Guest Author - Vance Rowe
January 12th 1888 saw the Midwest ravaged by another blizzard. The previous winter devastated the Dakotas and Montana and also devastated the cattle industry. The 1888 blizzard did not drop much snow comparatively. The storm only dropped about six inches of snow when it was all said and done but everyone was caught off-guard because it was relatively warm that day at about 28 degrees F. The day before saw temperatures dip below zero and a few days prior to this, some powdery snow fell on the northern and central plains. This blizzard was unexpected and caught people by surprise, especially the children of one-room schoolhouses.
This storm was so deadly because of the timing and the suddenness of it. The blizzard hit Nebraska, about 3 pm, after sweeping in from the Dakota Territory. The blizzard arrived with hurricane force winds and whipping snow which resulted in zero visibility. Children were still in school, people were at work, going to town and doing chores when it hit. Travel was severely hampered in the few days that followed the blizzard.
A lot of stories of children being rescued emerged from this blizzard, giving this the storm the name, the Schoolhouse Blizzard.
In Plainview Nebraska, a teacher and three students found themselves stuck in her schoolhouse. The teacher, Lois Royce, had no choice but to try and get the students to safety because they had run out of fuel for heating. The boarding house she stayed at was only about 82 yards away so she thought she could make it. Unfortunately, visibility was so bad, they became lost and the three children froze to death. A six-year-old girl and two nine-year-old boys. Royce survived but her feet were badly frostbitten and they had to be amputated.
In Holt County, Nebraska, Etta Shattuck was a schoolteacher and only nineteen-years-old when she got lost on her way home as well. Seeking shelter inside of a haystack, she remained in there for three-and-a-half days before finally being rescued. Shattuck died a few weeks later due to complications from surgery when her legs and feet had to be amputated because of frostbite.
A song was written about Minnie Freeman. In Mira Valley, Nebraska, schoolteacher Minnie Freeman led thirteen children to safety from her schoolhouse to her home a half mile away. She tied the children together with a rope and led them safely home. A man named William Vincent wrote and recorded a song about her called Song of the Great Blizzard: Thirteen Were Saved
235 people died because of this storm and two months later, another severe blizzard hit but this time on the East Coast states and is known as the Great Blizzard of 1888.