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Bob Lind, Published February 23 2014

Neighbors: Jan. 12, 1888 storm like no other

Sure, this area has had some rugged storms this winter. But none of them have been as bad as the blizzard of Jan. 12, 1888.

Here’s the story of it as recorded by someone who was there: Dakota Territory pioneer Frank Wisnewski.

It comes to Neighbors thanks to his granddaughter, Sister Juliana Wisnewski, Fargo.

Her grandfather, Juliana says, “was a brilliant man who remembered and wrote well. He was born in 1875, married in 1900 and celebrated 60 years of marriage to my grandmother Anna (Killian) before his death in 1961. I knew them well; they were my godparents.”

Frank was 7 when his parents moved from Pittsburgh to homestead near what is now Geneseo, N.D. As an adult, he wrote a journal telling of his life over the years.

This is his story of that 1888 blizzard.

“The snow came early, long before New Year,” Frank wrote. “The heavy (snow)fall started to drift and the weather was very cold every day.

“On Jan. 11th, a strong snow storm started from the southeast very bad. Many pioneers did not water their stock all day. The storm roared until the next morning.

“Then at 7 a.m. the storm ceased and there was not a breath of wind, but the snow was falling heavy; the fresh snow was about eight inches deep on the level.

“All of a sudden a loud roaring was heard in the north and coming closer. And about 9 a.m. the dreadful storm hit our yard. But we all were in our shanty with plenty of water and wood for two days. All our stock was fed and watered.

“This sure was the most severe snow storm ever seen by all the old pioneers.

“There was no letup all day until midnight. Whoever stepped outside away from his door never returned alive. The state lost 196 people (who) were found frozen to death. Some that did find shelter had frozen ears, fingers and toes. (Note: Another 26 people in other Plains states died in that storm.)

“In the morning the sky was clear, not a breath of wind, but it was 40 below zero.

“Everybody was busy with his shovel, shoveling snow where needed.

“The weather started to warm up slowly. On Groundhog Day it was cloudy with a drizzling rain, and spring opened up early (and) the spring work was started.

“The days, weeks and months passed by. The crops were fair to good, and the people started to prepare for the coming winter again. This,” Frank concluded, “closed up the year of 1888.”

And there you have one story from the journal of pioneer Dakota farmer Frank Wisnewski.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com