The winter of 1872-73 was very open, mild, and dry; Nebraska homesteaders broke sod in each of its months, and by April the prairie grass was already green. In 1873 there were very few well built houses in Adams County. During the mild winter and early spring, new arrivals had constructed dugouts in hillsides, or thrown together claim shanties of up and down boards, ment to be temporary housing until a soddie or frame house could be built. Most of the new settlers had not endured a plains winter storm and were totally unprepared. Fuel was scarce on the treeless prairie, many settlers having only a days supply of buffalo chips, and having just come through their first winter, or just arrived from the east, most families had a meager food supply. While the settlers’ shelter and food supply was inadequate, shelter and food for livestock was even poorer or nonexistent. During the warm weather, some livestock had been turned out on the prairie to find food. Thus the stage was set for the blizzard which would cause the greatest loss of life in south-central Nebraska.
Mild, dry and already green, yea that sounds a little familiar.
They tell of the rain which began about noon, changing to sleet in the afternoon. The sleet soon became ice, making it almost impossible for man or beast to travel about the streets of the county’s two population centers, Juniata and Hastings. Business ceased and only the most daring ventured out. Homesteaders who were in town had to remain until the storm ended, causing great worry and hardship to the family left at home on the claim. As the temperature dropped families gathered up what fuel they could and prepared for a long cold night, not dreaming the storm would last three days. Sometime in the night of the first day the sleet turned to snow. As the night wore on the snow laden wind increased in ferocity. Snow began to sift through the smallest cracks in houses and stables. The snow was later described as so wet that within a few minutes a person’s clothes were wet through as if by rain.
Monday morning the sun was not visible, the entire world was a mass of swirling snow and howling winds. At noon the sun could not be located in the sky. Men, worried about their livestock, or the dwindling supply of fuel for the fire, went to the door, but could not see a few feet ahead. Some men ventured to their stables, but were driven back or failed to find them. Others found the stables and had to remain there as they could not determine the location of the house only a hundred feet away. Many of those who ventured out did so attached to a rope. An unfortunate few who did not take this precaution, were lost in the swirling whiteness and perished. As the second night approached, houses shook with the force of the wind. Many feared it was their last night upon the earth.
By Monday night, some houses had snowdrifts inside, and some families had run out of fuel and survived by huddling in bed. Livestock had to be cared for and some people led their horse or milk cow into their houses. Much of the livestock that was left outdoors perished.
The blizzard raged without letup throughout Tuesday and Tuesday night. Wednesday morning the winds began to lessen and by noon the sun was barely visible. By four p.m. Wednesday it was comparatively calm. People began to venture out, searching for family members, checking on neighbors, looking for lost livestock. Many dugouts were completely covered over with snow and the occupants had to dig themselves out or were dug out by neighbors. SOURCE
I hear some of you saying, “Calamity, I don’t live in the Northern Plains, there’s no way this is going to happen to me.” Let’s not forget that the East coast had an Easter Blizzard just last year. Snow, sleet, and ice from western Vermont and New Hampshire up to Maine. There’s a band of rain showers forecast for this weekend, could this be the year the Easter Blizzard repeats?!
No, probably not, it’s supposed to be 60°F. Still, we’re far enough away from last frost dates that cold snaps could still happen. Enjoy your Easter weekend everyone, but don’t count out Ole Man Winter just yet.
– Calamity Jane