Dr. Galen Crowe Paxton, M.D.
Born: November 20, 1854 in Holt County, MO
Passed: June 23, in 1936 in Santa Monica, CA
Galen graduated Medical School in 1882 in Louisville, Kentucky. He married Laura Bettye Cain on May 28, 1884 in Falls City, Nebraska. They had three children but that union ended in divorce. Afterwards he moved to Idaho and opened a pharmacy with his brother Samuel Paxton where he married a Mormon girl named Hellstrom and had one daughter. He later retired to Southern California. In real estate speculation in Santa Monica, CA, he lost the princely sum of $50,000 on the promise of returns that “were as certain as the next sunrise”, which unfortunately chose never to come.
From left: Laura Bettye Paxton nee Cain, Mary Florence Paxton, Jessie Elvira Paxton,
Fredrick Cain Paxton, and Dr. Galen Crow Paxton
Dr. Galen Crow Paxton and second wife Emma Hallstrom in Rigby, Idaho
Dr. Galen Crow Paxton and brother Samuel Paxton
Dr. Paxton was one of the very few surgeons on the eastern great plains of Nebraska. He told of the necessity of being able to tie various knots with one’s fingers in a tiny matchbox. When making many emergency calls at all hours, his wife was tasked with harnessing the horses to preserve his hands.
Dr. Paxton experienced the blizzard of 1888 whose sudden ferocity sweeping in from the Northern Plains caught the unprepared feet from their homes unable to find shelter due to the driving sleet and blinding snow. People and livestock perished across a wide swath of the countryside as he documented for the local newspapers.
Thirteen Hours in a Blizzard
A Close Call for a Quartette of Richardson County Boys.
The following extract is from a letter written by Dr. Galen Crowe Paxton of Chambers, Nebraska, to his wife [Laura Paxton nee Cain], who is visiting with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Cain of this city. It tells of the close call for the writer, Lou and Crof Baker, and a Mr. Gorman, from death and portrays the awful disasters in that locality from the blizzard. That they escaped when so many perished, even under more favorable circumstances, is truly a miracle. The letter bears the date of the 18th [January, 1888], and is as follows:
I suppose you think me dead, but thank fortune I am all right. Prepare to hear of one of the closest calls that was ever my misfortune to experience.
The weather here, different from other places in this state [North Central Nebraska surrounded by the Great Plains], has been very stormy with more snow than was ever seen here before. We have had severe blizzards every few days all winter, but on Thursday the 12th, there was the worst storm that was ever known in this or any other country. On the 11th it snowed and was very blustery, but on the morning of the never-to-be-forgotten 12th, the wind was blowing a soft breeze, from the south, and everyone said, “We are going to have a January thaw.” but alas, how untrue.
In less than one minute without warning, with no indication that death and destruction would follow that awful storm, with no premonition that an impending and horrible doom awaited them, the people were out attending to their stock, or at their respective avocations when it came. The wind blew a terrible gale, the air was full of powdered snow and so cold that hundreds of cattle and livestock of all kinds froze to death.
Such was the state of affairs when Lee and Crof Baker, a man by the name of Gorman, from Scotia, and myself, started to go from our store to Mr. Wry’s, our boarding house. The time was 1:30 p.m. when we started. We could not see five feet from us in any direction. We probably got within twenty feet of the house, got lost, shouted as loud as we could but could hear nothing but that fearful wind. We were not clothed to be out half an hour.
After trying to find the house we started with the wind which was blowing from the northwest. We were frightful looking human beings with ice hanging from our whiskers, and clothes. Our faces were a sheet of ice, but we staggered on. We went through corn stalks, over cultivated farms, came to trees, went in a few yards of houses, shouted and screamed, but no echoing voice returned. By this time night was approaching, but still we travelled on, determined not to yield until we were forced to do so.
We finally came to some cabbage and castor bean stalks and we knew we were close to a house. We shouted long and loud and a dog heard us and barked, and we followed the dog who lead us to a hog shed which we welcomed with open arms. There was not a dry thread on us when the ice melted. My toes were frozen as I didn’t have very warm shoes and only cotton socks. I pulled my shoes off and my feet froze solid and I would have lost them except for Lee Barker, who told me to put them under his coat. I feel grateful for him as he saved my life. He had no overshoes, so he put his feet under a hog and kept them from freezing. We stayed with the hogs ten hours, when the storm abated, and Mr. Gorman ventured out and found the house. I could hardly walk when I started to go in.
We were out altogether thirteen hours. Oh! That awful night. We beat ourselves ‘till we were sore, to keep from going to sleep and freezing. I thought of you and the little ones more than once that night.
What people were those where we stopped. They could not do enough for us. We stayed with them a day and a half and John Doherty and Mr. Chatterton took us home in a sleigh. We were only six miles from home, but we went much further than that. These people were Germans and would not think of accepting anything for their kindness.
This was our experience and I wish ours had been the worst case. Old Tom Keller was frozen to death that night. A man by the name of Glaze was found the next morning stark and stiff within ten feet of his door. Another man was found in a yard, dead. Mrs. Crupee went out to look for her husband, who was lost in the storm, he came back in her absence and started after her, but did not find her, after getting lost and staying on the prairie all night. De Lukens, a young man who slept here with me since you left, started for his stable, and has not been found. I need not go on, there were fifteen in this immediate vicinity whom I have not heard of. Fifteen coffins [in addition] were ordered at Ewing [Nebraska] yesterday besides these.
Old Mr. Graham lost 140 cattle, Mr. Holcombe, 350 sheep, and other in proportion. There were as many as a thousand cattle lost in this valley, besides sheep, hogs, and horses. The mail carrier to this place, drove to within ten feet of Shamrock stables, turned and went till his horses would go no further, unhitched and stayed by a sod wall all night. He froze his feet so badly that I may have to amputate his toes. Next morning both horses were found dead close to his sleigh.
The weather is pleasant today, but we are looking for another storm.
January 18th, 1888
Dr. G. C. Paxton
These are the extracts of the letter published in the Fall City, Nebraska Newspaper of events nearly 300 miles to the northwest in the very center of the Northern Great Plains.