The Blizzard of i886
and Its Effect on the Range Cattle Industry
in the Southern Plains
DAVID L. WHEELER*
THE SEASONABLY MILD WEATHER ON WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6, 1886,
came as welcome relief to the young people preparing for a dance
that evening at the Merchant's Hotel in Larned, Kansas. In the after-
math of the season's first storm on January 2, the weather was "settled"
now, even "pleasant" with a soft, southerly breeze. If an angry cloud
was seen scowling on the northern horizon no one made note of it in
anticipation of the evening's revelry. The dance was in full swing when,
around 9 P.M., the breeze shifted to the northwest, accelerated in ve-
locity, and filled the air with snow. No one paid attention. By midnight,
when the dance ended, snow drifts closed the streets. Swirling snow
blinded the eyes and filled the lungs of those who dared to leave. The
dance-goers had no alternative but to remain in the hotel for the night.
Not until midday on January 7, during a respite in the storm, did any-
one venture from the hotel, through enormous drifts, to the compara-
tive safety of home.'
The storm stranding dancers in Larned, Kansas, began as cold, dry
air settling on frozen land between the Canadian Rockies and Hudson
Bay. Devoid of moisture and heavy, the air gripped the earth's surface,
accumulating in a high pressure mass of "noteworthy" proportions be-
fore spilling out and flowing over the frozen ground. The overflow
moved with inexorable force toward a low pressure system forming
over the lower Rio Grande Valley." A powerful stream of air aloft inten-
* David L Wheeler is dean of the Graduate School and professor of geography at Ball State
University, Muncie, Indiana The research for this study was made possible by grants from Ball
State Umversity and the National Endowment for the Humanities 'Travel to Collections Pro-
gram. The assistance of David J Murrah, Director, Southwest Collection, who offered sugges-
tions on the manuscript, and Mr and Mrs H R Fulton, Jr , Canyon, lexas, is gratefully ac-
knowledged. An abbreviated account of this research was presented at the annual meeting of
the Texas State Historical Association on March 4, 1989
' Chonosrcope (Lai ned), Jan 9, 1936, O P Beyers, "Personal Recollections of the terrific Bliz-
zard of 1886," in George W Martin (cd ), Collections Kansa, State lIstoirwal Society, 1911-191g2,
XII ('lbpeka- State Printing O()fhce, 1912), 11o (ist and 2nd quotations); I~Iigalor ((;arden
City), Jan. 16, 1886; Choono.ope (Larned), Jan. 9, 1936.
2 Monthly Weathei Review (Washington City: Signal Ofhce, Jan., 1886), 4.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/. Accessed July 24, 2014.