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The big blizzard of 1872

Seng Phengdouangdeth, Columnist

Well, we asked for it and it came, rolling in just in time for the holiday season.

It's a cold that seeps in through your layered flannel and winter garments that chills you to the bone. As Minnesotans, it is practically woven into our culture to complain amongst each other for the trials we face when winter sets in. You can bet most conversations, whether over business or coffee, include a subtle but defining aspect of our character here. And you've probably done it without even thinking about it.

Despite our gripes and groans about the frozen world we face from year to year, we wouldn't have it any other way. If any awed outsiders were to question us about our resilience, we'd buck up, taking pride in our heritage, bragging about something along the lines of how we're used to it and that the weather we're facing now is nothing compared to (insert legendary winter storm of yesteryear).

If there's one thing I know after growing up in this region, it's that though we experience some of the coldest weather in the nation, we have grown as a community to be prepared for the curve balls that mother nature tends to throw at us. We're Minnesotans and proud.

I feel it only appropriate to take you on a journey through time to one of Minnesota's most devastating blizzards in the state's history. Tuesday, Jan. 7, 1873, started out as a mild but ordinary winter day for the people of Becker County, whom, after about 15 years of development, had started to create a comfortable and sturdy foundation to their livelihoods. The people of this area were beginning to set roots as families and businesses were starting to flourish and prove fruitful.

Life on the frozen snow-swept prairie carried on as usual that Tuesday morning, as it would any other morning, with the children attending school or helping to carry out daily chores, the shop owners maintaining their businesses, and farmers tending to their herds.

It was around midday that the tame winds sweeping peacefully over the valley, dusting the area in a light snow, started to pick up. The calm winter breeze over Becker County increased in strength as the day carried on, evolving into an unstoppable force of howling winds with temperatures dropping into devastating lows. A winter storm was unexpectedly setting in.

What ensued afterward was a blizzard lasting three days. With snow drifts quickly forming and also packing densely with the intense winds and subzero temperatures, people had to hastily retreat for shelter within their homes or nearby structures to avoid the stinging cold of the blistering winds.

In the fields, many farmers had to abandon rescuing their herds from the storm in an effort to find safety for themselves. The storm that had set in so quickly on an unprepared community, had many scrambling for their lives.

As quickly as the storm came, it faded into the east on January 10 . Efforts were made quickly to come together as a community and tend to one another. Passenger and freight trains took days to dig out from hardened, packed drifts, but had many hands throughout the county.

Despite the incredible severity of the blizzard, Becker County miraculously suffered no losses

throughout the area. In neighboring Clay County, however, two men perished in the cold. Throughout the state, a toll of over 70 deaths occurred as a result of the storm, many of which were claimed while attempting to seek shelter from the elements and whose bodies were tragically not found until the thawing of spring. Hundreds of cattle were also lost to the storm as a result of their abandonment.

But through it all, we survived. You could almost say it's in our blood. The many years of harsh winters we've endured in Minnesota have shaped who we are to be fully capable of living here. Ask any Minnesotan and you'll find that, though we gripe, we take pride in the cold. Almost instinctively, we bundle up every year, preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.

The cold is starting to let up this week, but we know better. Take good care of yourselves, readers. Carry on with that Minnesota pride, but let's look out for one another as we get through January.

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