THE BLIZZARD OF JAN. 12, 1888.
Chapter 7, "History of Faulk County, South Dakota"
Aberdeen, S.D.: Reprinted by North Plains Press, 1909
Transcribed by K. Torp
Nature's changes are nowhere more marked and signal than upon the broad prairies of the Dakotas. Beyond all conception as to numbers and splendor, were the charming, sunshiny days and moonlight nights, yet they were sometimes suddenly, without warning, interrupted by the most dreadful cyclones in summer and yet more terrible blizzards in winter.
On the 12th of January, 1883, all nature smiled to usher in a most delightful day. It was a most beautiful winter morning, warm and gracious, with soft, variable breezes. One moment, bright, warm, glorious; the next moment, without the slightest warning, the terror fell with unexpected fury. An indescribable terror that pen cannot picture, swept over the great northwest. For fifteen hours it continued, blinding, impenetrable and intensely cold, the atmosphere filled with needles of ice driven by a furious wind with a terrific roar, producing an intense darkness and shutting out objects only a few feet away. In a moment it was gone and the sun came out as beautiful as a morning in May. Its work of death was ended.
In South Dakota one hundred and twelve perished and many more sustained life long injuries. In Faulk county the following sad record was made and published at the time:
"At Faulkton the blizzard began at 10 a. m. on Thursday, January 12th, 1888, and spent its force by two or
three o'clock, Friday morning, making the duration of the storm in all its fury, about sixteen hours. The wind freshened up again Friday, drifting such snow as had not already found permanent lodgement, and the mercury fell rapidly to 24 below zero Friday night, dropping perhaps to its lowest point, nearly 30 below, on Sunday morning.
"Faulk county with her 5,000 population, scarcely averaging in the county, a family to the square mile, furnishes four names for the fatal list, viz: Joseph Metz of 117-68. Mr. Metz was a strong man in the prime of life. He went out into the storm to look after and care for his stock, got lost and perished.
William Klemp of 119-71, went out into the storm just at night to care for his stock, has not been found and is supposed to have perished. (His body was subsequently found in an unoccupied sod shanty more than a mile from his home.) Mr. Klemp was in the full vigor of manhood, and many will remember his marriage last September.
Miss Ella Lamar, aged 29 years, teacher at the Auman school house, seventeen miles southwest of Faulkton in the Ellisville school district; Carrie Auman, aged 8 years, a pupil of Miss Lamar's. The teacher and pupil left the school room to go to Mr. Auman's house, a distance of forty rods, nearly with the wind. Their bodies were found as far beyond the house for which they started, as the house was distant from the school house. Had they remained in the school-room they would have been safe.
"Herman and Edwin Giese, aged respectively 12 and 9 years, of 117-70, were at school with Miss Lamar, and against their wishes, accompanied her and little Carrie Auman from the school house into the storm. The boys report that when Miss Lamar gave out they all lay down and remained until Friday. The snow had drifted over them and gave some protection. Though badly frozen, the boys were able to walk a half mile to Henry Hillman's and said, "they could not wake the teacher and Carrie-they were dead."
When the storm burst with its fury the Faulkton primary and intermediate schools were in full progress, Mrs. McCoy and Mrs. Bissell, teachers. A rescue party was organized, a rope was fastened to the hotel door, and with the coil in hand, the party struggled on and succeeded in reaching the intermediate school house. Another rope from there and they were soon at the primary school, where, with the assistance of the teacher, the pupils were tied to the rope and taken to the intermediate school building, with an experience that led to no further efforts in that direction. Teachers and scholars were compelled to remain in the intermediate school room until Friday morning.
Dakota blizzards are among the things of the past. Volumes of incidents, which neither pen nor pencil could describe, that might have been written, are forgotten; yet the dark, blinding, roaring storm once experienced, ever remains an actual living presence, that has marked its pathway with ruin, desolation and death. The 12th of January, 1888, is, and long will be, remembered, not only by Dakotans, but by many in the northwest, not for the things we enjoy, love and would see repeated; but for its darkness, desolation, ruin and death, spread broadcast; for the sorrow, sadness and heartache that followed in its train.
