This isn't a complete collection of stories about blizzards which have hit Comanche County, Kansas; just the ones with information about them on this site.
M. R. Becktell, of Macksville, knows just what those early day blizzards were. He was in one once. It was in December 1878, when he and three other men had gone to the canyons northwest of Sun City, Barber county, for wood. The other men were A. B. Nolder, Frank Reed and John Poling. The weather was good until they got their loads ready to start home. In fact there was no sign of a storm until they pulled out on the prairie headed for the north. It was their intention to camp on the prairie a few miles out, it being about four o'clock in the afternoon. But when they got up on the level prairie they saw the blizzard coming, and they knew what that meant. As it commenced to snow they turned around and went back to the canyons. There they struck camp and built a big fire. All that night and the next day and the second night they spent at the camp, the blizzard raging all the time.
Mr. Becktell says that two of them kept the fire burning while the others slept, taking turns at this during the two nights. The next morning the snow was eighteen inches deep but they made the start for home. The next night they stayed with a man by the name of Brown half way between the canyons and Macksville. By noon they made it to the Neeland Home, where they took dinner. They reached home about four o'clock in the afternoon. - Hutchinson Gazette.
One day recently when L. L. Stubbs came into the Star office to renew his subscription to his "old home paper," he lingered awhile around the fire, and meanwhile the conversation drifted to the subject of blizzards, and some experiences of the past were recalled.
"I well remember," said Mr. Stubbs, "My first two years spent in Comanche-co. They brought some stirring experiences in many ways. I moved out from Illinois in February, 1885. I came by train as far as Attica, arriving there on the 16th of February. We unloaded our goods and livestock and started to drive across country to this county. At that time there was no railroad closer than Attica and Kinsley, although the Englewood Branch of the Santa Fe was then being built just beyond where Belvidere stands. I recall that on the way from Attica to Comanche-co. the weather was unusually warm for February, but we sure had some cold weather a few weeks later in the year.
But it was during the month of January, in the year 1887 - that one of the coldest spells came. I recall one experience which Frank Berry and I had that winter. Frank then lived on the farm where Roy Dewall now lives. We concluded to go to mill. The nearest mill was then on Elm Creek, several miles southeast of where Belvidere now stands. We started out, each with a small load of wheat. I drove a span of horses and Frank a span of mules. We had hardly got started when it began to rain. We kept going, but before very long the roads became very muddy. It was a cold rain, mixed with snow and sleet. We thought two or three times that we would have to turn back, for the road became worse and worse, especially in the vicinity of where Belvidere now stands.
We camped out that night, and I assure you it was not a very comfortable night, either for us or for our teams, but we finally managed to get to the mill, sold our wheat, secured a supply of flour and feed and started back. The weather became more and more 'blizzardy,' a heavy snow having set in. We knew we could not make it home that evening, so we stopped for the night at a deserted sod house on the hill on Otter Creek, this side of Belvidere. The sod house was quite a roomy affair, consisting of two good-sized rooms and one smaller room.
We knew that a blizzard was on, so we concluded that we had better camp right there. We backed our wagons against the south side of the house and tied our teams so that they would be protected as well as possible from the storm. There was plenty of room in the house for both teams, as well as for Mr. Berry and me, and, as the storm became worse, I proposed to take my horses inside, and in fact did so, but those mules of Frank's refused to enter the door, so they had to be tied outside, and, in order to keep the mules from becoming lonesome and breaking loose during the night, I finally decided to tie my horses outside, after blanketing them well.
That was a terribly cold and stormy night, the snow drifted badly. Inside the sod house, Frank and I managed to keep warm by means of a fire which kept going and which was fed principally by boards from the floor of the cabin.
The next morning things still looked very blizzardy and we saw that we were doomed to stay there thru most of the day. We finally managed to get Frank's mules in the house, after again taking my horses in, but we had to do a lot of persuading with those mules. Finally the sky began to clear, and during the afternoon we managed to hitch up our teams and to start on our way home. We had to pick our road around snow drifts, and we sure had a time of it, but we did manage to reach home that night. That trip was an experience I shall never forget."
Fred Schenk is one of the "old timers" in Comanche-co. He came with his family to this county in the fall of 188 and settled on a claim in the eastern part of the county. The other day in speaking of blizzards, Mr. Schenk said:
"It was one winter during the early 90s, 1891, I think it was, that I got caught in a very severe storm. The weather was mild, and none of us thought of a storm being so near at hand. I had left home to go about 27 miles north after one or two head of cattle which I had purchased. We had to stay all night up there, and that night, after we had gone to our bunk, we noticed that the weather had suddenly become very much colder. The man we were stopping with very kindly furnished us with a couple of extra comforts, and so we got through the night all right. But next morning a real blizzard was on, and we knew that we were tied up for a while. But that evening we managed to get started on our way back home.
