The following is an excerpt from Trailing the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard by B. Lois Thieszen Preheim. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
During the second week of January 1888, a massive invasion of Arctic air from the North-West Territories plunged into southwestern Canada, birthing a blizzard that stormed through the center of the United States. Its tempestuous energy brought snow, wind, and frigid cold blasting from Canada through Montana, Dakota Territory, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and beyond. Because the storm struck on a school day, children going to school, at school, or returning home were among those who took the biggest brunt of its suddenness and severity. That has led many to refer to this storm as the “schoolchildren’s blizzard.”
Although the January 12, 1888 blizzard is well-known and has been the subject of books and newspaper articles, many stories have never been widely shared. In some cases, we have a written history; in others, oral history. Sometimes there are lots of details and other times very few.
I was curious about those stories of families along the track of the storm and began to collect them. I’ve taken the liberty of blending what we know with what we can imagine. Thus, consider this book historical fiction, rooted in truth with observations and speculation to help tell these rich stories more deeply and fully.
This book helps expand the scope of our common perception of the 1888 blizzard as an isolated storm to that of a massive, connected blizzard trail that includes tragic and heroic events. Many accounts of this storm overlook the broader impact of this well-remembered day.
Each chapter features a different family in the storm’s path. A recurring theme of these stories is how parents, children, teachers, and community people work together as they either submit to or conquer nature’s elements. Holding the chapters together is the common thread of experiencing the storm’s fury.
Each chapter begins with a poem encapsulating the family events and ends with a recipe to help the reader experience, in a personal way, the elements of a place and time. People of all ages will identify with varying facets of decision-making. By pulling together stories of ingenuity, observation, intuition, and problem-solving during this historic 1888 blizzard, I want to remind readers of the tenacity that pioneers demonstrated as they coexisted with nature’s fury. Hopefully, it will spark and nurture creativity as readers respond to new and unexpected situations in their future.
My perspective is influenced by farm life, education, and being female.
Living on a crop and livestock farm most of my life in the mid-western United States, I know firsthand how awareness of weather determines decisions.
As an educator involved in both teaching and administration, I value integrating knowledge with application.
As a woman, I am conscious of how our voices are heard and interpreted. That’s why I’ve included stories about and from women’s point of view, voices that have been frequently overlooked. This past year, the United States celebrated one hundred years of women’s right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified August 18, 1920, gave women a voice at the polls.
I hope this book will give pioneer women who lived during the January 12, 1888 blizzard a voice, and that we gain new awareness and acknowledge the significance of female voices in our history. I hope these stories help redeem their voices from the past and send sound waves reverberating into the future.
Praise for Trailing the Schoolchildren’s Blizzard
“It is a rare peek at history for readers when the one sharing the account writes from inside the story – from her heart, about her people. And not only does the author write to honor the heartaches and triumphs of past generations, she also writes to honor generations who currently live in a world in turmoil. Her narrative inspires readers to seek creative ways to be resilient in our own ‘blizzards’ of pain and perplexity, to share our own stories with clear-eyed and courageous spirits.”
—Laurie Oswald Robinson, author of Forever Family
“This collection of stories by Lois Thieszen Preheim takes readers on a unique, creative, entertaining and enlightening journey. It expands our understanding of the personal experiences of those caught in the storm and the scope and scale of the memorable blizzard of January 12, 1888.”
—Timothy L. Waltner, retired editor and publisher of the Freeman Courier, an award-winning weekly newspaper in southeastern South Dakota
“Well-written and researched by the author, who having lived on the Great Plains from Kansas to Nebraska to South Dakota and in Canada, understands the fury of a great blizzard. Biographical in format, each chapter tells the story of a family caught in the Great Blizzard of 1888. Chapters end with a recipe for a snack popular from the 1880s to this day, making it an interesting book for middle school and homeschool teachers.”
—Kathleen Friesen, author of The Family History and Genealogy of Peter J. Friesen and Eva Abrahams
About the Author
B. Lois Thieszen Preheim was born on a farm near Henderson, Nebraska. She graduated from Freeman Junior College, Freeman, South Dakota and from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln followed with a specialist degree in administration and a Ph.D. in education, curriculum, and instruction from UNL. She received a master of divinity from Associated (now Anabaptist) Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. Lois is a retired kindergarten-twelve principal having taught pre-school, elementary, middle school, and college students. Currently, she resides in Newton, Kansas.