The following from the Faulkton Times of that date will give a fuller account of that terrible storm that swept with such fearful force over the northwest, though largely referring to incidents outside of Faulk county:
'During Wednesday a snow storm from the southwest prevailed most of the day and into the night. Thursday morning snow was still falling with little or no wind and without any indication of the storm that broke upon Faulk county from the northwest at about 10 a. m. The mercury then stood at 18° above zero, and was still above zero at night, and the cold was by no means intense during the storm. The wind was furious, the volume of snow immense, and the storm was much the worst of any ever experienced since the settlement of the county, "it was a blizzard" and no mistake, though hardly to be compared to the three days' blizzard of 1873, as experienced in Minnesota and Iowa and as the recorded death roll in Minnesota and northwestern Iowa testifies in confirmation of the recollection of those who were there. The blizzard of '73 lasted for three consecutive days and nights without cessation, and the loss of life in northwestern Iowa and Minnesota was very great. They were then as Dakota is now, a newly and sparsely settled country that made it comparatively impossible to find shelter from the storm if caught out on the prairies. That was fifteen years ago. Fifteen years from now Dakota will be so settled and developed as to render the loss of a life in such a storm as unlikely and comparatively impossible as in Iowa today. At this place the blizzard begun Thursday at about 10 a. m. and had spent its force by 2 or 3 a. m. Friday morning-the wind easing down to a calm at 9 a. m.-making the duration of the storm in all its fury about 16 hours. The wind freshened up again Friday, drifting such snow as had not already found permanent lodgement, and the mercury fell rapidly to 24 below zero Friday night, standing about the same Saturday night, dropping perhaps to its lowest point Sunday morning to near 30° below.
The telegraphic reports now give the death roll of Dakota, as perfected and complete, at 100. This is not large considering its realm-like area-two and a half times as large as all New England, and almost three times as large as Iowa-and its widely scattered inhabitants, and, as the morning was not bad, the loss is composed mostly of those caught away from home, though in some instances lives were wantonly sacrificed by going out into the storm, at-tempting to go home, or to some other place of safety near, and death was the penalty of not realizing the danger, and exercising the good judgment to remain where they were safe. Faulk county, with her 5,000 population, yet scarcely averaging in the country a family to the square mile, furnishes four names for the fatal list, viz:
Joseph Metz, of 117-68. Mr. Metz was a strong man in the prime of life. He went out into the storm to look after and care for his stock, got lost and perished.
Wm.. Klemp, of 119-71, went out into the storm just at night to care for his stock, has not been found, and is supposed to have perished. Mr. Klemp was in the full vigor of manhood, and many will remember of his marriage last September.
Miss Ella Lamar, aged 29 years, teacher at the Auman schoolhouse, seventeen miles southwest of Faulkton in the Ellisville school district.
Carrie Auman, aged 8 years, a pupil of Miss Lamar. The teacher and pupil left the schoolhouse to go to Mr. Auman's house, a distance of forty rods-nearly with the wind. Their bodies were found as much farther beyond the house. Had they remained in the schoolhouse they would have been safe.
Herman and Edwin, sons of Ludwig Giese, of 117-70, aged respectively 12 and 9 years, were at school with Miss Lamar, and against their wishes, accompanied her with little Carrie Auman from the school house into the storm. The boys report that when Miss Lamar gave out they all lay down and remained till Friday morning. The snow had drifted over and protected them. The boys were not so badly frozen as reported. They walked a half mile to Henry Hillman's and said, "They could not wake the teacher and Carrie-they were dead.''
Thus it will be seen that those who perished in Faulk county left a place of safety, defied the storm, braved death and perished. Others went miles in the storm unharmed. Mr. Wood walked from Seneca to Faulkton, 22 miles, traveling almost east, with the storm in the north-west.
Frank Fluent came to town from Mr. Kirk's, who lives seven or eight miles northwest of town, Frank said he kept cool, didn't hurry and was careful. He came in warm and unfrozen in any way. Mr. Wood and Mr. Fluent well illustrate what cool, strong men can endure and accomplish when successful in keeping their reckoning.
Miss Maggie Dunn, a teacher near Polo, northwest Hand county, perished in the storm. Miss Dunn had gone to her school before the storm set in, and none of her scholars arriving she started back only to lose her life a few steps from the house where she boarded.
A woman named Shoultz and a boy by the name of May were frozen to death in northeast Hand county.
In Faulkton the pupils of the primary and intermediate departments were gathered in the intermediate school room. Mrs. Bissell and Mrs. McCoy, their teachers, remained with them during the night. A few parents took their children home and provisions were taken to the schoolhouse and all were made comfortable for the night. John Keithley was one of the most effective workers in opening communication with the schools and providing for the wants of the children.
A current of electricity extended across the west portion of the town, from C. C. Moulton's, on the banks of the Nixon, southwest to the C. & N. W. depot. Messrs. Moulton, Pierce, McCaffry, Howe and others relate interesting experiences relating to the electric phenomena.
Volumes of incidents could be written giving details of individual experiences, etc., that would be of more or less interest but our space forbids.
The latest authentic summary of blizzard fatalities reported from Minneapolis shows ninety-seven dead in Dakota, thirteen in Minnesota, six in Iowa, seventeen in Nebraska and two in Montana. Total 135.
It will likely be a week yet before the facts and rumors are all sifted out and the correct figures known. The totals are not reported for Kansas and Texas."