Minnie Freeman: Hero of the Frontier Schoolhouse

By | November 16, 2018

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A scene from TV’s “Little House on the Prairie” was inspired by Minnie Freeman and the Children’s Blizzard of 1888. -- Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images.

The prairie states always get their share of blizzards, but the blizzard of 1888 was like no other. With hurricane force winds and icy temperatures this brutal storm, which began on January 12, 1888, raged for 18 hours and resulted in the deaths of approximately 230 people. The majority of these victims had been trying to seek shelter when the blinding wind and snow hit, only to become lost and disoriented in the swirling snow. Sadly, several people were found dead within a few yards of shelter. One story from Nebraska, however, had a much happier ending. It was the story of a teenage schoolteacher who led her students through the blizzard to safety. This is the story of Minnie Freeman, heroine of the schoolhouse blizzard.

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Historic photo of the aftermath of the blizzard of 1888 in Nebraska.

A Sudden, Violent Storm

Even today, meteorologists marvel at the fierceness of the blizzard of 1888. It was a particularly deadly blizzard because it was preceded by a brief warm-up. Earlier in the day on January 12, 1888, the temperatures rose above freezing, icicles melted, and the sun shone brightly. Settlers on the open prairie took advantage of the balmy day to run errands, unaware that the weather was about to take a huge turn for the worse. By 1 p.m., many people reported seeing a dark, ominous wall of clouds bearing down on them. Temperatures plummeted to as low as 40-degrees below zero. With unexpected force and fury, the blizzard struck, leaving many people caught outdoors and unprotected.