Alva Review-Courier -

Random Thoughts: The Blizzard of 1886, part 4


The blizzard of 1886 began early in that fateful year. Temperatures fell precipitously beginning on Jan. 1 as snow fell and the wind howled. In the following days, things only got worse.

Hundreds of thousands of cattle and hogs died in the storm. So did several people. Railroad travel, so important to the economy of the Great Plains, came to a frozen stop.

On Jan. 20 two trains – including one from Massachusetts taking over 150 passengers to California on a sightseeing tour of the American West – were forced to stop in the small southwestern Kansas town of Kinsley. Rails buried under 12-foot-high snowdrifts made further travel impossible.

The residents of Kinsley took it upon themselves to entertain their visitors. For several days, they welcomed them into their homes, fed them and made their stay unforgettable.

In addition, the Massachusetts travelers decided to publish a four-page newspaper commemorating their unexpected but not unpleasant excursion in a small isolated (ice-olated?) town.

With the help of a local newspaper publisher, they issued their one and only special edition of the paper on Saturday, Jan. 23. They called their publication “The B-b-blizzard.”

In a lighthearted introduction (setting the tone for the entire paper) the authors said they wanted “to give immortality to events that might otherwise be lost to history.” They had decided to make the best of a bad situation and not complain because (pun intended) “it’s snow use.”

One night the people of Kinsley hosted a banquet for the visitors in the ballroom of the town’s hotel. Various locals and outsiders spoke, praising each other in glowing terms. Several people from each group sang songs. Curtis Noyes of Massachusetts played his banjo for his new friends.

On Sunday, Jan. 24, the tracks were finally cleared and the stranded trains left Kinsley. As for the travelers from Massachusetts who wanted to see the American West, they undoubtedly had stories to tell the folks back home of the once-in-a-lifetime experiences they had and the memories they made in a small town in Kansas.


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