Blizzard of 77

Great Plains Blizzard of 77

by Stephen L. Wood

 

Book Details

A Story of Death-Desolation- Disaster-Tragedy and Survival

When I started researching the Blizzard of 77 I was not aware of it's magnitude or the area it encompassed nor did I realize the impact it had on the thousands of people it affected, many three and four generation farmers and ranchers along with complete towns that could never quite recover from the total devastation. Not one time when I would ask for archival records from newspapers or libraries did I not find anyone that had not remembered the blizzard some were only seven but have vivid memories and a story. Stories came from coffee shops in the smaller towns and spread by word of mouth of my desire to hear their story. I chose only forty six stories to print from the over two hundred interviews but used references from most all. Twenty four human lives lost; three of which were school children let off their bus at a home never to go back to school again. A family froze to death except for one small child found wrapped in his mothers blouse with her frozen body covering him, and several other actual stories as told by the rescue personnel involved in their discovery. The Livestock losses were so extensive that to this day there has never been an actual loss record. What is known is that it had to be in the tens of thousands. One rancher never accounted for over ten thousand head lost. A lake where so many walked out on the ice and fell through that it was impossible to even estimate and the person that witnessed it. Thousands of sheep, hogs, chickens and even some domestic quail became victims of this three day plains blizzard with recorded winds of ninety eight miles per hour. An estimated seven thousand power poles and thousands of miles of their lines tangled or dangling from their broken polls leaving many without commercial power for six to seven weeks. Phone systems in the entire five state area none existent leaving communication only by Police, State Patrol, Sheriffs department and CB radio to handle the thousands of emergencies and distress calls. You will read personal accounts many never told to the public some so traumatic it will be hard to believe. Reported human and livestock deaths and what the paper’s wouldn't or couldn't report. Don't expect any sugar coating of the accounts printed they are what they were. Don’t expect another storm story: You will learn about survival skills needed in many emergencies and how to prepare for electrical outages that seem to occur on a regular basis in this country. You will learn what not to look at that was lost during a storm but look at what you have that will make getting through the disaster possible and in many cases tolerable. Many deaths and sicknesses are caused by not being prepared for a disaster that seem to occur on a regular basis. Throughout this story you will learn of some very inexpensive items to have on hand if a disaster occurs. This as also a story that had a great impact on the beginning of the farm crises of the 1980’s and how it contributed to the farming, ranching, food shortages and prices of today. This alone took a lot of research to get some facts that will undoubtedly make one give serious thought to our very essence of life “eating”. One review said it best “This is a book that needed to be written; It amplifies the complacency many of us has as to electric power, communications, heat, water, sewage disposal, food and just our dependency on the modern way of life that could, and as demonstrated recently by mothers natures fury, can end in very little time.”

 

