October 1880 Snowstorm Began ‘The Snow Winter’

This photograph was taken in March 1881 of a train passing through snow-covered Minnesota in the worst snow season ever recorded there.

photo of a train passing through deep snow in Minnesota during winter of 1880-1881

Credit: Wikipedia

The snow season started with a storm in October 1880 and it just kept on snowing until March of 1881. It was one of the Midwest’s worst-ever snow seasons, with multiple blizzards and snow accumulation of more than 11 feet in some areas. Somewhat accurate details and many of the names of the townspeople who endured this long winter season of frequent blizzards can be found in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novel The Long Winter.

Here in New England, it’s hard to forget the 2011 Halloween nor’easter that slammed the area with so much snow, so early in the season, that it destroyed the most trees in the entire recorded history of Connecticut storms.

The following Ohio newspaper article reported that the storm that started in October 1880 was “the worst storm ever known in Southern Minnesota and Eastern Dakota and is still raging.”

The storm blocked passenger and freight trains “in snow drifts from ten to twelve feet deep and teams with provisions have been dispatched to their relief.”

Read the account of the start of the storm in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Disastrous [Snow] Storm, Plain Dealer newspaper article 18 October 1880

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 18 October 1880, page 1

Many people lost their lives in these terrible blizzards. Farmers had to burn their fences to keep warm. Read this 1922 newspaper article from the Milwaukee Journal that recounts how the autumn storm that began the winter of 1880-1881 claimed 70 lives on Lake Michigan: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/wlhba/articleView.asp?pg=1&orderby=&id=3670

Did you have any ancestors who survived “The Snow Winter?” Share with us in the comments.

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Written by Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom Kemp is an internationally known librarian and archivist – he is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history.

He previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, DC) and as Library Director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for 47 years. With the rapidly growing online archives at GenealogyBank – it is a great day for genealogy!

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