Monday, December 31, 2012

The Children's Blizzard of 1888

The idea for this story came from an article in the Wichita Eagle, published today, December 31, 2012.

The Children's Blizzard of 1888.

On January 12, 1888, a blizzard struck the northern Great Plains hitting Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa, as well as the Dakota Territory. The storm came to be known as the Schoolhouse, the School children's, or simply the Children's Blizzard, for among the estimated 500 who perished in the storm, 213 were children, many stranded in the storm after venturing home from their one-room schoolhouses.

The weather was freakish. Warm weather preceded the storm and as a result, children walked to school without hats, gloves, or coats. As an example, one weather station on January 12 reported the temperature at 2:00 p.m. at a balmy 44°F. Seven hours later (9 p.m.), it would plummet  to −11°F. Then at it lowest, the temperature fell to −42°F. The cold was accompanied by whipping winds of 45 miles an hour, heavy snow, and drifts of 15 feet.

Crawford County Iowa account, written by Myra Hamann.

One of the better accounts of the blizzard in Nebraska is written by Jolene McHugh in the Omaha Viewfinder, recounting teacher Mary Kieffe’s story, as told by Dorothy Creigh in “Adams County: The Story.” 
“That day was mild and the pupils and I were playing “fox and geese’ at the noon intermission, there being a little snow. At about 12:45 it began to rain and drove us indoors. It soon changed to snow and by 3 o’clock we had to abandon study, it became so dark. The larger boys formed a chain reaching to the coal shed and passed in at least a half ton of coal. We had a fine time the fore part of the night. We “spelled down,’ sang, organized a debate and recited everything from ‘Mary Has a Little Lamb’ to ‘Spartacus to the Gladiators of Rome.’ From midnight the hours dragged slowly though, as we dared not go to sleep it was so cold. … I got roundly scored by some pious mamas whose youngsters I cared for, for having played a game of cards during the night with some of the pupils, and one of the district dads wanted to deduct one day’s wages because I didn’t keep school the next day nor make it up.”
The stories were not all happy. One teacher in Winner, South Dakota released his 12 students. They were found the next day frozen to death.

Minnie Freeman, the Fearless One

Minnie Freeman and students from the song

One fearless teacher, Minnie Freeman of Mira Valley, Nebraska led her students, tied together by rope, from the school to her boarding house. Lyon & Healy, a Chicago music publisher, released a song about her deeds: "Song of the Great Blizzard 1888, Thirteen Were Saved or Nebraska's Fearless Maid."


Read With a Bang Not a Whimper, pages 23 on, for more stories.

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