Book Excerpt

Yuma County Commissioner Dean Wingfield related a story about his dad’s nearest neighbor. “Virgil Yount lived about one-half mile from my folks. Virgil had a heart attack a year or two before the storm. I had rented his farm ground but Virgil had kept his cattle. The Yount’s had moved into Wray but Virgil went out to the farm almost every day.” “Virgil had awakened to the blizzard Thursday night and decided his cows might need him and took off for his farm Friday morning before light.” Dean recalls he had a ten year old car he used for his farm work. “He had removed the heater two years before because it was leaking. He had an old, I think it was bearskin, arctic type coat, fleece hat and mittens so he figured he didn’t need a heater.” “His wife called dad sometime Friday morning as Virgil had not contacted her and she figured he should have.” Dean stated that his dad didn’t have a four wheel drive vehicle so he got the two ton truck out and started for the Yount farm. “The visibility was less than ten foot but dad knew the road so well he managed to almost make it to their farm before getting stuck. He walked the rest of the way without getting lost. He knew the landmarks so well, he even knew where he was by the different fence posts he was following to get there”. Like most folks living in a city one gets to know the area very well. It’s really no different in the country, only the vast openness is different. Dean continued “There was no car there so dad checked all the out buildings and corrals but found no sign of Virgil. By the time he had checked all the area the storm had really intensified, making walking back to his farm impossible. The Younts still had a coal burning cook stove and dad had found their wood and coal supply while looking for Virgil. He was in pretty good shape but mom was now home alone dealing with an all-electric home with no heat or way of cooking. It would be Saturday before dad was able to walk the one-half mile back home and check on mom’s welfare. Mom had faired rather well, she had spent most of her time reading, crafting and worrying but because the temperature had never gotten bitter cold she had wrapped up in warm clothes and blankets keeping her rather warm.” “By the grace of God the phones pretty much area wide stayed working. That was never explained, as most of the towns in Yuma County experienced phone outages, but the country seemed to have service. Word soon got out to most all the farms and ranches between Wray and the Yount farm to be on the lookout for Virgil. A few farmers took their tractors out to look for Virgil but it was a useless task, most didn’t even get out of their yards. Anyone that knew Virgil knew he wouldn’t stay in his car long if stuck and figured he had frozen to death walking for help.” “Even though most held little hope of his survival, as soon as the storm broke Saturday evening they began a search in earnest. Sure enough his car was found Saturday about dark.” Dean recalled. He was headed south of Wray off of highway 385. Instead of taking the curve south of Wray to the west, he was headed east on the road to Beecher Island, Colorado.” Beecher Island is also known as the Battle of The Arikaree Fork. It was the site of an armed conflict between the U.S. Calvary and the Plains Indian Tribes. “Most amazingly, he had stayed in his car and was in pretty good shape considering he was over seventy and had a bad heart.” “He called me that night to tell me he was ok, he was wound pretty tight. I think that was the first time I had gotten a cramp in my arm from being on the phone for so long. He told me it had gotten so bad he couldn’t see anything, not even the hood of his car when he stopped driving. He had gotten out and seen the snow had started drifting around his car so decided to move it a bit so it wouldn’t get drifted under. He said he moved his car about every twenty or thirty minutes during the storm and drove by feel. When he would feel the edge of the road he would always turn back to the middle. He guessed he had driven a quarter mile or so just to keep from drifting in. Virgil said, ‘When I first stopped there was a power pole right beside me. When the storm let up and he was found there was a power pole right beside his car.” Dean said “He told me I could have his cows and farm as long as I wanted as he was never going back out there. When the snow started melting he got attached to his cows again and I wasn’t as good a farmer as he thought. I believe he did his own farming that next year.” “Virgil and his wife never had children and in the late eighties sold their farm to a niece and her husband. A great nephew now lives there and in true western heritage retains the Yount farm.” “There was another older couple living near dad, John and Docia Green. They were approaching eighty years in life.” Dean remembered. “I believe they were from Missouri, because of their unusual twang when they talked. They had made a go of it on just their two hundred forty acres of grassland and eighty acres of crop land and at most fifteen cows and at times had other related animals.” “Docia was concerned about the food in their freezer thawing out during the three day storm and opened the freezer door ever hour to check on it. She was right; it thawed out and they lost most all of it. John had managed to put their one milk cow in a stall in the barn Thursday night at the storm’s beginning. He called another neighbor Saturday night and tearfully told him he not been able to find Bossy.” The neighbor saddled up his horse and rode the one mile distance to help him find his milk cow.” Dean said. “The barn, like so many, was sheeted using one by eights and had many cracks between the boards. Snow was packed six foot deep inside the barn and had nearly filled the barn. The neighbor, hearing some sounds, started digging out a stall where he felt the sound was coming from and where John thought he had put Bossy. Knowing he was close, he started pulling off stall boards until he was able to get her out. The snow was packed so tight in the stall that the cow couldn’t even lie down but somehow had not smothered. John and Docia passed away in the late eighties and their farm is still in the family, now owned by a nephew.”

 

About the Author

Stephen L. Wood

Steve and his family experienced this tragic blizzard and had eighteen guests plus their family of five for over four days in their country home. They survived by using only a fireplace for everything cooking, heat and melting snow for drinking and flushing toilets. This is his second book the first is about how Steve and his wife Jan built and live on a ranch off grid. “Building Our Dream in Remote Colorado”

Also by Stephen L. Wood

47 Years Living Off-Grid
White Arrow
Pioneers with Eminence
 

Multi-Media

Press the play () button to listen to the author's audio file