Winter of 1931

cattle in the snow

I was complaining of how many times I’ve plowed snow this winter, and how the snow just won’t let up. The long, frigid winter is now into April.

And then my mind went back to a story Grandma Angell related to me many years ago. Grandma said the year was 1931 and she and Grandpa were living at Staley Springs, on Henry’s Lake. Winter had been a force to reckon with. March 21 had come and gone and still no sign of winter leaving.

The late March day started out like any other day. Morning chores always before breakfast and then a hearty meal of bacon, fried potatoes and hot cakes to start the day with a full stomach.

Grandma’s three oldest children attended school two and a half miles away from home. The weather appeared to be clear, so Sunshine and Moonie, the team of horses, were harnessed and hooked up to the sleigh. The sleigh was big enough to accommodate at least 8-10 people and had a homemade burn barrel in between the benches to at least keep your hands warm.

The oldest son drove his sister and brother to school. Grandma said she waved goodbye and didn’t give a second thought as to the possibility of a winter storm.

About midday, she began to feel uneasy, looked out the window and saw a nasty blizzard blowing across Henry’s Lake and toward their home.

The one-room schoolhouse would be toasty warm with the potbelly stove burning an abundance of lodgepole pine and quaking aspen. Grandma knew the children would be safe as long as they stayed put in the schoolhouse. If they started back they might not make it through the blizzard.

Grandpa determined he needed to warn the kids at school. He bundled up with layers of wool, newspapers wrapped around his shoes and then slipped on his overshoes. That particular practice was used to keep your feet warmer. He then slipped on his snowshoes, hugged Grandma and ventured out into the blizzard.

Visibility was almost zero so he walked alongside a barbed wire fence, hand over hand on the wire for the two and a half miles until he reached the school safely. He said he didn’t dare let go of the fence for fear the intense blizzard wind would blow him off course and be lost.

The children at the school were instructed to stay at the schoolhouse for the night and not attempt to go home. The schoolmarm and her mother would see to their needs. The horses had shelter in the barn so Grandpa threw them a couple extra flakes of hay.

As soon as he knew everyone and everything was safe he bundled up again and dared the two-and-a-half mile walk, hand over hand on the barbed wire fence until he arrived safely at home to the rest of the family. Grandma told me while Grandpa was gone, those hours were the longest of her life.

After recounting Grandma’s story I realized I have never had it so good. When I get cold, sitting on the tractor, I go inside, throw another block of wood on the fire and warm up.

I don’t believe I have the constitution of my grandparents yet, I have never been so blessed. It is time for me to stop complaining.


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Bryce Angell’s father was an outfitter and guide for 35 years, and Bryce was there to shoe and care for the horses and help him do the cooking. Bryce is from Idaho and still rides into the Tetons, Yellowstone and surrounding areas. His poems are mostly of personal experience.



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