The Story of Colorado’s Pleasant Hill Bus Tragedy
On a seemingly beautiful day in eastern Colorado, the weather took a turn for the worst leading to the Pleasant Hill Bus tragedy.
March 26, 1931, started like any normal day would and, in fact, was unseasonably warm, with temperatures in the 60s. As children were getting ready for school, they dressed to match the day's temperature.
As we know, weather in Colorado can change at any time, and it did.
Near the small town of Towner, Colo., situated in Kiowa County, near the Colorado/Kansas border, was used to seeing wild swings in the weather, but nothing prepared them for the storm that was coming.
The Ride to School
The children were picked up by Carl Miller, the bus driver, in a 1929 Chevrolet pickup that had been retrofitted with a wooden school bus shell. It was missing windows and someone had placed cardboard in it to cut down on the wind. There were twenty children on the bus that day, including Miller's youngest daughter. As they drove to the school, the snow began to fall.
At the Schoolhouses
The snow was falling harder when the bus arrived at the small wooden schoolhouses, which were nothing more than two adjoining buildings with two outhouses. There was no running water, no food or blankets. Only a small wood stove in the corner kept the children warm during colder weather. Because of this, the decision was made by the teachers there to have Miller take the children back home. Despite his misgivings, he did what was asked and the children were put back on the bus for the ride home.
After Leaving the School
As the bus pulled away, the storm increased in intensity. As he drove on, it became more and more difficult to see. The blowing snow had taken out the cardboard covering the windows allowing the cold and snow to blow into the bus. Unable to see, Miller drove along what he thought was the road leading back to town when the bus slid into the ditch and stalled. He tried repeatedly to get it started so he could get out of the ditch and get those children safely home. But the bus would not start again.
Once he realized they could go no further on the bus, Miller instructed the children to huddle together for warmth and went into the blizzard to find help. Finding a wire fence, he followed it as he walked. When they found him, three miles from the bus, he had died. His hands were marked up from holding onto the fence.
Back on the bus, the older children would lay on the younger ones to share their warmth but as the snow fell and the temperature dropped, even this didn't help. 33 hours after they left the school, the children were found. Three of them had succumbed to the weather and two others died in the hospital. The nation was gripped by the story and it was, in fact, the Denver Post who had hired the plane to take the injured to Lamar for treatment.
Some will debate who was at fault. Had they remained in the school, perhaps no one would have perished. But ultimately, with no coal, no beds no blankets, running water or food, they decided it was best for the children to go home.
No one saw what would ultimately be the result.
This memorial stands testament to the tragedy.