- Historic Sites
An astonishing saga of endurance and high courage told by a man who lived through it
February 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 1
Getting to the barn was not easy, but when we got the door open, the snow had packed so tight in the barn and so high the horses were above the door, and no way could we get in the barn or get the horses out. Several horses were kept in the barn at all times day and night so as to have transportation if needed, for the horse was the trusted way to travel. About once a week they would go out on the range and drive in several more and exchange. That way they had fresh horses and also allowed the others the exercise of the range. Because horses like to fight, they were always kept in stalls or separated from each other. Inside the barn they were standing on that packed snow, six feet deep. They were hanging themselves on their halter ropes, and no way could we get them out the door. So there was only one thing to do.
We ran back to the house, got crow-bars, and took enough roof off the barn so we could get the horses out through the roof. I found the horse I thought Andy was talking about. The saddle covered with snow was hanging on a peg up close to the roof. I took it down, but it was frozen stiff. I thought to myself, Maybe I better go bareback and leave the saddle at home, but, thinking again, With my clothes frozen stiff, how would I get on that horse without a saddle? I cleaned most of the snow off and put it on his back, noticing he had powerful front shoulders and legs from being used as a roping horse. He sure was the animal I needed and I said to myself, You don’t know what is ahead of you.
It took about five minutes of blowing my breath on the bit before I could put it in his mouth, for if it’s not warmed up, it would stick to his tongue. I then led him out and started to get on, but no way. The saddle was frozen, and he was in no mood to be ridden. So I led him about a quarter of a mile and at the same time got my own blood going again. I thought, Now is the time to pile on, for I had about fifteen miles to go and time was running out.
I turned him around and around, and about the third time around, on top I went, and away we went! Now thinking, What am I going to say, and how am I going to say it? But as I drew closer to my first stop, I said, Be strong and get going, five more stops till morning. I told my story as brief and fast as possible, and they wanted to go right then, but I told them everything was being done possible, and a house twenty-five feet by twenty-five feet barely holds seventeen children lying on a snow-covered floor and at that time about ten men. There was room for no more.
Next, we went back with a team of horses to the bus to get the dead schoolchildren.
The horse proved to be an animal of strength, plowing through snowdrifts so deep he could not stand at times and fell to his knees. Despite the twenty-degree-below temperature, he began to sweat, and the sweat made long icicles, which made him look like a snowman with ice crystals hanging under his belly, adding extra weight he did not need.
About ten men and seventeen children were in that house. There was no more room.
I was pushing him to the limit. The storm was blowing over now, but the wind was fierce. Now I had one more stop to make, but it was going to be the hardest of them all, for it was about four miles from the last stop I had made and was a house built underground. I could easily miss it, for snow probably had covered it up. I took my bearings with the North Star and kept the wind to the side of my face, for this was close to midnight and no fence to follow. I looked to the sky, and there was a big star shining right in the direction I wanted to go. My horse by now was getting awful tired, so I got off and walked. While I walked, there were a lot of memories crossing my mind, for this was the house of the bus driver I was headed for. The driver and his wife liked to dance, so every two or three weeks the whole country would gather at this place to square dance. There wasn’t much entertainment going on out on these bald flats, so the dance was a big hit. My dad, sister, and myself played harps for several years at most dances in the country. We got to know these people real well, and this was going to make my job even harder. These people were from the South and had never seen a storm like this before. I also knew this woman was softhearted and a hard worker. They had moved here a couple of years before and bought their 160 acres of land for twenty cents an acre, which was the going price at that time. They dug their house underground, for lumber was scarce and hard to get. This lady worked alongside her husband with pick and shovel, making the house, thinking, Now we have a house of our own, and now here I come riding up in the middle of the night with news that it’s all over.