FRED KAILEY AND THE
EASTER BLIZZARD OF 1873
By Janene, when a fourth-grade student at Heartland Community School
It was April 13, 1873 on an Easter Sunday in the prairie of Nebraska. At the first sign of sunrise, it began to rain lightly. Fred Kailey and Charles White, known as Buckskin Charlie, had been working diligently trying to finish Fred Kailey's log cabin.
When Fred and his wife, Mary, and baby son, Otto, moved to Nebraska in 1870 to homestead 160 acres of land that the government had given Fred, he built a log cabin. Then when Fred went on a hunting journey with his brother-in-law, Buckskin Charlie, his cabin was struck by lightning and burned to ashes on the ground. That's why Fred Kailey and Buckskin Charlie are building a new cabin on Easter Sunday, 1873.
Fred Kailey and Buckskin Charlie were cold from working on the cabin because of the wind outside. The wind was blowing the snow between the cracks on the logs because the logs hadn't been chinked. Immediately, Fred Kailey's wife, Mary, started a fire with corncobs and lit it with a flint rock. As soon as the fire was giving off some warmth, Fred Kailey, Mary and baby Otto and Buckskin Charlie huddled together in blankets to keep warm.
Since the weather was getting worse, Buckskin Charlie decided to go back home to his worried wife. So Buckskin Charlie got on his horse and rode to his house which was about one mile from Fred Kailey's farm.
That Sunday evening, Mary, Otto, and Fred Kailey dressed in their warmest clothes and huddled, together in all of the blankets that they owned. Then the Kailey family snuggled near the fire trying to keep as warm as possible.
All through the next three days, Fred and his young wife, Mary, held Otto closely trying to keep as warm as they could. Yet, the tiny snowflakes flew through the cracks of the unchinked logs and melted as soon as the snowflakes were inside. Therefore the Kaileys were soaking wet.
By Thursday, the Kailey family was in a very serious situation. Snow was piling up on top of the Kailey's roof, and melting from the warmth of their bodies making Fred, Mary, and Otto even wetter.
Fred Kailey knew that his only hope for survival was to leave the snow covered cabin and go for help to their nearby neighbor. If they didn't, they would surely freeze to death.
Very soon, the Kaileys decided to go to their neighbor, Roger Shepherd. So they bundled up in their driest clothes. Then with all of his strength, Fred push the cabin door open and the three frightened Kaileys walked out into the fierce wind with violent snow whirling around them.
As the Kailey family struggled through the deep snow, the powerful wind whirled the snowflakes against their faces making it very hard for the family to see clearly. However the desperate Kaileys struggled on trying to find their nearest neighbor's house, Roger Shepherd. Mr. Shepherd's sod house was their only hope for survival.
Suddenly little Otto dropped down to his knees, so Fred knelt down and scooped up his exhausted child into his arms. As the Kaileys continued walking toward Roger Shepherd's house, Mary collapsed from exhaustion. Soon Fred was struggling in the deep snow carrying both his wife and child.
Within moments, Fred realized it was impossible for him to continue walking in the direction of their nearest neighbor's house. The next thing Fred knew, he was lying in the icy, cold, snow beside his wife and child. Since Roger Shepherd's house was nowhere to be seen, the Kailey's had no hope for survival because they were very sure they were lost.
Soon Fred knew that he would have to go for help, otherwise the Kailey's would perish. Next Fred explained to his loving wife and Otto to have courage until he returned with help. So after wrapping his arms around Mary and Otto, Fred turned around and started walking towards Buckskin Charlie's homestead.
Even though Fred was completely exhausted, he made every effort to continue pushing on. When Fred was only a quarter of a mile from Buckskin Charlie's homestead, he fell down onto the icy ground. Yet, Fred crawled on his hands and knees the rest of the way to Buckskin Charlie's log cabin.
After Fred crawled onto Buckskin's front porch, he desperately pounded on the door and yelled in a hoarse voice, "Charlie, help me!" Immediately Charlie opened the door and helped his brother-in-law into the cozy, warm house that was very comfortable.
When Fred got inside Buckskin Charlie's cozy house, he explained everything to Buckskin Charlie and his new wife about Mary and Otto lying in the snow out in the cold blizzard. As Charlie's new wife went to get some warm, dry clothes and blankets for Fred, Charlie went to the barn to hitch up his horses and their sleigh.
Soon Fred and Charlie jumped onto the sleigh, and Mrs. White handed them some warm bricks and blankets to keep their feet and body warm. Then they rushed across the snow covered field in search of Mary and Otto. While Charlie drove the horses and the sleigh in the direction of Roger Shepherd's sod home, Fred was very hopeful that Mary and Otto would still be alive.
Since the snow was blowing fiercely, Charlie and Fred had difficulty seeing where they were going. The time seemed to move very slowly for Fred as he kept looking at his pocket watch. The time was very precious to Fred because his wife, Mary, and his little son, Otto, were suffering out in the blizzard.
Way off in the distance, Fred noticed a familiar hump in the snow. As the blowing snow whirled around them, Fred shouted loudly in a hoarse voice, "Charlie, go that way. That might be them down the hill." At that moment Fred recognized a small piece of Mary's plaid dress sticking out of the big hump. Charlie quickly turned the sleigh around and finally Fred saw Mary and Otto lying motionless in the snow.
Immediately, Fred jumped off the sleigh into the deep snow and hurried over to Mary and Otto, lying in the cold snow. Then Fred dropped down on his knees and brushed the snowflakes off Mary's pale and cold face. Next Fred grabbed Mary's shoulders and shook her with all of his might as he yelled, "Mary, wake up! It's Fred!" She didn't respond or move at all.
As soon as Fred realized that Mary was dead, he gently lifted Otto into his big, warm arms as his eyes began to water. Fred's heart was aching very hard because he loved his family very much. He knew they were gone forever. By now, many big, warm tears poured down his rosy red, chapped cheeks and dropped down onto his frozen son, Otto.
Finally, Fred realized that there was no way to wake Mary or Otto because they had perished in the 1873 Easter blizzard that had lasted for three depressing days. Even though Fred had many troubles, he struggled to get Mary and Otto so he could save his beloved family. Then, when he did find them, he was too late. They were already frozen.
Fred never did remarry because of his love for his wife, Mary, and his four year old son, Otto. Maybe he didn't want to forget or put the previous years behind him that he had spent with Mary and Otto, moving to Nebraska and making new friends.
This story is based on the true story of Fred Kailey and the Easter Blizzard of 1873 and how his wife, Mary, and his four year old son, Otto, died in York County during the blizzard. Mary and Otto Kailey are buried in the Farmer's Valley Cemetery in Hamilton County, Nebraska.
The fourth grade students at Heartland Community School have taken the Kailey family into their hearts, and each year the accumulated research is passed on to the next class. When writing this story, Janene kept as true to historical record as possible. The only information which may be incorrect is why the Kailey's first home burned down — something we are still trying to document.
We are very grateful to family members who have generously shared their information about the Kailey's and Buckskin Charlie. It is through them we learned Fred did not remarry, and that he is buried at Mildred, Colorado. Please contact us if you have any additional information about the Kailey's, or Buckskin Charlie and his family.
George Gray also lost his life during the blizzard of 1873. His story is also online.
Tombstone photographs of family members buried at Farmer's Valley Cemetery, Hamtilton County, NE by Jackie Rudnick.
You may link to these records, but do not frame, copy, or reproduce them without written permission.
Copyright © 1997-2006, York County Historical Association, or the author. All rights reserved.