|From the Emmetsburg Democrat, Wednesday, January 9, 1907:
HEROES OF IOWA’S WORST BLIZZARD
Notable Adventure of Pioneer Days is Recalled.
FOUGHT DEATH FOR HOURS
It Swept Pariries of Northern Iowa, January 1, 1864
In the Register and Leader Sunday, January 6, by T.W.Harrison.
I have just read in the Emmetsburg newspapers an account of the death of Joseph T. Mulroney, one of the early settlers in Palo Alto county. In his death has passed from earth the last of a trio of nature’s heroes and prominent figures in a notable incident of the early prairie days.
January 1, 1864, was perhaps the coldest day ever experienced in Iowa and adjoining states. In many places of this latitude, men froze stiff and dead while sitting bolt upright in their wagons, with the reins of their restless horses in their hands. In northern Iowa the snow was deep and a fierce wind blew a terrific gale from the northwest. It was so soon after the Indian massacres of 1862 in southern Minnesota, that soldiers were stationed at Estherville and other towns to protect the settlers and to prevent the Indians from commiting other depredations. To furnish these soldiers with supplies was a difficult and hazardous task. No railroads approached that locality within two hundred miles. Food, clothing and ammunition had to be hauled on sleighs over a trackless prairie where the gullies were drifted full of snow from two to ten feet deep and pounded hard with the continuous winds.
Joe and Kiren Mulroney were then mere boys living on a farm at old Soda Bar in the timber on the Des Moines River and Henry Archer another young man, was living in Humboldt county. That winter these three vigorous fellows volunteered for the government service of hauling supplies to these far away posts of boys in blue. I knew all three of them intimately for years and heard from each the details of their experiences.
On that historic day of bitterest cold they were facing a terrific northwest blizzard with their sleigh loads of shelled corn which they were taking from central Iowa to those destitute troops.
The mercury was frozen solid and the sp??? thermometers was down to half a hundred below, and the howling, cracking, biting, whirling snow was so dense in the air that they could not see the length of a sleigh and team. A winter blizzard on northern trackless prairies is far more terrible than a hurricane at sea. At sea there is the shelter and warmth of the boat. Just shut your eyes and pray and let her go, and if kept in the wind’s courses, she will be likely to outride the storm. But in…….(line missing)….below zero and “the hissing serpents of the sea” with all their fury and weird and racking terrors, will be there, augmented a thousand fold by the lack of shelter and the indescribable frenzy of the pinching, relentless cold. Since the countyr has been improved with cultivated fields and fences and hedges and groves such blizzards have not been known.
On this perilous trip Joe was always in the lead with the others close behind, each leading his horses with one hand and holding onto the hind end of the preceding sleigh with the other so that they could not become separated and lost for the horses were always determined to turn and go with the storm instead of against it. Each carried a shovel in his sleigh and sometimes for hours they would work like giants shoveling out a roadway through some drifted gully which would fill almost as fast as they could dig it out, but then the snow was soft so that they could pull through it. Their progress was necessarily slow, for their road was as unmarked as the storm tossed, trackless sea, and their wits had to be their guide as to direction and course.
The storm was so severe that Archer was in favor of pulling into some settlement on the Des Moines river and waiting until the blizzard should abate. But Joe was persistent, relentless and fearless. He said, “Those soldiers are starving and the government is depending upon us to get these supplies to them and I’ll never stop as long as we can make a mile a day.”
That day they were trying to cross Palo Alto county and intended to hit “Mickey” Jackman’s place in the timber on the east side of Medium lake for the night. But night overtook them too soon and at dark they were still out on the prairie and did not dare to proceed further for fear their horses would give out and die in their tracks. So they decided to stop for the night. They parked their sleighs in a semi-circle against the storm and tied their horses to the sleighs within that circle. Then they took their shovels and cut blocks of frozen snow and piled them up as a barricade six or eight feet high on the windward side of the sleighs to shelter themselves and their horses from the storm. They would remain inside this shelter with their horses as long as they could endure the cold, then they would go out and shovel snow as hard as they could against this wall until they got warm, and this they repeated from time to time all through that long and dreary night. Kiren was the youngest and they had a great difficulty in keeping him awake, but they did, for Joe and Archer knew that sleep meant death. The cold was so intense that hungry as they were the horses would not eat a kernel of that shelled corn.
The long and fearful night finally passed and daylight came, but with no relaxation of the sotrm or cold. They knew that they could not live there through another night. They could not see the sun and had no means of telling the direction or distance to Jackman’s place. They waited, hoping that the sun might send a guiding ray of light through the dense clouds of snow.
They Kept on in Face of Storm.
About noon they thought they could discren a place that appeared to be a little lighter than the rest and concluded it might be in the south and with that faint guide they determined to start and take what they thought to be a westerly course each riding a horse and leading another. Kiren was so chilled and frozen that they had to help him on to the house and it was with great difficulty that he could retain his hold there. But with Joe in the lead and Kiren in the middle and Archer in the rear they plunged out through the blinding blistering snow and in an hour they reached Jackman’s timber. “Mickey” was out looking after the stock and was as greatly surprised to see them as if they had dropped down from heaven. In amazement he asked, “Where in the world did you boys come from?” They replied, “Out on the prairie. We have been out on the prairie all night.” Mickey could not believe it and said, “My God, men, no none could live out on the prairie through last night.” They assured him that they had and told him to take the horses while they went into the house to get thawed out.
Legs and Feet Were Frozen
Mrs. Jackman was melting snow for soft water with which to wash and had a washtub full of snow and water. The one room log house was small and she told the men to take the tub outdoors to make more room. Archer said, “No, we have need of that water.” He knew that Kiren’s feet were frozen. They cut off his shoes and stockings and the legs of his trousers and found that not only his feet but his legs to the knees were frozen. They put his feet in that tub of ice water and bathed his limbs with it until the frost was drawn out and …(line missing)…probability saved his life for no surgeon could have been reached nearer than Fort Dodge, seventy miles away. As it was, the frost blisters caused the skin to slough from his feet and limbs like a pair of hip boots and it was three months before he could again wear shoes.
In three or four days the storm subsided but the bitter cold continued, and Joe and Archer, with the help of some other men and teams, took the three loads of corn to the famishing troops at Estherville.
After the close of the civil war Joe and Kiren became prosperous and wealthy farmers, always highly respected and greatly beloved by all who knew them. Five or six years ago Kiren was accidentally killed by a kick from a spirited horse he was leading to water. Archer moved to some point in Nebraska where he prospered and became a wealthy banker and influential citizen and he died there about two years ago. And now Joe, the strongest, most resolute and most fearless of them all has died at a time when he ought to have been in the full vigor of his mature manhood. And who can say that the terrible strain of that awful experience in that prairie blizzard forty-three years ago, while in the conscientious performance of unselfish duty, did not shorten the lives of Archer and Joe from ten to twenty years? And when the final roll of nature’s heroes shall be called, their names will be there, and not far down on the list, because they risked their lives in the performance of duty and for the love of their fellow men.