The first few winters (1830-1832)


Greater Prairie Chicken

The second and third winters we were here we had about two feet of snow, which lay on the ground most of the winter, and drifted badly and crusted over so that we could ride over fences without difficulty, and prairie chickens were so plentiful and tame that on a frosty morning, they would sit on trees so near our cabin that Father stood in the door and shot them, until some of the men said he must stop before he shot away all of our ammunition, and leave none to shoot deer and turkeys.  Our first winter here Brother David and myself trapped rising three hundred chickens, besides a large quantity of quail.  After eating all we could, Mother merely saved their breasts salted and smoked them.

In those days wild bees were quite plentiful, and could be found in winter on the snow where dead bees were thrown out.  In the absence of snow our best bee hunters would bait them at different points of the compass, and time them in their flight and thus locate the tree near enough to find it

from Jesse Green’s memoir, written in 1895

Greater prairie chicken tympanuchus cupido by Menke Dave, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service



The first year

Millstone - Shabbona Park (1)

One of the original millstones at Dayton, now on display in Shabbona Park.

When the Green party arrived in Illinois in December 1829, they moved into the cabin that William Clark had built for them. It was 18 feet by 24 feet, and in that single room, fourteen adults and ten children (four of them under two years of age) spent the first winter. As soon as possible in the spring, trees were felled to make a sawmill and the roots of the trees were used in making the dam. Jesse and David Green, ages ten and twelve, were given the task of scraping out the raceway for the mill, with a pair of oxen and a scraper each. They finished their work just as the mill was ready. The sawmill was built with enough room at one end for a pair of grindstones, and on July 4, 1830, the first wheat was ground by water power in northern Illinois. Barbara Green baked bread from that flour for their Independence Day meal. When these first mill stones were replaced, they were placed in Shabbona Park, where they may still be seen.


The rest of their story:

The company had ordered a halt and prepared to encamp, but with the expectation of going supperless to bed, as their provisions were exhausted, when Mr. Green drove up, to the great joy of the whole party, both man and beast. From the time the corn gave out and the provisions were running short, one young man refused to eat, contending that as they were bound to starve, the provisions should be reserved for the women and children.

The next day, being the 6th of December, 1829, about four o’clock P. M. we reached our destination — except the three young men in charge of the perogue, whom we expected would reach here before us; and when night came on we were all cast down with fearful forebodings, as we thought they must have met with some serious accident. But our anxiety was soon releived. On the same day they had made the perogue fast at the grand rapids of the Illinois, now Marseilles, and crossing the prairie without any knowledge of the country, became benighted, but seeing the light from our cabin, joined us about eight o’clock, and we had a great time of rejoicing, the lost having been found. The self sacrificing brother joined us in a hearty meal, and his appetite never failed him afterward.

Closer to the Goal

The story continues:

A heavy rain came on, and we encamped in a small grove, and were obliged to cut up some of our boxes to make a fire. That night we shall never forget; most of us sat up all night. Mother laid down in the wagon, and tried to sleep, and was frozen fast so she could not rise in the morning. It took us over three days to reach the mouth of the Kankakee, a distance of thirty miles, while the perogue had to go seventy miles by water. The crew had about given up in despair of meeting us, when they fortunately heard a well-known voice calling to a favorite horse, by which they were directed to our camp. We ferried most of our goods over the Illinois on the perogue, when a friendly Indian showed us a ford where we took our teams over without difficulty. Our corn being exhausted, our teams had nothing to eat but browse, or dry prairie grass, and very little of that, as the prairie had nearly all been burned over. In the afternoon of the 5th of December, we came in sight of a grove of timber, and John Green, believing it to be Hawley’s (now Holderman’s) Grove, started on horseback to ascertain. His expectations were realized, and he found Messrs. Hawley and Beresford butchering a beef. He harnessed Beresford’s horse, a large gray one, to a light wagon of Beresford’s, and taking a quarter of the beef, and filling the wagon with corn, started for Nettle creek timber, where he supposed the party would stop.

Crossing the Prairie

Two men and wagon

Continuing Jesse’s and David’s story:

Our teams crossed a prairie that had no bottom – at least, we did not find any. The second day, found a stream too deep to cross; felled trees from either side until they formed a temporary bridge, over which we conveyed out goods and people, which was barely accomplished when the accumulated waters swept our bridge away. The teams were made to swim, one horse barely escaping drowning. One of the women became nervous, and could not be induced to walk the bridge. John Green took her on his back, and made his way over on his hands and knees. The exact position in which the lady rode is not recorded.