Potter County, South Dakota
Few persons have ever seen a worse blizzard than this one. The wind was a northwester; the snow filled the wind almost to suffocation & was as thick as dense fog. The wind seemed to force the breath from the body like the action of a suction pump, and after a few minutes exposure to its fury the average person was so confused as to scarcely know whether he was a-foot or on horseback.
Rev. J. S. Cox of Elida Twsp. had a close call in the blizzard when he prepared to go to the stables some fifteen rods from the house to look after his stock. Intending to be gone an hour, he directed his daughter to call for him at the end of that time to help him find the house in case he became confused in the storm. He finished his chores sooner than expected and started back, and was soon lost. He stopped to wait for the voice of his daughter, which fortunately came in a few minutes, but it was difficult to locate its direction, and he missed the house at first, but finally found his way. Miss Caddy frosted her face standing out calling for her father. [Gettysburg Herald, Gettysburg, Dakota Territory, Jan. 18, 1888; Transcribed by Peg Williams]
So long as there is a history of South Dakota, there will be echoes of the blizzard of January 12, 1888. We had a beautiful autumn extending until after the middle of December. The first snowfall was heavy and the weather was unusually severe during January, climaxed by the great blizzard on the twelfth. The previous day was cold and clear with a strong wind blowing from the southeast. The upper strata of air was filled with frost crystals, giving a wonderful display of crescents, circles and sundogs. Temperatures moderated a little during the night and the sky became overcast. There were about twenty inches of snow on the ground. Toward morning the wind swung into the northwest and brought with it a fine, powdery snow which soon reduced visibility to zero. Objects two feet from the door were invisible. It was dangerous to venture out, and it was impossible to breathe without a scarf over the nose and eyes. Eyes soon froze shut and clothes were driven full of snow. The temperature dropped rapidly during the day and reached forty below by the next morning.
The starting time was favorable in our section for the farmers who got up early, for they had time to feed the stock and see that they were securely housed. However, much concern was felt throughout the storm for fear that even the housed animals might be buried in snow in the barns and suffocated. This, however, proved to be false, and all stock properly housed came through in good shape.
Nearly everyone remained indoors during the duration of the storm. However, there were some near tragedies in our territory. Our teacher, Miss Arnold, who had gone to school in the morning, had a difficult time returning to her boarding place. Snow banks four feet deep barred her path. She missed the house by a few feet. Only her alertness in noticing a slackening of the wind as she came opposite it helped her to find the door and get refuge from the storm. One farmer tried to go to the barn. The storm was so severe he decided he could not make it, and upon trying to return against the wind to the house, he found he would have to get on his hands and knees and crawl to make it. Only the voice of his wife guided him to safety. Two other farmers tied binding twine to the door and used it to guide them to and from the barn. Many who ventured out even these short distances wound up with frozen feet and hands.
When the weather cleared, we scarcely recognized our surroundings. Many high places were swept clear of snow. It was piled high in others. What had been hard packed snow was a skeleton framework of ice with the fine snow blown out. Since there were no telephones, we had to wait until we could see our neighbors to find out if they had survived. Telegraph and transportation lines were all down, and it was several days before we knew what a severe loss of life and property the northwest had suffered.
It may be a hundred years before there is another like it. At any rate, seventy years have now passed and it still remains the measuring stick for all other storms. While there have been a few bad ones, none has ever reached it in magnitude and we hope none ever will. [Source: Rella McIntosh, [personal narratives of life in Potter County, South Dakota]. circa 1958; Transcribed by the staff of the Potter County Library, Gettysburg, SD.]
THE STORM IN POTTER COUNTY
We clip the following from the Gettysburg Herald concerning the recent storm in Potter County and the casualties resulting therefrom.
In Elida Township, G. W. Smith's house was torn to pieces; Glenn Smith sustained a fracture of the shoulder blade and other bruises. Mrs. Smith was severely bruised, Buggy demolished.
Valentine Bohn was killed in his house which was blown away.
The storm was accompanied by a deluge of water and hail which beat down the crops over a large area in these two towns, but the full extent of damage is not yet known.
At Appomattox the damage came in the form of a flood caused by the heavy rains above, which poured a tremendous volume of water down Little Cheyenne river, suddenly raising that usually dry stream to the height of thirty feet.
The house of G. W. Wager and T. M. McElroy were swept away in the seething flood, eight persons losing their lives in the two families as follows:
- Mrs. J. T. McElroy, age 45
- Addie McElroy, 12
- Lydia McElroy, 12
- Mrs. G. W. Wager, 48
- Ella Wager, 18
- Myrtle Wager, 5
- Mable Wager, 3
- Sidney Mosher, 7
The last named was the grandson of G. W. Wager and with his mother and two other children were on a visit to the old folks from Kansas.
Of those thought to be lost at first were Mrs. Mosher, who clung in the tree-tops with her two little girls, age 3 and 6 years, until morning. Also Nettie Wager age 15, who saved herself and sister age 7, by clinging in the trees until rescued next morning. The bodies of the McElroys were taken to Forest City, those of the Wagers to Appomattox school house. The funerals will probably take place today (Thursday.)
