Laura's Letters - 6 - 1918-21
I have time to add a few bits to my diary, so I will start with mentioning the fire in Cloquet, Minnesota, which was devastating. Loads were killed. I know it wasn’t the same part of Minnesota where I am from, but I still felt very bad about it - thinking myself to be a Minnesotan.
I’m quoting here from the newspaper the Morning Tribune:
Nearly 1,000 persons are now believed to have lost their lives in the blasts of flame that drove Saturday and yesterday over Northern Minnesota forests in an area that spreads from Duluth to Brainerd, Bemidji, Aitkin, Cloquet and Moose Lake.
Property worth millions of dollars was destroyed, ten villages were obliterated, 15,000 persons were made homeless, many of them penniless. Duluth, itself heavily damaged by the flames, was last
night a city of thousands of refugees, a dwelling-place of stricken people who had lost kinfolk, friends, neighbors in the flames.
Over all the countryside, on highways and by-paths, near farmhouse ruins and beside railway tracks, lay blackened corpses.
The fire started near Bemidji, and fanned by a high wind, the flames swept across the state toward Duluth, cutting a swath 50 miles wide through cutover lands bounded on both sides by a chain of lakes.
One surviver reports, “We fought the fire and placed both children on the banks of the St. Louis, telling the six year old to go to the big rock in the river if the fire came close.”
Another 18 year old man says, “I ran my horse and wagon fast to get to the farm from Kettle River and we managed to get to the river. I covered the horse’s head with a wet blanket so we could move faster to get to river.”
Another report says, “The flames destroyed a log house I had just built above the rail prepared to protect the house. My wife put the children along the bank of the river and told the older one to take
the baby and go to a rock in the river, if the fire jumped the tracks. Fortunately, the fire didn’t jump the tracks.”
This was an unusual start to January weather. We had the temperature of 59º today.
We had the flu so badly over the winter, most of us down at the same time. I was the last to go down. I had been waiting on the others and doing the chores. When I had to give up, we got a neighbor to come over and milk the cow and do the other outside chores each day. I don't know what we would have done without him. Most of the neighbors were sick too, and had their own troubles.
One day before I took sick, Nick suddenly got out of bed and was determined to go outside. I stood between him and the door and watched him trying to get dressed. He soon played out and was glad to be helped back to bed. He did not attempt to get up for a whole week. If he had gone out that day, it is very unlikely that he would have recovered, as we heard of many people who went outside, came in and went to bed and never got up again. It seems wonderful that we got over it with no doctor or nurse to take care of us.
We have had an unfortunate death in our family - Nick and Len’s dad, Rense, died on November 4th. First of all he got a smoker's cancer on his lip from smoking a pipe. His wife took him to the specialists in Rochester in September and they removed it, but the cancer got into his brain through the blood. He was such a sweet man, small and gentle and mild mannered. Quite a contrast to his wife. But he wasn’t really an old man, only 57, and well able to do farming up til recently. We certainly shall miss him. Len and Lydia have moved into the homestead, so Teuntje can continue there, and that will be very helpful for her. Len will of course take over control of that land as his own now. There is talk of Teuntje going to spend time with her Dutch relatives in Minnesota.
I hadn’t been aware of it, but apparently Rinse had a brother called John, who emigrated at the same time as the rest of them and they were all in Chicago together. But when Rinse, Teuntje, Nick and Leonard moved to North Dakota, John and his wife moved to Yakima Washington, where
they have been living ever since. Leonard wrote to him to tell him about Rinse’s death, and we haven’t had any reply at all. Len is so unhappy about that and he says none of us are to make any attempt to contact him again.
We have both Mildred and Chester is school. He is very protective of her, and is a proper big brother. She is enjoying her time there. They walk the mile and a half each day.
We have a man working for us now. He is called Arthur Smith, and he comes from South Dakota. Nick felt that he needed more help than I can give him, and he is pleasant company as well. Chester does a lot to help now, milking the cows and even little Allan helps with the chores and can do some farm work. I don't want Mildred to do outside chores. Maybe when she is older, she can tend the sheep in the summer, but I prefer her to be helping me in the house.
However, we are having a bad time regarding the prices we get for our farm commodities, which started after the war was over. Luckily we now have a branch of the Farm Bureau Federation at Bismarck which should help us get a decent price.
More blizzards, and a very sad story to relate. I’m quoting this from the paper.
