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Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Blizzard of '49

The Blizzard of '49


The Story Tellers 

Pat (Manifold) Cerny
Jacque (Anderson) Bokelman
Claude Reyman
Dale Masters
Leroy Wacker
Ortha (Reynolds) Emry
Shirley (Denny) Beasley
Sandra (Masters) Propst
Jeryce (Meyers) Russell
Raleigh Emry


Pat (Manifold) Cerny

My parents and I went to my Grandparents in Idaho for Christmas. We were to drive home on Sat. and Sun. It snowed a lot in Idaho and the farm roads had been closed. Before dawn on Friday, Mom woke me telling me to get dressed and packed as the snow plow just came by and we were headed home. I raised my teary voice in complaint - first I was being shorted a day with my cousins and Grandparents and also I hate getting up early. Did then and still do.

After a hearty breakfast, we were on the road. Driving through the barren Idaho land we started counting dead rabbits on and along the road. We would count as many as 20 in a mile. Dad commented how unusual this seemed.

As we headed to Casper, Wyoming (our usual overnight destination - halfway point) the Wyoming hills were snow covered and moving. Herds and herds of antelope and deer, and many rabbits were coming down to lower ground.

We left Casper early the next morning and the headlines of the local paper stated that one semi truck had plowed into a herd of antelope killing at least 40. The animals were still moving down out of the hills. The black cloud started following us and at noon we were seeing snow flakes. By the time we reached Valentine it was snowing hard and I spent the time from Valentine to Ainsworth with my nose pressed against the window (on the passenger side) letting Dad know if he got too close to the edge of the road.

We did reach home and by the time we had the car unloaded you could not see the house across the road. (For those who don't know where we lived - our house was on the northeast corner of the intersection on Highway 20 one block east of Main street). Because my Dad was most nervous about the next approaching storm, he headed us home a day early or we would have been one of the unfortunate people stranded in Wyoming - and some of those were not lucky enough to be stranded in a town!

Years later coming from Idaho headed into Casper I again saw the hills covered with deer and antelope. It was summer and we had been watching the huge, very black clouds to the north. We topped the divide above Casper and started down the hill to get stopped halfway. The wall of water coming down the valley wiped out part of the interstate. We were fortunate enough to be high enough the water only got to the bottom of the doors. Couldn't back up as both lanes were filled all around us.

Back to '49. Now, without school to keep kids busy there is often too much time on their hands. Well, we were no different and wanted to do something! The adults kept talking about the blizzard and what a story it was. One of my classmates and I decided we needed to do something to make this a most memorable occasion. Next question was what to do. Well, there was this huge pile of snow in front of our house (remember where we live). We dug out our bathing suits, climbed up on the snow and took each others pictures as we attempted to look like bathing beauties. It is a wonder we didn't get pneumonia. I have often wondered what people thought about us two idiots. I can't find the pictures but I do remember we looked rather dumb wearing bathing-suits and those brown type school shoes we had back then. Now, the partner in this dubious effort of frivolity was on line with this group at one time - I don't know if she still is. If she wants to admit to this, I would welcome her comments about the escapade. 


Jacque (Anderson) Bokelman

I was just a little kid! My mother and I were discussing the blizzard - one thing she remembered was that our dad - O. J. Anderson (or Ollie) - went on a horse to the south homestead of the ranch. We were on the north part of the
ranch - about 1/4 mile south of Johnstown - the house was in "city" limits - the barn wasn't! Anyway, dad was away during the height of the storm and mom remembers that she was afraid one of us kids would choke on something, so she would feed us only things that would slide down the throat easily!

We did look at several pictures of the snow - in one picture, dad and another man, shovels in hand, were trying to dig out the road in front of our house leading to Johnstown. Mom had entitled the photo - "they gave up!"

Judy and I had fun in the snow, of course - I remember being able to walk over the clothes lines! And, at school in Johnstown, we had rooms in the snow, with tunnels leading between them! Lots of fun!


Claude Reyman

We can really say that Christmas is now all around us with the amount of snow that we have accumulated this past week. I went out this morning to shovel the walk and noted that we must have about 6 inches more and on top of the 9 inches we received last week. This sort of reminds me of the early years growing up on the ranch. I can well remember the blizzard of 49. 

