From the Archives: The Children’s Blizzard, 1888

Jan. 12 marked the 124th anniversary of the blizzard of 1888, also known as the Children’s Blizzard and the Schoolhouse Blizzard. The event claimed 235 lives, most of them children who couldn’t get home from school. There are very few photos, but I did find several interesting stories written by survivors.

"Thirteen Were Saved"

Have you heard the stories of the schoolteacher leading the children on a rope through the snow? It actually did happen in a few instances. The most famous story is about Minnie Freeman of Mira Valley, Neb., though this one may not be completely accurate. Supposedly, she used a rope tied to her 13 students to guide them to the boarding house where she lived. W.M. Vincent wrote and recorded “Song of the Great Blizzard: Thirteen Were Saved,” also called “Nebraska’s Fearless Maiden,” in honor of her.


Submitted by Mrs. William Barry of Hansen, Neb.

This is the class of District 31, the Carkins School, north of Hastings, Neb., taken sometime after the blizzard. Here is the teacher Mary Kieffe’s story, as told by Dorothy Creigh in “Adams County: The Story.”

“That day was mild and the pupils and I were playing “fox and geese’ at the noon intermission, there being a little snow. At about 12:45 it began to rain and drove us indoors. It soon changed to snow and by 3 o’clock we had to abandon study, it became so dark. The larger boys formed a chain reaching to the coal shed and passed in at least a half ton of coal. We had a fine time the fore part of the night. We “spelled down,’ sang, organized a debate and recited everything from ‘Mary Has a Little Lamb’ to ‘Spartacus to the Gladiators of Rome.’ From midnight the hours dragged slowly though, as we dared not go to sleep it was so cold. … I got roundly scored by some pious mamas whose youngsters I cared for, for having played a game of cards during the night with some of the pupils, and one of the district dads wanted to deduct one day’s wages because I didn’t keep school the next day nor make it up.”   

Can’t please all the parents, huh?


The 1888 Blizzard Club was formed by survivors of the blizzard. Above is a copy of their reunion brochure, “In All Its Fury,” which contained their recollections of the storm and its aftermath. Mr. Oliver T. Hannibal was the honorary president of the 1988 Blizzard club in 1958 and spoke at the club’s reunion. He told the story sent to him by Mr. T.J. Cole of Wagner, S.D., in the club brochure.

“A school teacher in the Winner SD area who, when the terrible storm stuck the school house, dismissed the class and sent his twelve pupils home. The next day they were found frozen to death on the prairie. The teacher saved his own life by staying in the schoolhouse all night. I wonder what he was thinking, a few days later, as he stood there in the cemetery, at the open graves of his twelve pupils knowing there would be no more school that term.”

Not all the stories had happy endings.

Reading the stories I found made me so grateful for living in modern times. We all complain about driving or power outages, which merely inconvenience us for a day or two. Can you imagine living through the blizzard of 1888?

Finally, my mystery photo. I could find no information other than a caption and a name on the back.

The caption on the 1938 World-Herald photo read: “Mrs. Hugh L. Wilcox… an old chair and saw… mementos of a great blizzard”

I’m curious…

Jolene McHugh

About Jolene McHugh

I was a graphic artist prior to coming to the Omaha World-Herald in 2007, and now I’m a photo imaging specialist, which means I prepare photos to print properly in the newspaper. I also have the incredibly fun task of restoring old photographs from our massive library. My favorite part of my job is getting lost in the history and stories behind the photographs. Many of the archive photos have little or no information attached, so I need to properly date and identify the people and places in them. Researching the stories is a bit like being on a historical scavenger hunt. The largest challenge I face is restoring photos we run in our books. Our newest book, “At War, At Home: The Cold War” is filled with hundreds of old photographs, and most of them small and in poor condition. I live in Omaha with my husband, one of my daughters and three very furry Maine Coon cats.
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  1. Dianna Eveland says:

    Good article.

  2. Colleen says:

    I would like to get a copy of the words and music for “Song of the Great Blizzard”. Do you have any advise for how I might accopmlish this.

  3. Dwight says:

    I, too, would love a copy of this song. It would be great to include as a part of fourth grade Nebraska Studies. If anyone knows how to find it, I would love the information!

  4. Jolene McHugh Jolene McHugh says:

    I only have a photo of the sheet music. I went to the website of the publisher and they sell mostly instruments, however they list sheet music at Otherwise, you might try the Durham.

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