Area snowstorms were a very real danger

Don McAlavy

I write this column as the snow is falling. The last few snows in this area can’t compare to the snows we had in the 1950s and especially in the winter of 1923.
Old-timer Haney Tate was telling me about three kids being frozen to death just west of Grady in 1923. We didn’t have weather reports on TV back then and for most people those blizzards and other storms just snuck up on us.
Eleven inches of snow fell in Clovis two days before Thanksgiving in 1923. Then the big blizzard took east-central New Mexico and the southern Panhandle of Texas by surprise on Dec. 9, 1923. The snow was accompanied by strong winds, which piled it into huge drifts blocking the roads until they were impassable.
The blizzard hit the area about Belen before it got to us. Word finally leaked into Clovis that five members of the Montoya family in the rural area near Belen froze to death gathering wood in a two-horse wagon. Also, Vaughn’s Juan Marcillo froze to death trying to hold sheep together in the storm.
Closer to home were the deaths of two boys, ages 4 and 9, eight miles southeast of Friona. They were the sons of Jessie Cantrell. The mother had gone to a neighbor on an errand a few hundred yards away, leaving her three sons alone.
Apparently the fire in the stove caught a down draft of strong winds and the stove door flew open, scattering coals onto the wood floor. The boys, fearing the house was going to burn down, started out in the storm to find their mother. They immediately became confused in the blinding storm and lost their way.
They came upon an old schoolhouse about a half mile away. Seven hours later, a search party found them in the school building. Louis and Jessie frozen to death. A 6-year-old boy, the only one of the three wearing a coat, was alive.
More tragic deaths occurred between Hassell and Taiban when a young woman and her baby tried to get to Taiban by horse and buggy and got caught in the blizzard.
A week later, searchers found Gladys Dancy and her 3-year-old daughter Beulah Marie frozen to death not too far from the overturned buggy, apparently trying to make it on foot holding her baby in her arms.
Several others barely escaped death. Up near Tucumcari, Tom Jennings was delivering a wagonload of maize when he got caught in the blizzard. He was compelled to burn his wagon to keep from freezing to death.
A couple traveling north of Roswell spent a night of the blizzard in their car on the prairie. The man managed to keep them warm by cutting up and burning a spare tire, a small piece at a time in a tin bucket. Elvira Martin had two toes frozen.
M. A. Crum, a real estate dealer of Friona, was caught in the big snowstorm at House. He attempted to start to Taiban, the nearest railroad point, in a car with the mail carrier, but they soon were stuck in the snow. They walked on into Taiban, a distance of 16 miles. Crum said it was about the longest 16 miles he ever passed over.
Haney Tate told me about the three school kids at Grady. The school bus (a truck with solid rubber tires) had left Grady when school let out heading west.
The blizzard became fierce. Three kids were let off to walk down a dirt road a mile to their home. Snow drifts made the road impassable. The kids could not see where they were going and several days later were found frozen to death.
The 1923 weather broke many records with 38.53 inches of moisture, a lot of it from snow. Most of the wheat farmers in 1924 made bumper crops.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian.