The North Bend Eagle


Blizzard memories blow in with anniversary of 1888 storm

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 1/9/13

Jan. 12, 1888, started out as a mild winter day. Some farmers were out doing field work and children played outside during lunch recess. Early in the afternoon, the wind suddenly changed direction. Driving in from the north was a mass of thick, blinding snow. The thermometer plummeted to 34 degrees below zero. The storm lasted 12 to 18 hours over much of the Midwest, and it took weeks for Nebraskans to dig out.

In all it is estimated that around 100 lives were lost in Nebraska with another 109 in the Dakota territories. Two of the lives lost were the Westphalen sisters in the Ridgeley area of Dodge County.

After recess the 9 and 13-year-old sisters started for home, 1.5 miles from their school, District 30. The girls never made it.

The storm, which has become known as the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard because of the many student caught in a predicment simlar to the Westphalen sisters, hit the area at 3 p.m. The girls’ bodies were found about a mile from home, the older girl having put her shawl around her younger sister. There is a special marker dedicated to the sisters at the St. John Ridgeley Cemetery, 10 miles north of North Bend.

The severity of this storm, which hit 125 years ago this Saturday, and its aftermath was talked about for years. Survivors even formed a Blizzard Club that met every year on Jan. 12. A book, In All its Fury by William O’Gara, was published in 1947 with personal accounts of survivors.

This storm has been rated in the top ten storms to hit the United States, coming in at No. 2. There is no one left who lived through this storm, but what about storms that impacted others (still living)?

Anna Pabian Nesladek, 91, grew up southwest of Morse Bluff. She attended District 77, near Cedar Hill and remembers riding in horse-pulled sleds.

“Gosh, did we have snow,” Nesladek said. “We had to walk sometimes because horses couldn’t pull the wagon. It was much harder than it is now. We’d let the horses go to follow the tracks home. They knew better than a person did.”

Jean Hecht Bratka, 84, grew up two blocks from the North Bend grade school. She remembers a snow storm in 1940 as a “really bad, bad storm.” The worst part was that her mother had gone to Ceresco to visit family and couldn’t get home.
Bratka remembers school rarely being called off.

“We’d wade through snow to school,” she said. “That was nothing. You never got stuck at home, you just waded.”

She remembers some “good, old blizzards” when the wind blew terribly.

“Of course we didn’t have tractors then,” Bratka said. “You had to move it all by hand. After a blizzard everyone would get out and move snow around to get things cleared.”

Perhaps the lack of modern conveniences made the storms seem worse back then.

“I do believe the winters were colder and there was more snow,”
Bratka said. “There were no furnaces, just coal or wood burning stoves to keep you warm. It was cold, but we didn’t think about that then.”

The blizzard of Dec. 31, 1939, is not one Elaine Hines Jones remembers, but she has been told about it many times. The blizzard had closed the country road from the highway south of Morse Bluff to the farm of her parents, Rose and Otto Hines.

When Rose went into labor there was no way to get her out, so Dr. Byers and his nurse drove as far as the highway where Otto met them. He made footsteps through the snow for them to follow and waded in the half mile to the house. Hines spent the night breaking the road open back to the highway while Rose gave birth to Elaine at 3:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

Linda Minarick relates another blizzard baby story. Her story took place during the Dec. 16, 1983, blizzard.

They lived five miles south of Morse Bluff and contacted the area road maintainer to clear the snowdrifts in their lane.

They made it to the hospital in time their son Daniel to be born.

“The wind raged and howled the next several days,” Minarick said. “The doctors were hesitant to let us go home as the wind chill factor was at dangerous levels. At least the snow had stopped drifting as now it was all glazed over like glass. Reluctantly they released us with the promise we would call them back as soon as we arrived home, which we did.”

On Christmas Eve Day, the storm caused the electricity to go off. The Minarick’s home was all base board electric heat.

“It was cold in the house,” Minarick said. “That storm that we were waiting on arrived in full force, with wind chills now at 90 below. I still think all the guys who work for OPPD are unsung heroes! Our electricity was restored that day but it still rings clearly in our heads how serious all this could have been.”

