Chickens and Snow Storms in 1940s Bremer County
Bremer County, Iowa
In 1996 Robert Dunleavy remembered the November 11, 1940, winter storm known across the Midwest as the Armistice Day Blizzard. But rather than recall the suddenness of the drop in temperature that day, a holiday, that caught so many off guard, Dunleavy remembered the chickens. “I was in eighth grade at the time, and the teacher let about five or six of us older boys out of classes to help catch Charlie Besh’s chickens. They had roosted in the pine trees for shelter from the storm but probably would have frozen to death if we hadn’t been let out to save them. There were probably over 100 confused chickens and we were just grabbing for them and taking armload after armload back to the nearby chicken house.”
Chickens weren’t the only animals whose plight that day remained in Dunleavy’s memory. “When I got home from school,” he explained, “the horses must have been just as confused as Besh’s chickens were. They were still out in the pasture and didn’t want to come in. We had a hard time trying to drive them into the barn for protection. They were so cold that they didn’t want to turn around to come in; they just wanted to stand out in the pasture with their back to the winds!”
Cindy Struck Wille remembered a 1947 Memorial Day snowstorm, when she was interviewed in 1996. “Before the storm, trees were budded out and spring was definitely on its way,” as a person might expect on this holiday at the end of May. At the time Wille worked on Prestien’s chicken farm, an extensive operation with six brooder houses, a hatchery, and an egg packing process in the basement. In late May the “brooder stoves had already been taken out of the houses and the chickens were more than half grown.” This winter storm and sudden drop in temperature, well into spring, was such a shock to the young chickens that many died. Wille remembered picking up gunny sacks full of the dead birds throughout the brooder houses. Large numbers of the creatures died in the houses and lay in heaps in the corners of the room. Others later died from complications derived from the cold weather. Outside, tree limbs were down everywhere and snow blocked the entrances to buildings. A lot of cleaning and clearing was necessary just to get to the buildings.
Ruby Farris remembered a calming rather than a tragic story. Her grandfather had told her, she recalled, that native people had wintered together in the Denver Hills as a protection against Iowa’s cruel winters.
Source: SHSI: Turning Memories into Memoirs: Assembling the Denver, Iowa Area History, compiled and written by Diane Johnson and Kemalyn Scott, 1996; on-line: image: Purely Poultry.