Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy Birthday to Joe Naper's Settlement!

This week marks the anniversary of the date that Joseph Naper along with his family and friends arrived at the banks of DuPage River to start their new settlement. The exact date remains elusive, but it was around the fifteenth of July.

Normally, I would suggest stepping out onto the prairie at our local forest preserves like Churchill Woods or West Chicago Prairie to see and feel what it would have been like when the settlers finished their journey. But this year there is probably no similarity!

In 1831 winter reluctantly gave way to spring. Ice on the Great Lakes broke up quite late and ships, such as Naper's Telegraph, had to wait longer than usual before it was safe to start sailing. Cool and wet weather continued for much of the season and into summer. While it was July before the families arrived at Fort Dearborn, the landscape must have looked as green and fresh as if it were early June.

Contrast that with this year! Our mild winter, early spring and super hot and dry summer has fried the prairies to a crisp. Can you imagine if the Napers, the Murrays, the Boardmans, the Sissons and the other families were pulling up their ox wagons today? There isn't much time left to grow any sort of crops under the best conditions. Trying to start seeds in this kind of weather would be very disheartening!

Fortunately for Naperville's settlers, they were able to sow rutabagas and buckwheat and grow enough food to survive their first winter. As we shop for groceries in our air conditioned stores, we should spare a thought for those hearty pioneers who left civilization and comfort behind them to start new lives in their new home here in DuPage County 181 years ago this week. 

Read all about the journey in "Ruth by Lake and Prairie," a "Little House" version of our very own history written for children ages eight through twelve -- and their parents!