Hazel Miner. Courtesy: Center (N.D.) Republican.
April 11, 1904|
Sanger, Oliver County, North Dakota
|Died||March 16, 1920
Center, North Dakota
|Occupation||One-room school student|
|Parents||William Miner and Blanche Miner|
Hazel Dulcie Miner (April 11, 1904 - March 16, 1920), the daughter of a North Dakota farmer and a student at a one-room school, died saving her 10-year-old brother, Emmet, and 8-year-old sister, Myrdith, during a spring blizzard in Center, Oliver County, North Dakota.
After her death, she became a national heroine. Her actions have been celebrated in a folk ballad and in newspaper and magazine articles for nearly 90 years.
Death in a blizzard
Hazel was the daughter of William Miner, a farmer, and his wife Blanche. "Kind of a quiet girl she was," recalled the county registrar of deeds, whose daughter had played with Hazel. "Sort of motherly, for one so young." Her father considered her highly dependable. Her obituary described her as "quiet and loving," with a "sunny, cheerful nature" and having a liking for children. She was an eighth-grader at a one-room school and had planned to start high school in Bismarck, North Dakota that fall.
On March 15, 1920, the first day of the blizzard, the school let out early to enable the students to go home before the storm hit. Many of the students, like the Miner children, were used to driving back and forth to school with a horse and buggy, but the school teacher had a rule that no child was permitted to drive home in bad weather without permission from a parent. William Miner, who was worried about the blizzard conditions, rode the two miles to the school on a saddle horse to escort his children home. At about one o'clock, he hitched their horse, "Old Maude," up to their light sleigh and told Hazel to wait while he went back to the school's barn to get his horse. Hazel wasn't strong enough to keep the horse from heading out into the blizzard before her father came back from the barn. William Miner searched for his children, but soon realized they must have gotten lost and went home to organize a search party. All throughout the countryside, farm families manned phone lines, summoning men to join the search for the missing Miner children. Even though she was familiar with the road, Hazel quickly became disoriented due to the blinding white snow, which made it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of her. A warm coat, hat, gloves and sturdy, one-buckle overshoes were not enough to keep her hands and feet from becoming numb in the freezing temperatures. When the sled hit a coulee, Hazel slid from the sled into waist-deep, mushy snow. She said, "Oh, my! I am wet clear to the waist and my shoes are full of water," her brother recalled later. The harness slipped and she had to readjust it. Soaking wet, freezing, and exhausted, Hazel led the horse forward into the swirling white snow, only to discover she had lost sight of the road. There were few landmarks on the prairie to guide them.
The children continued on, growing more tired and cold. Then the sled again hit an obstruction and tipped over, throwing Hazel over the dashboard into the snow. Hazel, Emmet, and Myrdith tried to push the sled upright, but were not strong enough, even with all of them pushing. Using the overturned sled as a shelter, Hazel spread two blankets, told Emmet and Myrdith to lie down, and placed a third blanket atop them. The children tried to keep moving to stay warm. Hazel huddled beside her brother and sister, warming them with her body heat, and told them stories to keep them awake. They sang all four verses of "America the Beautiful," a song they had sung during opening exercises at the country school that morning, and said the Lord's Prayer. Hazel told her siblings again and again, "Remember, you mustn't go to sleep—even if I do. Promise me you won't, no matter how sleepy you get. Keep each other awake! Promise?" Her brother and sister promised. All night long, the children could hear a dog barking, but no one came. As the night wore on, Hazel talked less and less, until she finally became silent.
Her brother Emmet later recalled the blizzard for an article in the March 15, 1963 Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune:
The robe kept blowing down and Hazel kept pulling it up until she got so she couldn't put it up any more. Then she covered us up with the robe and lay down on top of it. I told Hazel to get under the covers too, but she said she had to keep us children warm, and she wouldn't do it ... I tried to get out to put the cover over Hazel, but I could not move because she was lying on the cover. The snow would get in around our feet, we couldn't move them, then Hazel would break the crust for us. After awhile she could not break the crust anymore, she just lay still and groaned. I thought she must be dead, then I kept talking to Myrdith so she wouldn't go to sleep.
A search party of more than thirty men looked desperately for the children throughout the afternoon and evening. They had to give up when it grew dark, but set out again the next morning. When they finally found the children, it was two o'clock on March 16, twenty-five hours since the children had first set out from the school house. The overturned sled, with the horse still hitched up to it, was resting in a coulee two miles south of the school. "With breathless haste we harried to the rig and will never forget the sight that met our eyes," said one of the men. The searchers found the rigid Hazel lying over her siblings, covering them with her body. Her coat, which she had unbuttoned, was spread over the bodies of the two younger children and her arms were stretched out over them. Beneath her, still alive, were Emmet and Myrdith. "Maude," the gentle horse, was standing patiently beside the overturned sled, also still alive. If the horse had moved, the three children would have been tipped into the snow.
