Flashback Friday: Winter on the Range

“Really, these blizzards have brought on so many brainstorms that we just don’t know whether we want to be architects, authors or admired clothes designers. We are so ambitious that we are just bustin’ to be all three."

As cold and snow descend on the country, it is hard to imagine a time when modern conveniences were unavailable. For example, during the winter of 1944, a mix of mud and floods paired with a series of severe snowstorms crushed the community of Opal, South Dakota. Road closures forced local residents into survival mode, including schoolteacher sisters Margaret (“Muggs”) Swenson and Clarice (“Kay”) Swenson Weiss. To make matters worse, just before the first blizzard cut off their contact with the outside world for nearly ninety days, Kay had received a telegram that her husband Glen was reported missing in action in Germany.

Despite these harrowing events, the women remained remarkably upbeat during the ordeal. They occupied their time as “prisoners of the snow” by writing letters to their sister Juliet (“Judy”) Swenson, even though mail delivery was delayed. “Really, these blizzards have brought on so many brainstorms that we just don’t know whether we want to be architects, authors or admired clothes designers. We are so ambitious that we are just bustin’ to be all three,” Muggs wrote. “Perchance all the dreams will melt and flow with the spring thaw but we’ve had our fun dreaming.”

Following the rediscovery of these letters in 2006, the sisters became authors afterall. You can read their entire story, “Winter on the Range: The Blizzards of 1944 in the Letters of Margaret Swenson and Clarice Swenson Weiss,” edited by Peggy Froehlich, featured in South Dakota History, Summer 2011. As their captivating and often comical correspondence reveals, hope is a light at the end of a snowplow.

kayandfather.jpg

(Above) Wearing her “polaroids” and layers of winter clothing, Kay helps her father John with chores, including shoveling a path (Top) to her horse Cuss during the sisters’ stay at the Swenson ranch in March of 1944. Photos courtesy Peggy Froelich.