By George Monlux

Encyclopedia Britannica defines blizzard as a “fierce storm of bitter, frosty wind with fine blinding snow, in which man and beast often perish.”

In one which raged from Minnesota to Texas January 12, 1888, the mercury fell within twenty-four hours from 74 degrees above zero to 28 degrees below zero, and in Dakota went down to 40 degrees below zero.  Some 235 persons lost their lives.

This was the worst storm since 1864.  The Colorado River was frozen a foot thick for the first time in the memory of man, and desolation and death were on every hand.

Of the really disastrous blizzards we mention those of 1836, of December 1863, January 1866, January 6, 1873, being until that of 1888, the most severe on record.

The word is a popular formation originating in the United States and seemingly akin to blast-bluster.  The term was in colloquial use in the west early in the century, but first became usual throughout the United States during the severe winter of 1880-81. 

There has not been a genuine blizzard in Lyon County since 1888.  I first saw one of these storms in November 1871.  In January 1872, we had another here, which lasted for three days, another on February 13, 1872, in which I had an exciting experience.

In February 1872 the snow was very deep, teams could not travel outside the beaten roads, without getting down, and had to be shoveled out.

There was a well traveled road from my place to Sibley, by way of town lines road, built up by constant travel until it was higher than the surrounding snow.

About 11 a.m. February 13, 1872, James Roberts, and the writer, started for Sibley with a good team of horses with a sled, the distance the way we went was about ten miles.  We arrived in Sibley about 12:30 p.m.  Rogers’ store and two or three small dwelling houses was all there was of Sibley at that date.  The board of supervisors were in session and there was perhaps thirty or forty men in attendance.  It had been snowing heavily for some time, great flakes of wet snow, and horses and clothing was wet.  We left for home about 2 p.m., going north about two and one half miles to strike the Town line road about a mile south of the main road.  With a roar heard for some minutes before, the blizzard struck us.  We could not see a foot ahead of us.  It turned intensely cold, and in a few minutes our wet clothing was frozen stiff.  Roberts wanted to turn back but I refused to return.  I got out and faced the storm ahead of the horses and finally reached the well-traveled Townline road.  We drove fast to the Whitehead home.  From there it was a mile and a half to my house.  After passing Whitehead’s house the wind was terrific, we could not see the ground.  I concluded to return to Whitehead’s.  Getting out again I took the lead strap of one horse and part of the way back I had to crawl on the ground feeling my way back.  We let the stem stand at the south end of the house and went in.  Mrs. Whitehead and family were at home, they had a good fire, but about all the fuel they had was in the stove, and for the next three days this family, and many other families for that matter, had to stay in bed to keep from freezing.  My hands, encased in frozen mittens, were very cold, but were not frozen.  We warmed up and I wanted Roberts to try again to get home.  He refused to go further.  I told him his team would perish, as there was no stable for them.  He almost cried when he thought of his fine team of mares, but said he would rather they should freeze than himself.  I told him I would make another attempt to get home, and if I could not get through I would return.  We unhitched the teams, and I led them, for much of the way I could not see the ground.  When I did get off the road the horses would flounder and fall, but I finally arrived home save.

Old Mr. Beaman had left my home driving two yoke of cattle going down to Dexter’s place.  My wife told me at what time he left, and I was certain he never got through.  The storm lasted all the next day, and the day after we turned out to hunt Mr. Beaman.  We found him on the Little Rock River about where the Illinois Central Railroad Bridge is now, just south of the town of George.  He was dead.  His team of oxen was chained together.  One ox was dead, but the other oxen came out all right.

In this storm of February 13, 1872, the next morning after it ceased to blow, Mr. Moon, who lived on the Moon homestead, discovered a yoke of oxen and a sled loaded with flour and provisions standing on the point about where James and George Gilman'’ houses now stand.  About the same hour, Mr. Martin, who lived near the state line north of town, saw a man down near the river, who appeared to be in trouble, falling down and wandering around.  Mr. Martin went to his rescue, and found Mr. Abbott, who lived just over the line in Minnesota.  Mr. Abbott had been to LeMars after supplies and got within forty rods of Mr. Martin’s place when the storm struck him.  He left his team there and made his way to the river, where he had wandered for almost forty-eight hours.  Both feet were frozen and his legs were amputated just below the knees, but he got well, and I think he is still alive.

The great blizzard of January 12, 1873 was very destructive.  It was reported that over 300 people lost their lives in Minnesota, Iowa and Dakota.  In this blizzard I was at Converse’s hotel in Rock Rapids.  Judge Addison Oliver, now living in Monona County, was holding court, and the hotel was full.  The storm struck us about 11 a.m., and for the next three days we could not, at any time, see Bradley’s store just across the street.

The Sioux Falls and Sibley stage was due from Sibley about noon.  The driver, Mr. Baker, and a Mr. Jenkins, agent for the Ohio Bridge Company, were the only persons on the stage, which was a covered rig, and was on wheels.  The road was good, not much snow on the ground, but the terrific force of the wind picked up and pulverized this snow and literally filled the air with snow.

They got as far west as the stone pile about half way between the two rivers, where they could face the storm no farther, and they turned around and lost the road.  They went back to section 1 in Liberal Township, near where Henry Baker now lives, where they got stuck in a snowdrift.  They unhitched their horses and before night their horses were dead.  By the next morning the men’s feet were frozen.  This was Tuesday noon.  John Dye, Ezra Monlux and the writer, found them there Friday noon.  Jenkins lay on the snow outside of the coach dead.  Mr. Baker was inside, alive, but covered with snow, which had been driven through the curtains of the coach.  He told us that he and Jenkins crawled out that morning, but Jenkins fell down and died there, and that he could do nothing for him.  Baker’s feet and legs were frozen solid, nearly to the knees.

We put Mr. Jenkins and Baker on the sled when it occurred to me that perhaps in the goods inside of the coach, which Baker was taking over to Mr. Vansickle’s, there might be some whiskey.  I opened several boxes and finally found a box that contained two jugs that were full of some kind of liquid.  I got the stopper out of one jug, and smelling it, thought it was whiskey.  I held the jog up to Baker'’ mouth, and at the first mouthful, I thought he would choke to death.  But after getting his wind he drank until I took the jug away.  I afterwards found the jug contained pure alcohol.

We took them over to Dan Bailey’s place and getting a tub of ice water and put Baker’s feet in it.  We could not get his shoes off for twenty-four hours.  Two days later Dave Littlechild came over from Sibley and took Baker to Sibley, and about ten days after this, when they succeeded in getting a surgeon from Emmitsburg, he amputated both legs just below the knee.  Mr. Baker appeared to get along nicely until in May he got gangrene in his wounds and he died a few days later.

We took Mr. Jenkins to the Whitehead house and I made a rough box for him and took him to Sibley.  From there they sent him by team to LeMars and shipped him to his family in Fort Dodge.

The last great blizzard was February 12, 1888, which was very destructive while it lasted, but fortunately it only lasted at this place about twelve hours.

Mr. Cleveland, living near where Lester now is, had seventy-five head of cattle.  His two boys started to take the cattle to water on Mud Creek, about one mile away.  The storm caught them and although they were only a short distance from home, they found, the next morning, the two boys and seventy-two head of the cattle dead.  Many other citizens of our county had narrow escapes from death, and several lost hands and feet.

In looking back over those early times it is a wonder that more people were not frozen in crossing those trackless prairies, fifteen or twenty miles between houses.  But for sixteen years now, we have not had any of those severe storms, and with our houses and large groves all over the county, we do not fear another blizzard.


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