From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Blizzard of 1949 Stories

One of Nebraska's worst blizzards


The "Blizzard of 1949" refers to a storm that occurred in the first week of January, 1949.  However, the entire month of January was stormy.

The average snowfall for January in the counties of western Nebraska was 70 inches, and high winds created snowdrifts of amazing breadth and depth . Many Nebraskans have in their family photos some snapshots made in 1949 of snowdrifts of epic proportions.

Two stories come to mind that my mother told of that winter. My parents had been married only a few years, and they were living on a ranch about ten miles south of Johnstown, in western Brown County, Nebraska. My brother was about 2-1/2 years old.

When the blizzards struck that winter and the snow got deeper and deeper, my parents struggled each day to feed the cattle. At times, my brother had to stay by himself in the house. My mother laid him down for his nap and then she helped my dad and hoped that she'd be back before Dwight awoke.

On one of those bad days, my mom came back to the house and to her horror, my brother was not in his crib. He had awakened and decided to climb out by himself.

The first thought that came to my mother's mind was that he might have somehow opened the door and gone outside looking for them. She searched the house, calling his name, and couldn't find him. She looked outside the door for little footprints in the snow, but could see no sign. She came back inside, nearly frantic with worry -- and then she found him asleep behind the gas heater, safe and toasty warm.

The other story that my mother often told was about walking a couple of miles back to the house in one of the blizzards. I don't remember exactly why she was walking, but almost certainly, it involved a tractor or vehicle being stuck in the snow. The snow was blowing so hard that she couldn't see very far, and she was afraid she might get lost and walk in circles, so she followed the barbed wire fence all the way home.

Along the way, she found a pheasant that had been blown into the fence by the terrible wind and had frozen to death there. She removed him and took him home, and that night, they had a nice supper of pheasant.

They were tough people, my mom and dad, children of the Great Depression.

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Related post: Ready for Winter? in which I recorded a few more of my parents' memories of the winter of 1948-49.

2 comments:

Sammie said...

A good book to read is "The Blizzard of 1949" by Roy Alleman. It is mostly about how it affected people in Nebraska. There are nice pictures in it too.
My dad told about feeding cattle with a team and trying to find his way home in the blizzard and coming across his own tracks and realizing he'd made a full circle. He then let the horses have their head and they took him home. Funny how they have that instinct! We had a 4 day blizzard last year following an ice storm that put a lot of people in our area (central Nebraska) out of electricity for up to 10 days but we don't get the snow (up to the eves of the houses) like we did during the 70's or before! No one is sure why... Global warming or a weather pattern. I must say, I don't mind the mild winters! They got a bad ice storm in southern Nebraska recently and a lot of people are still out of electricity! But we were fortunate here and got snow with a little crust on top that kept it fom blowing and drifting. It is almost melted now and we are to get a little snow this week end. I hear it is going to be bad from Kansas City to Texas! We sure seem to have strange weather now.

Genevieve said...

Hi, Sammie. I have a small story from my dad about the horses finding their way home when he was a boy. I'll have to write it sometime.

Last winter, I posted part of your description of the bad blizzard you had up there and also some of my great-aunt's comments on it. People come there all the time from searches for bad Nebraska blizzard" and such. So you see, you have contributed to the world's body of knowledge. :)

You should start your own blog. I know you have a million Sandhill stories.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
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IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
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