An Illinois Winter - Full Video

Uploaded by geoscienceEIU on 24.05.2011

[no dialogue].
♪ [music playing throughout] ♪♪.
(male voice-over). The clouds passed
away and the wind came down from the
northwest with extraordinary ferocity.
For weeks, certainly not less than 2 weeks, the mercury in the
thermometer tube was not on any one morning
higher than 12 degrees below zero.
The wind was a steady, fierce gail from the
northwest, day and night.
The air was filled with flying snow which blinded the eyes and
almost stopped the breath of anyone who attempted to face it.
No man could for any considerable length of
time make his way on foot against it.
♪ [music playing-- no dialogue]. ♪♪
(Kevin Jeanes). Imagine yourself writing
in your diary of a winter's day by candle light.
While outside the northwest winds howl, blowing snow against
the door, a small barrier between you and the elements.
The fire you made in the fireplace begins to lose the
battle to heat your log home.
You shiver with the fear that your ink might freeze under the
harshest conditions you have ever experienced.
You attempt to divert your wavering thoughts of the day
when a burst of warmth breaks the icy grip to no avail.
Scenes like this were common among the inhabitants of central
Illinois during the winter seasons of the 19th century.
Throughout the recent decades, we have experienced the rage of
winter's wrath.
To some of us, winter's fury has been a major inconvenience.
Stumping transportation or an occasional power
outage that disables the use of the Internet.
Whatever the inconvenience, those before us
had to struggle even more.
We sometimes forget how difficult it truly was for them.
Explore with us the history of those bone chilling nights when
the skies unleashed its wrath that defines an Illinois winter.
♪ [music playing-- no dialogue]. ♪♪
(female voice-over). The prairie, a landscape
of waving grasses, flat terrain separated by creeks,
bordered by towering trees.
Humans would think that this peaceful landscape was
uninteresting but its simple beauty can be breathtaking.
(Chad Evans). While the prairies
of central and east central Illinois were
largely characterized by tall, warm season grasses
of six to about nine feet tall.
Now a tall grass prairie is a community dominated by
grasses and flowers or what we call fores, and is
nearly devoid of shrubbery and trees.
Now these prairie communities were originally maintained by
fires, whether they be naturally induced or induced by Native
By 1809, migrants from Kentucky, Indiana, the
Carolinas, and New England were beginning to
move into the virgin landscape of the Illinois territory.
First, entering the south and spreading
northward through the territory.
It wasn't until the 1830s that settlers began to tame Illinois'
Serengeti of tall grass prairies and thinly timbered savanas.
This was due to the misconception that prairie soils
were much less fertile than the woodland soils that pioneers
were accustomed to in east and southeast
of central and eastern Illinois.
(Chad). What few people realize
is that the tall grass prairie community
was very diverse and very dynamic and literally it was a
Serengeti type of ecosystem that stretched all the way from
western Ohio through central Illinois where it really reached
its greatest abundance and then it went all the way west into
Kansas and eastern Nebraska.
(Laine). Settlers brought with
them everything they owned for their
new life which at the time was little, indeed.
Trees were felled near streams and rivers to place their one
room log home and prepare for growing crops
for food and raising livestock.
In those days and especially in preparation for the uncertain
winter ahead, heating was a major concern in the
construction of their log home.
(Mathew Mittelstaedt). In the cabins just like
the Lincoln's have like numerous
other settlers have, they have one fire place to heat the home.
But you might have a loft where you have people sleep and so
that loft only gets what heat is radiated from that fire place,
from that chimney into that portion of the house.
So, if it's 20 degrees outside, it's going to be colder inside
even though you've got the fire going.
They would certainly live in different ways than we did.
They wouldn't use the, they didn't
obviously have open floor plans.
But they didn't use all of the rooms in the house in the winter
time because it really wasn't economical to heat all of those
rooms especially if you were only going to be in it for such
a brief length of time.
So, they would have rooms in the house that they
might not use in the winter time.
In today's home, we've got an open floor plan and
you want to be able to utilize all of your space.
So, you'll heat a 12,000 or 14,000 square foot house our
predecessors would look at that as very wasteful especially
considering the fact that they are not just paying somebody to
deliver the propane or the gas or the electricity or what they
need to heat their home, they're actually having to go out and
fell the trees and then split the wood and stack the wood and
bring that into the home to actually heat their home.
So, they probably understood the value of that heat source a
little more than people do in the 21st century.
(Laine). Across the new landscape,
neighbors would be a short distance away and
villages would be near enough to transport
crops for selling.
(Matthew). Farm families, when you
travel through the countryside today,
you're going several miles sometimes before
you find another house.
