Column: May we never have a November like that of 1872

WORTHINGTON -- November. As we note on our calendars each year, we still are weeks away from the first 24 hours of winter. But -- you know as well as I -- winter can drop an icy snare over all of our region any time now. We have slipped around a ...

WORTHINGTON -- November. 

As we note on our calendars each year, we still are weeks away from the first 24 hours of winter. But -- you know as well as I -- winter can drop an icy snare over all of our region any time now.

We have slipped around a couple of hurdles. There are several records of October blizzards across southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. Well -- the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 is remembered well. There is a record of an Oct. 15 blizzard.

I have reflected a couple of times that the worst of all the blizzards that have swept across our region is far behind us. We might have to endure inconveniences, we might feel chill but we will not know the winter sufferings of our earliest settlers.

Those people lived in holes they dug in the ground, in lean-tos fashioned from poles and prairie grass, and in caves carved in creek banks. 


I have chuckled that Mr. Towers -- this is all of the name which has been preserved -- Mr. Towers was a wise one. He gave up.

Mr. Towers came to what is a portion of Rock County in 1867. He was one of no more than several dozen people of every skin tint living in all this area at that date. Mr. Towers fashioned a shed to store hay for the coming winter. He broke a tiny, garden-size patch of ground to plant potatoes, beans and pumpkins. It was his plan to spend his life on the Eden he found in southwest Minnesota.

Then one night Towers' oxen strayed. He awoke to find his creatures -- his plow-pullers, the engines for his wagon -- gone. Towers set out seeking the cattle. He wandered as far as the Little Sioux River, where he found evidence the cattle had made a crossing. Towers cast off his clothes, wrapped them in a bundle and began to swim the river. The clothing slipped away in the churning current.

Mr. Towers made his way back to the settlement that was established at Spirit Lake. He was wearing only a gunny sack. He abandoned his thought of spending a winter alone on the prairie.

In that November -- Nov. 25 -- the John Lietze family and a young woman, Miranda Skinner, arrived near the site of Luverne to occupy a Half Way House on the newly opened U.S. mail route. The Half Way House was half-a-cabin, half-a-cave lined with logs. 

The day before, unknown to anyone else, Deborah Estey arrived at a pole shanty built by three of her grown sons, Amos, Orville and Colin. Mrs. Estey was accompanied by two younger sons, Alvord and Byran. She also had six chickens and a wagon loaded with the family's household goods. The Estey family was no more than 10 miles from the Lietze family, but neither knew of the presence of the other.

The six Esteys spent that winter in their shanty. They trapped and roasted a 35-pound "fine kitten beaver" for their Christmas dinner.

The mail carrier heard of the Estey family in the shanty and rode north to learn if indeed there were some U.S. mail patrons he did not know of in the area. He found the family, and when they discussed mail deliveries, the mail man learned the family had lost a day in the reckoning of time. For two months Mrs. Estey and her sons had been rigidly observing the Sabbath on Monday.


Looming ahead -- Jan. 7, 1873 -- was one of the worst blizzards this region experienced. Records kept at Ft. Snelling established it as the most violent storm in 50 years of weather observations. Not only was there great wind and snow "as fine as flour," but the temperature held near 18 degrees below zero for 72 hours. In Nobles County, two residents of Indian Lake Township -- Samuel Small and Mrs. John Blixt -- perished in the relentless wind. John Weston, a Civil War veteran in Graham Lakes Township, froze to death after he wandered for 12 miles.

John Weston became the subject of a ghost story. It was said that in the spring he returned and led a neighbor to where his frozen body lay on the prairie near the village of Brewster.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays. 

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