II The Great Nebraska Blizzard of April 13, 14, 15, 1873

It was Easter Sunday of Eighteen Seventy-three.
It was warm and pleasant and sunny and fair as May.
Farmers were planting their early potatoes and gardens.
What an even climate was this Nebraska land.
How different from our old Wisconsin home;
No storms, no sleighs, no snow, no awful drifts,
Perpetual sunshine, the promised land, indeed.

Each morn was heard the sound of saw and hammer,
And merry and cheery was talk and song and jest.
First permanent house of this new town was building.
'Twas Elder Babcock's, leader and pastor, he;
Post-office, home and church it was to be;
Court-room and County Judge's office.
Red cedar were the logs like Solomon's temple,
From cedar canyons thirty miles away.
Fragrant was the odor of resinous logs and chips.
No wonder they sang at their work that balmy day.

Toward evening a gentle mist from the north came down,
Just what gardens and grass were needing.
It dampened the odiferous chips and logs
Till sweetest perfume filled the balmy air.
The walls were up, the roof almost completed.
No joist was laid, but Mother Earth its floor,
No door nor window in, the gables open.
But with the weather calm, no storm, no wind,
Home went the men to beds of pleasant dreams.

The morning seemed to come and wakefulness,
But still the darkness brooded over all.
Another nap, another wakening, yet dark.
A match was struck, the clock showed after seven.
Springing from bed a window he sought.
Another match showed but a pane of white.
The door opened out upon a wall of snow
And thrusting out his good right arm
The snow wall stopped it like a wall of stone.

With poker and with butcher knife, toiling long,
Slowly a hole was burrowed through
Out to the blinding, raging storm.
The wet, gale driven snow filled ears and eyes,
Clung to their lashes, to beard and hair.

His shovel and ax he must get someway,
Left last night at the new log house,
Eighty and more long rods away.
And so he started, no danger fearing.
Knew not that so many that fearsome day
Would perish while going a few rods away.
Found the new house blown flat to the ground,
Found ax and the shovel among the debris
And soon he was back to his home in the ground.
Was it instinct or luck, or providence kind
That guided his steps through the snow and wind?

Breakfast over, the storm again must be braved,
Wood must be cut, stock fed and saved.
Again he crawled out through the snowy hole
And we filled it behind him with straw-tick, old.
And sallying forth once more in the storm,
He sought the stable built, too, in the bank.
But only a great white mound was there.
So he burrowed down through snow and roof
And slid down into the dark abyss,
And groping found horses and cow.
So filled was the floor with trampled snow
Their backs now rubbed the roof above.

A little hay was put in the racks
And with more hay he caulked the cracks
And sealed it over with heavy snow.
Then sought with his ax the near-by tree.
Hard snow was drifted to near the top
To where a deadened limb he found
From which he cut a few sticks of wood.

With wood and ax and clothes wet through
He started again for his buried home.
But hampered by ax and arm full of wood
He missed his course and was lost on the plain.

Stopping, he questioned his quickened wits.
Turned his other cheek to the cold north wind
Retracing his steps to the known creek bank.
Two times repeated until he found
Upon the third, his dugout mound.

For three full days and nights the wild storm raged.
Our small supply of oil must soon be gone.
To husband it we sat in total darkness,
Two families huddled in this one small room.
Each day another trip was made,
To care for stock and bring supplies of wood.
Toward Wednesday night he burrowed out again, and lo!
This time the snow and wind had both abated.
Quicker than I can tell, the boys and I
Crawled through the hole into the welcome light.
The storm was over, and we dug away the snow
Letting the family out and the daylight in.

Although it snowed so furiously and long,
The prairie land was still all bare and black.
The streams and canyons caught the snow
Full to their level, and so hard packed,
A crow-bar would not pierce it.
Full twenty feet in Mira Creek it lay,
And Mrs. Shepard tells us how
In solid bank it bridged the river
For man and beast to travel over.

Many and sad are the tales that are told
Of this fearful blizzard in the days of old.
How Austin Terry, resourceful and strong,
Worked like a slave the whole day long
To save his team; and still he tries
'Till they perish before his very eyes.
How L. C. Jacobs saved team and cows
By driving them into his new log house.
How thousands of cattle, like panicked troops
Found watery graves in the Platte and the Loups;
And many brave men of stalwart form
Lost limb or life in this demon storm.