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Beware of Long Hollow

Dec 21, 2016

Three historic markers atop the hollow on Highway 10 tell the stories of tragedies that occurred there. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.

Cold, wind and snow are not strangers to South Dakotans. But the hardy residents of northeast South Dakota are especially well acquainted with bad weather. A high place in Roberts County holds special notoriety for chilly weather and chilling winter stories.

The town of Sisseton is 1,203 feet above sea level. But the top of Long Hollow, 4 miles west, is hundreds of feet higher. In the summer, that elevation is a blessing. “It can be ten degrees cooler than down below in town with a nice breeze,” Joe Schuch, a retired extension agent and a longtime observer of Long Hollow’s weather phenomenon, once told us. “The problem is that in the winter it is that much cooler, and you aren’t quite so happy with the breeze.”

Clayton Week, a local farmer who is now deceased, told us a story back in 2002 that showed why area residents are watchful of the hollow in winter. In 1937 he and a cousin, Charlie Almos, almost died there.

“Our families lived about 10 miles west of Sisseton, and because it was so far to town Charlie and I batched it,” he said. “We lived upstairs on our own in a house in town for two years so we could attend high school.”

Throughout the winter, snow accumulated over Highway 10 and travel was nearly impossible. When the sun broke out on a Friday afternoon, the boys decided to walk home because they hadn’t seen their families in weeks. They began walking up the long prairie incline, noticing that only a couple of feet of telephone poles were peeking up from the snow. “When we got to the top of the hill, it started to get dark. That’s when the wind hit. It was terrible,” Week recalled.

They couldn’t see, could barely walk in the wind, and were freezing. Almos tried to convince Clayton to sit down and rest. “No,” his cousin replied. “We’re not sitting down.” They continued to slowly make their way through the hollow, prodding each other along and refusing to let the other stop.

“You get to the point where you lose your common sense and you don’t really know right from wrong,” Week said. “If either of us would have been alone he would have probably laid down and rested and that would have been the end.”       

As the cousins stumbled through the snow, they began to wonder if they would escape the hollow. The snow stung their faces, and their limbs began to feel heavy and numb. The wind was strong enough to suck the air from their lungs, and they didn’t see any landmarks except those telephone pole tops. Finally they saw the Tobias Herigstad farm in the distance and staggered to the front door. Tobias and his wife Bertha rushed the boys indoors and fed them a warm meal.

The cousins were lucky that winter night. Others caught in Long Hollow storms weren’t so fortunate. The saddest story we’ve heard from the area happened on Jan. 6, 1903. Knut Throndson and his two daughters, Theoline, 13, and Menne, 15, took a horse and sleigh across the hollow to visit the Herigstads. When they left it was a warm, sunny winter day. But when they returned in the late afternoon, the sky became dark, the wind rose and suddenly they enveloped in a full-fledged blizzard.

Disoriented by the poor visibility, they veered off their usual path. The sled hit a boulder and broke. Throndson was a tough Norwegian who had immigrated to the area 11 years earlier. He unhitched the horse and instructed the girls to hold on to the horse’s tail as he navigated through the blizzard to their farmhouse. But when he arrived home, he found both girls missing. He retraced his voyage all the way back to the Herigstad farm, and then he and Tobias searched all night for the girls. Their frozen bodies were found at sunrise less than 400 yards from Herigstad’s house.

Other tragedies from the hollow have probably been lost to history. But enough have been recorded and passed down that locals know and remember the dangers of the hollow in winter.

Comments

02:06 pm - Fri, December 23 2016
nita said:
They should have hollowed out a snow bank, crawled in and waited it out. Usually a cave in the snow will keep you warm enough to survive. Eskimos knew how to do it.
07:11 pm - Fri, December 23 2016
Angela Osterman Brooks said:
my mother Tillie called the area at the edge of the hills "the storm section." many times we left our farm in Red Iron township, 2 1/2 miles north of Clear Lake, the weather was fine, maybe some drifting. when we got close to the edge of the hills it was stormy, much windier, & visibility was very poor. In 1st grade mom taught at Bosko where the Fossums attended. Until the road was impassable we went through Seiche Hallow, through Evenson's farm yard. There were stories about that so I was always scared! when winter really set in we took hwy 10 & went north. In 2nd & 3rd grade mom taught at agency school on the very edge of the hills west of Peever. I believe the winter of '52 was the really bad one. we took a road south off hwy 10 just before Long Hollow to Lohrie' station. on one occasion mom walked to the school house before the station. I went back home with Dad. We had no phones or cell phones. When that road was blocked we went through Sisseton ( where it was probably clear or even sunny), south on 81 to a road west of Peever. On one occasion our model A didn't have brakes that worked very well. The hill to the top was very steep & lots of snow, but Dad backed up & really took a run at. we almost reached the crest. The car bogged down then started rolling back. Mom & Dad both jumped out each grabbing an arm. Dad won! Jumped back in the car zig-zagging back down the hill. Mom & I walked the rest of the way that Sunday afternoon. She was disgusted that I was light enough to walk on top of the snow but she sunk knee to thigh deep in some places. We stayed in the school house all week as she didn't drive. w were snow bound for 5 weeks & couldn't get home or to town. At night we could see the lights of Sisseton, Peever, & Wilmot. Mom would say,' just think we can't get there!' When the road opened snow was so high I could only see the stars. I stayed home a week. Mom went back.

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