LaMoure County Blizzard
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Blizzards are a part life on the Northern Plains. They are difficult to predict and they can be deadly. Most people, who have spent a lifetime in North Dakota, have at least one blizzard tale to tell their grandchildren.
In the 1880s, homestead shanties dotted the plains, and roads were mere tracks across the prairie. Trains ran from Fargo to Bismarck and points in between, but spur tracks were only beginning to branch out from the main line. Even trains were unable to run for several months of the year. For many, travel was by foot or horseback, and many a homesteader lost his life when caught in a storm on the open prairie.
It started as a pleasant day in February 1884, as the warming sun provided a feeling of early spring in LaMoure County, Dakota Territory. It was not until early afternoon that there was any indication that the weather was changing and that people should seek shelter. A storm quickly developed and heavy snow and strong winds obscured the landmarks making travel nearly impossible. The citizens of LaMoure became alarmed as four stagecoaches were due by 5:00 o’clock but only one had arrived. It became impossible to do anything in the teeth of the storm, which raged into the following day. On this date in 1884, as conditions improved, search parties began scouring the prairies. Causalities were very light, as most were able to find shelter in the claim shanties and sod houses along the prairie trails.
The Ellendale stage was found upside down in a drift, with the mailbags and buffalo robes scattered nearby, but no sign of the driver or horses were found. Finally, after a long search, the driver, A. W. Sutley, was located two miles away in a settler’s residence. He had left Ellendale carrying only the mail and got caught in the storm. With both driver and horses blinded by the snow, Sutley determined that the only way to survive was to release the horses to drift with the wind and then create a makeshift shelter. Overturning the stage, he tunneled underneath, making a hollow where he could wrap himself in the buffalo robes and wait out the storm. Being without food or drink, he ventured out and found his way to the settler’s home as the winds began to die down. His face and feet were frozen, but he would fully recover.
Blizzards would take many lives over the years, and even today they remain a threat to the prairie traveler.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Pioneer Express (Pembina) February 29, 1884