Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Winter of the Deep Snow

While we are bemoaning how long it takes to plow the cul de sacs this winter, it might make our dispositions sunnier when we remember how good we have it now in 2011 compared to the early settlers of Illinois.

The winter of 1830-1831 was particularly nasty throughout the state, even in the southern areas. Joseph Naper was planning to bring his friends and family out to the DuPage River during the coming summer, but until then, settlements were few and far between. Fewer than 200 people gathered in the village around Fort Dearborn, a veritable metropolis on the frontier, but the rest of the prairie had only scattered homesteads.

Baily Hobson brought his young family from Indiana to Kendall County during the fall of 1830. Little did they know how long the winter would be! Snow started falling a few days before Christmas, followed by powerful winds and bitter cold that lasted until March. Snow lay three feet deep with drifts up to six feet in places.

Snowbound and running out of provisions, Baily and his brother-in-law fought their way to the nearest settlement to find food, leaving Mrs. Hobson and her three small children in the primitive cabin. The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois picks up the story:

"The night of the terrible blizzard, she heard a footstep at her door, and thinking her loved ones had returned, she opened the door, and their best cow fell dead at her feet, frozen, and she could not close the door, nor could she move the animal. The wind blew and the cold was so intense that they nearly froze before she and her children could push the cow over far enough to enable them to close the door."

Mrs. Hobson thought her husband was frozen as well, but he did return with food after a couple weeks. For decades afterwards settlers would date events by their relation to the Winter of the Deep Snow, including Abraham Lincoln who was also a newcomer to Illinois in the fall of 1830.

By spring the Hobson family moved to DuPage County and their name is still found throughout Naperville. So when you're cursing the snow this winter, remember poor Mrs. Hobson and be grateful for modern conveniences!

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