MY EXPERIENCE OF THE GREAT BLIZZARD OF APRIL, 1873
Diary entry by Jacob S. Gray — Written February 20, 1896
Reflecting on the death of his son, George, who died in the blizzard.
On Easter Sunday, April 12th, I arrived on my homestead, about sundown with a load of my household goods, on Section 14, Twsp 12, Range 4, my oldest son with me. Having taken a load the day before with my wife and my 3 youngest children, who I left there. On Sunday took my oldest boy and west to L. J. Gandy's homestead, where I had lived all winter, for some more of my goods and where my oldest daughter and my second son had been left to take care of things there, until they could be removed. When I arrived at Gandy's one Jas. McMurry was there with a team from the livery stable at York, which he drove to my homestead in company with my daughter, arriving about the same time I did.
About this time the wind (which had been blowing almost a hurricane from South for about a week) suddenly veered around to NW with heavy dark clouds boiling up as if there was going to be a heavy rain. As I had no stable, I sent my team with McMurry's one half mile north to get them into W. B. Parker Stable for shelter, thinking there would be nothing but wind and rain. But what was my surprise on Monday morning when I looked out nothing could be seen 20 feet distant for snow. The air was literally filled. It was unsafe to venture outside the house. Therefore we all stayed indoors, hoping it would slack up. (vain hope)
So about two o'clock my son, 15 years old, and Jas. McMurry started out to see to the horses and bring home some ear corn for fuel as we had little to burn. When they got to where the horses were, the snow had sifted into the stable until they were nearly buried and were almost exhausted with their struggles and gave up trying any more. Then my son, fearing we at home would suffer, filled a sack half full of ear corn and attempted to find his way home, against the advice of those who were with him. But he thought he could make it all right.
When night came and he did not come we became uneasy, but supposed he had stopped at Parker's to take care of the horses, so our fears were somewhat allayed. But on Tuesday evening, the 14th, Jas. McMurry arrived and our son was not with him, nor had been for 24 hours, he supposing he was at home. Then, you may know, we were very alarmed for his safety but not knowing which way to look and it being at the risk of life for anyone to start on such a search, we could do nothing but hope he may have drifted with the storm until he came to some shelter, which he may have done if he could have kept from smothering by the snow whipping around and driving into his face, which was almost impossible, such was its power.
This was our only hope as there was not a furrow broke nor even a regular wagon track anywhere in that whole scope of country, nor any other landmark, the prairie all having been burned over the fall before, so that one spot was like any other. We, being perfect strangers to the country and having no near neighbors, all we could do was trust in Providence to guide our boy to some place of safety until the storm cleared away, which was not until the middle of the afternoon of Wednesday, 14th, when the wind slacked some and we could begin to look out and see objects some distance away.
You may be sure all eyes were roving over the prairie in hopes of discovering our lost boy. When looking off the SE about one fourth mile from the house, we discovered something flapping up and down in the wind, so I and Jas. McMurry went to where it was and oh, Horror, there was our dear boy, lying with his back to the storm, with his left arm under his sack of corn and his head resting on the same, and he dead, having been out in the storm 48 hours. He was not stiff as though he had frozen but must have smothered to death about the time we got to him.
A young man by the name of Eugene Kennion, who lived on a homestead 1-1/2 miles north and one mile west rode up to us and conveyed our boy to the house. He then notified what neighbors there were about us and they done all they could for us in our great grief. So on Friday, the 17th, which was my 40th birthday, we consigned his body to its Mother Earth.
My team also perished at the same time in this storm.
Photo of George Gray, larger view
Photo of Jacob Gray and his wife, Nancy
Photos of George's tombstone
How Jacob must have struggled through the years, knowing that his beloved son died so close to home. With each retelling he must have longed for a different ending. Jacob wrote this diary entry almost 23 years after his son, George, perished. The dates he wrote in this tribute are incorrect, probably due to the time span between the blizzard and this diary entry (the blizzard was April 13th, not the 12th). George is buried in the Arborville Cemetery in York County.
There were only two other deaths in York County, as a result of the 1873 Blizzard — Mary Kailey and her four year old son, Otto Kailey. Their story is also online.
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.