A TALE OF TWO BLIZZARDS
By Mrs. E. B. Crownover
On September 1, 1883, a young woman departed from her home in southern Iowa. Her destination was York County, Nebraska, where she had engaged to teach a public school that autumn and winter in Morton township, known at that time as the Willett school, 13 miles northeast of York. It was her first trip outside of Iowa and, save for two families in Nebraska who were former residents of Iowa and old friends of her parents and grandparents, everyone was a stranger. She found a very pleasant married couple who shared their home with her and soon learned that kindliness and hospitality were given her in abundance. Mr. and Mrs. D. H. Wirt lived in the nearest new three room sod house and I shall never forget that happy winter. Mr. Wirt's parents lived near them and I am certain that many of the younger generation will remember the genial, kindly Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Wirt, their three daughters and son. The Wirts were early pioneers in Nebraska and it was a delight to listen to stories of the many experiences they had in pioneering.
One story that deeply interested me was that of a terrible blizzard which lasted for three days and was known as the Easter blizzard as it occured on or near Easter. At that time this family lived in a dugout. Those who have lived in Nebraska in the early days can understand what they were like. During those three days of horror Mr. Wirt managed to take care of his horses and other stock that were kept in another dugout not far from their home, by fastening one end of a rope to their home and the other end to the stable. Thus by keeping a close hold on the rope it guided him. The family and their farm animals all survived without any ill effects from the storm. At that time it seemed a miracle to me but a few years later I had an experience with a blizzard that I shall always remember. As this storm covered a much greater territory and as many people will remember it I shall give only my own experience. It was January 12, 1888, when I was teaching the school in district 84, known as West Point, two and one half miles northwest of Benedict where I lived. Benedict was only one year old and was not yet supplied with a school house.
The sky was gray that morning when I started to walk to my school, a light snow was falling, although it was not at all cold. When I had covered a mile of my journey two of my pupils were waiting to see if I thought it best to go on. I had not thought of a storm but one of the children said his father had counselled him not to go to school for it looked like a blizzard. He left us but the other pupil, a fine, strong grown-up young girl, said she would go on if I did, as she would not let me go alone. I felt it was necessary for me to go on as there might be children waiting and if it grew colder or stormed I would be there to take care of them. So my faithful friend and I hurried on over the last mile and a half to the school.
There were three boys and two girls in school that day and everything moved along nicely until about three o'clock when I noticed that it was getting decidedly colder. I took two fuel buckets out to the coal house and hoped to at least keep the fire going should it storm hard enough to prevent us from going home. The door to the coal house was open and the wind was not blowing hard. I filled the two buckets and set them outside and stepped out to close and lock the door when suddenly like a flash of lightning the door was wrenched from my hand by the wind and the door banged shut, knocking me prone on my face. Then the fight was on. I scrambled up and succeeded in getting the coal house door locked as the wind held it shut. Then I went inside the school house as quickly as possible and found some very frightened little faces turned up to mine trusting me to protect them. I told them there would be someone coming soon and if not we could keep warm right there all together. The two larger boys thought they could get home if they started at once but I could not let them go alone. It grew colder and the awful wind blew harder and harder. But before long aid came in the person of little Eddie Vogel's father. He was the only small pupil at school that day and when I saw his father at the door with a big snow sled drawn by two fine, large horses, I certainly was relieved for I dared not let those dear youngsters out of my sight until help came. We soon had the four younger children wrapped and loaded in the big sled and as Mr. Vogel lived not more than one half mile from the school house I knew he would see that the children were returned to their homes safely.
But what were my good friend and I to do? I was two and half miles from home and she one mile. Her mother was a widow and she and two daughters lived on the farm alone. It seemed that there was no one to come for her so I plead of her not to try to walk home. If we kept together all would be well but if we parted it would be dangerous. I insisted that we remain together in the schoolhouse but she was inclined to go so we started out with Kate in the lead and I closely behind. We meant to get on the highway where we could guide ourselves by a wire fence, but it was impossible to see our way and even difficult to walk, so at the first turn I tripped on a cornstalk and as I went down I could see we were lost in a cornfield. Kate admitted she had lost her way so I took the lead and finally got off right. Our clothes became covered with ice and snow and we dragged along slowly, making very little advance. I finally grew so weary of falling down and picking myself up that I decided to just rest awhile where I fell, which of course would have been fatal. But again my friend Kate forced and helped me to my feet and soon after we arrived at her home and there at the door was the sweet face of her mother welcoming us. It seemed to me I was entering heaven when I inhaled the warm pure air laden with the odor of delicious food and best of all the clean warm clothing into which we changed at once. We were actually caked from head to foot with frozen snow and it seemed that I weighed a ton. I cannot find words to express what I owe to brave Kate and her splendid kindly mother. I could not have endured stumbling along much longer for such utter exhaustion I had never experienced before or since.
Next morning before sunrise friends found me and took me home. The school was closed for a few days until the tons of snow could be removed from the roads and yards so that the children could get to and from school. Many children over this state lost their lives in that blizzard but, thank God, not one in our school was even ill.
I shall give you the names of the five pupils who weathered the blizzard with me: Mrs. Kate (Wirt) Kinyon, who now lives in Racine, Wisconsin; Alma Blohm Krantz, she has passed away but I believe some of her children are living in York county; Clyde Steward, William Bobo and Eddie Vogel. I thought some of those children might be living and would possibly remember it.