SHERIDAN — Wyoming historian James Fuller’s book “The Wyoming Blizzard of ‘49: Surviving the Storm” tells the stories of Wyoming residents who lived through the sprawling and devastating historical storm.
The book, which was released in July, is already on its third printing.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Fuller said. “I’m humbled by it but at the same time, I never thought anybody would have been this excited about a book. So it’s been a lot of fun.”
Fuller began working as a historian in Wyoming after a 24-year career in the U.S. Air Force. Toward the end of that career, he received a Master of Arts in American History from the American Military University in Charlestown, West Virginia. After retiring from the Air Force, Fuller established a consulting business in Cheyenne called Discovering History and Heritage, which performed historical research and found historical documents for clients.
That business landed him a gig as the historical researcher on the 2015 PBS Documentary “Storm of the Century: Blizzard of ‘49.” After finishing his work on the documentary, Fuller said he intended to move on to another subject.
But when Arcadia Publishing reached out to him about writing a book on Wyoming history, he realized he had a lot of unused material.
While researching the PBS documentary, Fuller said he collected dozens of stories about people who had lived through the blizzard, either from their family members or the individuals themselves, that didn’t make it into the documentary.
“When you’re doing a documentary, they’re looking more for images than they are stories,” Fuller said. “If you have a story that kind of plays along with it as they go (they’ll include it), but a story about little Jimmy who was sick and got picked up by a rancher and taken to the hospital — that’s not really a documentary-type story.”
Those stories formed the foundation of Fuller’s book. He spent the next year documenting and verifying the stories he’d collected and compiled them into a book.
The 1949 blizzard stretched between eight states, Fuller said.
The severity of the storm took Wyoming by surprise. Fuller said Wyoming newspapers forecasted mild snowstorms in the days leading up to the blizzard, but papers in surrounding states predicted an intense storm.
“That may have been just, ‘It’s Wyoming, it snows, big deal,’” Fuller said.
What made the storm so punishing wasn’t the accumulation of snow, which Fuller said was heavy but not extraordinary, but the way Wyoming’s harsh winds carried the snow. Some towns got buried under 20- or 30-foot drifts, while crucial infrastructure located on plains, like train tracks, were covered by 80-foot drifts.
Fortunately, the storm resulted in relatively few deaths; Fuller estimated six people died in the storm, most of whom were caught on the roads when the storm hit.
But the storm was devastating for farmers and ranchers in the state, who lost crops and entire herds of cattle in the blizzard.
The snow also locked down the state. Fuller said his book is filled with dozens of stories of people who had to battle through being cut off from their families or getting a loved one to a doctor.
“It’s amazing how they did what they did,” Fuller said. “I don’t know if we could do that today.”
Fuller said those people pulled through, however, and the story of the 1949 blizzard in Wyoming is ultimately a story of perseverance.