We had just returned to Valentine and it was so bad that we could not get out of town. As I remember we stayed at our Dentist's home, Dr David Summers, and spent the night. In the morning we had drifts up to the roof of the house on the North side and it was impossible to get the doors open. We ended up staying a week at his home before we could even think about leaving for the ranch. We did finally get out and left and as I remember it took many hours to get to the turn-off from the highway. 

In many places only one lane was open. I can remember pictures of the train with the huge V plow on the front trying to get the rail line open for trains to travel the good old Chicago Northwestern Transportation Line East to West with goods, mail, and people.

I can remember my father, Bruce Sr., bringing the V-plow with a team of horses to the highway and we rode it home going through the hills and valleys to the ranch. It took about 4 hours to get back to the ranch. Dad was very lucky on the cattle as he had just moved them from the Cames' pasture home the day before the storm. If not, he would have lost about 200 head. Anyway we got to the ranch house on the V-plow and it was a sight beholding, the snow was to the slope of the roofs on our house, the north side of the barns and you could not see the corals in some cases.

The snow remained on the North side of the hills till about July. We had a great time sledding from the hill North of the house. We used the grain scoop to sit on and away we went down the hill. We had to fall off the scoop as the fence was not the best thing to hit. What fun we had in doing this. 

Our cousin Leah Rae from California sent us a ski set that had a strap over the boot - but it worked. It is a wonder that we did not break our legs when we attempted to ski down the hill. 

I remember the air-force flying over our ranch and dropping hay. You could only see tops of the hay stacks and it was almost impossible to get the hay onto the sled and naturally we used 6 head of horses to do this task. Once in awhile, the horses could not be stopped and we would pull the hay off the sled and had a mess on our hands. 

Talk about cold, but we dressed for the weather and seemed not to freeze. The up-stairs in our old ranch house was not heated and you could imagine how cold it was during the night. We used many blankets and made it through the winter months. Dad would get up around 4 a.m. and go down stairs to start up the coal stove in the kitchen. 

He normally started on the work around 5 a.m. and then would come down for breakfast about 7.00 or so. I guess it was good training for us and we had to milk about 10 cows each morning and night. It seemed that the milk cows did not run out of milk. We sure did have fun spraying our cats mouth so they had milk too. 

We did not get to school for several weeks do to the amount of snow that this blizzard gave us. When we did get to school, the old pot-belly stove got so hot that it would turn red. It is a wonder that it did not burn up. We would get our desks and place our backs to the stove to keep warm. Taking out the ashes was always someone's job and we took turns to do this job. 

After school, back to the ranch to do the evening work. We would eat about 6-7 p.m. after the work was done. 

Christmas was fun and we did not get much but the parents did what they could for this special day. Mother was the best cook in the world and we never went hungry. Even through the war years, we would save sugar so that we could have a cake or cookies once in awhile. These were the good old times that one cannot forget, even when we get older and the bones start to hurt once in awhile. 

I hope that each of you have a great Christmas and remember the "good" old times that we had growing up. I would not trade this for anything even though it was tough. Catch you all later - keep warm and "god bless" each of you and your families. 


Dale Masters

Anyone who might have lived in the plains area of Nebraska during the Winter of 1949 will have clear memory of some particular event or events involving themselves that is still quite vivid and easy to recall in detail. Although I could relate a number of things that include a multitude of people who performed acts of heroism, benevolence or generosity, sometime without recognition, one personal event stands out in my memory more clearly than any.

