Sunday Stories: Memories of the '49 Blizzard

Excerpted from: McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction; Established in 1890

By Joyce Snyder

The storm started on New Year’s Day, a Saturday, with no warning that we had heard. If there was warning we failed to hear it on the radio, perhaps because we had company. In late afternoon it began to snow and made travel almost impossible by evening although I don’t remember anyone stranded.

My father, always cautious went out in the evening in the car and called all the cattle into the board corral and the hay shed. The board corral was probably over five feet high. The storm raged for three days, changing into a ground blizzard on Tuesday afternoon. Dad made periodic checks on the cattle in the corral although there was nothing that could be done for them. I remember he reported St. Elmo’s fire forming on his cap while outside. We lost only one cow to the storm and she had been pushed and had fallen into the feed rack upside down when the snow reached four feet deep.

When the wind stopped and we could get outside the cows were just walking over the top of the corral fence. Part of the hay shed roof collapsed and snow had blown in and cows and trampled it solid for over two feet deep. Cows were stranded on their knees, sandwiched between the fallen roof and the snow pack beneath them.

But where to dig first? Should it be the chickens whose house appeared to be full of snow as well as nearly covered; the tank so cattle could drink; the hay sled so they could be fed some hay or the granary so we could get to the cotton cake or fences so we could keep the cattle in? I don’t remember where we started first, only that it was a never-ending job and snow drifted every night, often completely obliterating any progress we’d made the day before. I think we shoveled out the chickens and the yard path perhaps eight times. Also the granary. We sleigh-rode off the roof of the chip house for about three and a half months. We had a little wooden runnered sled perhaps three feet long that never cut into the show as steel runners do.

On the second Monday after B-day (blizzard day) Bonnie, Jack and I rode our horses to school west of the Diamond Bar. After waiting an hour and a half for the teacher, Mary Ann Cullinan Glinn, who never arrived, we rode home again. After the third day we didn’t try again until we heard from her. Eventually we had a few more weeks of school but what with the March blizzard, Mary Ann’s eight month old baby and another on the way and an eight month term of school, well it was the longest vacation I ever had in my life and what a wonderful winter wonderland for an eleven year old! I had all the fun, not much of the worry, and there weren’t enough shovels to go around!

The snow in the barn was so deep the horses backs were touching the stringers. We were still chiseling snow out of there months later. Snow piled in such diverse places that barn windows and doors and gates I had never seen open were the only ones used.

We took pictures of everything and sent them off on the first mail four weeks later. They were lost in the crush of mail. We got an empty package back so the pictures we now have were taken six weeks later. Dad went to Flats on horseback to get our first mail and brought back a gunny-sack full. I think it had been flown up there by Clinch’s of North Platte.
It was two months before the Army bulldozers came through clearing paths for roads, cross country, lifting their blades above the wire fences and dropping them to break the wires evenly. So glad for “roads” was everyone that no one cared about the cut fences. It would be several years before four-wheel drive pickups would be available to the public.

The Red Cross air-dropped food packages to quite a few people. Some families got two packages, and some, such as the Churchill family to the north of us didn’t get any. It was just as well; the Red Cross’ choice of food was dried beef packed in glass, rice in cellophane bags and potatoes. When it landed it resembled a huge casserole with grated potatoes, rice, dried beef mixed in and the whole thing garnished in slivered glass! Well, it was a great conversation piece and we weren’t destitute. We had run out of flour so Dad ground some corn which we sifted. I never did learn to like corn meal mush. Dad took a bag of corn meal to Churchill’s, too.

I remember too, our house was much warmer after the first day, when it became plastered over with snow and the window cracks all filled with snow.

In the middle of March we had another terrible blizzard and none of the first snow had melted yet. This one was so much harder on our livestock as the poor old cows had spent two and a half months slipping around on ice and not finding a dry bed. We had quite a few slinks (spontaneous abortions) and lost some cows but I’m sure no one else fared better. The lake-size puddles in April when it all began to melt was as unbelievable as the snowdrifts that had been to the peaks of buildings three or four weeks earlier. Enough puddles to satisfy the heart of any child for a lifetime, whether urging my saddle horse through them or daring my new brown boots to leak.
On about the first Sunday or sooner we were astonished to look up and see a car on the hilltop east of the house. It was Hermel and Phyllis Priest and baby daughter, Sherry. They walked down from there and spent the afternoon. Apparently the rest of the world could get around a little bit, but we couldn’t get our car out of the garage. It was sometime toward the end of March or later and after the bulldozers had gone through that we even attempted to dig for the car. I guess what finally prompted us to do so was a dance at the Soddy. We kids wanted to go so guess who dug it out. We worked on it for three days. By that time the tallest drifts had settled to a mere depth of two and a half feet and we had to dig for at least twenty feet.

A Model A car south of the house was completely covered up. There wasn’t even an outline of it showing through the drifts.

For entertainment during the storm and weeks following we played Canasta and Uncle Wiggley. Listening in on the party telephone could also consume a great deal of time. It was a coup de grace to put in the first call in the morning to your neighbor. When one person got done talking someone else would holler in and the same procedure would go on all day. It always seemed an act of Divine Kindness that through it all the infamous, undependable one wire line stayed just where man had put it.


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