Tuesday, February 23, 2021

February, a month of love, president's day, and WEATHER

  Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the author

Ah, February! A month of love, President's Day, and variable weather. For this post, I'm taking a look at how they talked about the snow and cold weather in the late 1800s. The focus is primarily in Colorado. The reporting is from Colorado newspapers and what a fun read they can be. Each publication has its own style. I hope you enjoy the read as much as I do.

The Avalanche-Echo, from January 13, 1893 (Glenwood Springs) had the following article.

A Dakota Blizzard.

The worst thing that a traveler can possibly encounter in the West.

"The worst thing that a traveler can encounter is a Dakota blizzard" said W. C. Beaver, who was entertaining some friends in the corridors of the hotel. "A Dakota blizzard is something like a Sahara sandstorm, but with powdered ice instead of sand and the thermometer ranging 30° below instead of 100° above. A traveler may outlive a sandstorm, the only danger is that he will be smothered. But woe to the unlucky pilgrim who was caught by a blizzard.

The fine frozen snow, as fine as iron filings, is driven into his face with terrible force; it becomes impossible to distinguish objects at a distance of a dozen yards and he may flounder about four hours within a stone's throw of his own house without being able to find it. Great drifts are piled up around him, then whisk away, leaving the ground perfectly bear; the wind seems to read involve itself into thousand swirling cyclones and every open stretch of snow into a maelstrom. In North Dakota, many of the farmers stretch ropes from their houses to their barns so that they venture out to feed their stock during the blizzards which frequently last two or three days — without danger of getting lost in the icy storm.

In February 1884 I drove out in the sleigh a few miles from Fargo to close up a land trade. This sky was as clear as a bell, the air just cold enough to be exhilarating and I enjoyed my ride out immensely. I did not enjoy the return trip, however. A cold bitter wind came out of the Northeast that constantly increased in violence until the air became filled with fine snow, which glittered like myriads of diamonds in the sun. Then the sky became overcast the wind began to hurl great banks of snow across the road and I was soon unable to see my horse's head. I urged him onward, allowing him to pick his own course, for I was hopelessly at sea.

I had heard that a horse would find his way home through the darkest night and I hoped that instinct would serve him as well in a blizzard, but it didn't. After a little while, he stopped and when I urged him forward he turned squarely about and began to retrace his steps. He was is lost as well as I. To sit still meant to freeze. I got out threw the reins over my arm and started forward, calling at the top of my voice and firing off my revolver. In a minute or two, there was an answering shout. I was within fifty yards of a farmhouse where I obtained shelter until the blizzard had subsided two days later."

Photo property of the author

Out of Grand Junction in the Grand Valley Star-Times from February 9, 1895, reported on a blizzard in Kansas.

The blizzard raged all night.

Kansas City, February, seventh, — the blizzard raged with unabated vigor all night. This morning the thermometer registered 10 1/2° below zero. A gale is blowing. Signal officer O'Connor does not promise a respite until Friday evening. The railroads have not as yet been inconvenienced much from the drifts.

Lastly, on February 12, 1891, the Fort Collins Courier reported on a blizzard in that town. It reads like a sailor wrote it, at least to me.

A section of an Alaska blizzard, that had strayed away from home, struck Fort Collins amidship on Sunday, shriveling the people like a leaf in a hot furnace. A bitterly, cold northwest wind swept over the town nearly all day and those whose duty called them out suffered intensely with the cold.

It is always fascinating to see how people wrote and passed on the news in the past. Of course, I sometimes use these pieces of information to add veracity to my stories, as I'm sure a lot of you do also.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History

Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet


  1. Doris, I remember growing up how my parents and "older people" always spent a LOT of time talking about the weather. Of course, I didn't realize that to them, that was important because during THEIR lifetimes they'd had to depend on "signs" of bad weather and what might be coming in order to save their crops and survive. And here in Oklahoma, we all knew from an early age what a green sky meant and what to do/where to go in case of a tornado! This past 2 weeks, we've had 12 days of it not getting above freezing. We almost broke a record--if it had gone only a few more hours, it WOULD have broken the record for that (not a record I really wanted to break--I was ready for that blessed above freezing temp streak to hit!) I can't even imagine what our ancestors must have faced in winters that had their harsh days, just like ours do, with no running water, no electricity, and having to care for livestock. I probably would have brought all my animals in the house. LOL Great post--I enjoyed it.

    1. I remember my older relatives talking about the weather also. I grew up in a farming community and weather was all important.

      Now that I live near the mountains the weather is still something we always talk about. Is there going to be snow in the high country to enhance skiing, but is the base to weak for back country skiing and other activities that will trigger avalances.

      We had the cold snap here also and did break a record for coldest day in Feb that had been set in 1905. Doris

  2. Doris,

    I grew up on a ranch in the northeastern corner of Colorado about 90 east of Denver. I experienced many blizzards. Every year upon the arrival of the first frost, usually in September, my dad strung ropes across the wide yard to the garage and to the barn, and they stayed up until the spring thaw. Those ropes were live savers. As long as you held on to the rope with one hand, even in the worst blizzard, you could make it to shelter.

    1. I have to say, we never had the ropes to get around. I can visualize what it must have been like for you, but I've not experieced it. All I can say is WOW. Doris

  3. Excellent post as always! I love your Colorado stories. Brrr--makes me glad I live in the Deep South though! We get ice storms occasionally but nothing like a blizzard.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Growing up in the mid-west near the Mississippi River we had lots of ice storms along with snow. Since moving to Colorado I've dealt with my share of blizzards, but at least I had a roof over my head and heat. Like Cheryl said, I can't imagine what it was like over one hundred years ago. Doris