Today’s FORUM (October 28) had a story about the bad storm in our area just a day ago. It was compared to a past storm…a very similar sort of weather system that led to a terrible deadly blizzard in March 1920. 34 people died as a result of that 1920 storm and one of them was a 16 year old girl from Oliver County, ND….her name was Hazel Miner and she is remembered as the Dove of the Prairie in ND’s history. A monument to Hazel Miner stands at a courtyard in Center, ND. It was built through the contribution and kindness of former Governor L.B. Hanna and family.
Not that many years ago, a songwriter and singer from Mandan, wrote words of that ballad that are tender and heartbreaking…as was the death of that courageous 16 year old who saved her younger brother and sister from death by giving her own life for them.
At Hazel Miner’s funeral, the presiding pastor used the text from the gospel of John that says “Greater love hath no man than he lay down his own life for a friend”. It was most fitting for Hazel.
The Miner children lived on a farm in Oliver County and attended a rural school near their home. Hazel drove a sleigh in the wintertime, pulled by a faithful horse that knew the way to the school and back home again. On March 15, 1920 the weather changed from the previous days when it had been mild and warm; much of winter’s snow had melted and the “coulees” (small valleys) were full of snowmelt water on that day. The day of March 15 became suddenly cold with a driving wind of over 40 miles per hour which was also driving falling snow and whipping it into a blinding blizzard.
(People in our area who are in their 80′s and 90′s also remember a similar March blizzard that seemed to come out of nowhere in March of 1940 on a similar mild warm day. Many died in that sudden storm also because many were out and about on what started out as a beautiful day which also featured District 23 basketball tournaments in Moorhead, MN. People got stranded trying to get home from basketball games that night as the horrendous blizzard hit hard as it did in Oliver County in March 1920.
On that day…March 15, 1920…the rural school let the students leave early so they could reach their homes before the worst of the blizzard hit. Hazel Miner hitched the horse to the Miner sleigh and tucked her younger brother and sister into blankets before they set out for home. Her worried father, William Miner, had ridden another horse to the school to accompany his children home. But the horse either bolted for home or the children began the ride home too soon and they became lost in the blinding snow and wind. The father desperately tried to find them but could not do so. Realizing that his children were lost, he got home and telephoned neighbors to help search for them. Nobody could find the Miner children that day. In the snowstorm, the sleigh went into a water- filled coulee and in her efforts to get the horse and sleigh out of the coulee, Hazel was soaked in icy water up to her waist. Then the sleigh tipped and trapped the three children undereneath it. Hazel took the three blankets and placed two of them on the ground and had her siblings lie down on them while she covered them with the other blanket. Finally in an effort to keep the blanket in place, Hazel laid her own body on top of her brother and sister and comforted them with songs and stories, telling them to keep moving and to not stop….she urged them to punch each other so they would stay awake. Her brother recalled that after hours of this Hazel no longer spoke or sang and he knew she was dead.
The following day a party of searchers discovered a single track of a sleigh leading east from the school. After spreading out and walking on foot the large party of searchers found the upset sleigh in the coulee with the horse alive and still standing attached to the sleigh. They found Hazel dead, her body frozen stiff atop her siblings who were miraculously still alive under their sister’s frozen body. Hazel’s arms were outstretched, sheltering the younger children. Her arms appeared to be like protective wings over her brother and sister.
The three children were brought to neighboring farm where the gathered people…all of them sobbing in grief…tried desperately to revive Hazel but she was dead and frozen and nothing could bring her back. Mrs. Blanche Miner held her two younger children, rocking and warming them. She recalled a dream she had had in the night in which Hazel had appeared to her and said “Mama I am not cold any more….I’ll be warm tomorrow”.
Here follows the words of the song, “The Ballad of Hazel Miner” written and sung by Chuck Suchy on two of his albums.
“Wings on ther snow, a fate not chose, Morning finds a dove so froze/ Who too soon thought Spring arrived, In warmth below her love survived.
Up in Oliver County on the West Dakota plain/ Lived a farmer’s daughter, Hazel Miner was her name.
She was soon to come in bloom, a prairie rose of spring, She’d never seen the young girl dreams/
Her sixteenth year would bring.
Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry, cold is like a sorrow/ Sing a song, it won’t be long, you’ll be warm tomorrow.
A 1920 mid-March storm caused school to let out early/ So each child could reach their farm, before the blizzard’s fury.
With her brother, sister bundled tight, Hazel hitched the sleigh/ In the night of blinding white, she somehow lost her way.
For falf a day they plodded on, in darkness, desperation/ Hazel put the young ones down/ laid her body o’er them.
Through the night she gave therm songs and stories to sustain/ Near the dawn, her strenth all gone, three by sleep were claimed.
Hush-a bye, don’t you cry, cold is like a sorrow/ Sing a song, it won’t be long, you’ll be warm tomorrow.
Silent song, paling wind, storm at end, begin again/ Not all to soar, the winds aloft,
Stiffened wings, her feathers soft.
The next day the searchers came and found her/ It’s eyes and nose frozen, the horse still standing closed, no duty more demanding.
They lifted Hazel from the snow, only limp her hair/ With sadness, joy, the girl and boy, alive beneath her there.
Hush-a-bye, con’t you cry, cold is like a sorrow.
Sing a song, it won’t ber long, you’ll be warm tomorrow.”