My sister, Janice, class of '45, had been visiting with my parents so that she could assist my mother, who had been ill, during the holiday season. It became my responsibility to return her, and her year-old son, Jim Bartlett, class of '66, to their home in McCook as soon as the roads were cleared enough to permit travel. Shortly after the first of the year the roads were plowed out and limited traffic was permitted. On a beautiful, clear Saturday morning, the ninth of January, accompanied by my wife, Jean Jackson Masters, class of '46, we loaded Janice and her son in my father's car, leaving our three month old son with my brother and his family. It was our intention to return to Ainsworth the next day, Sunday. We took all of the suggested extras, clothing, blankets, snacks, etc., and headed South on Highway 7, taking a more direct route toward our destination. In 1949 this highway was nothing more than a gravel road that would not pass for a farm-to-market roadway today but was a route that was used by many who were heading toward the North Platte area. The road had been cleared well enough to permit traffic but, in many instances, travel was limited to one-way stretches, sometimes as long as a mile or more. On longer stretches flag-men were stationed at each end to eliminate a total stop up. It was not uncommon to find that the drifts, which were opened with rotary plows, were as much as two to three feet higher than the roofs of the cars driving through. The deepest that I can recall was between Brewster and Dunning, which was also the longest. 

We arrived in McCook without incident, other than the length of time that the trip took, and had no more than gotten there when the phone rang, it was my father advising us not to return the next day, as planned, but stay over until Monday because the wind had come up and all of the roads were drifted shut again. We waited until Monday morning, called the State Patrol regarding the road conditions and we were advised that we would be all right but we should return home by way of Grand Island, checking for road conditions there to see if things were clear on North to O'Neill. We did as told and, when eating a lunch in Grand Island, inquired as to the road conditions to O'Neill. The Patrol advised us that everything was clear so we started on North. At St. Paul the conditions got a little bad so we stopped at a service station and asked again. We were assured that it was all right, in fact the passenger bus had just came through from the North. So, being re-enforced with current information, we headed toward O'Neill feeling confident that we would be home and in our own bed for the night. It was getting a little late in the afternoon so we wanted to get as far as we could before it would be necessary to use our headlights and we could continue to see the countryside. It was not too long before there was a light snow starting to fall, not a good sign, but we pressed on forward. We continued on, the snow getting worse, and just North of the little town Of Bartlett we were confronted with a semi truck-tanker, stuck in the roadway. With no other option, we returned to Bartlett, a little community of about one-hundred people, pulling into the only service station, which, fortunately had a small cafe attached, to determine what we were going to do. When we walked into the cafe we were greeted a bunch of questionable stares and we were asked 'what in hell are you doing out there and what do you think you are going to do?' This is exactly what I was asking myself at the time and we were greeted with the news that the road to O'Neill was impassable and had been closed all day, since the tanker had jack-knifed, blocking the road. When we asked about the bus having just gone through St. Paul we were told that it got as far as Bartlett and had turned around and returned to Grand Island. So much for all of the excellent advice received from the State Patrol and the service station in St. Paul. We decided to go on back South but now the weather had closed in so badly we were unable to do so. We were prisoners of Bartlett, Nebraska! 

Even then it did not look too bad. We were at a service station that had gasoline for the car. There was this little cafe that could provide food and a number of people were here under the same circumstances to share our concerns with. We prevailed upon the cafe owner to let us stay and we were waiting out the storm. It didn't stop and our only option was to try to find accommodations where some of us could stay, the cafe only had chairs or stools for about twenty people and there were seventeen of us stranded. The cafe owner did find housing for a few, luckily we were one of the more fortunate. We were permitted to stay at the local bank president's house as long as we did not drink or obtain any liquor for the banker. He was an alcoholic and his wife watched over his activities very closely. Since we are tea-totalers we passed the examination and were permitted to stay until we could get on our way home. We could not phone out because all of the phone lines were down. We could not leave because all of the roads were sealed shut. No one knew where we were except for the few people that were in Bartlett. We were stranded!

On Wednesday the conditions looked bleak. Food at the cafe was running low, they were enjoying the biggest run of business they had ever experienced but they could not replenish their supplies. Fortunately one of the stranded was a meat delivery truck and he was able to provide some provisions and another was a cookie distributor's truck. Diet might be suspect but starving was not an issue. This day also brought word that the snow plow, that was stationed in Emerson, was working its way towards us and would be there sometime that day. He didn't make it but word of our plight was given to a ham radio operator in Emerson and messages were provided for him so that he could notify people of our whereabouts. Out of pure chance our friend, George Botsford, was manning his ham radio at the time and picked up the message indicating that we were all right and he relayed this information to our parents so they would not have to worry about us. 

