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BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: Some winter weather

Bryan County Genealogy Library

When we research our family trees we often focus on major events, both personal and societal. Facts and dates are important, and what our relatives did in the middle of a crisis, especially a national one like a war or pandemic, can evolve into a family story worth sharing at the holiday dinner table. However, one crisis – bad weather -- is often overlooked by family historians, and its impact on lives is generally ignored.

The horrors of 1918 have been recounted in the news recently, so we know that our ancestors lived through WWI, rationing, and the Spanish Flu. What you may not know is that they began the year with another crisis, the worst blizzard in fifteen years.

Calvin Banta made a brief comment about the severity of the storm in his column for the Caddo Herald: “We have been completely snowed under. No work of any kind has been possible. One did well to have fires to keep from freezing.” In reality, some did not keep from freezing. An elderly man in Kingfisher froze to death in his own bed.

The storm began with about an inch of snow on Thursday, January the 10th. The temperature dropped below zero and that snow was followed by sleet, ice, and more snow. By the time the storm was over the accumulation was ten to twelve inches, the heaviest snowfall in a dozen years. But it was the sub-zero temperature that did the most damage. The Durant City water mains froze and broke for the first time in the history of the city. Most were buried fourteen inches below ground, but that wasn’t enough protection. The ground was so hard that picks had to be used for most repairs. The city spent over $500 getting the water lines working again.

The Durant paper reported that the freeze caused pipes in many, many homes to burst. A thaw on Sunday found most of those pipes leaking and the only solution for most homeowners was to shut off their water. The few plumbers in town were overwhelmed with calls.

Many of the homes with frozen pipes were cold because of coal shortages. Supply wasn’t a problem; distribution by wagon was the problem. Unless the horses were shod for icy roads, it was impossible to have coal, or anything else, delivered. A couple of owners reported the death of their horses due to falls. Auto travel was non-existent and trains were delayed. Most communities didn’t have mail delivery for a week.

The Normal School had to close for a week and the Presbyterian College moved some girls out of their dorms and into the main building to keep them warm.

Some things just couldn’t be kept warm. Home-canned fruit in glass jars froze and potatoes stored in supposedly warm places were ruined. Most chickens, quite a few hogs, and some cattle froze. Most range cattle had to fend for themselves without any shelter. Those in poor condition died.

The only good result of the storm was the much-needed moisture for the soil. Oklahoma was in the tenth year of drought conditions and although the storm froze much of the wheat crop, it allowed deep plowing for those farmers planting oats. The editor of the Herald agreed that the snow was good for crops, but commented: “It’s pretty hard on owners of small coal and wood piles, to say nothing of thin clothes and porous shoes.” And it was probably very hard on all of our ancestors. Do you know where yours were living in 1918? How old were they? How do you suppose they survived a week without water, power, heat, and perhaps scant food supplies? Surely a story worth telling…

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.