Friday, October 14, 2016
The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
I was getting near the end of my 50 State Reading Challenge and down to just a few states to find books for when I came across The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin set in Nebraska. The story follows several immigrant families some of them from Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Ukrain. They traveled across the Atlantic ocean in steerage with no heat and few amenities where it has been recorded than 1 in 10 passengers died during the difficult crossings of that time. Coming to America was as tough as their lives in their home countries. They built sod houses that leaked when it rained and where gophers and snakes also made their homes in the walls. They battled prairie fire, grasshoppers (now extinct Rocky Mountain Locust) and brutal weather. But the hopes were to own land in America. For an $18 dollar filing fee and a promise to live on 160 acres of land for 5 years they could own their own part of America. (Homestead Act 1862)
It was during a relief in the harsh winter of 1888 that tragedy struck. With no means of knowing weather patterns across the country, the Nebraska prairie farmers were enjoying the unseasonably warm January weather. Children went to school without coats and farmers headed for the fields, but within a few hours when the children were walking home from school, a blizzard had struck. The air was full of ice crystals, winds at over 60 mph and in some places a 50 degree drop in temperature within hours. People couldn't find shelter and even their eyelashes froze so they were unable to see. Some areas reported wind chill temperatures of minus 47 degrees.
Mr. Laskin has gathered information from journals and newspapers to give an accurate account of the immigrant plight in the 1800s. This would be a great book club read.