Western Outlook - Dec, 1969
Ruth Chrisman Recalls The 1888 Ordeal........
The Story of The "Schoolchildren's Blizzard"
Photos found with original article.
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is at far right with her pony "Daisy", Left to right are the other sisters
Lizzie, and Lutie. Lizzie had ridden her pony to visit the Haumont's
and spent the long hours
of the blizzard in the famous two-story soddie, Picture was teken in 1887
by S.D. Butcher, famous
Chrisman, taken when she was twenty years old by a Greenville,Penn, photographer,
Probably the oldest survivor of the "School Children Blizzard".
|By Estelle C Lughlin, Gering, Nebraska
November 12, 1969, Ruth Chrisman of Broken Bow, celebrated her 98th birthday
at Resthaven Nursing Home in that city, it is believed by her kinfolk and
friends that she is the oldest living teacher to have saved herself and pupils
from the fous blizzard of 1888.
It was on January 12, 1888 that Ruth, aged just 17,
was teaching her first school in a soddy just four miles south of her father,
Joseph M. Chrisman's homestead, in Goheen Valley notheast of Broken Bow, Nebraska.
Ruth had felt somewhat inadequate as a teacher as her only
schooling had been in the county schools near Waverly, Missouri, where
she was born, and near Auburn in Nemaha County where the family had lived
before making the emigration to Custer Couny in 1882. Her father had
shipped cattle from Texas to run on the range land north of the little new
town of Broken Bow. Her brothers and sisters had taken homestead, and
she planned to do the same as soon as reached her majority. It was with
this in view that she felt great need to make some money and had applied for
the "Home School" and had been accepted as the "new teacher.
We nieces and nephews loved to hear "Aunt Babe" as she
was called, tell the story of her survival and that of her pupils during
the great blizzard. "It was a day like indian summer," she always began.
"My brothers Ab and Genie had already gone to
the canyons to cut plum brush for fuel, about two miles
Lizzie, my eldest sister, had ridden her mare, called
Jessie to the Haumont's for a visit. They had a large two story sod
house and we always thought it a great privilege to go there. Now one
expected a change in the weather, and so few wore coats, but I always kept
my coat tied named 'Daisy', as I rode back and forth from home to school."
"I was attending to my teaching duties that afternoon,
hearing the Second reader class, when I felt a cold draft come through the
doorway, so I stepped over to close the door, I noticed that Daisy, who was
tied to the hitchrack, was acting strangely, I usually slipped the bit from
her mouth and piled some prairie hay on the ground for her to eat. Now
I saw that she was going to rub the bridle off if Ididn't fix it, so telling
the children why I was leaving, I stepped outside to adjust her bridle. She
was very nervous, and I glanced around and noticed that a gray, misty cloud
on the northwest horizon. The wind was very, very cold. Suddenly I
was stricken with apprehension, 'Could a blizzard be coming?' We had
experienced a number of them since coming to Nebraska from Missouri"
I hastened back into the schoolhouse and tried to
carry on my duties, but I was drawn to the window on the west. Now
I could see snow swirling ahead of the wind, which had increased at a great
rate. My father had always warned us, time after time, about blizzards
and counseled us to never take chances with them."
"There wasn't enough fuel in the building to last through
the night, and only a very meager supply outside in the woodbox, so I realized
I had to get the children to their homes at once."
"I tried to keep calm, and told them a storm was coming
and we would dismiss school for the day, I cautioned them to get their coats,
if they had any, on, and to stay close to me, for it was best for us to go
to my home where their parents would look for them after the storm had subsided.
When each one was bundled up as well as possible, I led them out to
the hitchrack and untied Daisy. Again I cautioned them to hold fast
to each others hands and I took hold of the smallest girl's hand, leaving
one of the older girls to bring up the rear. The little mare was almost frantic
now, but calmed down as soon as I released her. I tied the right rein
to the saddle horn, grasped the left rein and the left stirrup in my right
hand and then took hold of the little girl's hand, telling the children to
hold fast to each ofthers hands and never let go. The wind was roaring
around the building and the snow was beginning to drive so hard against our
faces, that I was dubious about making it home. "Take us home, Daisy"
I said to the mare, and tried to guide her northward. She faced into
the bitter wind only a few minutes and then turned and reversed her direction,
I struggled with, her, trying to guide her north, but she kept returning to
the school house."
