Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level





Elliott West

Committee Member

Jeannie Whayne

Second Committee Member

Patrick Williams


Blizzards, Climate - U.S., Environment - U.S., Technology, Transportation, West - U.S.


My dissertation is a study of how the United States was able to expand onto the Northern Great Plains, consisting of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and the eastern parts of Wyoming and Montana, between 1854 and 1949 despite the threat to property, comfort, and survival posed by the region’s harsh winters, which brought intense cold, large snowdrifts, and blinding blizzards. This dissertation argues that five tools – government programs, rapidly changing technology, imagination, strong local communities, and toughness – allowed native-born Americans and European immigrants to survive and become increasingly secure in the region. But it also argues that severe gaps remained in the region’s winter security all the way up to the mid-twentieth century because of limitations in these tools. It first considers the climate and geography of the region and how sedentary and nomadic Indian tribes such as the Lakotas and Mandans responded to the winters. It then looks at how the military responded to the threat of winter in order to assert the federal government’s vision for order in the region. This included the imaginative but brutal tactic of waging war on the Lakotas and Cheyennes in the midst of winter. Finally, it looks at how three generations of Northern Plains settlers, lasting from 1854 to 1890, 1890 to 1920, and 1920 to 1949 responded to the threat of winter. In these chapters, it considers the usefulness of govern-ment programs including weather forecasting, snowplowing, the New Deal, and the use of the Army for disaster relief. It also looks at the meaning of various types of technological development for winter security. To the new technologies of steamboats and trains were added rotary snowplows, automobiles, gasoline-powered snow removal equipment, and airplanes. After another new technology, the telegraph, came telephones and radios. In the home, central heating, electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing were introduced. And it considers the constant characteristics of the region’s settlers. The dissertation concludes by considering how the Northern Plains fared in the face of a great test of its winter preparedness, winter 1948-1949.

Available for download on Thursday, August 08, 2024