Winter “In All It’s Fury: The Great Blizzard 1888″ by W.H. O’Gara (January 2023)

Susan's Thursday morning Note January 5, 2023
In All It's Fury: The Great Blizzard of 1888 by W.H. O'Gara

Good morning. Cold. Icy. Steaming Coffee. Warmth inside. Peering through my window this morning is a very cold angel of dawn – handing me a little bouquet of grasses she picked that were sticking out of the snow – long prairie grasses to show that underneath the ice there are little nymphs working behind the scenes designing and preparing the stage for spring in only a few months.  As we wait for longer days and greetings from our songbirds, we have time to read. 

I have been rereading stories from the Great Blizzard of 1888 in Nebraska, Dakotas, and Minnesota that killed 1000 people. I went through to find any stories I could on this location and found one from Grand Island, Central City, and one from Hampton. The temperature dropped 60 degrees in 20 minutes after lunch one day (when kids were at schools with no coats because was such a mild day – an electric storm). The stories in this book include the hiding in haystacks, how some missed their houses by just a foot from their barns & walked into the expanse because you couldn’t see even the person in front of you. I’ll first give you the local accounts, then I’ll write the thoughts of a mother as she died in 1914 – her final words on the scare she experienced in this storm. 

Central City:

Mrs. Anna Jefferson – “I was living 5 1/2 miles NE of Central City. I was teaching in district No. 37, my home school. The blizzard struck the schoolhouse at half past one. The building was a small frame house and we used coal for fuel. After the storm struck one could not see a rod. Eugene & Victoria Yarno were returning to school when the blizzard struck them, about 4 rods from the schoolhouse. Eugene drifted east 1/2 a mile and holding to a fence, came back to the schoolhouse. His face was covered in ice. Victoria drifted south into a fence and went to the home of Joseph Paro…”


“There was a terrible roar, the clouds were tumbling and dashing and the air was full of snow, weeds, dust, and fodder, coming from the northwest. I never saw such a sight before or since. Mrs. Pierce closed the door – and it was four days before it could be opened again. Ira started to the barn, 60 feet away, with the horses, but it was so dark and blinding that he could not make it. His father lighted a lantern for him and tied a rope around his waist. With his father standing at the door with the ball of rope, the boy reached the barn and turned the horses in. With his father and mother both pulling on the rope he found his way to the house, but fell exhausted when he reached the door. He was in bed two days, with jars of hot water around him.”


Ben Larson (now in Ogallala) – “I was fourteen years old at the time and was in a country school. We lived 2 1/2 miles north of Hampton. My father’s name was Hans Larsen. our school was 2 1/2 miles from our house. The storm hit us about one in the afternoon as soon as the wind changed to the northwest, and came like a roaring tornado. It broke the lock on the door as it was on the north side of the house. We started for home, going west for half a mile, and part of the children stayed at a farm house there. We went half a mile farther west and then one farmer by the name of Pete Henricksen, who had come to the school to get us, started home and took the balance of the children with him half a mile south. From there I had 1 1/2 miles to go alone. I went a mile west, then had to go 1/2 a mile northwest through our pasture. That half mile I had to go backwards as I could not face the snow and wind. Luckily I backed as near against the wind as I could, and it was in the northwest. Finally, I backed against something solid and fell exhausted. After a few seconds I began feeling around and found that I had backed against our barn. And was I glad!”