On Thursday the snow plow did get to Bartlett and was going to go on North to meet a plow that was dispatched to meet him at Four Corners, a few miles North of Bartlett. One other couple, from Sioux Falls, the cookie truck and ourselves formed a convoy following the plow toward its destination to meet the O'Neill plow. We followed until he got to Four Corners and he turned around and went back to Emerson, advising us that the other plow was on North of us a few miles and would soon open the road to connect with the part that he had opened up, we could see his lights approaching. Our three vehicles were setting in a row, awaiting the other plow opening the last couple of miles, and we could see no apparent progress. By this time it was dark and, to save gas, we alternated running the two cars and stay warm. We were unable to see to turn our vehicles around so we spent the entire night trying to keep our spirits up and continuing to hope that the plow up ahead would open up the remaining strip of drifts. Finally, at daybreak, the driver of the other plow walked up to our vehicles to advise us that he had broken an axle and could not get the road open until the repairs were made. With the coming daylight we were able to see to turn around safely and then we returned to Bartlett to await the clearing of the highway up ahead.

Finally, on Friday afternoon, the road was opened and we were able to go on home to Ainsworth, tired, relieved and broke, (I had to borrow some money from the banker to pay for food and gas to get us by), and get re-united with our little boy.

If this would have happened today, all of this would not occurred the way it did. The methods used in clearing snow are much improved, the roads are considerably better and communication would not have been a problem, with the cell-phones that are everywhere, including my car. In spite of the ways things are today I still have learned that I do not take the chances I did during that storm of 1949. There are too many uncertain factors that could be faced and no need to force the issue.


Leroy Wacker

I suspect that it would be proper to put this winter in relation to my age, which would place me graduating from high school in the spring of 48 and starting Norfolk Junior College (NENTEC now) in the fall of 48. 

The winter started simple enough as I recall, nothing much happened before the middle of Nov. The days aren't exact but fairly close. We had just finished our corn-picking, either the day or two before the first (real) snow storm. I can recall that my Dad would look back and say, "we were lucky" to have gotten our corn out where so many had not finished and would never finish. 

The things that stick in my mind the most is trying to get to Norfolk for college (a 71/2 mile trip, one way) and back home, doing chores in blizzards where you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, a full mile drive on county roads to the Highway, and a brother that decided to get married on the 15th of January 1949. I believe that I shoveled more snow that year than I have the rest of my life-time. 

It was a fun time, in between storms, the neighbors would get together and try to open a path to the highway, probably a lot like our old thrashing "B's". The County couldn't even think about keeping up, but the State highways, like 275 were open, our problem was getting that mile to the highway. Contrary to what you "youngins" might think, we did have cars, tractors, and other modern appliances but there were 3 things that worked the best that winter and they were, snow shovels, chains and horses.

My most memorable part of that winter was my brother Don's wedding. As is normal there was the 'rehearsal' the night before plus other 'festivities'. While taking care of these responsibilities the wind had come up so when my twin-brother and I turned off of the highway for that final mile home we encountered new snow drifts. As young boys might or might not do, we left home in our winter coats, no caps or earmuffs, no gloves and our 'penny-loafers' with no boots. 

Brother Leon was driving & as we came to the half mile mark the road turned a 45 degree angle plus a short but steep hill. That was also a point for a snow drift and we became stuck. As the passenger I was elected to push, shove, shovel or whatever. Although we made it thru after a fashion the cold froze my ears, my finger tips and my toes. To anyone that has suffered those torments I need not say more but for those that haven't, I want to tell you that it was the most painful night of my life and is my memory of the winter of 48-49. 

Leon & I did manage our daily trips to school, maybe 'daily' is the wrong word but we received credit for the full year and when we couldn't get home we enjoyed staying with our 'friends' in the big city of Norfolk and learned a popular game in school called 'knock poker'. Hey, that's a card game, so don't be spreading false rumors, okay!!! Will look forward to hearing other stories since this is not something that can be limited to any one event for THAT winter. 


Ortha (Reynolds) Emry

Six weeks without electricity, telephone or mail, how terrible you say? Well not really. You see this was in the '40's and electricity and the telephone service hadn't made it out to our isolated farm on the Niobrara. So we didn't miss them. We did miss getting our mail for six weeks and our being able to send messages to let everyone know we were alright.

