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The Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888

In 1888, an unexpected blizzard swept across the prairies and claimed 235 lives, most of them children. Learn more.

On January 12, 1888, an unexpected blizzard swept across the prairies and claimed 235 lives, most of them children.

The so-called “Schoolhouse Blizzard,” also known as “The Children’s Blizzard,” blew down from Canada and into areas that are now South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. Temperatures dropped from above freezing in many areas to well below zero in a matter of a few hours. At the same time, more than six inches of powdery snow, accompanied by severe winds, blew in, creating whiteout conditions through much of the region.

The storm was especially deadly because it came on without warning during the day, when adults were at work and children were at school. In addition, the morning had started out relatively warm, and many people left the house without adequate clothing for the sub-zero chill they would soon be forced to endure. Thousands of people, many of them schoolchildren, were caught in the blizzard and had difficulty finding their way home in the blinding snow.

Wise teachers kept children in their classrooms until the storm ended, while many others allowed their young charges to try to find their way home, resulting in disaster. One teacher, Minnie Freeman of Mira Valley, Nebraska, became a folk-hero of the age when she safely led 13 students from their schoolhouse to her own home, half a mile away.

Another teacher, Lois Royce of Plainview, Nebraska, wasn’t so lucky. She attempted to lead three of her students to her home, just a few hundred feet from the schoolhouse, and became hopelessly disoriented in the storm. The three children all died, and Royce lost both of her feet to frostbite.

Before the year ended, the storm itself would be dwarfed by the “Great Blizzard of 1888,” which enveloped the East Coast just a few months later, but the impacts of the Children’s Blizzard were just as intense for those who’d experienced it.

The 1888 Blizzard Club "In All It's Fury" Members of the Blizzard of 1888 pose at a historical marker in Valley County in 1967. From left, State Sen. H.C. Crandall of Curtis, Horace M. Davis of Lincoln, Oliver Bell (of Minnie Freeman's school), H. Greeley, Besse Davis, Ora Clement and Leslie Markel. 12_Blizzard1888
The 1888 Blizzard Club
“In All It’s Fury”
Members of the Blizzard of 1888 pose at a historical marker in Valley County in 1967. From left, State Sen. H.C. Crandall of Curtis, Horace M. Davis of Lincoln, Oliver Bell (of Minnie Freeman’s school), H. Greeley, Besse Davis, Ora Clement and Leslie Markel. Photo courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.
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Jaime McLeod

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.

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Joni

I counted 7 names and 8 people in the pix – did I miss something?

D. Smith

The “tv version” of the Little House stuff was nothing like the books. Nothing at all. WHY do people believe everything they see on tv? It’s just nuts.

Fo instance, in the books do you remember reading anything at all about a boy named Albert?? The Ingalls didn’t adopt a boy. What is on tv is pure fiction and Michael Landon took a lot of liberties. I’m surprised that Rose Wilder would let him get away with that. Rose, BTW, was a staunch libertarian and even fought for that cause.

Laura’s blizzard was indeed in the early 1880’s. The Children’s Blizzard occurred in 1888. The book is wonderful and is available on amazon or at Barnes & Noble or many other places. Or check it out at a local library.

The best book in Laura’s series was Farmer Boy, impho.

Dora Yates

Is this the same blizzard that Laura Ingals Wilder wrote about in her book “The Long Winter”?

Jennifer

Nope. That book takes place around 1881.

Donna

Blizzard!: The Storm That Changed America
by Jim Murphy excellent info and photos.

SJL

When I started to read the story, I thought, this reminds me of Little house on the Prairie. Same idea, just changed somewhat. On the TV show the blizzard took place on Christmas eve. How horrible this must have been.

Eleanor Lock

I’m curious as to whether this is the same blizzard referred to in Laura Ingalls Winder book, “The Long Winter” Whether or not you are a fan of that series, anyone would enjoy that book, whether child or adult.

Belinda

Bobbie, yes there is a book about this, its called “The Children’s Blizzard”. It is an great read, lots of history.

Ruth

The Long Winter took place in 1880-81 and was 7 months of blizzard after blizzard. This storm was a one time thing. There is a book about it called, “The Children’s Blizzard.” I found it in a Hallmark store in Nebraska but I’m sure you can get it on Amazon.

Tracy

Anne, Laura was born in 1867 so she would have been too old in 1888 for this to be the blizzard she wrote of but she might have drawn some inspiration from it.

Jennifer

Nope. The Long Winter takes place roughly around 1881 during what was called the Snow Winter. Different event but still very real. I have heard that she does reference the Children’s Blizzard in The First Four Years book although I haven’t read that far in the series so I can’t confirm this.

Shirley Davis

I remember watching the episode of Little House and I do believe that it ties in with the Blizzard of 1888. I am originally from Michigan and I can remember a storm we had back in 1987 that left us all confinded to our homes. The power was out on part of our street, but the other half had power. Our house was one of the lucky one. We had did alot of laundry for my in-laws and sister-in-laws. y i n-laws had natural gas so they did the cooking and that is how they kept warm.

Martha

The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin

Anne

Would this be the same blizzard that Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about in her book The Long Winter? A lot of what she wrote about in that book can be backed by historical events. Both of these occurrences happen in the same time frame.

Jennifer

Nope. The Long Winter was several years earlier. That season was known as The Snow Winter.

Bobbie

Is ther a book about this

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