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Reflection on The Children’s Blizzard

Laskin’s book, “The Children’s Blizzard,” supports the idea that the settlement of the Great Plains was a 140-year-old failed scheme by elaborating on how those who settled in the prairies struggled to survive from generation to generation. Laskin narrates the stories of several families who immigrated from Europe and how their lives would be changed for the worse, and their hopes crashed because of having false expectations. Most of the settlers were enticed by the promise of owning free land. They knew visiting the area would quench their thirst for land, freedom, and hope. [1] They believed that the soil was black and rich; thus, they would make their first harvest shortly after their arrival. They were also assured of favorable weather conditions with plenty of rain; the snow was light and could melt quickly, while the winters were bright and bracing.[2] Unfortunately, the meteorological catastrophe blighted the Great Plains region of the United States, thus killing hundreds of people.

“The Children blizzard” is a non-fictional story that details the unfortunate events of the infamous blizzards, dust storms, drought, and invasion by grasshoppers, thus wreaking havoc and threatening human existence in the prairies. About 16.5 million settlers immigrated to America from Europe between 1850 and 1900.[3] Laskin relies on a hundred accounts, memoirs, and interviews to create a picture of men, women, and their children and how they suffered from that blizzard.

For instance, Gro and Ole are a Norwegian couple who had just wedded and were interested in having a honeymoon in America. Other reasons enticed them to leave Norway for America: they left Tinn because the fields of the Rollag were becoming smaller with time. After all, each generation had to be given a share, and they preferred a place with extensive land, which they would give their children as an inheritance. A fisherman named Lars Stavig also moved to America to escape poverty. Schweizer’s and Low Germans alike had been lured to America by the promise to own land, speak German in school and church, exemption from military service, and religious freedom.[4] Laskin compares the expectations of each family to their reality which helps in answering the prompt. Everyone had high hopes before they left Europe, but their testimony after living in the prairies proves otherwise.

One of the shocking encounters the settlers faced as they traveled to the prairies was the lack of an efficient transportation network. The land was also not free as they had thought initially. The majority had to purchase the land. They also had to make houses using the available sods. The sod houses leaked when it rained; thus, people did not have proper homes.[5] However, such challenges cannot be compared to what was to come. All the promises and investments did not materialize as the storms, and other natural calamities led to floods and drought.

For instance, Anna and Johann Kaufmann suffered through the first winter in Dakota. There was a low food supply, and their son Johann grew thinner. Sometimes the family only relied on burnt flour soup—flour scorched in a pan mixed with pepper, salt, and water.[6] The spring that followed was unbearable for many since they would not travel because of the flooding. The floods of July 1881 resulting from the sudden late spring melted until James River looked like a giant lake.[7]With such floods in South Dakota, it would be daunting to till the land. As if that was not enough, the settlers had to deal with fire, grasshoppers, and adverse weather conditions. A prairie fire swept the Schweizer settlement. Only the Kaufmanns and their neighbors in Rosefield managed to escape with their belongings. The Sod houses were all burnt; the lumber they had purchased from Yankton was blazed in the fire while all the trunks hauled from Ukraine were also burnt and lost.[8] The grasshoppers ate all the corn, which was a devastating time for the struggling families, yet some could not return to their homeland because they had already burned the bridges and were destined to live in the prairies. The weather conditions in the prairies were also unbearable.

On January 7, 1873, the settlers witnessed their first bad blizzard, which caused the death of seventy people in Minnesota.[9] About five thousand dollars was appropriated for the relief of storm victims. Two more blizzards occurred between January and April, thus wreaking havoc. Meanwhile, the snow was whirling and piling up to 62 feet high. [10] In January 1881, there were more blizzards, and the snow was deeper, forcing the train services to suspend all their regional operations. There was little harvest and little supply of food in the region.[11] The worst experience was perhaps on January 28, 1887, when millions of cattle died because of the blowing snow and arctic temperatures.[12] The people given the responsibility to educate the settlers about the weather conditions in advance failed terribly.

Despite having the expertise and experience in dealing with weather forecasting. In particular, Woodruff contributed to the blizzard tragedy of January 12, 1888. He did not help Payne to use the existing network and set up twenty new stations to warn people about the heavy snow and cold wave.[13] More people died in that blizzard, there were no harvests, and the setters realized that the place they lived was not a free land. They lost everything due to natural calamities, and nothing would have prepared them for the unfortunate events. The droughts, tornados, dust storms, and incredible cold fronts that American settlers faced.

The author has provided all these accounts to support the assertion that the settlement of the Great Plains was a 140-year-old failed scheme. Consequently, Americans should consider establishing settlements in other areas because the Great Plains are inhabitable, and none of the financial investments will help solve the problems. Some natural calamities, like the storm, are difficult to deal with.


Laskin believes that the idea of settling immigrants in the Great Plains for more than 140 years is a failed scheme because none of the promises was fulfilled, and natural calamities halted all attempts to make the prairies inhabitable. Settlers suffered more throughout the seasons. The rapid fires burned their houses, and their land was flooded with excess water from melting snow. The dust storms led to the death of more people. None of the investments would help the settlers in the great prairies.


Laskin, David. The children’s blizzard. HarperCollins e-books, 2009.

[1] Laskin, David. The children’s blizzard. Zondervan, 2009. p.9

[2] Ibid, p.9

[3] Ibid, P.10

[4] Laskin, David. The children’s blizzard. Zondervan, 2009. p.14

[5] Ibid, p.35

[6] Ibid, p.36

[7] Ibid, P. 45

[8] Laskin, David. The children’s blizzard. Zondervan, 2009. p.51

[9] Ibid, p.57

[10] Ibid, p. 58

[11] Ibid, p. 60

[12] Ibid, p.62

[13] Ibid, p. 104


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