Boyhood during the Deep Snow

Zimri Enos was nine years old when the Deep Snow hit Sangamon County on Dec. 30, 1830. Snowstorms continued almost constantly for eight weeks. At its height, average snow depth was four to five feet, and the snow was accompanied by bitter cold. Pioneers who experienced the Deep Snow later took pride in their status as “snowbirds.”

Zimri Enos (Findagrave.com)

Enos (1821-1907), the son of Pascal and Salome Paddock Enos, grew up to become a lawyer, engineer, surveyor and property developer. He also served as a Springfield alderman and member of the board of education. This excerpt is from Enos’ memories of early Springfield, which were published by the Illinois State Historical Society two years after Enos’ death.

Of the deep snow of 1830 and ’31, I do not know at what time it commenced, or when it ended, except as the dates were afterwards told me, but do remember it lasted a long time and have a vivid recollection of the pleasure we boys had with out little hand sleds, sliding down the hills and hitching on to the sleighs and sleds going along the streets. Sometimes there would be as many as a dozen strung after one sleigh.

Our little sleds were not the fancy affairs that boys now get from the stores, but were made of two boards about two and a half feet long and seven or eight inches wide for the runners, which tapered to an angle of forty-five or fifty degrees in front, three or four holes were bored through them for the cross pieces which held them together and a board on top to sit on. A rope or strap was fastened to the front cross piece and was long enough to go around the upright or standard of a sleigh or sled with one end in the boy’s hand on his sled, so he could detach himself at pleasure. This was great fun for us boys, but a great annoyance to the young men and women in their sleigh and to lovers of fast trotting and pacing horses in their speeding up and down Jefferson street.

Dr. Gershom Jayne, Peter Van Bergen and Gordon Abrams, the three most noted horsemen of the day, who were annoyed by the boys, played off on the boys and finally broke up the hitching to their sleighs. There were frequent snow falls that winter and the next day after a six or eight inch fall of light snow in the night, they invited the boys to fasten onto their three sleighs for a ride. We were delighted at the prospect of a good ride and so at the corner of Jefferson and Second streets hitched on to their three sleighs and they started north on Second street at a slow jog and all went merry as a marriage bell until we got to Madison street, when they turned east on it and put whips to their horses. There having been no travel on this street, our little sleds plowed into this snow, covering us completely with snow, so we could hardly see or breathe. All the boys but two dropped out by the time they got to Third street. Of the two that remained, one stuck as far as Fourth street, when he had to give in. William Herndon was the only one that went through to the starting place. After that, if the boys hitched onto their sleighs they would haul them out on the beaten track a half mile or so and then run them out into the deep snow until the boys let loose and leave them there to walk back.

The long winter evenings were spent by the kitchen fires, cracking and eating walnuts, hickory nuts and hazel nuts of which every family had laid in an ample supply, from the abundant mart of the adjacent woods. In our family we added the parching and roasting of popcorn and yellow corn. The latter, when well browned and ground and served in a bowl with rich, sweet milk, is a dish I could enjoy even now.

These were the days before the introduction of the cooking stove, when the fireplaces, as compared with these of the present day, were huge affairs. Our kitchen fireplace was at least six feet between the jambs and over two feet deep. The hearth extended past the brick oven and nearly the full width of the kitchen. Attached to the jamb in the fireplace was the iron crane with its hooks to hang the pots and kettles over the fire. In this big fireplace were burned backlogs bigger than two men could carry. They were rolled from the wood pile to the kitchen door, then slid and rolled to the hearth, the fire and ashes raked forwards, skids laid down and with the aid of hand spikes, the logs were rolled onto the skids and fitted into their place in the chimney, the ashes shoveled to the back and to the ends of the log. A back stick a size smaller than the log was placed on top, and still a smaller one on top of that. On the andirons was placed a big fore stick and the coals, brands and chunks piled on top with plenty of small wood, making such a hot fire that we children did not realize that it was more than 20 degrees below zero out of doors. As the fires burned down, the back sticks in their order were brought forward as fore stick and about the third day the back stick became the back or fore stick for another big backlog. The big kitchen shovel, andirons, crane and hook were made from bar iron by a pioneer blacksmith for my parents some ninety years ago and are now in the possession of one of my sisters and kept as relics of those early days.

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1 Response to Boyhood during the Deep Snow

  1. Don Culver says:

    Very interesting. Knowing what hardships those folks endured to make their society work. We don’t have to sacrifice as they did. It would have been great to watch all those kids. I’m glad I live in warm and sunny south Texas.

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