They took the three children to the home of William Starck, a neighbor, and cared for them "tenderly". Starck's daughter, Anna Starck Benjamin, who was 4½ at the time, remembered "the sound of Hazel's outstretched arms as they brushed against the furniture as they brought her into the house, and took her into my parents' bedroom. The crackling sound as that of frozen laundry brought in off the clothes line in winter. Then I remember the crying, so much crying." They worked over Hazel for hours, trying to revive her, but there was no hope. Hazel's mother, Blanche, was brought to the Starck house when they found the children and sat in a chair, rocking and rocking, while they tended to the three children. Throughout the long night when the children were missing, she had been kept company by neighbors. At one point, she drifted off, and said later that her daughter had come to her in a dream. In the dream, Hazel said, "I was cold, Mama, but I'm not anymore."
At Hazel's funeral, the minister preached a sermon from John 15:13: "Greater love hath no man that he lay down his life for his friend," and said, "Here and there are occasionally people who by their acts and lives endeavor to imitate Him."
Hazel was one of 34 people who died during the blizzard, which lasted three days.
Hazel became a posthumous heroine after her story became known. On January 15, 1921, an article in The North Dakota Children's Home Finder appeared about how "this guardian angel of the prairies, covered with a thick sheet of ice, gave up her own life to save her brother and sister."  The North Dakota Children's Home Society wanted to use publicity about Hazel's story to raise money to build an orphanage for children in the state. A memorial committee was established in Center and talked of naming a new hospital in Hazel's honor, but some months later her parents said they wanted a memorial statue erected instead. Children across the state collected money to pay for a memorial.
Emmet and Myrdith were interviewed by various North Dakota newspapers numerous times in the years following the blizzard and many news articles have been written about Hazel. The story eventually attracted national attention. In 1952 the Ford Motor Company commissioned two paintings of scenes from the story by North Dakota artist Elmer Halvorson. The paintings and an article about Hazel Miner were published in the February 1953 edition of the Ford Times.
In recent years, a folk ballad entitled The Story of Hazel Miner was written by folk artist Chuck Suchy of Mandan, North Dakota. The song was recorded on Suchy's Much to Share (1986) cassette and on his Dancing Dakota (1989) cassette. In the song, recalling Hazel's outstretched arms, Suchy sings of "wings on the snow, a fate not chose, morning finds a dove so froze." But "in warmth below, her love survived."
The May 30, 2002 centennial issue of the Center (N.D.) Republican featured a story about "Hazel Miner, Angel of the Prairies." The story was also recounted in Joe Wheeler's 2002 anthology Everyday Heroes: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Made a Difference (Forged in the Fire).
A Gothic-style granite monument honoring Hazel's memory was erected in front of the Oliver County Courthouse in 1936, sixteen years after her death, by former North Dakota governor L. B. Hanna. The stone reads "In memory of Hazel Miner. To the dead a tribute, to the living a memory, to posterity an inspiration." Hazel's grave can be found in the Center Community Cemetery in Oliver County.
Today the story of Hazel and her actions during the 1920 blizzard are also studied by some students in North Dakota as part of a North Dakota history class.
- Josephine Robertson, "Stranger, Read It!" Ford Times, February 1953, pp. 24-27
- Wheeler, Joe, Everyday Heroes: Inspiring Stories of Ordinary People Who Made A Difference (Forged in Fire),WaterBrook Press, 2002, p. 124, ISBN 1-57856-322-4
- Gullickson, Lucille, "Hazel Miner, Angel of the Prairies," Center (N.D.) Republican, May 30, 2002
- Robertson, pp. 24-27
- Wheeler, p. 124
- "Lost in Blizzard:The children of William Miner Lost in Storm on Way From School," The Center (N.D.) Republican, March 18, 1920
- Wheeler, p. 128, ISBN 1-57856-322-4
- Henke, Warren A. and Albers, Everett G., editors, The Legacy of North Dakota's Country Schools, North Dakota Humanities Council, 1998, ISBN 0-9654579-1-5, p. 265
- Wheeler, p. 129
- Nemenoff, Ben. "Halvorson, Elmer Halfdon". "North Dakota Council on the Arts Online Artist Archive". Archived from the original on 2006-05-06. Retrieved February 10, 2007.
- Suchy, Chuck, "The Story of Hazel Miner," Dakota Breezes, Flying Fish Records, 1991
- Wheeler, Joe. Everyday Heroes: Ordinary People Who Made A Difference (Forged in Fire), WaterBrook Press, 2002, ISBN 1-57856-322-4
- State Historical Society of North Dakota. "Unit 7: Set 5: Floods & Blizzards - Hazel Miner". The Primary Sources in North Dakota: Introduction. Retrieved April 24, 2010.
- Gullickson, Lucille, "Hazel Miner, Angel of the Prairies," Center (N.D.) Republican, May 30, 2002.
- Henke, Warren A. and Albers, Everett G., editors, The Legacy of North Dakota's Country Schools, North Dakota Humanities Council, 1998, ISBN 0-9654579-1-5
- Jackson, William, The Best of Dakota Mysteries and Oddities, Valley Star Books, Inc., 2003, ISBN 0-9677349-5-9
- Rezatto, Helen, "Girl Against a Blizzard" Readers Digest, March 1962,
- Robertson, Josephine, "Stranger, Read It!" Ford Times, February 1953, pp. 24–27.
- Suchy, Chuck. "The Story of Hazel Miner," Dakota Breezes, Flying Fish Records, 1991.
- Wheeler, Joe, Everyday Heroes: Ordinary People Who Made A Difference (Forged in Fire), WaterBrook Press, 2002, ISBN 1-57856-322-4