Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

16. The Blizzard of ’88

The Great Blizzard struck on January 12, 1888. There was snow on the ground that morning, but the weather was pleasant because a breeze brought warm air up from the south. People who were outside wore light clothing, and children frolicked in the snow on the way to school. “It was so warm,” a Sherman County man later recalled, “that I took off my coat and worked in my shirt sleeves.” Although most people expected a January thaw, which is common during Plains winters, experienced observers recognized that the morning might be what they called a “weather-breeder,” a set of conditions that brings on severe weather. That January day a gigantic storm moved into western Nebraska in the late morning and traveled across the state at about fortyfive miles per hour. By late afternoon the entire state was engulfed.

The Blizzard of ‘88 is sometimes called the School Children’s Storm because it hit when many young people were in school. The mega snowstorm demanded courage and heroism from many teachers, some of whom were barely out of high school. Minnie May Freeman was teaching in a rural school near Ord. Although the school was made of sod, the wind blew part of the roof off, necessitating an evacuation. Assisted by several older students, Freeman safely led her charges directly into the blizzard to her boarding house a half mile away. Eastern newspapers made much of her heroism, often in highly exaggerated accounts, without giving proper credit to the older students who had aided her. In later years, because of the publicity some people referred to the storm as the Minnie Freeman Blizzard.

Not everyone survived. Although most of her students went home at noon, Lois May Royce, a teacher in a rural school near Plainview, had three of the younger ones with her when the storm hit. Since there was

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