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ND town remembers girl who died 100 years ago shielding siblings from blizzard

Hazel Miner's sacrifice came in a sudden 1920 storm.

Miner Family Oliver County History.jpg
Hazel Miner, second from left, was one of five children of William and Blanche Miner. She is pictured here with her siblings Emmett, Howard, Zelda and Myrdith. (Courtesy of the Oliver County Historical Society, “Oliver County, 1885-1985.”)
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CENTER, N.D. — What teenager would sacrifice her own life to save those of her younger siblings? A young Oliver County, N.D., farm girl did just that during a spring blizzard 100 years ago that took her life and those of 33 others.

The story of Hazel Miner has continued to resonate through the century with the people of her hometown, including with school children who have trouble imagining the circumstances that led to Hazel's untimely demise.

“Here was an almost 16-year-old girl who sacrificed her life,” said Claudia Albers, a retired teacher who taught in the Center, N.D., school district for more than 40 years. “It was local, and it was something we could all relate to — the North Dakota winters and all — I thought our kids should know this, too.”

Each year, Albers shared Hazel Miner’s story with her sixth-grade classes, telling them of how, on March 15, 1920, William Miner went to fetch his children — Hazel, her 11-year-old brother, Emmett, and 8-year-old sister, Myrdith — from their one-room schoolhouse, to get them safely home before the storm struck in full force. He hitched the horse to the sleigh for the children and told them to wait while he went back into the schoolhouse barn to get his own horse to guide them. Before he could return, the horse pulling the sleigh took off, headed in the wrong direction.

At some point, as Hazel attempted to control the horse in whiteout conditions, the sleigh overturned in a coulee. Hazel, soaked to the skin from trying to right the sleigh, did her best to protect her younger siblings. She put two blankets down for her brother and sister to lie on, another blanket on top of them, and then laid down upon her siblings to give them the heat from her body. Her efforts saved Emmett and Myrdith, but cost Hazel her life.

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Albers' students typically found it difficult to connect with the true nature of Hazel’s and her siblings’ emergency and the challenges faced by the search parties, having grown up with modern technology and advances in clothing and transportation.

“All that was out in that jumper sleigh was blankets, and they didn’t have snow boots like we have today,” Albers said of the brutal conditions the Miner children faced. “They didn’t have external heat, all they had was what they put on their bodies.”

Even early in Albers' career, most students had warmer clothing, reliable transportation and the benefits of modern technology to rely on. There was no frame of reference for unexpected weather patterns and hitching horses to open sleighs.

“How many days have we come to school and it looks nice in the morning and they’ve had to dismiss school because the weather got so bad? They didn’t have the weather forecasts that we have,” Albers said, referring to radio and TV weather forecasts in earlier days and the multiple weather apps now available for smartphones. “And the horses, telling them about the horses being tied in the barn. They were just amazed by stuff like that.”

Hazel Miner Memorial -- Tait.jpg
A monument to Hazel Miner was erected in 1936 on the Oliver County Courthouse grounds. It is said to measure the same height as Hazel at the time of her death. Her grave in the St. Martins Cemetery west of town was marked by a headstone in 1995, the 75th anniversary of her passing. (Annette Tait, Special to Agweek)

The lessons stuck with Albers' students, prompting them to think about the differences between current times and what Hazel faced 100 years ago.

“I thought it was a little bit crazy and bold of her to do that,” said 15-year-old Cameron Albers, a former student and also a cousin of Claudia’s, of the lengths Hazel went to in order to save her siblings.

“I feel like, with the technology we have right now, that would make a big difference,” Cameron added, “like GPS could track the location, and being in a car instead of a sleigh, and having heat that she didn’t.”

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Another of Albers' former students, Eden Kindsvogel, agreed technology would have helped Hazel considerably if it had existed in her time. According to one historical account, the Miner children were within 200 feet of a farmhouse but could not see it through the blowing snow. Another stated the sleigh followed a fence that would have led the children to the farmyard gate, but the snow became too deep to continue.

“I’ve been lost before, and then I remember I have Google Maps, and oh, I can get home now,” Eden said. “But for them it was a different story — their tracks were covered up and they had nowhere to go but where they were. We can use Google Maps or wait until somebody else drives by or something. And I know if my phone dies, I can count on someone else to pull over and help me.”

Eden, now a 16-year-old high schooler, reflected on the impact of learning how Hazel sacrificed her life for her siblings.

“I just honestly think, at such a young age as she was, to put her siblings’ lives ahead of her own life was just an amazing thing to think about,” she said. “Today, people don’t put other peoples’ lives ahead of their own, but she did it anyway, knowing she might not come out of it.”

For more information:

Oliver County Historical Society

119 Lakota Avenue

(corner of Lakota & Market)

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Center, ND 58530

Hours: Memorial Day – Labor Day, Fridays, 1-5 p.m.

“Angel of the Prairie”

(Fiction based on the true story)

By Kevin Kremer

https://www.kevinkremerbooks.com/angel-of-the-prairie-download.html

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