“The 12th of January, 1888, is, and long will be, remembered, not only by Dakotans, but by many in the northwest, not for the things we enjoy, love, and would see repeated; but for its darkness, desolation, ruin and death, spread broadcast; for the sorrow, sadness and heartache that followed in its train”.
-Caleb Holt Ellis, 1909
Considering that horrible events transpire on a regular basis, each and every one of them relative to one’s direct involvement in them, I’m not sure if many people remember this event and/or continue to discuss it’s impact on turn of the century Prairie life. This is not a derogatory sleight by any means, only more of an observation.
We remember the things that matter to us, plain and simple. Unless you have a vested interest in the history of the weather service, the advent of frontier pioneering, or your bloodline includes someone effected by this tragedy, you may have no idea that it even happened. As for me, I’ve heard the story through the years of the school teacher who roped her children together (turns out this is actually disputed on both sides as to its veracity) to traverse the snow storm but had no idea this was “that snowstorm”.
This book, although tragic, was an incredibly rich read. The author, David Laskin, has created a narrative for this tragedy that intertwines the stories of multiple people involved. From the immigrant families attempting their luck at homesteading to the military officers in charge of weather forecasting (in its infancy here), this is an absolute page turner. Laskin does a fantastic job of breaking down, in layman’s terms, the conditions that both led to the storm and continued to feed its ferocity.
As a quick summary, this book is about a blizzard that occurred across the Midwest on January 12th, 1888. Striking fast, and without warning (one of the sharply contested arguments about the weather service and it’s shortcomings back then was the inability, for a multitude of reasons, to relay the danger in time), over two hundred people froze to death. Referred to as the “Children’s Blizzard”, due to the large amount of school children unable to make their way home from school before being overtaken, this was a tragedy that had not been expected or seen before.
As a gift a couple Christmases ago, I finally got around to reading this. For those whose To Be Read list is ever expanding (like me), you know the struggle of not having enough time to read all the books you’d like and the “SQUIRREL!!!” moment when you get distracted by a book that must be read immediately, skipping to the front of the line.
Bottom line is that I would definitely recommend this one if you can get your hands on it.