Once you get into the true country, when you are anywhere
near the towns and cities, of course, there's this sprawl that
comes out from them.
But when you get out into the true rural areas, there are
fewer people per square mile today than there
were in the 19th century.
(Laine). Once established in their
home, clearing trees and plowing the
land for growing crops was an arduous task that took a great
deal of effort and time to complete in time for planting.
Failure to complete the task resulted in a failed harvest and
starvation during the following winter.
The first year's harvest would be enough to
secure food for the upcoming winter.
Year by year the settlers would expand their land in hopes of
growing more crops to sell for profit if there was a surplus.
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(William Hodor). The winters before
the storm are unusually warm for the settlers
of central Illinois.
Since agriculture is very much tied to climate, farmers were
delighted in the abundance of harvest they could reap through
the long, warm growing season.
Seeds of corn would be planted in the
spring after the last frost.
As the warm summer engulfed the region, the inhabitants would
devote all of the possible daylight
hours to cultivating the crops.
(Chad). Once John Deere invented
the plow, much of the tall grass prairies went
into the cultivation in central and east central Illinois.
Typically, during the spring and summer, you would have the land
that would be plowed, then disked,
then cultivated by various tools.
A lot of these tools were very primitive at the time.
You might have one plow and then a small cultivator, hoes, then
the crop would go into the ground and would grow through
the summer and cultivation would continue throughout the summer
months because no herbicides were used at the time.
You also have to remember, during this entire period, no
fertilizers were used and that was really the key that really
allowed agriculture to blossom in central and east central
Illinois was the fact that these prairie soils of glacier origin
were very fertile, naturally fertile.
So fertilizers weren't needed too much and therefore an
abundance of food could be produced without the use of a
lot of chemicals that we see now in modern agriculture.
♪ [music playing throughout]. ♪♪
(William). Toiling in the blazing
sun and cooling off in summer rains,
work continued as was the goal for survival.
Not only were fields planted for food, but also acquiring fuel
for the upcoming winter was vital to provide heat for the
home and cooking.
Weather forecasts were not yet available except for the
Farmer's Almanac.
Yet, to purchase the publication was not a necessity.
Knowing how to read the skies was the only tool farmers had to
determine the conditions of the day and possibly the next day.
Even that was a longterm forecast.
(Chad). You're talking about
a period in history where various settlers
from Europe were coming to the United States to start farming
land and they really didn't have a clear cut idea of the climate.
The weather forecast weren't available, so certainly they had
to rely on signs in the sky to predict the weather.
In fact, many of the signs that they did see in the sky and
tools they used to predict the weather back then are still
actually quite useful now in some respects.
(William). The warm winters
before the storm sprawled off the idea that
expanding the type of crops the settlers planted.
Although cotton was a southern crop, Illinois farmers were
attempting to dabble in the economic prospects of
introducing a new crop into the region due to the mild winters.
John Carol Powers, a Sangamon County historian wrote that he
built a cotton gin in the hopes of harvesting cotton.
However, the coming winter of the deep snow,
this venture would fail.
♪ [music playing throughout]. ♪♪
When the warmth of the spring was in the air, fruit bearing
trees began to bud and blossom.
Leaves of the tall grasses across the landscape began to
fill with a brilliant green.
However, as skies of the north would fool mother nature and
grip the land with a frosty hand, plummeting temperatures
while the region would once again slip into winter.
Seeds that were planted sprung forth with life were killed.
Farmers lost most of what they planted.
This occasional scenario killed further ideas
of introducing new unreliable crops.
(Chad). When the first settlers
arrived in central, east central
Illinois in the 1820s, we went through a period of quite mild
climate with long growing seasons.
In fact, doing research, it appears that some of the last
frost in spring at that time were mid- to late March and the
first frost and freezes were in November.
So we had a very long growing season but by the 1830s,
around 1830, right up to about 1840, the growing
seasons were cut short.
The climate turned quite cold and we had several very snowy,
harsh winters that really led to a lot of hardships and caught a
lot of settlers off guard.
(Matthew). Southern Illinois has long
had the nickname Little Egypt and it
really goes with the Biblical reference of the famine and then
of course Egypt was the grain basket, so all of the people
would go into Egypt and purchase what they
needed to take back home with them.
Really, the same thing happened here in Illinois.
After that year, 1831, you find so many farmers and so many
people that live in the central and northern part of the state
having to go south to purchase corn, to purchase wheat, to get
themselves through the winter.
So they look to the Bible and they look to that reference and
they see the same thing happening to them.
