Lost in a Blizzard
Sudden Storm Causes Terror
"Lost in a Blizzard." Prairies 7, no. 7: June/July 1984, 13-18.
What would you do if your small daughter were lost somewhere out
in the country during a raging blizzard?
Such a harrowing incident happened to Katherina George in 1912.
Her seven-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, was in her first year of
country school. The George family lived on a farm about 13 miles
east of Ashley, and Elizabeth was a very happy little girl when
she could finally join her older brothers and sisters and go off
The little country school was about three miles away from Emmanuel
and Katherina’s farm. When the weather was warm, the George
children often hiked. As it grew colder, they rode in wagons and
then sleds, bundled up as much as possible to protect them from
the biting wind and cold.
The terrible blizzard which had such a devastating effect on the
young Elizabeth occurred in January. The storm came suddenly, like
a racing locomotive.
The teacher at Coldwater District School, Amanda Ramhold, became
frightened when none of the men came to school to fetch the children,
which was the normal procedure during a blizzard emergency. As the
storm’s intensity increased, the terrified young woman made
her tragic error: she dismissed school and took the children to
a neighboring farm a few miles away, the Keppert farm. If she had
waited just a little longer, men from the children’s families
would have reached the school. But the teacher had no way of knowing
Despite fierce winds and blinding snow, she struggled with a horse
and sled, eventually arriving at the Keppert farm with all the children
safe. However, at the farm, the teacher faced a new calamity. Keppert
was gravely ill and could offer little assistance.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s older brother, Jake, stumbled into
the schoolhouse, only to find it empty! Panic-stricken, he feared
his younger sisters had ventured out into the storm and had become
lost. Searching everywhere along the way as he trudged homeward,
he desperately sought for some sign of the little girls—but
they were nowhere to be found.
When Jake, nearly half frozen, finally reached home with his dismaying
report, another brother, Phillip, quickly hitched up a sled to begin
the frantic search anew.
In the meantime, Elizabeth’s older sisters, Christina and
Katy decided they should try to trek through the hills themselves.
They took Elizabeth with them, and braved the howling storm. It
was a terrifying ordeal. The cruel wind buffeted the little girls
as if they were made of chaff. Snow swirled everywhere, almost engulfing
them at times. The fierce cold was numbing.
Exhausted, Elizabeth wanted to stop to rest.
“I was so tired,” she said.
“No,” screamed Christina. “We’ll freeze
to death if we stop. The blizzard will shut us in, and they’ll
never find us!”
The girls painfully made their way through two hills and struggled
onward into the snowy masses. Then, miraculously, they spied Phillip,
his horses’ nose covered with icicles.
He leaped off the sled, terrified and angry at the same time. Not
knowing at the time how badly the girls were hurt, he shouted wrathfully,
“Just wait till you get home!”
But it was too late. Little Elizabeth’s hands were frozen
solid. “It was the most pain I’ve ever had,” she
By the time the desperate group fell into their mother’s
arms in the safety of their home, Elizabeth was in great misery.
They rushed to thaw out her hands and arms with snow, but it hurt
Elizabeth so much that they couldn’t continue.
A Strange Remedy
The old people had another remedy to try to stave off freezing,
and that was to apply patches of sauerkraut onto the frozen limb.
That is what they did to Elizabeth.
Great lumps of sauerkraut were hastily scooped out of barrels and
placed onto Elizabeth’s hands and arms. When they removed
the sauerkraut, the little girl’s hands had been so badly
frozen that the sauerkraut itself was frozen!
Soon, most of the flesh from her hands all the way up to her shoulders
dropped off to the very bone. It was terrible. The anguished mother
was alone with her children because Emmanuel had ridden the train
to Lehr a few days before the storm to be with his father, who was
dying. After the blizzard, when he heard the frightful news about
Elizabeth, he rushed back home, again by the train. But there was
nothing he could do.
“My mother was brave,” said Elizabeth, who survived,
and will celebrate her 80th birthday in October. “Whatever
she did, it helped.”
Elizabeth remembers her mother as a devout woman. She prayed a
lot. And by some miracle, no gangrene set in.
One of the mother’s biggest fears was that her daughter’s
arms would have to be amputated. And then how would the little girl
be able to live, especially after the time when the mother herself
would die and the armless girl would be by herself?!
Anguishing over this decision, Katherina decided she would try
everything in order to save her little girl’s arms.
Someone brought a newspaper clipping which told about how a man
had frozen his feet and what was done to save his feet. According
to the article, the people had mixed fresh butter made from cream
(it was important not to wash the butter out with water) together
with a whole egg and Z.M.O. Oil, which the Georges bought at the
Ashley drug store. The salve made from those ingredients was then
put on Elizabeth’s hands and arms, which were kept bound with
clean cloth at all times.
Elizabeth remembers they put the salve on here twice a day, in
the mornings and evenings. It was not an easy solution. It took
a lot of butter and eggs. And to find sufficient eggs in the winter-time
was difficult when the chickens didn’t lay very much.
But the Georges somehow managed. Neighbors also helped a lot. Said
Elizabeth: “They were only too glad to save my arms.”
Everyone was gentle with brave little Elizabeth. The teacher felt
so bad that she sat on the school’s steps and wept, Elizabeth
was told later.
As was expected, the young girl’s recovery was long and grueling.
Not able to walk, Elizabeth was gently carried about the small house
for the rest of the winter and early spring. She remembers being
carried to the windows so that she could laugh at the little calves
walking and see the new, green grass.
“They carried me around just like a little kid,” Elizabeth
says lovingly of her parents, brothers, and sisters. As she gradually
regained her strength, Elizabeth had to learn how to walk again.
The healing took a surprising direction.
Slowly, small bits of red flesh began to appear on Elizabeth’s
arms and hands. This was followed by the skin. Eventually her arms
were completely healed along with her hands, except for the later
remaining somewhat stunted.
In Elizabeth’s case, a mother’s perseverance had won.
Unfortunately, the mother was not as successful with her young son,
Phillip, who had rescued the girls during the blizzard.
When Phillip was 19 and was plowing with horses, a bolt on the
plow came loose. He tightened it with a wrench, but then the wrench
slipped, hitting him on the knee. It seemed like just a harmless
accident. Phillip merely rubbed it, and resumed his plowing.
But a painful lump developed, and Phillip’s parents took
him to Bismarck to have specialists there treat it.
The doctor’s there were over-zealous in researching the structure
of the bone marrow, Elizabeth believes, because they needlessly
chiseled a hole into her brother’s bone. After covering the
hole with the original bone, the hole became infected.
It filled with pus and blood poison spread throughout Phillip’s
body. He suffered a lot, recalls Elizabeth. The flesh on his leg
swelled up, and he couldn’t straighten it.
Katherina tried to keep the leg clean at all times, but since it
was infected from within, there was little she could do.
To this day, Elizabeth is convinced that if the doctors had just
left the bone alone, Phillip would have been alright. The accident
happened in the spring and he died in July.
Two additional tragedies confronted the Georges. Katherina became
ill and so the children took on extra duties to help the parents.
It was Emmanuel’s custom to take a load of wheat to the Kulm
Mill and then bring 1,000 lbs. of flour home. When he brought the
supply home, the flour bags were stored in the pantry.
“On this particular day, I helped Dad take the flour in,”
said Elizabeth. “He carried the 100-lb. bags and I carried
the 50-lb. bags.”
During the process, a 100-lb. bag fell on Elizabeth. It injured
her, but she didn’t think too much of it.
Not too many days after the accident, Elizabeth’s mother
died. During all of the unsettling events that followed Elizabeth
made no mention of the persistent pain in her left side.
It was not until some time later that Selma Strobel and Selma Wagner
form neighboring farms who periodically visited the George home
to help out in various ways, noticed that something was wrong with
“Emmanuel,” they told the father, “you have to
take Elizabeth to the doctor.”
By the time, the young Elizabeth was in great pain.
“My father took me to a Mrs. Volk, who lived in Wishek. I
don’t member her first name,” recalls Elizabeth. “Many
people went to her. ‘Your kidney is out of place,’ she
said. She massaged it and pushed it back.”
Volk insisted that Elizabeth wear a band tightly bound across her
waist. “It’ll keep your kidney from going out again,”
She wore the band a little more than a year. That was in 1918.
She has had no further troubles with it since that time.
Accidents and illnesses took their pitiless toll upon the early
pioneers of McIntosh County. But like the George family, many survived
by sheer determination, intelligent home remedies, and a belief,
that somehow, with God’s help, they would succeed.