By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
The blizzard of April 1957 was wicked.
Newspapers from Cheyenne to Honolulu would recall the fierce winter storm that blanketed southern Wyoming and eastern Colorado with a foot of snow – the second such storm in a 10-day stretch.
Few people’s lives were affected as dramatically by the storms as the Faris family, who ranched near Buford.
John and Louise Faris were anticipating the birth of child No. 5 at the time, who was due in early May.
But when the storm blew in a month before the baby’s due date, Cookie went into labor. The race to get Cookie to a hospital would become legendary, and word about the trip spread from Hawaii to Paris.
And although the effort ultimately was for naught (the birth actually happened May 8), the adventure lives on in the baby girl whom her parents named “April Snow.”
“My mom did tell me she thought ‘Snow’ was kind of blunt,” April Snow Faris Sims told Cowboy State Daily. “So, she put the ‘April’ on there to tone it down a little bit.”
Home On the Range
The Faris family – led by dad John “Johnnie” Jr. and his wife, Louise (“Cookie” to her friends), were hardy Wyoming plains folk.
Already the parents to four children, the oldest 11 and the youngest 4, Johnnie and Cookie had their hands full raising kids and making a living.
“They had bought the Blanchard place (between Cheyenne and Laramie), but there wasn’t enough area to it to really make (a living) doing that,” said Sims. “So then they added dude rides and fishing at Crystal Lake.”
But their home was in a remote part of the plains – and when Cookie began to experience early labor with baby No. 5, Mother Nature was inflicting some pain of her own.
But Johnnie was prepared.
“My dad had made arrangements to meet this highway patrolman, his name was Gene Curtis,” said Sims, who explained that the plan was for Curtis to drive them to the hospital in Laramie.
But when Cookie went into labor early, the second winter storm was in full swing, and the family’s rural location worked against them.
“She went into labor and the county was trying to get (the road) plowed for them, but they couldn’t because the snow would blow it shut right behind them,” said Sims. “So, my dad finally decided the only option he had was to hook onto a rowboat with a team of horses.”
Row, Row, Row The Boat
Because Johnnie was an entrepreneur, he had bought several boats to rent to visitors at Crystal Lake.
When brainstorming a way to get his very pregnant wife and small children to the highway 4 miles from their homestead, he came up with the idea of hooking rowboat No. 202 to a couple of saddle horses.
Leaving the two oldest children – Sylvia, 11, and Jock, 9 – at home, Johnnie bundled Cookie and the two youngest – George and Guy – along with a neighbor, Peggy Weisert, and settled them in the rowboat.
Johnnie and neighbor Bill Baker rode the two horses.
For the next four hours, the party made slow progress through the wind and snow, finally arriving at the Buford Store around 4 p.m.
“The snow was about 20 inches deep with drifts that came up over the horses’ knees,” Weisert told the Laramie Daily Bulletin on April 5, 1957. “Once the animals couldn’t make it through one spot and the men had to pull the boat around.”
When the party arrived at the Buford Store, Curtis drove the family 30 miles to Laramie through drifted snow on a highway that had been closed since the morning. (Baker returned to the Faris home to look after the two older children.)
When the family arrived at the Laramie hospital, doctors pronounced Cookie’s condition good and expected the baby to be born anytime.
But the baby girl wasn’t ready to arrive just yet.
“I do remember (my mother) saying that she was always so embarrassed because you would think she would know if she was in true labor or not,” said Sims. “But it was false labor, apparently, because I wasn’t born till 34 days later.”
Word of the adventure spread around the world. Friends of the family in Honolulu sent a letter – along with a newspaper clipping about the fierce storm – to Louise.
“Thought you would get a kick out of the enclosed newspaper item in the Honolulu paper,” wrote the Nelsons. “We are from Denver, but didn’t know it took rowboats in Wyoming at this time of the year.”
The Faris family received more letters and well-wishes, including a note from a friend in Paris, France, who sent a postcard April 22 addressed simply to “Mr. and Mrs. John Faris, Jr., Buford, Wyoming, USA.”
“Heard about your awful experience even here in Paris,” wrote Bill Embree. “Hope the baby and Cookie are fine by now.”
Weighing in at 7 pounds, 6 ounces, the healthy baby girl was christened “April Snow” to commemorate the adventure, even though she was born May 8.
“At home, they always called me Snow,” said Sims. “But when I started school, they asked me what my name was and I said Snow – and they said, ‘What’s your middle name?’ And I said, ‘That is my middle name.’
“‘But what’s your first name?’ ‘April.’ So, all through my school years I was April at school and Snow at home.”
Snows All Over
Johnnie kept the rowboat used to haul the family to the highway, although it wasn’t watertight anymore – two holes had been worn in the hull in the 4-mile trek to the highway.
But to commemorate the adventure, the boat was mounted on poles and used as a sign for the family business … and the craft was re-christened “April Snow.”
Sims – who married McFadden rancher Scott Sims in 1976 and is the mother of two adult children – said she really only goes by April now.
“My next oldest brother still calls me Snow, or Snowball, once in a while,” said Sims.
But she likes her middle name so much that she and her husband actually passed it on to one of their children.
“We have a son that was born in ’79, and his name is Shanon Jay,” said Sims. “And then we have a daughter, Kendra (born in 1983), and her middle name is also Snow.”