It was a terribly cold trip. Snow and ice had made the roads almost impassable, but we made our way somehow. Our worst trouble was in getting the purebred bull which I had purchased across Mule Creek. The stream had frozen over, and that animal absolutely refused to make any effort to cross. We couldn't find anything with which to break the ice, so we were compelled to go down the creek a ways to the Pepperd home, and there we managed to break the ice and get across the creek with the contrary animal.
When I reached home, I found that my wife had managed to get through the snow out to where the feed was, and by tying a rope around large branches of it, she managed to drag it to where the stock was, and thus she kept things going during my absence and while the storm was so bad. That is only one experience of many I had with blizzards."
Gertrude Cobb's Memory of A Blizzard in Wilmore, Kansas.
Gertrude (Fisher) Cobb: I had just moved to town and moved into the house that the telephone office was in when we moved to Wilmore. When we moved in there that night it was in January, and oh, it was stormin' - we moved in there in a blizzard. we got there in the middle of the night and I said to Austion - we drove around that little block there in Wilmore - and I said, "Austin, nobody's seen us. Let's just go back".
Janet (Ferrin) Elmore: (Laughs) Where were you comin' from?
Gertrude (Fisher) Cobb: We were coming from Hopeton, Oklahoma. And he said: "No, we're here. We'll go on over to Willard's and see what he says". So we went on over to his brother's; they were running the telephone office there. Well, the next morning they got up and they were all packed and ready to leave. They did. They left that day and went to western Kansas and I'd never seen a telephone office in my life.
Gladys (Rose) Wood: A switchboard and everything.
Gertrude (Fisher) Cobb: Yeah, that was the first time I'd ever seen one. And there I was...
Gladys (Rose) Wood: ...having to learn to use it.
Gertrude (Fisher) Cobb: I never will forget... it was a-ringin' and I didn't know what to do and I was just sittin' there and Edna come in from the kitchen and she said: "Are you going to answer that or are you just gonna let it ring?". And the tears just started rollin' down my face. I thought: "Oh, I can't take this". They left and come evening Austin said: "I gotta go get another load of our stuff" and I said: "And leave me here?" and he said: "Yes, I can't stay here with you." and he left and there I was all by myself and a big blizzard came in. Do you remember that great big old desk in our telephone office?
Gladys (Rose) Wood: Yeah.
Gertrude (Fisher) Cobb: I slept on that thing for three months. I didn't go out of that room; I stayed right there in that room and slept on that desk. And old Frank Neilsen; he got stranded in town and he came over and knocked on the door and I never saw anybody as big as him in all my life and he came in and sat down on the floor and I was scared to death.
Gladys (Rose) Wood: I would have been too.
Gertrude (Fisher) Cobb: And about that time another knock on the door and it was Emmett Graue of Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and he was following the long distance lines that run through there. He came in and he said: "My God, woman, what are you doing with him here?" and I said: "Well, he just come in and I don't know how to get him out" so Emmett didn't leave me. He stayed till morning.
Excerpt from an interview: A Reunion of Former Residents of Wilmore, Comanche County, Kansas held 10 March 1991 in Tucson, Pima County, Arizona.
"In early days we put plenty away for winter which came in mighty welcome, as the winter of 1885 went down in history as the hardest winter of all times, with the two great blizzards on the 6th and 16th of January. As we had a good sod house, and we had packed our old dugout full of buffalo chips and many loads of dry willow from the creek, we got along very good. Settlers that came late that fall, some with board shacks and many camped-out, suffered very badly. Many froze to death. The poor Comanche Pool cattle drifted as far as they could go and froze to death by the thousands. In the spring round-up they claimed they had thirty-four thousand less."
Excerpt from: PERILS OF THE PLAINS:
A first person account by Hattie Pierce Wimmer.
Another interesting occurrence was our first and last visit to your city of Coldwater, which was in the winter of 1885-1886. The date for our final proof was that provided by nature, we borrowed a beautiful black Indian pony from a neighbor, upon which to make the trip next day. During the night one of those real northwestern blizzard set in and as we had no other shelter for the pony we shared the protection of our dirt roof with him. Morning came and the blizzard still raging and continue to rage all day and into the next night. Morning came again, but the storm had calmed but was stinging cold - 26 degrees below if I remember correctly. The snow had piled up to the top of the door and was about an inch deep on my "shake down."
