Blizzard brings tragedy to Northwest Plains - HISTORY
Year
1888
Month Day
January 12

Blizzard brings tragedy to Northwest Plains

On January 12, 1888, the so-called “Schoolchildren’s Blizzard” kills 235 people, many of whom were children on their way home from school, across the Northwest Plains region of the United States. The storm came with no warning, and some accounts say that the temperature fell nearly 100 degrees in just 24 hours.

It was a Thursday afternoon and there had been unseasonably warm weather the previous day from Montana east to the Dakotas and south to Texas. Suddenly, within a matter of hours, Arctic air from Canada rapidly pushed south. Temperatures plunged to 40 below zero in much of North Dakota. Along with the cool air, the storm brought high winds and heavy snows. The combination created blinding conditions.

Most victims of the blizzard were children making their way home from school in rural areas and adults working on large farms. Both had difficulty reaching their destinations in the awful conditions. In some places, though, caution prevailed. Schoolteacher Seymour Dopp in Pawnee City, Nebraska, kept his 17 students at school when the storm began at 2 p.m. They stayed overnight, burning stockpiled wood to keep warm. The next day, parents made their way over five-foot snow drifts to rescue their children. In Great Plains, South Dakota, two men rescued the children in a schoolhouse by tying a rope from the school to the nearest shelter to lead them to safety. Minnie Freeman, a teacher in Nebraska, successfully led her children to shelter after the storm tore the roof off of her one-room schoolhouse. In other cases, though, people were less lucky. Teacher Loie Royce tried to lead three children to the safety of her home, less than 90 yards from their school in Plainfield, Nebraska. They became lost, and the children died of hypothermia. Royce lost her feet to frostbite.

In total, an estimated 235 people across the plains died on January 12. The storm is still considered one of the worst blizzards in the history of the area.

READ MORE: Major Blizzards in U.S. History

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Operation Ranch Hand initiated

The United States Air Force launches Operation Ranch Hand, a “modern technological area-denial technique” designed to expose the roads and trails used by the Viet Cong. Flying C-123 Providers, U.S. personnel dumped an estimated 19 million gallons of defoliating herbicides over ...read more

Pyramid mystery unearthed

An international panel overseeing the restoration of the Great Pyramids in Egypt overcomes years of frustration when it abandons modern construction techniques in favor of the method employed by the ancient Egyptians. Located at Giza outside Cairo, some of the oldest manmade ...read more

British-Zulu War begins

The British-Zulu War begins as British troops under Lieutenant General Frederic Augustus invade Zululand from the southern African republic of Natal. In 1843, Britain succeeded the Boers as the rulers of Natal, which controlled Zululand, the neighboring kingdom of the Zulu ...read more

Henry Ford sets speed record

On January 12, 1904, Henry Ford sets a land-speed record of 91.37 mph on the frozen surface of Michigan’s Lake St. Clair. He was driving a four-wheel vehicle, dubbed the “999,” with a wooden chassis but no body or hood. Ford’s record was broken within a month at Ormond Beach, ...read more

Joseph Smith abandons Ohio

After his Mormon bank fails in the Panic of 1837, Joseph Smith flees Kirtland, Ohio, to avoid arrest and heads for Missouri to rebuild his religious community. A sensitive and religious-minded man since his youth, Joseph Smith claimed the angel Moroni visited him in 1823, when he ...read more