The Winter of the Deep Snow

snowdrifts

Since there are no pictures of the 1830 deep snow, here is a newer one.

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.

News of Dayton – 1850

Pages 1 and 4 of a letter from Josiah Shaver to Jesse Green

                                                                                                                                                Ottawa, Illinois Feb 6th 1850

Mr. Jesse Green Esqr.

                Dear Cousin

                                I am seated for the first time to address you since you left us. But we were very sorry to see in your last of Nov. 8 ’49 to E. Trumbo stating that up to that time you had not heard a word from home. (which letter came in Ottawa on the 26th of Jan ’50 with many more, one for your wife of an earlier date, and some for the Mrses Dunavans) I hardly know where to commence in giving you the news, for I expect that your folks have written of events as they transpired, and much that I may write will likely be no news to you but thinking that perhaps you will not receive all I will commence back at the time of your departure and come up as near correct as my memory will serve me. The first item of importance is the cholera which scared the folks more than it hurt them. It made its appearance in Ottawa in the fore part of June. Never was there such a cleaning of the St.s and renovating and white-washing of houses & cellars before in that place which fortunately cept it from raging very much about, but 30 or 40 died with it there and many of them caught it on the canal. The Country folks never stoped going in on buissiness. The folks in Dayton were perty badly scared at one time being so many in one house. They feared if it got among them that it would make bad work. But fortunatley they were joyfully disappointed (for they expected it) for there was but one case in Dayton and that was Cousin David thought that he had every symptom of it, but by using the cholera medicine he soon was as well as ever. It did not cramp him. Aunt Anna Groves died with it Aug 8th ’49. She took it and had not been exposed to it in any way, and in a few days Aunt Trumbo took it but was soon relieved. That is all of the connections that suffered any with it. Colman Olmstead’s wife and two oldest daughters died with it, also Jesse Johnson’s wife and oldest girl. (Colman is married again to his wife’s cister, an old maid)

It was much worse in Peru at one time in July it was nearly deserted all kinds of buissiness stopped for a few days. Here it was but a short time that they feared it. Your son Byron died on the 6th of may ’49. He was sensible until the last he wanted to be carried across the room but a few minutes before he expired. We had great trouble with the seed corn, almost all had to plant over from once to three times, which cept very backward until quite late but we had such an extraordinarily good fall that corn was first rate, wheat on an average both Spring and winter was scarcely a half crop. Potatoes, tolerable good, rot doing but little damage. Corn market last summer ranged at one time from .30 to .37 cts pr. Bush, and came down to 2 shillings at which price it readily sells for now in the ear. Wheat market was up last fall to 5 and 6 shillings pr. Bushl and then fell and was very low until lately. It is worth now best qual .75 cts pr. B. Pork was very dull from $1.75 to 2.50 pr. Hund. Lbs. Ottawa has improved very fast this last summer. We had a delightful warm and dry fall until the 25th of Nov. when winter set in but we have had a pleasant winter this far. Some snow which made good sleighing for two or three weeks. For the last two weeks it has been quite warm and windy, but it is colder today. The ice has started in the river. W. Irwin, Commision merchant of Ottawa (Eaton Goodel’s brother-in-law) went to Chicago last June and there entered his passage on a vessel for the lumber country, as he intended to purchase some lumber to bring home with him, and that was the last track that could be got of him all supposed that he was murdered or fell overboard in the night as the officers of the boat could tell nothing about him, all was mystery until lately when a Mr. Kellog returned from California and said that he saw him in Sanfrancisco, and a few days ago they got a letter from him. It is supposed that he got scared too soon. (he ran from debt.) A. W. Magill of Ottawa failed this fall. His store was sold at auction. The California Fever is raging this winter as bad as last if not worse, although Elias Trumbo and David and I have not got it so bad but I do sincerely wish that I had of went with you. George & Theodore Gibson are going. Aaron Daniels & John Holkan are using every effort to make a raise to go, the Connord boys are going. All intend to go with the oxen. In fact they are going from all over the country. Alison & Ralph Woodruff & Jo. Hall started a month ago, and Ralph died in Peoria in a drunken fit, and the others came back on account they say that they would have to lay too long at the isthmus. George Galloway with a number of them on that side are going to start soon. Our Township Organization caried unaminous. The commissioners are now laying out their boundaries, and in April we elect our officers which is some 14 or 15 in each town. I can’t give you the boundaries of them as they are fractions and will be attached, to some other and the commissioners have not got this far along. The banc of Marseilles has gone the way of all the living. Old L. Kimble died this last fall with an old complaint. Jack Trumbo had been in Cincinatti over a year, studying to be a physician when the cholera broke out there and he started for home, and died with it near the mouth of the Ohio river, and his father went in the fall and took him up and brought him to Ottawa for interment. The connections here have been unusually healthy since you left, your folks have got along very well as far as I know. They all remain in the big brick house. Their greatest anxiety is for your welfare which is often increased by the long space of time between letters, as I will tell you by and by. You will have to try for a large lump or your wife will beat you, as she found over a 7 pounder. The married part of the emigrants have generally left their representatives they range from a month to 8 weeks of age, yours is a fine daughter about 6 weeks old wife and child well. Tell George & Albert that their wives can present them with a Son each

Tell Snelling that his wife has a daughter also. All are well and doing well. Mrs. Zeluff is in the same fix. (Surely the idea of California is quite prolific.) Eliza Gibson had a young daughter. So much for the live stock. Rachel & Rebecca have been on a visit to their Unkle William Greens this winter for 6 or 8 weeks. They were all well and his oldest daughter come home with them and is there now. David is not running the factory this winter and he thinks that it will hardly quit expense in the winter. Old man Hite gets along very well. They all think a great deal of him the girls say he is so good and fatherly that they can’t help but like him. Ben is living with David and talks some of California. Feb 13th river closed up again roads have been excellent for the last 2 weeks neither snow nor rain, excellent, winter weather. Winter wheat looks fine yet. Grain is on the raise wheat 80 cts corn 28 cts They say that the California gold has made quite a visible change on real estate and in the markets in N.Y.

                We but seldom hear from you. We heard tolerably regular from you until you left Fort Hall and then it was over 3 months before we got any more, which you wrote about 300 miles from the diggings, then the next was when you got through which was some 8 weeks after incoming. We were glad to hear of your success in getting through, and in your first adventures in the diggings, and may you continue to be successful until, as the song goes “now I’ve got all I want I cannot lift any more &.c.” Tell Snelling his folks are all well and John gets along as well as well as could be expected. I will write to him soon. Please write soon. Tell Joseph a line from him would be thankfully received. My respects to you all.

                                                                                From your affectionate cousin   J. R. Shaver

Mr. Jesse Green Esqr

Feb 20 This leaves us all well. I have not got a line from any since you left.  J. R. Shaver    write soon

Cold and Snowy

Maud Green in snow

This picture shows Maud Green in the yard of the Ralph Green home in Dayton sometime in the first part of the 20th century. Snowstorms were a welcome occurrence in early Dayton as snow-packed roads were easier for sleighs than muddy, rutted roads were for wagons. However, the accompanying frigid weather made travel uncomfortable and hazardous.

The Ottawa [IL] Free Trader, January 15, 1881, p. 1, col. 3

Last Sunday night and Monday saw some of the coldest weather of the season – the Mercury in Ottawa standing at about 20 below – thermometers vary more than watches. At Dayton they claim 26 below, and at Streator 24 at 8 o’clock. Anyhow it was cold. The week thereafter was milder. On Thursday for a few hours there was a driving snow storm, drifting badly, however. Ice cutting goes on for private houses, the crop now being some 20 inches thick, and of fine quality.

April 2, 1881, p. 8, col. 1

Dayton, March 30. – The last great snow storm (Saturday, March 19,) has completely blockaded our roads, the lanes and some main roads being filled with snow, covering the fences in many places. By a six or seven miles circuitous our citizens have been enabled to drive from here to Ottawa. Our “oldest inhabitants” say it was the hardest storm for 25 years. It isn’t often we have five months of solid winter. Two months and a half of extremely cold weather and two and a half of deep snow. With farmers the spring work will come on all at once and farm laborers will be in active demand.

February 20, 1886, p. 2, col. 4

Dayton, Feb. 16. – The river is clear of ice here – it went out last Saturday and Sunday, but as it formed a gorge near Howland’s place, the water is backed up quite high here. The heavy mush ice began running on Tuesday morning, and threatened a repetition of the great flood of last year.

The lane leading into town from Ottawa has been full of snow and impassable until the recent thaw, when a road was broken through. It is almost impassable yet, however, and a number of tip overs were reported this week. Dayton people drive to Ottawa via Chas. Olmstead’s.

February 11, 1888, p. 2, col. 4

Dayton, Ill., Feb. 7 – Another fine snow storm has commenced this morning which will make the sleighing still better. It has been excellent this winter, and during the past few weeks the weather has been warm enough to make sleighing thoroughly enjoyable. We have a very fine drive from here to Ottawa on the feeder, and as the ice is about 18 inches thick it is perfectly safe. The young people have been improving the times with sleighing parties in the surrounding neighborhood. They had a very enjoyable party a week or two ago at the large and commodious residence of Lew Robinson, Esq., in Rutland township, and last week they were entertained by Mr. and Mrs. H. B. Williams, of Ottawa.

The Hazards of Winter Travel

snowdrifts

After the Fox river bridge at Dayton was washed out in the 1870s, traffic between Dayton and Rutland was difficult. There were two places where the river could be forded during low water and there were times in the winter when the ice was firm enough to allow crossing. The ice was uncertain, however, and could not be counted upon. The only other option was to go around by Ottawa and cross on the bridge there.

Dayton was isolated even further when heavy snow made the roads impassable. To make matters worse, when the snow melted, the mud was an equal obstacle to travel.

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, January 8, 1881, p. 8, col. 3
Dayton, Jan. 5. – The river is now being crossed at this place on the ice.

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, February 19, 1881, p. 8, col. 1
Dayton, Feb. 16. – The “thaw” of last week was unable to start the ice at this place, with the exception of that on the rapids above the woolen factory, which moved down and broke up our ice bridge. We are thus left without any means of communication with the other shore. The great snow storm on last Friday and Saturday has given a new impulse to sleighing and the “merry sleigh bells” are again heard all over the land. East and west lanes and the roads are, however, most of them, impassable on account of deep snow drifts. The thermometer at this place last Monday morning recorded 14 degrees below zero.

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, March 19, 1881, pp. 4-5, cols. 6 & 1
The “beautiful snow,” as far as sleighing is concerned, has departed for the last time this winter we trust. The streets and roads are left in a terrible condition, being in places almost impassable on account of the water, slush, snow and mud. The lane from Dayton to the main road to Ottawa has been blocked with snow for about five weeks, so that all travel is by the way of Mr. Olmstead’s. The thaw and light showers have not raised the water in Fox river at this place to a very noticeable degree. The ice is still in the river, and has probably become so softened that it will do no serious damage to dams or bridges.

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, June 4, 1881, p. 8, col. 2
Dayton, June 2d, 1881
The river is falling slowly, and is now being crossed at both fords. Fishermen and sportsmen are here in great numbers. The Earlville people seem to have struck a “boom” and are turning out en masse for a good time fishing and camping out.

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, February 6, 1886, p. 7, cols. 3-4
The river is all frozen over solid and teams are crossing below the paper mill.

The Dayton bridge had been out since the early 1870s and not until 1885 was a plan for its replacement finally put into action. It still took two years before it opened. (For the story of the Great Dayton Bridge Affair, click here.)

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, April 2, 1887, p. 4, col. 6
From Dayton
Dayton, Ill, April 1st, 1887. – Our bridge is finished at last and open for public travel. It is a very fine three span iron bridge, the neatest one on the river, and is a fine addition to our village. Of course every one will use it now that it is constructed, and it was noticed that about one of the first to use it was one who had fought the hardest.

A Sudden Change of Temperature

winter-storm

From Jesse Green’s memoirs:

I will give an account of the most sudden, and greatest change in temperature, in my recollection, which occured in the early winter of 1837 & ’38.  I left home about noon when it was drizzling rain sufficient to wet my clothing, and when I reached a point a little below Starved Rock, it commenced turning cold so fast that I ran my horse as fast as he could go to Utica, and by the time I reached the hospitable home of Simon Crosiar, it had frozen the ground hard enough to bear up my horse, and my clothing as stiff as it would freeze from being wet.  I had to be helped from my horse, and saddle and all together my clothing being frozen to the saddle, and I do not think I could have gone a quarter of a mile farther.

The next day returning home it was a terrible cold day, my left side against the wind was nearly frozen by the time I reached Ottawa, where I went into a store to warm myself, and all I could do to prevent it, fell asleep in a short time, I heard a number say that during that blizzard, they saw chickens frozen in their tracks.

Jesse was a year off in his memory of the event, as the “sudden change” happened on December 20, 1836, but he well remembered the after effects, as did many others. The meteorological background of the sweeping cold front, and a number of stories of Illinoisans caught as Jesse was, can be found here.

Almost a Tornado

TwisterRural Happenings

Dayton, June 19, 1879. – Our town and the surrounding country was visited last Saturday by a terrible strong wind and rain storm, almost a tornado. Old residents say it was the hardest storm that has visited our place for many years. Trees by the score were blown down, fences demolished, and a general confusion ensued, The new residence of Mr. Welke, almost completed, was moved six or eight feet off the foundation. Mr. W. happened to be on top of the building at the beginning of the storm, and judging his position to be too perilous, got inside when without a word of warning his building commenced sailing off. It is needless to state that our teutonic friend was somewhat frightened. About one half of our centennial flag pole was broken off and blown down into the street. Three or four large cherry trees and as many apple trees, on the Stadden property, were broken down. But the most destructive feat of the storm was the almost entire destruction of a crab apple grove on Mr. Jos. Barnes’ place southwest of town on the lane leading to Ottawa. Here large trees were broken and hurled with great force across the pasture, over the fence to the other side of the road. Mr. Barnes had a great deal of fence blown down and eight or ten nice large trees on his place broken off. Mr. Eisenhuth’s barn south of town was completely demolished, not a stick left standing. Nearly all of the roof of Mr. Stadden’s barn east of town was blown off. In fact from all accounts our place seems to have been in the centre of the tornado.1


  1. Free Trader, June 21, 1879, p. 8, cols. 1-2

Graphic By:Cartoon tornado from 365PSD.com

Floods – Tornadoes – There’s Nothing New Under the Sun

Disaster-Whirlwind-Tornado

Dayton, June 19, 1879. – Our town and the surrounding country was visited last Saturday by a terrible strong wind and rain storm, almost a tornado. Old residents say it was the hardest storm that has visited our place for many years. Trees by the score were blown down, fences demolished, and a general confusion ensued, The new residence of Mr. Wilkie, almost completed, was moved six or eight feet off the foundation. Mr. W. happened to be on top of the building at the beginning of the storm, and judging his position to be too perilous, got inside when without a word of warning his building commenced sailing off. It is needless to state that our teutonic friend was somewhat frightened. About one half of our centennial flag pole was broken off and blown down into the street. Three or four large cherry trees and as many apple trees, on the Stadden property, were broken down. But the most destructive feat of the storm was the almost entire destruction of a crab apple grove on Mr. Jos. Barnes’ place southwest of town on the lane leading to Ottawa. Here large trees were broken and hurled with great force across the pasture, over the fence to the other side of the road. Mr. Barnes had a great deal of fence blown down and eight or ten nice large trees on his place broken off. Mr. Eisenhuth’s barn south of town was completely demolished, not a stick left standing. Nearly all of the roof of Mr. Stadden’s barn east of town was blown off. In fact from all accounts our place seems to have been in the centre of the tornado.1


1. The [Ottawa, Illinois] Free Trader, June 21, 1879, p. 8, cols. 1-2