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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Ruth Chrisman is at far right with her pony "Daisy", Left to right are the other sisters Hattie,
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
pioneer photographer.
Ruth 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

     On 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
from home.
     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."
     "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.