I dug my way out and about 8 o'clock headed my mount toward the occident city of Coldwater. The draws and canyons were drifted level full and no sign of a trail could be seen. We simply made a wild guess and struck out cross country. To add to our difficulties the sun was hidden. We lost our bearings - if we ever had any - and zigzagged from one shack to another in quest of where we were but, no body home, every shack deserted, "gone back east." Wading through drifts and plunging into level full draws and dismounting and crawling out on hands and knees we finally saw what appeared to be a village. We said to our self, "there's the burg at last." I steered about and after a few minutes I rode triumphantly (?) into the village and inquired at a livery stable as to the name of the place. "Nescatunga," he replied.
It was then high noon and I was only about halfway to the goal. It was my first and last trip to Nescatunga. I didn't even stop for dinner and was forcibly reminded of the cowboy's nickname for that place, "Must go hungry." From there on we had better sailing as the stage had marked the trail to Coldwater where we arrived about sundown cold, hungry and somewhat "put out" but glad to get next to a red hot stove on the outside of a hot meal. Next morning we went to the court house - or to our part of it for final proof - which was scattered all over the village in several small buildings. We returned to the shack next day without difficulty.
Excerpt from: C.F. Spicer: An account of pioneer days in Comanche County, Kansas, The Western Star, June 10, 1921.
"Father took the team to Emporia, our nearest railroad station, 80 miles away, to get shingles, a plow and other needed articles. He had left plenty of wood to last till he expected to return, but it was then that the great blizzard of January, 1871, came. Mother and I managed to line our shack with he carpets that had been brought along, and we stayed with it for three days, when, since the wood supply was getting low, we went with a neighbor, who came for us, and stayed in their cabin something over two weeks till father managed to get home. He had unloaded that lumber a great many times in getting through the snow drift and draws. What that mother suffered all that time, not knowing whether he was dead or alive, can be imagined."
Excerpt from: William V. Jackson: Life Sketches of Comanche-co. Pioneers; Some of Their Struggles and Early-day Experiences., The Western Star, May 9, 1924.
"In February 1899, Jessie and two sons, Earnest age 16, and Everett age 9, left Okeene with a team and a wagon headed for Comanche County, Kansas. Due to a blizzard, they were forced to spend an extra night in Aetna, Kansas. Imagine such a trip in a wagon in February, with two boys and only $25. Nevertheless, she arrived near Wilmore with about $12.50."
Excerpt from Jessie Ann (Powell) Hubbard, Comanche County History, page 458, published by the Comanche County Historical Society, Coldwater, Kansas, 1981.
"On account of the short crops from 1885 to 1891, we did all kinds of work so as to earn enough with which to buy groceries. We gathered bones from the prairies and sold them and hauled freight occasionally. We hauled wood from the Indian Territory and also gathered 'surface coal' with which to keep warm. Our first house was a "dugout sod,' with a dirt floor, and that floor was all right during the memorable blizzard of January, 1886, as I could then take my wood in the house to chop it, and run no risk of splintering the boards. All of our farm buildings during those early days were dugouts and sod."
James Hadley: Life Sketches of Comanche-co. Pioneers;
Some of Their Struggles and Early-day Experiences., The Western Star, April 4 , 1924.
"After the war Mr. Edmonds returned to Kansas, settling in or near Cottonwood Falls in Chase-co. It was there on June 12, 1865, that he was united in marriage with Miss Lois Dunlap. His wife at once began to share with him in the many vicissitudes and sacrifices incident to building up a home in a new country. The family located near Valley Center and made their home there for several years. Lured by the prospects of securing some land in a good livestock country, Mr. Edmonds, his father-in-law and another companion made a trip to this part of the state in the fall of 1874 and Mr. Edmonds took a claim on Mule Creek in the eastern part of what is now Comanche-co, and there spent a portion of the winter. As they were on their return to Sedgwick-co. In January, 1875, they were overtaken near the Ninnescah river by a severe blizzard, and they narrowly escaped being frozen to death. A Mr. Clements and two other men from Lake City, who happened to be camping near them, each had his feet so badly frozen that amputation was necessary. Mr. Edmonds returned to his claim in this county and made some further improvements, and during the fall of that year his family came. They continued to live here, and thus became real pioneers in Comanche-co. When Mr. Edmonds came, there were very few settlers up and down Mule Creek and the Medicine River. Not long after the Edmonds came, R. H. Estill, D. T. McIntire,
W. P. Holbert, Thos. Wilmore, Capt. Pepperdand others came and settled along Mule Creek."
Excerpt from David Frankford Edmonds: Life Sketches of Comanche-co. Pioneers; Some of Their Struggles and Early-day Experiences.
The Western Star, January 25, 1924.
