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The Easter blizzard of 1873

February 24, 2013
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Winters weapon on the settlers of the old west was the blizzard. In towns or in the mountains, residents were regularly snowed in for weeks at a time. On the plains snow was whipped by berserk winds that could rush hundreds of miles without ever encountering an obstacle, in fact the Great Plains have long been known for the ferocity of the winter storms. Now days with central heat, cell phones, cable TV and 4-wheel drive vehicle, blizzards are little more than an inconvenience. To a pioneer living on the plains in a dugout sod house, or shanty, a blizzard descending without warning brought fear, hunger and sometimes death. Such was the blizzard of 1873, also known as the Easter Sunday Blizzard.

In Nebraska, the spring of 1873 was very pleasant. People had already put in gardens and prospects for an early summer had farmers neglecting straw stables for stock, the sides having been blown away through the winter. In fact, all precautions for a winter storm had been forgotten.

On April 10, 1873, it began to rain, the wind blowing mildly until the night of the twelfth. That night the wind began to roar. What people thought was the moon shining was in fact the wind whipping, the air was so full of snow it produced a moonlight appearance. 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. Snow began to sift through the cracks in houses and stables.

Many first person articles have been written about the storm. This is one man's reminiscences, General A.V. Cole, of Juniata, Nebraska. "The storm raged for three days and the snow flew so it would not be faced." Cole had built an addition of two rooms onto his cabin, which was fortunate because four additional people took shelter with the Coles. When the storm broke Cole recalled, "The house shook, but weathered the blast, for if it had not we all would have perished." The cellar packed with snow, making it necessary to tunnel through the snow from the trap door in the kitchen to get to stored food.

The Easter Blizzard had several consequences. As it was in the spring the temperatures never fell much below 30 degrees that spared the lives of many huddled in inadequate shelter. Had it been colder, the lives lost would have been much worse than it was. One of the greatest hardships for the settlers was the loss of their livestock. Stock that was left outside drifted with the storm until it came to a fence, or ravine where it was smothered by snow drifts. Thousands of head of livestock were lost, most of the newly planted trees died, causing the settlers to have to repurchase. Wildlife was also affected. After the storm the bodies of deer, antelope and other animals were scattered across the prairie. Many newcomer settlers decided to head back east after the blizzard, never to return to the plains!



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