Chapter 124 The Long Winter

I just finished reading a book I bought at a local library sale for a couple of dollars. It’s The Children’s Blizzard, by David Laskin. It is the heart-wrenching true tale of a horrible blizzard that hit the Midwest on January 12, 1888. From the book’s cover:

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.

I know. Cheery, uplifting mid-winter reading. 😉 I read this book because that same blizzard is the focus of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, in which she chronicles what it was like to live through this and several other blizzards during that hard winter. In fact, The Hard Winter was Wilder’s original title for the book, but her publisher didn’t want to scare children, so the title was changed at the last minute to The Long Winter. Most of The Children’s Blizzard and Wilder’s The Long Winter are set in South Dakota, and Thoughtful Husband’s ancestors were living there at the time. Though most all of the family emigrated to California eventually, we have never heard a tale passed down that describes what it was like living through that winter. It must have been that bad. Too horrible to ever mention. (UPDATED: Per a reader’s comment, below, I went back and checked the Laskin book. Wilder’s book The Long Winter covers the winter of 1880-81, which was also a devastatingly cold and brutal winter. Apologies for the error.)

One reason I love Wilder’s books is that her descriptions of the seasons are wonderful. When I was a kid and read this book, I didn’t worry about Laura’s fate during the hard winter one bit. Ma and Pa, her loving parents would see them through the difficult blizzards. When I re-read this book as an adult and a parent responsible for young children, I realize that the Ingalls family was very close to starvation that winter. The horrible drifitng snow meant that no trains could get through, and even a family who had provisioned for winter ran short of wheat, meat, and even fuel for fires.

In January of that winter, the Ingalls family of six had one-half bushel of wheat, six potatoes and four pounds of beef to get them through until April, when it was expected that the railroad tracks would be clear enough for long enough to run the trains. Every time I read The Long Winter as an adult, I think to myself, “Oh my God. They are going to starve or freeze to death!” The family was reduced to grinding its own wheat in a coffee mill and twisting hay into logs for fire fuel. The family rarely ventured farther than the radius of heat put out by their tiny woodstove. Laura and her sisters even woke with frost on their quilts every morning. It must have been terrifying, and The Children’s Blizzard confirms Wilder’s dire description of that hard winter of 1888.

We had a month of rain in the Bay Area in January, followed by two short weeks of false spring. The false spring happens almost every February. We get about two weeks of sunny weather in the 70s. Just when we think it’s safe to hang up the umbrellas and take out shorts and t-shirts, the winter comes back with a vengeance. It’s now raining again, and expected to continue doing so for most of the rest February. It’s grey and cloudy all day every day. While we sorely need the precipitation, I’m getting tired of it. Then I re-read The Long Winter in a warm house with warm food and feel really silly complaining about a little rain.

One good thing the rain has done in combination with the false spring is this:


Huck planted these bulbs for me back in October. Nice to see that they have decided to pop up. For those of you living in the midst of a real long winter (compared to us Californians), hang in there. Spring is coming.


Filed under Book Finds, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Chapter 124 The Long Winter

  1. nancy

    Hi — The Long Winter is about the winter of 1880-1881. The 1888 blizzard in the Laskin book is most likely the one Wilder includes (in error) in “The First Year” part of The First Four Years.

  2. I just went back and re-checked Laskin’s book, which mentions Wilder describing the blizzards in her book, and I am in error. You are right. The Long Winter in Wilder’s Book is the winter of 1880-1881. I misread it the first time. Looks like many winters were Hard Winters. My apologies for the error and my thanks for the correct information.


  3. Pingback: Book #17 – The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder « A Room of One's Own

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