"Saturday, January 9th (1886). Went up to Kinsley, starting about 9:00 a.m. and arriving about 1:30 p.m. without our waiting for dinner at Wendall where the driver changed horses. Found all trains here snowbound and four long passenger trains standing on the sidings, pretty well filled with people. All available hotels, rooming houses, restaurants and many private houses are filled with waiting travelers. They get their meals at the Railroad Eating House, Fred Harvey's restaurant, but all cannot sleep on the trains. Many of them had to sleep as best they could on the trains in common day coaches. As for myself, I slept on the depot floor, getting my meals at a restaurant, but with no beds available. I stayed here thus nearly four days waiting for the snow to be cleared from the tracks. I went out west with the very first train, which consisted of two engines and a caboose and two or three box cars, and the front engine equipped with a snow plow, by means of which we "bucked" the snow and got as far as Dodge City by 3:50 p.m. on Tuesday, January 12th. Here we stopped at the Dean House, for Wilbur and Lawrence Perry had also come up some days before me to Kinsley and gotten caught in the blizzard. They were also making their way westward to Lakin."
"In that January 1886 blizzard, I really made that trip out to Lakin, Kans., and it took nearly a week to get through by reason of the railroad track being so badly filled with snow. I had other experiences, waiting at Kinsley days, at Dodge two days, and making the trip down to the Cimmaron river, 40 miles from Lakin, when the ground was covered from 6 to 46 inches deep with snow; camping out in a covered wagon, and such like experiences. Following the great blizzard came some severely cold weather or secondary blizzard, not much less severe than the first had been. But that is all behind me now. I enjoyed it greatly after its accomplishment, and was glad that I was fortunate enough to survive it all, when as many as 100 or more persons in the same storm succumbed to its severities. I saw 3000 dead sheep piled against the snow fences right in the environs of Lakin, and more cattle and horses than I could count, lying here and there, frozen to death on the prairies."
Excerpts from James W. Dappert: Reminiscences of Early Days in Comanche-co., The Western Star, January 15, 1926.
"In the fall of 1885 the Comanche Pool's count of cattle numbered close to 84,000 head, then came the terrible blizzard. When spring opened in 1886 the count was 13,000. The small ranchers were completely wiped out and the remaining owners moved their stock to Montana or the Indian Territory. Settlers took over most of the grazing land and broke up the sod for grains and so started the pattern of our county of today."
- Diamond Jubilee Historical Booklet, 1959
"We came to Kansas after the terrible blizzard that was in February. It was much worse than the one we had here in March as it was zero and below, so froze most all cattle and lasted several days. My father did not have any cattle for the first couple of years as he did not have any money in those days to buy any as they had a large family to feed and clothe. They surely had the courage and determination to come to a strange state to live but father worked in the coal mines and decided it be best to come West and get a farm, so that is what he did and it was a real good one. It had plenty of good water and a spring was no problem at all. So as the years went by the good Lord prospered them and they raised the family. All went to school and all married and had nice farms and good old time families."
-- Christina Sadie (Booth) Griffin nee Wood
"In the spring of 1864, in Harrisburg, Penn., he was mustered out of the service. Soon after the close of the war he came west, settling in Dixon, Ill. He lived there until the spring of 1869, when he moved to Cherokee-co., Iowa. In the spring of 1885 he got into the cattle business in western Kansas, locating in Scott-co. The severe winter of 1886 almost depleted his herd, however. He says that he had only about a dozen head left after the blizzard. During the following three years, he began slowly to "get on his feet" again financially, but it still appeared to him that trying to raise cattle on the plains of Western Kansas was a little risky business, so in the fall of 1888 he concluded to locate in Comanche-co. He came here with 72 head of cattle, old and young, and began at once to build up a ranch about ten miles southeast of this city. He first bought 160 acres, and, in 1892 and 1893 added several quarter sections, so that it was not very long until he had blocked a ranch of over 10,000 acres of as good ranch land as can be found in the county."
Excerpt from C.F. Biddle: Life Sketches of Comanche-co. Pioneers; Some of Their Struggles and Early-day Experiences., The Western Star, January 11, 1924.
Narrowly Escapes Death, Barber County Index, January 20, 1909. "Earl Holmes of Elwood township came very near freezing to death in the storm of the 11th. He started to town with a team and wagon through the beating wind and snow and became lost. He was found in the evening near the Lonker school house about 14 miles southwest of this city..."
The plausibility of a person freezing to death in a snowstorm in the Barber County area was a central part of what was thought to be a scheme to defraud insurance companies in the Hillmon Case. See Hillmon vs. Insurance Companies by Charles S. Gleed, 18th Annual Report of the Kansas State Superintendent of Insurance, 1887.
Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news articles to this web site!
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