Wapsie Experience (2/9/17)

Ken Donnelly · Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Recall that last month we documented in "Chilling Detail" the fury of the famed Blizzard of 1888 and its horrible death tolls of young school children and farmers on the Great Plains.

This time I am sharing accounts of the storm's wrath in the state of Iowa; fortunately there weren't very many.

The Des Moines Register of January 27, 1888 included a Chicago Tribune description of the storm as follows:

"The area covered by this storm has been unprecedented. Though Dakota has been the center where the worst ravages have been experienced, news of its effects have come from almost the entire territory lying between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.

Dakota, Iowa and Missouri have been the principal sufferers, but Minnesota, Nebraska, Montana, Kansas and Wyoming have helped to swell the list of dead and injured.

Further on to the east, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan have a slight touch of its diminishing force, while to the south it has sent the thermometer to 8 degrees below zero in Arkansas; covered the ground with snow in Mississippi; frozen up the northern section of Louisiana, and even hurled its sleet upon Galveston, Texas and given its people the novel spectacle of snow-covered streets."

One Des Moines Register account offered a compelling reason why some survived.

"Amid the many pathetic and distressing stories of intense suffering and loss of life, it is gratifying to hear of a number of escapes which were planned by cool and thoughtful heads.

“Some persons, when they realized they were lost, quietly buried themselves in the snow; covering themselves as best as they could. In this way, not only were their lives saved, but some survived without being even slightly frost-bitten."

Dear reader: would you and I, in our personal panic in the frozen environment of swirling, blinding snow and sub-zero temps, have such a cool head?

One unbelievable story was reported by the St. Paul, Minnesota paper and was entitled "Frozen To Death and Devoured by Hogs."Please spare your children from reading this part of my column.

"A story of inhumanity or worse comes from Belgrade, Montana where it is said a German laborer in the employ of a farmer was allowed to freeze to death. The laborer was ill and was placed by the farmer in a room without fire, and willfully neglected.

After an unusually cold night, the man was found frozen to death. His body was then removed to the woodshed, where it was partially devoured by hogs."

In the Old Testament book of Genesis, Cain asks his Creator, "am I my brother's keeper?" For both this son of Adam and Eve and this unnamed cruel Montana farmer, the answer was NO!

What follows are a few posted storm reports from several towns in our beloved state of Iowa. January 18, 1888, Denison, Iowa: "Jurgen Jepsen, wife and three children were lost in the storm while going home from their brother's the night before.

They had only about a half mile to go.....the next day resulted that Mr. Jepsen was badly frozen, his limbs being frozen up to his body; Mrs. Jepsen was frozen to death, while the baby, eight months old, was found all right, being well wrapped up as well as the other two children who are five and eight respectively."

January 17th at Keokuk, Iowa a W.G. Davis, a local city councilman, was returning home in a sleigh from his farm in Carthage, Missouri; "on account of inadequate protection against the high severity of the weather, had both feet, his hands and face frozen!"

January 15th Laurens, Iowa. "Mr. Oxley, the banker of Marathon, his son and another young man started out...they were overtaken by the storm and became lost and separated and wandered around till they struck the railroad track and followed it till Mr. Orley's son gave out and laid down and froze to death some two and half miles west of Laurens, the other boy came through to Laurens badly frozen."

January 16th Marengo, Iowa. Sunday morning at 7 o'clock the mercury stood at 36 below zero.

Clinton, Iowa January 16th  At 8 o'clock in the morning it was 36 below zero. "Word reached here this afternoon that J. Jacobs had been frozen to death near Wheatland."

January 13th, Muscatine, Iowa.  "The worst blizzard of the season is raging here today. The snow is heavy and deep. The roads will probably be badly blocked." A couple days later in Muscatine, the mean temperature for the day, that is the average one all day and night long was 21 below zero which was the coldest in fifty years!

January 16th, Warren County (near Des Moines) "The trains have all been able to get through, some 6-12 hours late.....Sunday the mercury stood at 37 below zero and at nine o'clock in the morning it was still 30 below."

From Sioux City, Iowa that horrible week: "unknown man dead in Sioux City; Mrs. Fitzgerald's two children in Inwood, Iowa dead; also two men at Primghar, Iowa; two boys and ninety-five head of cattle near Larchwood, Iowa."

I could find no references to West Liberty reaction to the Blizzard of '88 in either The West Liberty Enterprise or the Iowa City paper.

Next month how about history being made with exciting sports auction from Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines with wrestling and girls basketball? We'll see.
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