Stella and
her mother pulled him into the warmth of the house.
The storm abated by the next day, leaving a deep
cold and widespread grief. Over 235 people were
reported dead and more unknown died out on the prairies.
This story is in the book, "The Children's
Blizzard," by David Laskin, loaned to me by
Jerry Birkby, and available in our local libraries.