Chuck Suchy remembers the moment inspiration struck him: the songwriter was hauling bales of hay to his cows during a nasty spring snowstorm when he spotted a morning dove.
“She had succumbed to the storm,” Suchy recalls. “And these words rose up from wherever, and I scratched them down on my little notepad that I carried in my coveralls: Wings on snow / a fate not chose / morning finds this dove so froze / who too soon thought spring arrived / in warmth below, love survived.”
So begins “The Story of Hazel Miner”. The subject of Suchy’s ballad was 15-years-old, living in rural Oliver County near Center. But as so often happens in North Dakota… “A 1920 mid-March storm caused school to let out early.”
Hazel, along with her siblings, 10-year-old Emmett and 8-year-old Myrdith, were loaded onto a horse-driven sleigh by their father and told to wait — but the horse had other plans.
“They didn’t take off on purpose — the horse just took off on its own,” explains Shane Molander, an archivist with the North Dakota State Historical Society.
The Miner kids became lost in the white-out conditions. “It’s believed at one point they passed within a couple hundred feet of their farmhouse, but missed it,” Molander says. “Couldn’t see it.”
Night fell, and the sleigh tipped over in the snow, leaving Hazel and her siblings stranded. That’s when her heroism truly began. “Hazel put the young ones down, laid her body o’er them.“
“She just covered them, and opened up her coat and went over the top of the blanket and the children to keep the wind from blowing the blanket off, and to help keep them warm,” Molander says.
Hazel told the kids stories and sang them songs to keep them from succumbing to the cold. “Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry / cold is like a sorrow.”
It wasn’t until the next afternoon that a search party came upon the scene — and discovered her sacrifice. “She was just about to turn 16,” Suchy says. “And yet here she was doing this enormous, adult, womanly, motherly effort.”
Emmett and Myrdith survived the storm thanks to the cover of Hazel’s body through the night. And in her death, a folk legend was born.
“Not only in the papers throughout the state, but papers throughout the country, this story was circulated,” Molander says.
“When I get in the middle of what seems like insurmountable chaos, I think about Hazel,” Suchy says, “and what she must have been going through in that horrible dilemma. And what she did was the best she could.”
“Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry / you’ll be warm tomorrow.”
The story of Hazel Miner — a piece of North Dakota’s Hidden History.
Author Kevin Kremer wrote an entire book about Hazel Miner. You can download a free digital copy of the book here.