We milked cows, had our own meat and chickens, a cellar full of potatoes and hundreds of quarts of canned vegetables and fruit. We always stocked up in the fall with flour and other essentials, including kerosene for our lamps. I was very concerned that someone would get hurt or sick. Our son, Bob, had asthma really bad at times and required a doctor's attention but thankfully we all stayed well.

The radio (ran off a battery pack) told us if we had an emergency to mark an X in the snow and darken it with ashes or dirt so a pilot could see it. It was six weeks before the first plane flew over! We all ran out into the snow to see it and tears streamed down my face as I realized that had we needed help it was available. Don Higgins and other pilots saved a lot of lives by flying people to doctors, getting people from stranded cars and even flying food to those who could call in for help.

The radio was our only source with the outside world. Radio stations, especially in South Dakota, would relay messages. Sometimes parents had attempted to go to town on a day when the wind wasn't blowing only to have the wind whip the snow into a blizzard before they could get home. The parents were either in town or made it to a neighbor's house and had to stay until the storm was over. The instructions and pleas of the distraught parents to the children at home were heart wrenching.

Several weeks into our isolation, a neighbor, Mrs. Paul Jones, rode her saddle horse six miles to our place. She had a fifty pound sack of flour tied behind the saddle and pockets full of yeast cakes (packaged yeast was not heard of yet). She said she was worried as no one from on the river had been out past their place since before the storm. I had plenty of flour and yeast so she rode on to the Lawrence Conrads and Jess Emrys. Her ride that day would have been thirteen or fourteen miles in deep snow. I'll bet her horse got an extra ration of feed that night. I will always remember her and her great act of thoughtfulness. What a good neighbor!

We were very fortunate that we lived where there was plenty of wood for cooking and heating. In the evenings we had lots of hot card games and other games for entertainment. We had raised a lot of popcorn so we shelled and popped some about every night.
I'm sure we were all more aware of the beauties of nature. There were lots of birds and the beautiful cardinals ate from a feeder outside our kitchen window. Even the snow was beautiful if you could look past the extra work it made.

I'm so thankful that we were some of the fortunate ones of the Blizzard of '49.

Shirley (Denny) Beasley

Yes I remember the blizzard of 49, was a fun time for us kids, my brothers and myself. Some of the snowdrifts were so high we could almost walk on top of some of the trees. My brother Ray and I went sleigh riding just outside of the front yard where the drifts were the highest. We had heard on the radio that they were dropping feed for the cattle and food if it was needed, so I decided to lay down in the snow and make a snow angel without my parents knowledge. Guess what? An airplane landed and ask what we needed, my Dad said -- "Nothing". I remember getting much more than a light spanking. I did learn my lesson.


Sandra (Masters) Propst

I had just turned seven the first of the year and my brother Dan was a baby. We lived in the second house south of the highway on Osborne Street. It was a two story, white frame house with the bedrooms upstairs with windows facing the south. By the time the snow finally quit falling that winter, there was a drift that extended from the bottom of the second story window to the property line. In the following years, I often thought of that drift and wondered if I could have tunneled through if I'd been older and more adventurous. 

At the time, Masters Nite 'n Day had an auto dealership and one type of vehicle they sold was Jeep. My father, Paul Masters, spent many hours during those storms delivering groceries and prescriptions to people, and those Jeeps were not known for their heating capabilities. He would be at Master's Lube waiting for phone calls from people asking for help, and when one came he would be on his way. We didn't see a lot of him during that time, and didn't even realize how serious the situation was till years later when we were older. Living in town as we did was really a blessing.


Jeryce (Meyers) Russell

The Blizzard of 1948 to 1949 started right around Thanksgiving with a storm and then several storms in December just practicing for the "big one" that started on New Year’s Day and really got worse with each following day. 

My parents Don & Irene Myers had the Midwest Furniture Store and Midwest Hotel. We had an apartment in the hotel that was fairly large for the times as we had 3 bedrooms. My daddy always joked during bad weather that he didn't have to worry about shoveling snow to get the car out to get to work. All he had to do was walk across the lobby of the hotel and go in the store, which was in the same building.