So they're going down into Egypt to purchase what they need to
survive that winter and the next year.
(William). Even in the late
summer season, frost would be significant
enough to kill what made it through the long growing season.
When crops made it to the harvest, and the crops were left
in the fields, howling winds would blow over the groupings
and would sometimes bury the stalks during
the first significant snow.
Risk was prominent in this period.
It took every bit of caution to determine when to
avoid loss of yield, prior to the onset of winter.
Winter wheat sometimes failed if the winters were overwhelmingly
cold for extended periods.
(Matthew). The winter of 1830
is something entirely different.
The winter of 1830 began typical as many winters do, very mild on
the prairies out here towards the latter part of December.
It began with sleet and snow and then the winds came on and
continued to blow and of course you have
the blowing and drifting of snow.
But all through that year, through that winter, the snow is
accumulated through December and through January.
Then by some accounts there are three and four feet of snow on
the ground and of course drifting higher
in other areas as well.
When that happens, you've left your corn
out in the field which is really typical.
They've cut they're corn, they put it into shocks, and they
leave it out in the fields until they need to bring that in
whether it's for taking to the mill to have ground for cornmeal
for themselves, whether it's to feed livestock.
In years where you have heavy snow and high winds, you can
lose that corn out in the field.
The shocks blow over, they are lost underneath the
snow and you can no longer find that.
You get the heavy crusts of ice on top of the snow which in the
winter of 1830, 1831 they had intermittant warming spells
where they would have more rainfall, then freeze on top of
the ice and so it became very difficult that year to support
both themselves and their lifestock.
♪ [music playing-- no dialogue]. ♪♪
(Brittney Lager). The inhabitants of
Illinois were not all pioneers as they were
called in the Annual Old Settlers Day gatherings.
The winter of the deep snow was the turning point that separated
those who were pioneers and those who came later.
Such an event as the winter of 1830 to 1831 would forever be
remembered for years to come and define Illinois
for its strength to survive even the harshest winters
that had ever been witnessed.
Those who came from the south and the east passed down through
the generations their stories of struggling through the landscape
and howling winds and drifts of snow.
(Mathew). To the people who
settled here in Illinois, if you came in the
spring of 1831, it doesn't matter if you're clearing the
land, building your cabin, you're on virgin land, you're
not a true pioneer in Illinois.
The only true pioneer in Illinois is the one who came
before and had to live through that winter of 1830, 1831.
So they really used that as the benchmark.
Years later, the old settler societies, it becomes a badge of
honor if you actually lived here and lived through that winter.
So, they considered it really a very important event in their
history here in Illinois.
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(male voice-over). One whose life has
been spent in southern New England can form
lower conception of such a winter, it was impossible to
break out snow pads in the New England fashion.
While driving a team through the snow, the track behind it would
be almost immediately obliterated by the wind.
The population around us was almost wholly from the south and
we had no conception of such a winter.
They were well nigh paralyzed by the task imposed upon them.
(Laine). Living conditions were difficult
and sometimes inhabitable.
People struggled to warm their homes and keep food
on the table through the sometimes long winters.
During long days, when the snow depth caused pioneers to remain
in the home, the fuel supply would diminish and had to be
resupplied by going out and cutting it.
(male voice-over). Our fuel was yet
in the forest and even much of our food supply
remains still in the field covered by the deep snow.
(Laine). The fear of when
it would be possible to venture out was on
the minds restricted inside.
In addition, during the days of extremely bitter cold, trees
would be difficult to cut, due to
moisture freezing within the trees.
Time was important and never wasted.
Combating the cold with fuel was only one factor, having enough
clothing to ward off the bitter cold was another.
Wool and mittens and overcoats and
leather boots were commonly worn.
Quilts, blankets, and rough linens were used within their
home to protect against the harsh winter nights.
Although a fire in the fire place was raging, it could not
overwhelm the intense cold.
(Matthew). They certainly would cope
with the climate conditions far better than we would
today because we live in a environment
where the heat has to be at 68 or 70 or 72 in the winter time
for us to be comfortable.
It has to be at that same temperature in the summer time
for us to be comfortable taking all of the
humidity out of the air of course.
They're used to more extremes in the temperature
because that is their environment.
Their homes are not as well-insulated and as
well-sealed as ours today.
So, it's not uncommon to hear people
talk about the winter time.
Even today when we have visitors here at the Lincoln Log Cabin,
somebody will say well my grandmother or I remember as a
child myself in the winter time.
We'd get out of bed in the morning and there would be frost
on the blankets and the frost comes from the condensation from
their breathing during the night because the
home isn't well-heated.
In the winter time you're going to have, you know, men wore
capes, men wore shawls as well when it's cold, men wore a house
coat inside because really it's about keeping yourself warm and
so they're dressing in layers.
Chiefly, its wool and that wool cloth is used to produce heavy
coats and things like that to keep you warm.
(Laine). Transportation during the
winter of the deep snow is extremely difficult.
Distant inhabitants were cut off from the villages as the harsh
gusty winds created drifts along the known paths.
(male voice-over). Had our railroads
been in existence, I fear they would
have proved for the time useless.
The deep cuts would have filled with drifts and even modern
appliances could hardly have kept them open.
We were obliged to take shelter for the remainder of the winter
in some of the new and perfectly finished rooms
of the college building.
(Matthew). In the early years,
where the first settlers were here, they
talked about having only maybe shin deep snow.
Well, that's still good enough to get out a sleigh and to
maneuver about as long as the snow conditions were right.
In winters where you've got heavy snow, and if you've got an
ice crust on top of that, which isn't really very thick, it's
going to be very difficult to get out with your horses and a
sleigh or sled to travel because you have to actually break
through that crust of snow and you sink down in there.
So you're really having to forge a path through the snow to
travel any great distance.
So, in the winter time, unless the conditions are just right,
you're not going to see a lot of travel going on.
♪ [music playing-- no dialogue]. ♪♪
(Kevin). The calm warm weather
would end as the harsh north winds started
to howl on December 10.
Mother nature came with a vengeance that would
forever be known as the Winter of the Deep Snow.
The cold wave that swept across the Midwest from Canada on the
21st dropped the temperature to minus 28 degrees at Fort
Snelling in Minnesota.
The Arctic blast chilled the entire Midwest for 10 weeks.
Even those who lived in Texas felt a blast of the north.
Throughout the winter, cold waves would leave a lasting
impression on those who witnessed
the wrath of the north.
Periodically, temperatures would rise and leave a layer of ice
which made travel nearly impossible.
While attempting to travel to Illinois College, Mr. Beacher
was caught in Vandalia during the Christmas holiday and stayed
with new acquaintances until travel was possible.
(male voice-over). Mr. Beacher did not
remain at Vandalia until the end of the
conflict but returned during the Christmas holidays to
Simultaneously with the commencement of his journey
occurred the historic deep snow.
And he found himself weather bound at Hillsboro with the
hospitable home of our dear friends Mr. and Mrs. Tilsen.
There he met Mr. Charles Holmes, a noble friend and benefactor of
Illinois College.
(Kevin). As the temperatures quickly
dropped, rain fell over the Illinois prairie and
caused a man riding a horse to freeze to his saddle.
Another story described a family caught in what was
known as the Cold Friday.
The family of eight had stopped as the snow fell and the wind
swept across the open prairie.
They did not escape the wrath of the skies that night and were
found dead, huddled near their wagon.
On December 29 in Kansas City, Missouri, the snow blanketed the
Earth to a depth of 30 inches.
Another witness recorded that 41 inches fell
in northern Missouri.
(Chad). Well, the Winter of
Deep Snow in 1830 and 1831 was characterized
by the passage of several rather deep, mid-latitude cyclones.
With each cyclone that passed or area of low pressure, each one
would go through Indiana and then about 70 to 80 miles
northwest of the low track, you have heavy snow across central
and parts of east central Illinois.
Now, with each progressive storm you would have a foot of snow,
then another one would come through and dump another foot of
snow, so you had successive layers of snow.
By the time it was all said and done, upwards of four feet of
snow had fallen in the region.
(Kevin). The wildlife was also
victim of the harsh blowing snow.
Unable to move quickly to escape the hungry wolves, carcass were
found scattered across the prairie.
The dwindled supply of feed for buffalo and no place to graze
left a smaller population to roam
the prairie in the coming spring.
As the last frost faded in the warmth of the springtime sun,
work began to prepare for next winter's grip on the region.
Many throughout the region escape the chilling nights and
the deep snow.
For Dr. Sturtevant, the sorrow of the winter returned and his
life changed forever.
(male voice-over). Spring came and
with it a great sorrow.
Our darling boy suddenly sickened and died in
our arms after an illness of but a few hours.
Nothing remained for us but to tenderly bury his loved form in
a grave surrounded by a little wooden enclosure on the lone
prairie and go on with our work.
My wife's heart was almost broken.
She never recovered the full buoyancy of her spirits.
Though, several years of happily married life
still remained to us.
(Kevin). This and many others
will be forever remembered in the
stories from the Winter of the Deep Snow.
[no dialogue].
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