Wednesday, February 17, 2021


 Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the author

Ah, February! A month of love, President's Day, and variable weather. For this post, I thought I'd take a look at how they talked about blizzards and cold weather in the late 1800s. The focus is primarily from Colorado newspapers and what a fun read they can be. Each publication has its own style. I hope you enjoy the read as much as I do.

The Avalanche-Echo, from January 13, 1893 (Glenwood Springs) had the following article.

A Dakota Blizzard.

The worst thing that a traveler can possibly encounter in the West.

"The worst thing that a traveler can encounter is a Dakota blizzard" said W. C. Beaver, who was entertaining some friends in the corridors of the hotel. "A Dakota blizzard is something like a Sahara sandstorm, but with powdered ice instead of sand and the thermometer ranging 30° below instead of 100° above. A traveler may outlive a sandstorm, the only danger is that he will be smothered. But woe to the unlucky pilgrim who was caught by a blizzard.

The fine frozen snow, as fine as iron filings, is driven into his face with terrible force; it becomes impossible to distinguish objects at a distance of a dozen yards and he may flounder about four hours within a stone's throw of his own house without being able to find it. Great drifts are piled up around him, then whisk away, leaving the ground perfectly bear; the wind seems to read involve itself into thousand swirling cyclones and every open stretch of snow into a maelstrom. In North Dakota, many of the farmers stretch ropes from their houses to their barns so that they venture out to feed their stock during the blizzards which frequently last two or three days — without danger of getting lost in the icy storm.

In February 1884 I drove out in the sleigh a few miles from Fargo to close up a land trade. This sky was as clear as a bell, the air just cold enough to be exhilarating and I enjoyed my ride out immensely. I did not enjoy the return trip, however. A cold bitter wind came out of the Northeast that constantly increased in violence until the air became filled with fine snow, which glittered like myriads of diamonds in the sun. Then the sky became overcast the wind began to hurl great banks of snow across the road and I was soon unable to see my horse's head. I urged him onward, allowing him to pick his own course, for I was hopelessly at sea.

I had heard that a horse would find his way home through the darkest night and I hoped that instinct would serve him as well in a blizzard, but it didn't. After a little while, he stopped and when I urged him forward he turned squarely about and began to retrace his steps. He was is lost as well as I. To sit still meant to freeze. I got out threw the reins over my arm and started forward, calling at the top of my voice and firing off my revolver. In a minute or two, there was an answering shout. I was within fifty yards of a farmhouse where I obtained shelter until the blizzard had subsided two days later."

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Out of Grand Junction in the Grand Valley Star-Times from February 9, 1895, reported on a blizzard in Kansas.

The blizzard raged all night.

Kansas City, February, seventh, — the blizzard raged with unabated vigor all night. This morning the thermometer registered 10 1/2° below zero. A gale is blowing. Signal officer O'Connor does not promise a respite until Friday evening. The railroads have not as yet been inconvenienced much from the drifts.

Lastly, on February 12, 1891, the Fort Collins Courier reported on a blizzard in that town. It reads like a sailor wrote it, at least to me.

A section of an Alaska blizzard, that had strayed away from home, struck Fort Collins amidship on Sunday, shriveling the people like a leaf in a hot furnace. A bitterly, cold northwest wind swept over the town nearly all day and those whose duty called them out suffered intensely with the cold.

It is always fascinating to see how people wrote and passed on the news in the past. In my novel, "Josie's Dream" I wonder how they would report the following incident?

 “I caught these two sneaking toward your door,” Amos said. “The blonde one is Everett, and this redhead is Mason, they claim they were just…”

We didn’t do nothing,” the Everett declared, tying for all the world to not show how uncomfortable he must be with his shirt bunched around his neck and shoulder in a strong grip.

It was Jack what put us up to it,” the Mason said, glancing over to his cohort.

Josie watched as the two glared at each other. That someone had used them as pawns to try to frighten her she didn’t doubt. “And who is Jack?” Josie asked the boys.

If anything they looked even more stubborn than before. “We ain’t telling you nothin.” Everett declared, while Mason said, “The cowboy by the saloon. He gave us two bits.”

Everett tried to kick Mason and it was all Amos could do to keep the two from getting away or doing harm to one another.

Amos, perhaps these two would be willing to help with a slight problem I have.” Josie suggested. She would question Amos later about the mysterious Jack.

The two continued their glares as Amos ushered them into the room, the kitten hissing as they went by.

It seems there is a snake that has hidden under the bed. How about you help get it out before Cassie here gets out of my arms and we end up with a mess?” Josie suggested to the boys.

Carefully, the two set about chasing after the snake. As uncomfortable as Josie was with a snake nearby, she was more concerned for Cassie, the kitten. Cassie watched as the two moved around, and squirmed under the bed. Finally, Mason gave a shout of triumph and came out with the snake in his hand.

Be careful, it’s more frightened of you,” Josie warned, holding Cassie even tighter as the kitten renewed its efforts to get at the snake.

Okay, out with you two,” Amos said, ushering the two out the door, a wink at Josie as he shut the door.

I wonder what Amos is going to do with those two?” Josie asked the kitten in her arms finally turning her loose. In response, the kitten immediately went to the door, meows of frustration echoing in Josie’s ears.

Smiling she set about cleaning up the pricks of blood the kitten had drawn in it struggles to get loose.

You are a beautiful brat young lady,” Josie said. “But you’re not going out.”

In response Cassie darted to and fro in the room. She finally bounced from the chair to the windowsill, sitting silently watching the action below, tail whipping back and forth.

With a final glance at the kitten, Josie laid down on the bed hoping for a short rest before returning to work the office for her afternoon hours.

Soon the sound of the bed creaking then purring reached her ears as the ball of fur curled up against her side. Placing a hand on Cassie’s head, Josie drew her hand down the soft fur, a relaxed sigh escaping her lips.


Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

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