By the second day of the big blizzard, he really started to moan and groan as the drifts were getting so tall that no one could get in the front door of the furniture store let alone make a purchase. Clay Patterson worked for us and lived on the third floor studio apartment in the hotel. Clay was very strong and a really hard worker so he was reassigned from the furniture store to "in charge of snow removal".

We had a tunnel dug into the hotel lobby and a tunnel that put us to the back of the hotel so we could get to the basement and laundry room. By now the hotel maid Nellie Yeoman and laundry lady Mrs. Berger were snowed in and couldn't get to work. I was reassigned from a H. S. student to the assistant hotel maid and laundry person. My mom had taken this job and she was a tough boss.

We had no business in the store but the hotel was booming!!! We had stranded people and even the banker from the bank on the southwest corner from Spearman’s grocery store came and stayed as he lived too far away to try and walk home with the blowing snow and cold temps.

I remember school being out for what seemed like a very long time and I was looking forward to going back to being a student again as it was lots easier than the temporary job I had 7 days a week. However, I was becoming independently rich as I was making 25 cents an hour and that was pretty good at that time.

As the highway was slowly opened for a few hours at a time, we had new people checking in and out of the hotel. There was even a college choir that made an unscheduled overnight stay. That night we had a big sing-a-long in the lobby area, which was fun. More than once we had group-singing during the storms as Ella Sisson worked at the hotel and lived in an apartment next to the lobby. Ella was very good on the piano, she would play and many would gather around and join in some very good harmony. There also were some exciting card games and poker games in the lobby to help pass the time while people waited out the storms.

The storms had now taken on a very dangerous turn for area residents and folks that lived on farms and ranches. The Army had been called to help and "Operation Snowbound" had its historic beginning. My hard work in the hotel had just started!! The Army needed beds and rooms for the soldiers that had been brought in to help with the air-lift of supplies, food, medical, and hay for the cattle. They worked around the clock and slept in shifts, and we had to change the bedding with every shift.

The laundry of this small hotel in those days was hung on lines to dry, as there were no large commercial dryers in Ainsworth. The hotel had a very large full basement and we put up more lines, dried all the towels and sheets in the basement and then used the big mangle to iron the sheets. (My mom ironed everything!!)

One of our biggest concerns during this time was fear of power failure as everything in the whole hotel was electric with a coal burning electric run stoker furnace with steam radiator heat. With the howling high winds and huge drifts we had around the building there was not one time that our electric flickered once for even a second during each new blast of arctic air and snow.

The drifts and weight of the snow was so bad on the large plate glass windows in the furniture store that we put mattresses and box-springs against the glass to give the windows strength and it worked.

The Smith's owned the cafe across from the hotel and they stayed at the cafe and kept open to help feed the downtown people.

We never ran low on food as my mom always believed in "stocking up" my folks always bought a 4-H beef at the county fair and we had it stored in the locker at Harr's and were able to walk over and get out meat as we needed it. Much of our Christmas mail was not received until February and of course, the trains were blocked in big snowdrifts on the tracks with passengers for quite awhile. Another thing the Royal Theater was open when Mr. Bailey could walk and open up we did see the same movie more than once but it kept us from really getting cabin fever from the storms.

There were many heroes during this Blizzard of 49 and the people of that area of Nebraska that was so hard hit by the storms will be forever grateful to the Army and all the volunteers that pitched in and truly helped their neighbors. I am sure that all of the survivors of the blizzard have more stories to tell and hopefully we will never have to relive such a storm in our lifetime.

P. S. My dad moved to the desert here in Las Vegas in 1963 and swore he would never pick up another snow shovel again and he didn't!!! I moved to Las Vegas in 1957 and its always fun to talk to others that have stories to tell of the blizzard as we have many residents here from Nebraska and the Midwest. I have never picked up another snow shovel either!!!


Raleigh Emry

[My mother, Ortha (Reynolds) Emry,
and I wrote our stories without collaborating.
If there is a difference in facts between the two,
please believe Mom's version.
I was just a little kid at the time.]

