- Historic Sites
An astonishing saga of endurance and high courage told by a man who lived through it
February 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 1
It looked like a hopeless case. All men, no medicine, no phone, no way to get help, and not much experience with freezing and dying children. The house had six inches to a foot of snow on the board floor. Snow had blown in through the cracks. By this time three or four fathers and ranchers, who had been hunting all night and all day for the kids, had come. One of the fathers found his only child, a boy, dead. He also had been hunting all night and day for the bus, only to find his son at Andy’s house in the back room. But what a hero he was! This man worked all night along with all the rest and up to about noon the next day, when everyone started the search for the bus driver. Finally he collapsed in the snow and was taken to a hospital with pneumonia and did not get to go to the funeral of his only child.
In desperation we started rubbing the kids down with snow. We cut the top of a fifty-five-gallon barrel out and filled it with distillate—what’s now called diesel fuel. We stripped the kids, one by one, and put them in the barrel of distillate, trying to draw the frost out and get circulation going again, and keeping the temperature as high as possible in that shack, which was about forty to fifty degrees, using cow chips as fuel.
Some of the kids started to come to and began to ask where the driver was. We fed them warm water and potato soup. We had kids laying on horsehides, saddle blankets; anything that was loose on both ends, we used it. Kids would scream with pain as the frost started to come out. We would grab snow off the floor and rub their arms and legs. We knew this had worked in times past, for every man there, including myself, had experienced frozen feet or hands before.
We had to get a doctor and news to the outside world fast! Everyone was frantic, so here is what we did. This was now about six or seven o’clock at night on the second day. Some of the men raced by horseback and got three or four old cars at a large ranch nearby that belonged to ranch hands that worked there, and chained them bumper to bumper. They started out for a phone and help at Holly, Colorado, thirteen miles away. They had to go back the same road Dad and I had come up that same day. They had to go with the wind, or south. They also had to go through the same high drift that took Dad and me so long getting through, and the deep dip in the road. By using that many cars, it worked like a bulldozer, and the back cars pushed the front car right through all the drifts. In about an hour they reached a phone.
Andy asked us to help kill his suffocating cattle. We used ball-peen hammers.
In the meantime, while they were gone, Andy and I went back with a team of horses to the bus for the dead we had left. It was dark, and the moon started to show through the clouds, and as we drove along, still about twenty below zero, the wagon wheels would sing that crunching noise made by running over the frozen snow. It was not a very pleasant mission, but it had to be done. When we arrived back at the bus, we backed the wagon up to the open bus door. Andy looked in and turned his head and said, “Elbern, can you go in and get those kids?” What Andy saw inside that bus was a little boy with blood frozen on him from his head to his waist. As we found later, the children had slapped each other in desperate attempts to keep everyone awake. I told him to hold the reins of the team and I would go. Inside, the bus was half-full of snow and the children frozen together. One was a girl of fifteen, who died on her birthday; one girl, seven, turned out to be the driver’s daughter; there was a boy about eight years old. I pulled them apart, put them in my arms, and carried them out and laid each down in the wagon, which had bundles of feed at the bottom. Then we both got in the wagon and drove slowly back. The fathers were still all there, taking care of the children, working feverishly to save each one, but the families at home did not know what was going on. Someone had to go and notify mothers and families.
So me being the youngest in the bunch and raised a good horseman, they picked me for the ride at about 10:00 P.M. that night, to spread the word to the mothers at home. Andy said, “Go out and saddle up that brown cutting horse and ride the route and tell the wives and families what has happened and who is dead and who is alive.”
I didn’t relish the idea, but be strong I must. The storm had slowed down, still drifting and twenty to twenty-five below zero. My first thought was I never saw this horse before. So four or five men jumped up and said, “Let’s help that poor boy get started on his way.” We grabbed our coats, our masks over our faces, and headed for the barn.