Press photo of children being flown to hospital by local pilot.
- Sherri Mabe

Priscilla Waggoner

Towner Bus Tragedy

In 1931, a spring day started with warmer temperatures and blue skies. By day's end, a massive blizzard had paralyzed the High Plains, marooning 20 young children and their bus driver in a broken down bus in the middle of nowhere. The ordeal lasted 33 long, life changing hours, resulting in a story of that captured hearts across the nation. That story still has an impact today.

Setting the Stage for the Tale to be Told

The year was 1931. The previous decade had been like no other in the nation's history. There was great economy prosperity. A sense that the future was filled with hope as the seeds of significant social change were taking root in big cities around the country. After all, who can forget images of "flappers" and couples doing the "Charleston?"

And then, that era came to a screeching halt.

The unprecedented Stock Market Crash of '29 wiped out some family fortunes in a matter of hours. Unemployment was rising at a frightening rate while the economy went further and further into a deep—or Great—Depression. There was unrest "across the pond" in Europe as nationalism became more and more prevalent. Back in the U.S., the rains that had seemed so abundant at one time began to come with less and less frequency. Farmers, who had tilled under more ground than at any time in history, began to be assaulted by horrendous dust storms—wind storms that would pick up literally hundreds of tons of dirt from the ground and carry it thousands of feet into the air as they moved over the open plains. Such was born the years known as the Dust Bowl.

  • Men with bus after the children were found.
  • Photo of school children.
  • Snow blowing through windows of the schoolhouse.
    Children of the Storm
  • Photo of surviving children after being rescued.
  • Photo of some of the survivors. The woman with the glasses in the background is Maude Moser, the children's teacher.
  • Dedication of the monument to the tragedy at Holly cemetary.
  • Brian Untiedt, boy hero. Photo published in Boys Life Magazine in 1931.

Nonetheless, even with the increasingly difficult times, life in southeastern Colorado continued on, much as it had for years. Agriculture was the backbone of the area and neighbors willingly shared with each other. Electricity was unheard of, and light at night came from the glow of kerosene lanterns. Even running water was rare. There was one family with a phone in the entirety of Kiowa County and one phone exchange for this entire part of the state. Radio reception was spotty at best, and if someone had brought up the idea of someone other than the farmer himself forecasting the weather, he would have been laughed out of the house.

Even the most seasoned farmers or ranchers—men who live their lives by the weather—would have predicted that spring like morning in late March would give way to a catastrophic blizzard forming to the North. Neither would they ever have foreseen how that blizzard would change everything.

To read the story of the Towner Bus Tragedy, please click here.