Blizzard of 1888

On January 12, Nebraska had the "blizzard of 1888," about which Emma (daughter of Thomas Lucas) wrote in 1944 for her grandchildren. In 1988 her story was published in the "Republican Nonpareil," Central City's newspaper, to commemorate the blizzard, along with a picture taken in 1887 showing her and her 40 students standing in front of the Adams School (this picture is on page 298 of the book). A copy of her story is provided here, courtesy of Gail Gregg Ferris.

Emma mentions in her story that Carl Halstead was learning to count to 100 -- he was 6 years old at the time of the blizzard [1900 census, courtesy of Gail Ferris]. The Adams School was built by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Adams for their children, not far from their home. Emma probably "called school" by ringing a bell.

Emma wrote:

Fifty-six winters have come and gone since the memorable 12th of January which brought us the "Blizzard of 88", yet clearly in my memory there remains all the happenings of that eventful day, which was destined to go down to posterity in the annals of Nebraska history.

It was a warm morning with the sun shining brightly, but from a few scattered clouds, large fluffy flakes of snow were falling, melting immediately as they touched the ground.

Always I remember calling school and seeing Eva Adams running across the small pasture between her home and the school house with no wraps of any kind except a very small shawl over her head. Her brother, Alvin, was already in his place, and two sisters, Ella and Blanche.

Everyone was at school that day. No need to stay at home on account of the weather. And there was no radio in those old pioneer days to give us warning of a storm coming. We had opening exercises as usual, and I think we sang:

"Through the doorway came the sunshine
In a stream of molten gold
Line a dream of brightest glory
Down the rifted sides it rolled
While a child upon the carpet
Laughing ran to where it lay
With his little hands extended
Like a dream it fled away.
Still the child upon the carpet
Gazed upon the vacant floor
Waiting, watching for the sunshine
Which would come that day no more."

Then we went on with our usual program, the McClure twins learning the alphabet, Charlie Huff with his reading lesson, where he always got his tongue twisted around Daffodown dillies and Carl Halstead and Ernest Hanna learning to count 100. Neither of them could get the right sound of s of them saying "one, two, three, four, five, hick, heven," and the other counting "one, two, three, four, five, thick, theven."

Then one had to provide "busy work" for these small beginners while I gave my time to hearing recitations from the older ones. And it was time for a short recess, the sun still shining, no warning whatever of that avalanche of snow sweeping down from the Dakotas. Then we had our period for penmanship, and more arithmetic, and our geography and language lessons and grammar for the older pupils. And then it was noon.

The Adams children went home to dinner and I looked over the written work of the morning. If there were anything peculiar looking about the skies of the North, we did not notice it.

Promptly at one o'clock, I rang the bell. The school house stands north and south with the door in the south. As I stood there, suddenly there came the rush and roar. The children rushed in from the playground with frightened faces, the boys from the ballground.

I could scarcely see as they hurried past the windows. Immediately, the windows were covered with frost, and air was thick with that whirling blinding tempest of snow. The roar of the wind was deafening, the room so darkened we knew we could have no school..

Charles Soth, now living in Alliance, thinking of his invalid mother, said he must try to get home. He gathered up his dinner pail and started out. In about 15 minutes, he came back saying he could not see the road, and was afraid of getting lost. With a feeling of thankfulness for the almost new and strongly built school house, we decided we would spend the night there. We had plenty of fuel and the children took stock of what food was left in their dinner pails, which proved to be very little.

Towards four o'clock, someone opened the door and there was Robert Adams. He had brought an extra wrap for Eva. We bundled up as best we could, and Mr. Adams told us to form a line, and keep hold of one another's hands, with Mr. Adams and myself at one end of the line, and the older boys at the other, and with the younger ones between. We were to be sure not to let go of anyone, and thus we set out for the Adams' home, just pushing our way through, as it almost seemed to me, an impenetrable wall of snow. The children were plucky, but before we reached the house, little Edith Ridell, who was only five years old, collapsed, and Mr. Adams carried her the remainder of the way.

What a refuge the little farm house was. What a shelter in the time of storm with motherly Mrs. Adams bustling about and a fire going in the kitchen range, which was the only kind of fire we had in those days. She produced her one good table cloth and her cherished blue tumblers, put on the coffee pot and a kettle of potatoes and resurrected a crock of fried down ham. (No one but an old pioneer Nebraskan will know just what that was.) She baked biscuits by the dozen. What a supper that was. I think there were 15 of us there besides her own family.

Later on came the problem of where we were going to sleep, and Mrs. Adams decided that, since there were not beds enough nor quilts, she would put as many to bed as she could until 12 o'clock, and the others were to sit up and keep the fire going. Then those who were in bed were to get up and take their turn while the others slept.

One thing we did to pass the time away was to have a spelling match. This was Flowers Huff's happy thought. An old spelling book was produced and Flowers pronounced the words, I was to spell against the others. They got a lot of fun out of it, and, after everyone had "gone down" as we used to say in spelling bees, I finally misspelled Erysipelas, spelling it with an "I" instead of a "y". It was after midnight and the storm was still raging. I have a memory of getting into bed with Eva and Ella but not to sleep.

I think Mr. Adams said the storm stopped at one o'clock, as suddenly as it had commenced. It had come on Thursday, and Friday morning we went to school over the drifts that were packed and hardened so solidly that we could walk on top of them, and with the sun shining brightly, but oh, so bitterly cold!

In those days, there were no radios, nor telephones, nor daily papers, so it was weeks before we learned of hardships and tragedies of that great storm, of teachers and pupils with frozen feet and hands, of the heroism of Minnie Freeman who had to leave her school house with its windows blown in, tying her pupils together, and leading them to safety to the nearest farm house. Minnie Freeman afterwards became Mrs. Edgar Penney, and was for many years a resident of Fullerton, loved and honored by all who knew her.

The pupils of the Adams District are scattered now, yet after a lapse of more than half a century, there comes occasionally knocking at my door, and I find a gray-haired man or woman there, stopping to visit for a while, and we talk over again the blizzard of 1888.

Many of the children are gone now from the old district, many of them "Sleeping the sleep that knows no waking," and the storms of life for them are forever past. Yet as long as any of them remain, there will be a bond of fellowship between the teacher and pupils who faced the Blizzard of 1888 together which we now know as one of the two major storms in Nebraska history, the other being the three-day blizzard of the 1870's. There is something too, besides this bond of fellowship that draws me often, after a lapse of over half a century, across the river and over the green sandy hills to where:
"Still sits the school house by the road
a little urchin sunning
While round it still the sumac grows
And blackberry vines are running."

And as long as pictures of the past hand upon the walls of my memory, I shall never forget the blizzard of January 12th, 1888.

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