Snow began falling in central Illinois on Christmas Eve 1830 and didn’t let up for nine weeks, according to a later memoir by the Rev. John Bergen. At the same time, the temperature fell to zero and below — as much as 20 below. From Bergen’s memories:
Snow succeeded snow, interchanged with sleet and fine hail, which glazed and hardened the surface. Nine long weeks witnessed this coming deep snow, until in all these parts its depth averaged from four to five feet. Woe was the day when sleds met on the single beaten track! the plunging of horses, overturning of loads — not to speak of the screams of the ladies within, the laughs of young America, or the wrath of the teamsters. …
The snow became so deep, the cold so intense, the crust at times so hard, and the people were so unprepared for such an extreme season, that it became almost impossible in many parts of the country to obtain bread for family use, though amid stocks of wheat and fields of corn.
A man named Stout lived in a small cabin near Sugar Creek, according to John Carroll Power’s 1876 History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County. As the temperature dropped, Stout was unable to keep warm, Power wrote.
He finally solved the difficulty by felling a large tree near his cabin, took a cut from it of suitable length, and made a trough inside, the full length of his body, and hewed it off on the outside until it was light and thin enough for him to handle easily. He would then make his bed on some chips or shavings … first bringing his trough along side, and when snugly covered up, he would take the trough and turn it over himself for covering. As soon as the warmth of his body filled the space he would be comfortable, and could lay snug and warm until morning.
Early Springfield pioneer Pascal Enos, who owned the timber nearest town, delivered wood to the destitute, Bergen reported.
With wolf-skin cap on head, with Yankee frock buttoned up close to the neck behind, reaching below his knees, belted over a great coat beneath, with legging protectors and ox-goad in hand, he rolled up the bodies and limbs of trees, some of them more than fifty feet long, to the door of the writer, for which he and his family shall receive our thanks while life shall last. This same kind act he did to many others.
When the siege of bad weather was over, Sangamon County’s peach and apple orchards had been ruined, “hundreds of hogs and perished,” and ground-roosting prairie chickens were rendered nearly extinct, Bergen said.
Power added that “Very many cases occurred of persons being lost in the snow, ending in death.”
One story he recounted involved Samuel Legg, who planned to travel from Sugar Creek to near Pleasant Plains.
He was not heard of until the next April, when the remains of himself and horse were found, nearly consumed by wolves. He had gone but a few miles. … A bottle with a small quantity of whiskey was found near his remains.
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