I was not quite five years old when the Blizzard of '49 kept us snow-bound at our Niobrara River home for six-weeks. Although I have memories of that winter, forgive me if I mix in a few other memories from those years on the river. Events tend to run together that far back into my childhood. Winters to me, including the Blizzard of '49, were times of snow. Snow, to me, meant great sledding and tunneling in the drifts. 

To most adults, the Blizzard of '49 was like no other. Old timers had to search back in their memories to the Blizzard of 1888 (I think) to find something comparable. The Blizzard of '49 brought a storm of worries. Feeding livestock was difficult. Roads were impassable. Supplies ran short.

We were economically poor but self-sufficient. I like to think of the four-hundred acre home-place we lived on then as a ranch. I suppose subsistence farming is a better description. As long as there were trees in our canyons, we had fuel for our stoves. As long as the cellar protected the piles of potatoes, carrots and onions, and dozens of Mason jars of meat, fruit and vegetables that we had canned the summer before, we wouldn't starve. Of course Dad could get fresh meat as often as we wanted by plinking a cottontail or squirrel with his .22. We also had squash buried deep in the grain-bin in the granary. The chickens were miserly with their eggs in mid-winter but they offered up a few. The hens that didn't, often ended up in a pot of chicken and noodles. 

Doing chores twice a day was rigorous activity. We had no milking barn, except for a small pole-shed that we seldom used. So we usually milked our cows right out in the middle of the corral. The milk-cows were gentle so they would stand still. With our command "heist" and a nudge, they would move their right leg back so we had easy access to their warm udders. Dad had made our one-legged milk-stools from buggy wheel hubs. The tapered hub held a round post leg and a board was anchored across the top of the hub for a seat. In the summers, when the corral was soft, the one legged stools would slowly sink into the ground under our weight and we would soon be sitting like bullfrogs. But in the winter, the ground was frozen. So as long as we had a spot that was relatively free from snow we could burrow our face into the cow's warm flank and capture a bucketful of milk without losing the milk-stool. My hands were small and so I was often given other chores such as gathering eggs and feeding the chickens. But sometimes Dad or Mom would start the cow to "giving down" her milk and I would finish up while they moved on to the next cow. My older sisters and brother helped milk the cows and completed chores that were appropriate for their age. 

We had several small "A frame" hog-sheds scattered around the trees and plum thickets for the pigs to find shelter in. They would come running when we called, "Pig... Pig... Pig!" Each would try to be the first to have its snout buried eyes-deep into the hog trough. They got the left-over milk after we had separated the cream. The milk, still warm from the cow, tasted wonderful on a bitter, cold day. I know, as I often dipped a cupful from the separator bowl as a mid-chore treat. 

Our chickens roamed free, but during the blizzard they stayed close to the chicken house and "scratch" shed next to it. Our creeks ran all winter long so they supplied all the livestock and poultry with water. We also got our drinking water from a spring-box in the head of the canyon near our house. A pipe carried the pure, cold water to a tank near our kitchen door. The tank of cold spring-water was our refrigerator in warm months. We didn't need a refrigerator during the Blizzard of '49. 

Mom bought flour in large cotton sacks and made delicious bread and biscuits in her old wood-burning kitchen-range every few days. She then turned the calico flour sacks into blouses, shirts, dish cloths and aprons on her Singer foot-powered sewing machine. Fresh hot bread, churned butter and choke-cherry jelly was a heavenly treat. Bean soup and biscuits made one of my favorite winter meals during those winters on the Niobrara. 

If the blizzard had dragged on any longer, we could have butchered another pig or steer. We had plenty of firewood although it was sometimes difficult to wade through the deep snow to saw it into stove-length pieces, split it and carry it to the wood-box in the kitchen. The kerosene supply for our lamps was limited. But if it ran out, I had no doubt that my folks could make candles out of tallow, lard or beeswax. I don't recall that we ran out of kerosene and so don't remember the fun of making candles. If we had to, we could get our work done by daylight and then use up the dark hours cuddled under piles of warm quilts. So we were self-sufficient. Although I'm sure my parents may have had occasional worries about the prospects of someone becoming seriously ill, I was carefree. 

