Every so often, I get an itch to read a true story that only a good historical non-fiction book can scratch. As I was pricing at work last week, this title crossed my path. The front cover reads “In three minutes the front subtracted eighteen degrees from the air’s temperature. Then evening gathered in, and temperatures kept dropping in the northwest gale. By morning on Friday, January 13, 1888, more than a hundred children lay dead on the Dakota-Nebraska prairie…”
For some reason, this book about a horrible natural disaster over 100 years ago drew me in. I devoured it in 3 days, learning all kinds of facts about frostbite and gangrene and historical meteorology. But what held my interest were the individual stories of families: teachers taking refuge in hay with children, brothers going out into the storm to find brothers, survivors, widows, mothers who lost children. A storm like that is imprinted on a family history.
Something in me wonders what it would be like to settle on the unforgiving prairie, and simultaneously, I am glad I can read about it from the comfort of 2016. And I’m intrigued at what it would feel like to go outside in the morning with the weather a balmy 20 degrees to have it drop to -40 later in the evening. We are so removed from what that would mean in our modern society with our heaters and electricity and urban condensing. In 1888, trains couldn’t move through snow, schoolhouse doors and roofs blew away and homesteaders miles away from their neighbors fed stoves with twisted straw to keep warm.
It seemed appropriate somehow to read about a crippling blizzard as Minnesota moves into a winter that is forecasted to bring us lots of snow. (We can only hope!) Reading about a blizzard when you could have one at any moment is much more engaging. 🙂
So, if you’re feeling the pull for historical narrative, or are curious, grab a warm cup of tea and a blanket while you check out The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin.