There have been many hard winters in Dayton – plenty of snow, ice in the river, icy long-lasting cold – but none can surpass the Deep Snow of 1830, at least in the memories of the hardy pioneers who lived through it.
The snow blanked Illinois to a depth of three feet, with drifts of four to six feet. Storms with high winds continued for two months. Many families were snowbound for the duration, and travelers were stuck wherever they happened to be when the heavy snow started. This is before the weather records begin, so there is nothing but anecdotal evidence, but there is plenty of that.
The winter of the Deep Snow became a legendary dating point and those who came to Illinois before that date qualified for membership in the Old Settlers Association. When the Sangamon County Old Settlers Society was formed there was a special designation for all those who were in Illinois before then – they were Snow Birds. Among the list of members of that first group is the name of Abraham Lincoln.
La Salle County was among the first, if not the first, county in Illinois to establish an Old Settlers Society. They met on February 22, 1859, in La Salle. The meeting was mentioned in the Ottawa Free Trader, with the note that a fuller writeup of the meeting appeared in the Peru Herald. Unfortunately that newspaper does not survive.
Jesse Green, in his memoir, recalls memories of their first few winters in Dayton:
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.
For more information, illinoishistory.com has this page devoted to the stories of the Winter of the Deep Snow.