Hazel was the daughter of William Miner, a farmer, and his wife Blanche. "Kind of a quiet girl she was," recalled the county registrar of deeds, whose daughter had played with Hazel. "Sort of motherly, for one so young." Her father considered her highly dependable. Her obituary described her as "quiet and loving," with a "sunny, cheerful nature" and having a liking for children. She was an eighth-grader at the one-room school and had planned to start high school in Bismarck in the fall. On March 15th, the first day of the blizzard, the Miner children's school let out early to enable the students to reach their homes before the storm hit. Many of the country school students, like the Miner children, were used to driving back and forth to school with a horse and buggy, but the school teacher had a rule that no child was permitted to drive home in bad weather without permission from a parent. William Miner, who was worried about the blizzard conditions, rode the two miles to the school on a saddle horse to escort his children home. At about one o'clock he hitched their horse, "Old Maude," up to their light sleigh and told Hazel and the other children to wait while he went back to the school's barn to get his horse. Hazel wasn't strong enough to keep the horse from heading out into the blizzard before her father came back from the barn. William Miner searched for his children, but soon realized they must have gotten lost and went home to mount a search party. All throughout the countryside, farm families manned phone lines, summoning men to join a search party to look for the missing Miner children. Even though she was familiar with the road, Hazel quickly became disoriented by the blinding white snow that made it impossible to see more than a
few feet in front of her. A warm coat, hat, gloves and sturdy, one-buckle overshoes couldn't keep her hands and feet from becoming numb in the freezing temperatures. When the sled hit a coulee, Hazel slid from the sled into waist-deep, mushy snow. She said, "Oh, my! I am wet clear to the waist and my shoes are full of water," her brother recalled later. The harness had slipped and she had to
readjust it. Soaking wet, freezing, and exhausted, Hazel led the horse forward into the swirling white snow, only to discover she had lost sight of the road. There were few landmarks on the prairie to
guide them. Blizzard conditions can make it impossible to see more than a few feet.
The children continued on, growing more tired and cold. Then the sled again hit an obstruction and tipped over, throwing Hazel over the dashboard into the snow. Hazel, Emmet, and Myrdith tried to push the sled upright, but weren't strong enough, even with all three of them pushing. Using the overturned sled as a shelter, Hazel spread two blankets, told Emmet and Myrdith to lie down, and placed a third blanket atop them. The children tried to keep moving to stay warm. Hazel huddled beside her brother and sister, warming them with her body heat, and told them stories to keep them awake. They sang all four verses of "America the Beautiful," a song they had sung during opening exercises at the country school that morning, and said the Lord’s Prayer. Hazel told her siblings again and again, "Remember, you mustn't go to sleep—even if I do. Promise me you won't, no matter how sleepy you get. Keep each other awake! Promise?" Her brother and sister promised.
All night long the children could hear a dog barking, but no one came. As the night wore on, Hazel talked less and less, until she finally became silent. Her brother said, “The robe kept blowing down and Hazel kept pulling it up until she got so she couldn't put it up any more. Then she covered us up with the robe and lay down on top of it. I told Hazel to get under the covers too, but she said she had to keep us children warm, and she wouldn't do it. I tried to get out to put the cover over Hazel, but I could not move because she was lying on the cover. The snow would get in around our feet, we couldn't move them, then Hazel would break the crust for us. After awhile she could not break the crust anymore, she just lay still and groaned. I thought she must be dead, then I kept talking to Myrdith so she wouldn't go to sleep.”
A search party of more than thirty men looked desperately for the children throughout the afternoon and evening. They had to give up when it grew dark, but set out again the next morning. When they
finally found the children it was two o'clock on March 16, twenty-five hours since the children had first set out from the school house. The overturned sled, with the horse still hitched up to
it, was resting in a coulee two miles south of the school.
"With breathless haste we harried to the rig and will never forget the sight that met our eyes," said one of the men. The searchers found the rigid Hazel lying over her siblings, covering them with her body. Her coat, which she had unbuttoned, was spread over the bodies of the two
younger children and her arms were stretched out over them. Beneath her, still alive, were Emmet and Myrdith. "Maude," the gentle horse, was standing patiently beside the overturned sled, also
still alive. If the horse had moved, the three children would have been tipped into the snow.
They took the three children to the home of William Starck, a neighbor, and cared for them "tenderly". Starck's daughter, Anna said, "I remember the sound of Hazel's outstretched arms as they brushed against the furniture as they brought her into the house, and took her into my parents' bedroom. The crackling sound as that of frozen laundry brought in off the clothes line in winter. Then I remember the crying, so much crying."
They worked over Hazel for hours, trying to revive her, but there was no hope. Hazel's mother, Blanche, was brought to the Starck house when they found the children and sat in a chair, rocking and rocking, while they tended to the three children. Throughout the long night when the children were missing, she had been kept company by neighbors. At one point she drifted off, and said later that her eldest daughter had come to her in a dream. In the dream, Hazel said, "I was cold,
Mama, but I'm not anymore."
At Hazel's funeral, the minister preached a sermon from John: 15:13. "Greater love hath no man that he lay down his life for his friend," and said, "Here and there are occasionally people who by their acts and lives endeavor to imitate Him.”
Hazel was one of 34 people who died during the blizzard, which lasted three days. Other children killed were Adolph, Ernest, Soren and Herman Wohlk.