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Schoolchildren’s Blizzard


Perhaps the most tragic blizzard in North Dakota’s history occurred on January 12, 1888. The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard, as it became known, affected the mid-section of the country, from North Dakota all the way down to Texas. When the storm finally subsided, two-hundred and thirty people lay dead, mostly school-aged children.

The enormous death toll of the blizzard resulted from a variety of chance coincidences that culminated in tragedy. For starters, the blizzard caught people by surprise. It happened on a warm Thursday following several weeks of cold weather. Children headed to school that morning dressed in only sweaters and light jackets, happy to leave mittens, hats, and heavier coats behind in the above-freezing temperatures. In North Dakota, the weather began to take a turn shortly before lunch time. Within three minutes, the temperature dropped eighteen degrees, and continued to drop. Within hours, the temperature would reach forty below. Most rural schoolteachers kept the children inside their isolated schoolhouses, hoping to wait out the storm. Unfortunately, several ran out of fuel to keep the buildings warm, and were forced to seek help. In the blinding and disorientating blizzard, many lost their way, never to return.

With a wind-chill of nearly seventy below in the Dakotas, an exposed individual during the blizzard risked frostbite in only five minutes. Mrs. Wilson of Runningwater, Dakota, attempted to lead her nine students home, but became lost in the blizzard. All ten were found frozen to death.

In Nebraska, the storm hit just as teachers were dismissing students for the afternoon. Most of the casualties resulted from these students losing their way and dying of hypothermia. One schoolteacher, Lois Royce, attempted to take her three pupils to her home, only ninety yards from the schoolhouse. The four became lost, and all three children froze to death. Nebraska schoolteacher Minnie Freeman became a national heroine after succeeding in saving her seventeen students by tying the children together using rope and leading them the half mile to her boarding house.

The following morning, Friday the 13th, Dakota residents awoke to find the true horrors that the storm left behind: frozen and lifeless bodies littered the plains. Some students’ bodies were recovered miles from either school or home, apparently wandering blindly off-course for many hours. Many children and rural farm workers had taken shelter inside hay-bales, and were discovered the following day.

-Jayme L. Job


Laskin, David. 2004, The Children’s Blizzard. Harper Collins.


http://ellbis.com/northdakotablizz.htm http://www.pawneecountyhistory.com/yesteryear/blizzard.html