At Miss Wheeler's Postoffice the water ran over the top of the counters. The occupants, however, got out before the flood struck them, but the damage to stock is considerable.
The old Fairbank building was blown down and partly swept away.
The Cheyenne bridge is gone.
Under the direction of Mrs. Bryan president of the W. R. C., the ladies of Gettysburg gathered up a quantity of clothing and the business men contributed a quantity of eatables to relieve immediate necessities. [SOURCE: Faulk County Record, Thursday, June 26, 1890, Page 1; Contributed by Harold Way]
Tornado of July 19, 1892
Gettysburg, S.D., July 22, 1892: Tuesday night at 10:05 o’clock a terrific wind and rainstorm swept over this section. A lawn fete was being conducted by the Excelsior Dramatic Club of this place near the residence of Dr. F.B. Bullard, and was numerously attended by people of all ages, from babies in arms to the old and infirm. First came the great drops of rain, spattering on the tents and awnings, warning the congregated people that the storm was approaching, although the appearance of the heavens at sunset was not such as to warrant anticipation of such a calamity as has befallen our community. Suddenly and without warning, a fierce gale set in from the northwest which rapidly increased in force until it became a tornado, carrying almost everything before it. The magnificent Methodist Church, a costly structure with a seating capacity of about 300, is a mass of shapeless ruins, scattered literally to the four winds of heaven. A timber from the church was blown through a window in the residence of A. G. Williams, through a partition, and then through a closet door and was so tightly wedged in that the partition had to be cut away to take it out. Teall’s store building was carried to the east, both side walls and the front giving away and letting the roof down until the ceiling nearly touched the show cases, and the building was a total wreck, except that the roof was not broken. (Teall’s store, in its descent, bore heavily against the jewelry store of L.R. Hyde, who was pinned fast between the edge of an open door and a partition, and the Hyde store and dwelling were crushed out of all shape.) The Baptist Church was carried twelve feet to the east, off of the foundation and over into the side yards of the residence to the east of the church. The Episcopal church was moved on its foundation about three inches, cracking and plastering badly. The Chicago and Northwestern railroad warehouse was blown from its underpinning and onto the main track of the road. The incoming train on the Chicago and Northwestern would have been blown back in spite of all the engine could do to retain it had not the brakes been tightly set. Cars on the sidetracks were carried eastwardly up the road and away, and one large freight car turned over and over but landed safely at the bottom of a fill, right side up. Both our school houses are in total ruin with books, papers, maps, charts and other paraphernalia of education scattered over the prairie. The postoffice building was wrenched and torn partially from its foundation, necessitating the removal of the postoffice to the Odd Fellows Hall. All the elevators and warehouses were more or less badly damaged. Ogden’s lumber shed was entirely demolished and Booth’s badly damaged. The tower of the courthouse was blown down, the coal shed carried into the air and dropped bottom side up, depositing the contents on the under side of the roof. The town windmill and tower were blown down. Michael’s harness and hardware shop was unroofed. Sparling’s hardware store had its front knocked entirely out by flying boards and pieces of buildings. Tillotson’s general store met with a similar fate. The large barns and corral opposite Fisk’s office were struck by lightning and a portion of the roof torn off. McMaster’s Dakota House was twice struck by lightning and badly damaged. The French residence, occupied by Brooks George and family, was struck by flying portions of a barn and torn all to pieces. The residence of James Bryson was totally demolished, as was also his barn. The house occupied by John Clements was blown bodily into the air a great distance and dropped to the earth, a mass of ruins. The members of the family were standing chin deep in water in the cellar where they had sought refuge when rescued by several young men at great risk to their own lives. The residence of W.A. Herron was entirely demolished, catching in the ruins his wife and a 4-year-old child, killing the mother instantly. The little girl lingered only a few hours and died. Men were blown a distance of two and three blocks and dropped onto their feet or knees, but no fatalities, other than those of Mrs. Herron and her child, occurred. Telegraph wires are all down and communication with the outside world is entirely shut off. At Forest City, sixteen miles west of here, but not connected by wire, great damage was done. The round house of the Forest City and Sioux City Railroad Company was blown down and torn to pieces, and a coach of that road standing on the track was overturned and ruined. Houses, outhouses, barns and all small structures are laid low, while Crockett’s River View Hotel is a complete ruin. Across the river at the Cheyenne Indian Agency, the new Catholic Church, only dedicated on July 4, was blown entirely down and demolished. The Episcopal Church was blown from its foundations. The government buildings were all more or less damaged and will have to be almost entirely rebuilt. Boats were blown adrift and have gone down the river. Gettysburg has been full of country folks, drawn here to see the devastation of the storm. No outside assistance is needed, as the Gettysburg people, true to their past history, will care for the unfortunate ones. [Source: A newspaper clipping in the Potter County History files at the Potter County Library, Gettysburg, SD. Name of newspaper is unknown. Article is dated July 22, 1892. Transcribed by the staff of the Potter County Library]
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