"I feared that she was afraid of the storm and wanted
only to be near the school building, but finally I realized that she wanted
to go on south, which menat heading directly away from the storm, I was beginning
to feel hopeless, and remembered that my father often told us to trust the
instinct and intelligence of our saddlehorses if we were lost. So we
set forth into the white darkness of that storm, about the worst blizzard
Nebraska has ever known, I learned later."
"I let Daisy walk as fast as the smallest child could
travel. That next hour or two seemed endless and I stopped three or
four times to help the children who were crying from the cold. Soon
I had put the three smallest children on Daisy's back and she didn't seem
to resent this as I feared she would, but with them high in the saddle we
travelled much faster. I was desperately afraid they all might freeze
up in the saddle, while not exercising themselves in such bitter cold."
"As a third hour passed and the children were becoming
exausted from walking in the drifting snow that was now a foot deep
on the level places, I , too, began to doubt whether any of us would live
through this ordeal. Our faces were becoming frosted gray-white and
our hands were numb with the cold. I had just stopped to try to place a little
boy on Daisy's back with the three children, when I glimpsed a dark object
through the whirling snow. IT WAS A SOD HOUSE!"
"Quickly, I led Daisy and my chain of children around
to the single door, pounded on it with all my strength and cried out for help
to those inside. A woman let us inside, but it was several minutes before
I could see well enough to recognize her. She was Mrs. Hickman, who
lived nearly seven miles south from father's place and three miles from our
sod schoolhouse. I realized that our faithful Daisy had guided us straight
to this place of safety, knowing that she could not get us home in the teeth
of the blizzard."
"When I was finally able I went outside, led Daisy into an
adjoining shed, found some prairie hay for her to eat, and melted some snow
for drinking water for her. I laid my face against her neck, and
said "Oh thank you Daisy...thank you.". She had truly saved our lives."
"Mrs. Hickman was busy thawing out the children, rubbing
them and slapping their hands to start the circulation. The little ones
cried pittifully, but I was grateful that we were out of the storm. There
was little fuel in the Hickman home and it soon became necessary to burn
the chairs to keep from frezzing, for the temperature dropped far below zero,
and it was told later that it was 25 degrees below zero that night. We
closed off the bedroom and put all the children together with Mrs. Hickman's
three little ones, on the floor near the stove on the mattress, using all
the bed clothing in the house. That night we all suffered terribly
from the cold."
"The following morning, we divided a gooseberry pie
for breakfast, for there little food in the house except some oatmeal, Mr.
Hickman had gone to town for supplies and had not been able to return through
"The storm continued for three days. When we finally
emerged the soddy was covered over with a huge drift. The contrast between
the blackness of the soddy and the brilliant white world outside was blinding.
But, it was no doubt the great drift that saved us, for it prevented
the wind from reaching us after that first terrible night. We had been
able to melt snow to drink, but even the day oatmeal ran out the second day
and were terribly hungry."
"When all of my eight pupils had been found by their
parents, I saddled Daisy and returned home accross that vast, deep white carpet
of ice and snow that covered everything to a depth of two feet in most places.
As my little mare slipped and skidded down the steep hill that rose
near my father's soddy, dear Cousin Kate Richardson, who had been caught
there in the blizzard while visting came running out to meet me. 'Lawsy
Mercy, child' she called out, taking me in her arms after I slipped out of
the saddle......'we all thought we had lost you for sure.'"
"It was the most wonderful experience of my life to
return safely to the arms of my family. Sister Lizzie had been detained
at the Haumont's and gradually we all rejoined our father and mother at home,
and great were the tales we had to tell of our blizzard experience."
Ruth Chrisman had a hand with the sick, and in the years
to follow she often cared for the sick, especially the young country women
during their confinements. Later she moved to Broken Bow, and became
a nurse for Dr. Charles L Mullins, who was an early day practitioner. After
years of nursing and sewing for others, she purchased her own home in Broken
Bow, and lived there until her eyesight and health failed, when she took up
her residence at the Resthaven Nursing home.