Major North’s Buffalo Hunt Ended by a Blizzard

About midnight the wind changed to the north, bringing rain and sleet, and within an hour a blizzard was raging on the open prairie.

Minnie Freeman

Minnie Freeman, heroine of the blizzard of 1888. RG2411-1692

Minnie Freeman Penney was a young schoolteacher who during the blizzard of 1888 led her pupils from their Valley County school to the shelter of a neighboring farmhouse. A collection of Nebraska pioneer reminiscences published in 1916 by the Nebraska chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, includes both her memory of this storm, and an account of an earlier one in 1871 taken from the diary of her father, William E. Freeman.

This earlier blizzard befell a party of buffalo hunters led by Major Frank North, famed leader of the Pawnee Scouts. After leaving Grand Island, the party, including six wagons and four buffalo horses, crossed the Platte River and went into camp. About midnight the wind changed to the north, bringing rain and sleet, and within an hour a blizzard was raging on the open prairie. The horses were covered with snow and ice and there was no fuel for the campfires. It was decided to try to follow an Indian trail south. Little progress could be made and they soon camped near some willows that afforded a small amount of protection to their horses.

Major Frank North

Frank North in uniform about 1867. RG2320-39

For two days the storm continued, accompanied by intense cold. The men finally determined to find shelter and in groups of two and three left camp, following a creek along which they hoped someone had settled. A sod house occupied by two English families was found, where the group was received hospitably. During the night the storm abated and next morning, finding all the ravines choked with heavy snowdrifts, the hunters decided by vote to abandon the hunt. They dug out their belongings from under many feet of snow and started their return trip. The journey home was full of accidents, bad roads, and drifted ravines.

North later admitted that of all his experiences on the prairie, including those with the Pawnee Scouts, “this ‘beat them all’ as hazardous and perplexing.” 

Read the historical markers commemorating two of Nebraska’s worst blizzards: the Blizzard of 1888 and the Easter Blizzard of 1873 on the History Nebraska website. “I’m Never Going to be Snowbound Again, the Winter of 1948-1949 in Nebraska,” from the Winter 2002 issue of Nebraska History, is also online at the History Nebraska website.  – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications  

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