Grand Island:

“Robert Ferritor, Broken Bow, tells the story of Monday Seymore, plain clothes investigator and brand inspector, who nearly lost his life in a terrific storm which struck Custer county on December 18,1878. Monday mounted his faithful horse, Midnight, on a cold, crisp morning, and rode down the Loup Valley. Reaching the tablelands, he could see the distant frontier town of Grand Island. The little town and the whole valley seemed to be veiled in an overhanging smoke. Monday knew this was a warning. He looked northward and saw a strange, brownish cloud looming up. Then a cold breeze struck him and he knew that the approaching storm would be a bad one. He got off his horse, untied his pack, and put on a heavy riding coat and warm gloves. Sharp sleet began to hit him in the face. He tied his silk handkerchief over his head and ears, and pulled his wide beaver hat low over his eyes. Looking northward again, he saw that an avalanche of snow was upon him, blotting out the view of the hills beyond. He had never been out in a blizzard before. Soon the snow was so thick all about him that he could not see the trail. He rode on, wondering how long such a terrible storm could last. Midnight plodded along, following the trail. Seymore was lost. He tied the bridle over the saddle horn and gave the good horse his head. “It’s up to you, old boy,” he said, patting his neck. The horse floundered on, with head almost to the ground. Monday lost all sense of time and place, but once he heard a shrill whistle and knew that a train went by. Many times his horse stopped, and then floundered on again. Once he fell. Monday got off, and the horse struggled to his feet. They managed to get through the deep drift. Monday remounted and was surprised when Midnight headed almost straight into the storm. There was a drumming in his ears and he wondered if he was freezing to death. Just then Midnight stopped and someone called: “Good gracious, man, get off that horse.” He was practically dragged from the saddle and he found himself in a livery barn, in Grand Island. Monday had the feeling that he had been grabbed from the storm. They carried him into the large, warm office and there were many men looking on as Bill Jones, the attendant, took snow-crusted garments from the half-frozen man. They asked him, “Cowboy, how did you ever hit this town?” Monday answered, “My horse always saves me. Will you give him the best you’ve got?”

This is the part I like (the sentimental me…)… “O.W. Coursey of South Dakota recounts about a teacher and her little children that she protected in a small schoolhouse all night long. He writes…Three bachelor brothers near our home were all found, separated, and frozen stiff, a few miles apart. Another homesteader, near by, was found frozen in a clump of weeds near a swale, only a short distance from his home, with his shepherd dog, still alive, but badly frozen, lying cuddled up against him. The dog could easily have run to the barn (with brute instinct he could have found the way) and saved himself; but he would not leave his master. I sat by my mother’s bedside and visited with her all the afternoon before she died in September, 1914. All she wanted to talk about was “Pioneering in Dakota.” There wasn’t a pang of regret over anything that had happened. She was glad that she had come to Dakota and had contributed her bit to the development of this great and growing state of ours. The last thing she said to me before she passed away was this: “Son, you will never know the burden that was lifted from my heart the next morning after the Big Blizzard, when I looked out and saw you four older children scampering home over the snowdrifts, when I was positively sure you had all perished in the storm.” A few moments of intense silence. Then she was dead.”

Her final words. That feeling of horror at thinking she’d lost them had never left her. I know that in Bess Streeter Aldrich books she spends so much time recalling what our grandparents and great-grandparents endured for what we now have. We will never understand the expanse. The loneliness. The frustrations. We also will never understand the pleasures, the grasslands open before them, the still nights, the beauty they experienced.  We have so much. We must drop to our knees and thank our God for all he’s given to us. We must look to the hill knowing that our peace and help are right before our eyes for what we will be facing in our own daily lives. The same God that they cried to is the same God that gives us the help we need now.

Let’s not get overwhelmed with what we have in our lives. Even intense loss that I know some of you are painfully experiencing as you enter this new year.  The birds will sing again. Soon. The sun will shine again. Soon. The flowers are already designed by our God’s touch and will be opening soon – just for you to have the pleasure of taking in.  Thanks for letting me enter your Thursday.  For your book donations.  For believing in the store.  For loving the store.  I hope you can come soon to pick out a book.  The one you choose in the store or are able to order may be the one with the one paragraph holding the one sentence that carry the one thought that may change you life.  Susan

Latin for this week:
In loco frigido - In a cold place. 

Works Cited:
O'Gara, W.H. In All It's Fury: The Great Blizzard of 1888. Lincoln: J&L Lee Books, 1975.