1878 Big Snow

The big snow of 1830 will be vividly remembered by all the old settlers. This was the heaviest snow ever known to have fallen in this State. The snow began falling on the night of the 29th of December, and continued to fall for three days and nights, until it reached an average depth of about four feet, but drifting in places as high as from eighteen to twenty feet. Great suffering was experienced in consequence. The settlers relied for their daily food upon the Indian corn which they were enabled to raise, together with wild game, which was abundant at that time. Plenty of the former was raised to supply the wants of all until the next season’s crop; but when the snow fell very little had been gathered. Game could not be had. The great depth of snow was a barrier to all travel, and it may well be imagined the sufferings of the people were very great indeed. Just previous to the falling of this snow John G. Sanburn and Parnach Owen went to Vandalia, then the State capital. Owen had not made such preparations at home before he left that would permit him to remain away any extended time, so he set out to return for this county on horseback. In company with him was a Mr. Wright, of Canton, and a member of the Legislature at the time. The snow was so deep, and every trail so completely obliterated, that they got lost. They could not turn back and retrace their steps, as no indication whatever remained of their track five minutes after passing along. No house or shelter of any description was near, and the perils of the night, which was fast approaching, were almost certain death if they remained there. To make their situation more appalling, when coming across a large prairie in Fulton county their horses suddenly gave out, utterly refusing to move a step. To remain there would be only to freeze to death; so they determined to proceed on foot, and taking the saddles off their wearied animals, they laid them on the snow and started on. The snow was so deep and the crust so thin that they would often break through, making progress slow and tiresome; but probably this action was the only thing which prevented them from freezing to death. At last Canton was reached, but not until the feet of Owen were very badly frozen; indeed, his boots were frozen so tightly to his feet that they could not be taken off until bathed in water for some time. The following morning a man was dispatched after the horses, and they were found standing in the same positions and places in which they were left the day before. Owen was compelled to remain at Canton for several days, when, after his feet were in a fit condition, he came to his home near Knoxville on snow-shoes, that being almost the only mode of travel practicable at that time. The snow lay on the ground until about the first of April; and we have little doubt that many a weary one during that long winter sighed for the comforts of the “old home;” still, notwithstanding its great dreariness and the greater sufferings of the people, none became disheartened, for we find them in the spring of 1831 as determined as ever to carve out for themselves a home in this truly beautiful country.

Contributed by Pat White and Charlotte Babicki, extracted from the 1878 History of Knox County, Illinois, published by Charles C. Chapman & Co., Chicago, pages 116-117.

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