Great Plains Hailstorms

“Of all the Great Plains storms, hailstorms were the worst. Elizabeth Dixon Smith endured one on July 8, 1847. “To day we had the dredfulest hail storm that I ever witnessed … [I)t tore some of their waggon covers off broke some bows [the curving wooden stays that hold up the canvas covers] and made horses and oxon run a way.” Near the South Platte crossing on June 20, 1849, William Swain’s party was pounded by hailstones “the size of a walnut to that of a goose egg [original italics].” The terrified livestock, cut to bleeding and “writhing with the pain inflicted by the strokes of the hail,” reared and spun in their traces, upsetting wagons and breaking tongues and wheels. People hid under wagons or grabbed saddles, pails, or kettles for shelter. When the bombing ended, all gathered around to compare their “sundry bruised and gashed heads, black eyes, pounded and swollen backs, shoulders, and arms, which with a little attention from the doctor and some liniment soon became sound.” Laughter spread with the emerging sun. ‘”No great evil without some good’ was our motto,” Swain wrote, “so we filled our pails and kettles with hail and had ice water the rest of the day, a luxury we little expected on this route.”