Victor Swallow. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Victor Swallow: Remembering the 1949 blizzard on the Pine Ridge Reservation

Remembering the blizzard of 1949

By Victor D. Swallow
Native Sun News Today Columnist

We are in the holiday season where families make a point to get together and spend time together and eat. This makes me think of old times when food wasn’t always plentiful like during the 1949 Blizzard. Looking back prior to the 1949 blizzard we lived about 6 miles from Redshirt village which had a school.

World War II was going on and the funding for bus service was stopped. Gas was being rationed and my older sister Margaret who was 10, my brother John Jr. was 9 and I was 6 years old. People were struggling just to live. We all went to Pine Ridge Boarding School for 2 years 1945-1947. In 1947 a new school was started at the Redshirt village it was an Adventist School.

Finally the war was over and people were starting to get ahead. My father rented Charlie Steel’s house in Redshirt Village for 10 dollars a month and we lived there for 2 years only during the school year and went to school. During the summer, we would move back on the table and plant a garden we would harvest and mother canned the produce.

In 1948, father bought a new 1947 jeep called Willy’s Overland it was a demonstrator it looked like an army jeep. Father had a two-wheel trailer he used to get wood. He stocked piled wood high at Charlie’s house for the winter. He was always thinking ahead.

During the winter of 1949 it snowed for four days straight with high wind and we were still living at Charlie Steel’s house. After it stopped snowing on the Southside of the house the drift went all the way to the roof. We were stranded. I remember we had to shovel everywhere. Shovel a path to the outhouse and around the wood pile. We had to melt snow for many days because the hydrant was under snow. I often wondered how some of the families did on wood.

I can remember two of my uncles Ed Two Bulls and Ed Fast Wolf had real big wood piles. I know in the weeks after the storm a cargo plane flew real low and dropped food within walking distance for the community. We made it to where they dropped the food the whole community was digging through the snow. We all were there picking through the food. Everyone was mindful of one another’s family size and no one family got more than the others.

My parents had a cellar full of canned stuff and other garden produce on Redshirt table but we were stranded in Redshirt village and no way to get to it. The others in Redshirt village had gardens and cellars so I think they were able to get to their canned food. I remember father put chains on the tires of the jeep and he could get around hitting the high spots. From the village down the river east there were a lot of dead cattle. Some of the cattle they didn’t find until spring when all the snow melted. The Cattlemen’s Association lost a lot of cattle.


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Remembering the blizzard of 1949
Victor D. Swallow, Oglala Lakota, was born in 1939. He is a U. S. Navy Veteran and a 50-year member of Bricklayers Union. Optimistic, realist and fair, Victor can be reached at his daughter’s email address at

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