The Small Town: Center, North Dakota, Population – 571 (2010)
The Claim to Fame: The Story of Hazel Miner
Almost 100 years ago, an early spring blizzard hit North Dakota, leaving more than 30 dead in it’s wake, and one sad and tender story about a 15 year old schoolgirl named Hazel Miner. A story that was to be celebrated in words and song for decades to come.
They didn’t have early warning radar in 1920, but word got out that a storm was coming and so the school let the children leave early for home. These were the days of horse and buggy so 15 year old Hazel loaded her two younger sibling, 10-year-old brother Emmet and 8-year-old sister Myrdith, into the buggy and headed for home.
Most of you reading this can attest to just how quickly these spring blizzards can move in. The trio was only about half way home when the visibility was suddenly zero and the horse wandered off the road and they lost their way. At some point, as they roamed aimlessly through the open prairie, the buggy tipped over as it caught the edge of a coulee and spilled Hazel and the children into the cold wet snow. Attempts to right the buggy were in vain and Hazel knew that the safest thing to do was stay where they were and wait for help. It was to be a very long wait.
Panic stricken parents and neighbors formed a search party, but as night fell, with the storm still raging, they had to abandon their search until daylight.
Back at the buggy, Hazel huddled with the children as best she could to protect them against the storm, singing songs and telling stories, but the cold and the snow crept in and Hazel was forced to open her coat to spread it out over the children. As the night wore on, the songs grew quieter and the stories less frequent. Sometime, in the middle of a long night, all was quiet.
Early the next morning, the search party set out again. At some point a shout arose from the group and someone pointed to the overturned buggy, half covered by snow. As they arrived at the scene, their worst fears were realized when they saw Hazel’s frozen and lifeless body, half buried in the snow and ice, her open coat still spread over the children like a mother bird’s wings over her young ones. Suddenly, the sad silence was interrupted by the muffled sounds of a small voice. They pulled Hazel’s body away and, much to everyone’s surprise, Emmet and Myrdith were still very much alive!
Efforts to save Hazel proved futile, but the children recovered and went on to tell the story of their loving sister and her selfless act for years to come.