We had no electricity so we had only a battery powered AM radio. Ainsworth didn't have a radio station then. Our news came from WNAX in Yankton, South Dakota or on a good day KRVN in Lexington, or WOW in Omaha. Of course after nightfall, the AM radio brought in stations from far away. But we conserved our batteries during the blizzard. When my parents turned on the radio to listen to the news, we would discover that the storm was wide-spread and that people all up and down the Great Plains were in the same blizzard conditions that we were. The announcer would advise anyone who was in trouble to make a big S.O.S. or an "X" in the snow and fill it with ashes or other material so an over-flying plane could see it. We never saw an airplane for weeks and only when the blizzard was nearly over. 

I remember making a little S.O.S. out near our ash heap and filling the letters in with ashes. But then I would worry that a plane equipped with skis might actually see my distress signal and land to investigate when we weren't in trouble. I loved airplanes even back then and would have enjoyed seeing one up close... but not by decoying them in. So I kicked snow back into the signal with my five-buckle overshoes. My little signals were probably not visible from a tree-top, let alone an airplane. Nonetheless, I didn't want to get in any trouble with outsiders! 

I had no reason to believe that Santa Claus would not find our home on Christmas eve. My parents had reasons, but they didn't worry us kids with them. They could see that deep snow could even delay Santa Claus. On a day or two before Christmas my dad and my uncle, who lived a mile upriver with my grandparents, hitched a trailer onto a Ford tractor, and set out for Ainsworth, some 17 miles across open country. There was no point in following the existing roads that followed section lines as they were blown full of snow. So they let down fences as they went and tried to follow the crests of hills where the snow had been blown away. With much digging and expended energy, they finally made the round trip and returned home after dark. 

Of course Ainsworth merchants had few supplies or gifts remaining on their shelves. But the men brought back some needed flour, sugar, kerosene, etc., and Santa came on time.

Santa brought me a little red kerosene lantern for Christmas. I still have it. It is sitting within view on the end of our kitchen cabinet. During those years on the Niobrara, it provided me with a halo of light when I went up our old rickety stairs to bed each night. It sometimes lit the way for midnight visits to the privy. I usually reserved that trip for morning or warmer days. On bitter, cold nights a makeshift chamber-pot, often an old Karo syrup pail, allowed us to conduct business in the "comfort" of our home. It was little "comfort" to sit on the thin, sharp rim of a syrup pail. I presumed that the ring it cut into my behind would be with me for life; but sitting on a freezing hole in the outhouse was no better. 

The boxes of supplies that the men had brought home on the bumpy ride from Ainsworth had not come through unscathed. The packages of sugar and baking soda had both broken and run together. My mother, in her resourceful way, tried to salvage some of it by making taffy for Christmas candy. Her recipe called for sugar and baking soda, but not in the proportions that were mixed in the bed of the trailer. We had a taffy-pull and I remember that the result was candy that looked like amber glass, similar to horehound. (Whatever happened to horehound candy?) I thought Mom's taffy was good, but anything I could get my hands into and help make tasted good to me. 

Mom would use up her "free time" sewing or embroidering dishcloths, etc. Dad, after the livestock was attended to, carved beautiful canes from diamond willow, cedar and other native woods. We four kids played with the few toys we had and played card games such as Casino and Old Maid or board games like Parcheesi and Checkers. I suppose, like all children, we complained about being bored. However, I don't recall boredom. Those early years produced some of my favorite memories. 

One day replaced the next and then eventually we heard clanking and rumbling sounds far in the distance out of the canyon and toward the road to town. The sounds came closer and closer... and closer and then rumbled and clanked down our hill into our canyon. The Army, in big green tanks with dozer blades, had come to plow out our roads and we were saved! I thought they were big green tanks as they said U.S. Army on their sides, but they were probably big green bulldozers. 

The big green tanks rumbled and clanked away into the sunset, the roads presumably blew full of snow again, my parents went back to surviving the Blizzard of '49, and I went back to sledding down the long, steep, winding hill that propelled me at exhilarating speed through our barnyard and out across our alfalfa field in our bottom-land toward the Niobrara River.

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