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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Winter of the Deep Snow

I've been doing some work on settlement in Illinois in the early -to- mid 19th century and have found several references to the "winter of the deep snow," as in "so and so arrived before the winter of the deep snow."  The History of Scott County, Illinois places this event in 1830/31 and describes it thusly:

Just after Christmas, 1830, the snow began falling, and continued until all over the central part of Illinois the snow upon an average, was three feet deep. "Then came a little rain, with weather so cold that it froze as it fell, forming a crust of ice over this three feet of snow nearly, but not quiet, strong enough to bear a man; and finally, over this crust of ice there was a few inches of light snow. The clouds passed away, and the wind came down from the northwest with extraordinary ferocity. For weeks, - certainly, for not less than two weeks, - the mercury in the thermometer was not, on any morning, higher than twelve degrees below zero. The wind was a steady, fierce gale from the northwest, day and night. The air was filled with flying snow, which blinded the eyes and almost stopped the breath of any one who attempted to face it. An average depth of three feet of snow, accompanied, as it fell, with wind blowing at the rate above described, would, of course, be piled in great drifts, many of which were higher than fence-tops. The corn was in the field ungathered, the wood was in the timber, under the snow, yet the corn must be got, or the stock, and people, too, would suffer for food; and the wood must be obtained, or the people would freeze to death. Roads had to be broken, yet the wind blew so hard, and with that depth of snow, that they would almost immediately fill up, and they had to be broken over again. The result was, that long after the warm rains had melted the snow, strips of ice remained in the roads. Every living thing suffered more or less from this terrible winter. The hunters and wolves made sad havoc among the deer, while a great many smaller animals died by starvation. Especially was this true of the quails, which were almost exterminated. A majority of the settlers were from Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina, and having never experienced anything of the kind, were greatly disheartened by this severe winter; but the indomitable Yankees among them, who had seen snows in New England (but nothing like this) took the lead in breaking paths and roads, and cheered up the drooping spirits of the southerners, by talking of spring and its sunshine, and telling them that perhaps such a winter would never come again.

Its hard to even imagine.  By the way, it was 60 degrees today in Winston-Salem.

Tanya Marsh

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