Winter is often slow to depart the Great Plains. By the end of March, travel can still be an icy challenge. On this date in 1911, the Bismarck Tribune reported on an unfortunate accident. Cars were not yet common, and most people still traveled in horse-drawn vehicles. Mrs. William Baxter of Braddock was severely burned in an accident involving a sleigh.
People often placed a jug of hot water on the floorboard of a sleigh as a footwarmer. In preparation for a trip to town, Mrs. Baxter wanted to warm the water of the jug they used, but the cork was stuck. So, she placed the whole jug in the oven. When her husband had the horses hitched to the sleigh and was ready to go, Mrs. Baxter removed the jug from the oven. It had developed quite a head of steam, and when she moved it the jug exploded. Mrs. Baxter was showered with boiling water. While her injuries were not expected to be permanent, she suffered considerable pain.
Sleigh accidents were quite common. On March 10th, 1910, the Ward County Independent reported that three women suffered minor injuries when their sleigh overturned, and they were thrown out onto the snow.
In 1916, the Reverend J.C. Jorgenson met with several difficulties when traveling to Dickinson in his sleigh. He said the roads were almost impassable. The horses became mired in the melting snowdrifts and he had to stop several times to make repairs to his equipment.
Being thrown from the sleigh was a common cause of injury. A large party was returning from church in New Ulm when the horses spooked and broke into a run. The sleigh tipped over when the horses turned sharply. The ten passengers were thrown out, lucky to suffer only minor injuries.
Some sleigh accidents were deadly. In 1884, the Bismarck Tribune reported on a fatal accident in Pennsylvania. Two men were thrown over an embankment and killed when their sleigh crashed. In another Pennsylvania accident, a large party was returning home from a dance when their sleigh was hit by a train. Two people were killed, and a dozen others injured.
It’s easy to romanticize traveling by sleigh. That mode of transportation, however, came with its own set of dangers.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Bismarck Tribune. “Hot Water Jug is a Bad Actor.” Bismarck ND. 3/29/1911. Page 3.
Ward County Independent. “Actress in Sleigh Accident.” Minot ND. 3/10/1910.
Dickinson Press. “Local News.” Dickinson ND. 2/19/1916. Page 11.
Bismarck Weekly Tribune. “Sleighing Accident.” Bismarck ND. 12/26/1884. Page 1.
The Evening Herald. “Terrible Sleighing Accident.” Shenandoah PA. 1/26/1895. Page 4.
New Ulm Review. “Sleighing Party Injured.” New Ulm MN. 2/10/1897. Page 3.