- Historic Sites
An astonishing saga of endurance and high courage told by a man who lived through it
February 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 1
We picked ourselves up and felt around the house to the east side, knowing the door was on the east. I knocked on the old wooden handmade door, and Andy opened it. The first thing he said was, “Don’t knock on the door, get the hell in here, and how in the hell could you live out in that storm?”
We told him our story, and his wife got us something to eat and a shot of good whiskey. Then Andy asked if we would help kill his cattle, which were freezing to death or suffocating, for snow turns to powder and gets in the lungs. So we grabbed ball-peen hammers and put over a hundred out of their misery. We would knock them in the head, and they never fell. They just froze to death standing up. He wanted to kill those cattle at a time when they could not feel anything, for if any had lived, they would never be able to walk again. As we went through the hundred head some had their tongues hanging out; that meant the powdery snow had already closed their nostrils and they had tried to breathe through their mouths. We never stopped to hit them; they were already dead. I saw two or three big bulls in that bunch, but their fighting days were over.
And then, as we were finishing killing cattle, a rancher rode up and said, “Come quick! I found the lost school bus, with the kids all dead!” He was in his wagon with a big team of horses. He was shouting with all the power he possessed, but at first we didn’t understand what he said. He bellowed out again, “Come quick!” We all ran to him, thinking he might be crazed by the cold. When he came closer, we could see who it was. He was covered with ice, and the neck of a bottle was sticking out of his fur coat. The poor man had his eyes almost froze shut. It didn’t take long to realize something very bad had happened. We wondered if he could take us back to the bus, as he was crying, “My kids are in there!” At this point no one knew there was a bus lost, for Andy did not have any kids in school. This was now about 5:00 P.M. on the twenty-ninth. It was getting dark, getting colder, not snowing so much, but still blowing. The man in the wagon was almost frozen, and his speech was blurred from exhaustion, for he had been lost himself, hunting for those children all night and all that day and stumbling on to them by chance.
We ran in the shack, picked up some corn-shuck mattresses, and beat those horses over the back to get to that bus as quick as possible. It was a little over half a mile. We drove the wagon up to the north side of the bus, for the snow had drifted high on the south side. The door of the bus was also on the south, making it almost impossible to get to. We noticed a broken window as we drove up. We got to the door, finally, by frantically digging it out with our hands and feet but noticed it was not latched. There was a cold silence; only the howling wind could we hear. As we opened the door, there was a boy slumped over the steering wheel, no coat, and just able to moan. We found out later he had given his clothing to the younger ones. We grabbed him and slid him out the door. The rest were huddled together with arms and legs frozen stiff. We frantically took them to the door. As I looked back to the corner, I almost fainted, for inside that bus I found my girl friend, delirious and almost frozen to death. The message I was receiving back at the store the day before really meant something, but I did not know it then. Her legs and arms were froze, her face a pale blue. She could barely roll her eyes and could speak no more. She was almost at life’s end. I grabbed her gently but as fast as I could and pulled her to the door, for snow had packed in over three feet deep in the bus. I knew she went to that school, but she normally rode a horse to and from school. The look on her face and the rest of the children, no man can explain, for the snow had blown in and packed so hard you could barely move them. It was a horrible sight and feeling, and why did this have to happen? Three of the kids were dead, and the rest were delirious and frozen near death.
Four of us grabbed kids like they were bales of hay. It took about two minutes to load a wagonload of seventeen frozen kids. There was not a word spoken, for we all knew what was ahead and what had to be done. We covered them up and climbed in the wagon. Then we headed back to Andy’s shack, which was a little over half a mile away. The horses were big and strong, so the rancher never spared the whip.
Back at the little ranch house were Andy’s wife, who was expecting their second child, and their two-year-old son. Andy said, “I’ve got to get my wife and kid out of here quick,” for on that bus were a sister and a brother of his wife, and we were bringing them to the house not knowing if we could save them or not. So about that time a neighbor showed up, and he bundled up Andy’s wife and son and took them about four miles east of Andy’s house. That left the empty house with four men and seventeen frozen children. As we were carrying the children into the house, two more died in our arms. We took them to the back room and laid them on a pile of snow, for snow had blown in and had covered the floor.