- Historic Sites
An astonishing saga of endurance and high courage told by a man who lived through it
February 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 1
Now we still had to find the bus driver. By this time there were 150 people from everywhere, so they decided to walk about a hundred feet apart and cover the ground they thought he might have walked. So after the children were off and gone, we all lined up and took a one-half-mile-wide path, going all directions from the bus.
As we walked, I noticed a man on a horse coming in the distance. He seemed to be in an awful hurry. He rode up to me and said, “I hate to tell you this. Your sister also perished at her schoolhouse, back home.” My dad was about fifty feet from me, so I called him over and told him the news I had just heard. I looked at my dad and he looked at me. We both said, How could this be? For she had been taught from the time she was a little girl not to trust those awful storms. Dad always said, “Kids, I have seen people freeze to death before,” and he cautioned never get out where you can’t get back. It was almost more than we could take.
We dropped out of the manhunt and went back to the ranch. There were a lot of people milling around the yard. We told them what we had heard, and everyone was eager to help. By this time they had let the horses loose in the corral, so we rounded up four big work-horses, dug the harness out of the snow, put the one team to a wagon, and trailed the other two. We took a big rope along to pull the car out.
It was completely covered with snow. We dug down, and it took all four horses to pull it out. The car was packed so full of snow inside and under the hood that it took an hour to dig out around the engine. We pulled the car back to the ranch house where all the children had been and set a fire under the engine to thaw the ice and snow. Finally we got it going. Dad and I then got in and started for home. By this time there were tracks everywhere, so traveling was much easier, but in some places the wind had drifted the tracks shut, making our progress very slow and hazardous.
There were no graded roads in that area. The only roads were ruts, the result of wagons and old cars traveling in the same tracks for years. They would grind into the earth, and the wind would blow away the dirt, making a deep rut, and that is what we had to avoid if we expected to reach home.
So we thought if we went east and took the prairie where the snow was not very deep, we could finally make it. But between where we were and home, about ten miles, there were three or four drift fences, erected for the purpose of keeping cattle on the range from straying. The gates in them were where the ruts were, so in order to keep going, we had to get up speed enough to drive right through those drift fences.
We were in a state of shock. Nothing seemed too big for us to handle; we had only one thing in mind: Get home and fast! The posts were about sixteen feet apart, so the first fence we came to, Dad said, “Give it hell,” and right through the fence we went. At one point one of the barbed wires came across the head-lights, one across the radiator, and the third right across the windshield. We hit that fence full speed ahead at about twenty-five miles per hour. We had the car in low gear for the power that we had to have to snap all three wires at the same time and not stall. There still were three more to drive through. As we came to each fence, we drove right through. The last mile was good going. It was awful cold, but the snow had stopped. We could see the house by now and braced ourselves for the worst.
As we pulled up to the house, the door opened and Edna came out to find out where we had been. Dad and I both started to cry, and my sister said, “What is the matter?” And after gaining composure, I said to her, “You are supposed to be dead!” We were so overjoyed we could hardly talk. We’d had no sleep or rest for two days and one night. How the rumor got to the man on the horse no one will ever know. What did happen was that the man who was so concerned about my sister turned out to be my brother-in-law six months later. After the driver of the school bus was found, this young man showed up at our house on the same horse in the middle of the night, to find his bride-to-be living and well.
My sister, as it turned out, had kept her children in her schoolhouse about thirty hours, until the storm was over, and saved all, and that is why she was home to greet us when we returned from our ordeal.
After we pulled ourselves together—we were still in shock, I suppose—we drove back that same afternoon to the bus, just to take a second look and take some pictures. We heard growling. Inside the side door was a mongrel dog, a small one, and it turned out to be the pet of the little girl who had been the first one to die.
The dog had come some six miles to that bus, and he was guarding a beret he had found that belonged to his little mistress. He guarded it until he himself froze to death. How the dog found the bus, only God will know!