Marlene Hampl has memory of one particular snow storm on her son Miles’ ninth birthday, April 1, 1987. Her children went outside for pictures but came right back inside as it was so bitterly cold. Even the birds were confused.

“I remember opening the door and there was a really high snowdrift with a robin sitting at the bottom of the drift,” Hampl said.

Miles Hampl’s future wife, April Vyhlidal, remembers that particular snow storm as there was a drift to the top of the swing set at her house.

Joann Johnson, 65, remembers one snowstorm in 1972 or 1973 where the snowdrifts were so high that her daughters Tammie and Debbie climbed almost to the top of the cedar trees by their Cedar Bluffs farmhouse on the crusty snow to sled down.

Jim Dodge has a special snow storm memory. The 1998 girls state basketball tournament was held March 5-7 in Lincoln. The North Bend girls won their first two games when the weather started changing. The NSAA, NBC superintendent, Mike Ough, and principal Randy McIntyre, decided that the team should stay in Lincoln rather than chance not making it back for the 7 p.m. championship game on Saturday. They had brought extra clothes down Thursday and the NSAA had found them hotel rooms out by the Lincoln airport.

The snow started Friday when they left the semifinal game and it was a rough go getting to the hotel. Saturday, there was lots of snow, but the blowing was not so bad. They went to Lincoln Christian High School for a walk through then to NBC secretary Jan Hobza’s brother’s house for some down time. By the time they were on the way to the game, the snow and winds were going again. Unfortunately, the Tigers lost the game. They stayed in Lincoln until roads were clear.

“Mr. Allgood and I had to patrol the girls,” Dodge, 67, said. “Keeping them fed was the hardest part. Parents with four-wheel drive vehicles helped out bringing food in. It would have been a lot more fun if we’d won.”

Dodge said he came home to a six-foot drift in front of his house.

Another sports-blizzard memory happened during the North Bend Central Wrestling Tournament in the early 1970s. All the competing teams and their followers were stranded at NBC when a blizzard hit the area late Saturday afternoon. A four-wheel drive vehicle went to the Dairy Dream on Highway 30 and loaded up on hamburgers for those remaining at the school. Adults had to stay and chaperone as wrestlers, cheerleaders and some fans were scattered all over the commons area.

Jerry Kruger remembers a snow storm that came on suddenly around 1975. He and his brother, Bill Giddings, were driving a truck back from Omaha.

“We always stopped in Valley for coffee,” Kruger, 60, said. “It was fine there. By the time we hit Fremont it was blowing so hard we could hardly see. The truck trailer blew sideways right in front of the Fremont mall and we hit a car.”

Jill Hoops, 46, has two winter storms that stick in her mind. The ice storm on Halloween 1991 canceled trick or treating for little spooks and brought a lot of damage to trees with the heavy ice.

The second snowstorm she remembers was in 2010.

“It was the first time I didn’t spend Christmas with my parents,” Hoops said.

Jan Hobza said the perception of a storm’s severity can be affected by your location.

“I think when one is in town the feeling of aloneness, snowed in, whiteness, is not as noticeable as being in the country,” Hobza said. “I can certainly remember being on the farm and not seeing anyone but my family for as long as it took the road graders to come by our house. We just played games (to pass the time).”

A blizzard is defined by the U.S. National Weather Service as winds over 30 miles per hour and falling or blowing snow causing visibility less than a quarter of a mile lasting for at least three hours.

Snowstorms don’t have to be blizzards to be memorable, as noted in many of these stories. Nebraska has an average January temperature of 20 degrees.

Average snowfall normally ranges from about 20 to 40 inches with the heaviest snows in late winter. Blizzards are common. There was a blizzard in 1949 requiring the aid of United States armed forces, mostly in the plains in western Nebraska getting hay to cattle.

So we may make some snow memories yet this year, but with the technology and communication advances we have in place, we can take comfort in the knowledge that the tragedy of the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard of 1888 is not likely to be repeated.

<<Back to the front page