Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cold Toes & Bare Cupboards

With the recent heavy snow and cold temperatures, I am still grateful for the blessings of the modern world. Take a small trip back in time with me when pioneers were forging their way into the Ozarks in 1830.

I hope you enjoy.

Judge M. J. Rountree, who came to southwest Missouri with his parents in January, 1830, a few months after the founder of Springfield, John P. Campbell, had built the first log cabin on the present site of the metropolis of the Ozarks, tells the following story of that memorable winter:

"Our family left Tennessee in the fall of 1830 and reached the Mississippi river about the 1st of December. The winter came on early, and by the time we got to Massey's iron works the snow was so deep that our teams could not make the usual daily distance.

"We expected that the snow would soon melt and pleasant weather return, but the temperature kept falling from day to day and the sky continued cloudy and threatening.

"The country was an unbroken wilderness, with only here and there a wagon trail made by the home seekers who had gone before us to the western frontier. When the snow reached a depth of 18 inches, our situation became extremely uncomfortable and perilous, The trackless waste then all looked alike, and a more desolate scene was never beheld in this latitude by homeless wanderers.  We could travel but a few miles a day and were in constant danger of getting lost I should judge that the mercury was down as low as zero most of the time, but we had no thermometer to measure the cold.  The country was full of wild beasts, and packs of hungry wolves howled around our camp every night.  Fortunately for us, we fell in with a party of Canadian for traders and Indians, who were coming into the Ozark country, and they became our guides through the snow covered wilds of southern Missouri.  But for this good fortune I do not believe we could have completed our journey.  The Indians knew the country well, and they guided us from day to day slowly through the deepening snowdrifts.

"Now and then the sun would shine through the broken clouds, but the faint rays shed but little warmth on the frozen earth. Sundogs always appeared in the heavens when the sky was clear, and a biting frost tilled the air every cloudless morning.  By the middle of December the snow was nearly two feet deep, and our wagons could hardly be pulled through some of the drifts.

"Small game perished from starvation and became food for larger animals.  Wild turkeys died by thousands, and wolves devoured the dead birds.  Whole flocks of turkeys would drop from their roosts at night, exhausted by hunger and cold.  Very few quails survived that terrible winter.

"It was the 16th of January when we reached the Springfield settlement, having trudged through the snow for nearly six weeks and traveled only about 200 miles in that time. The snow remained in drifts till the middle of March and hardly began to molt before the last of February. Nearly all intercourse between the few settlements in- southwest Missouri was cut off by the severe cold, and bat for the abundance of game starvation would have been the fate of some of the pioneer families.

"The deer became as tame as sheep almost, and the settler could shoot a buck from his cabin door when meat was needed. Ammunition was more precious than gold, and no one shot a gun for mere sport. That was the hardest winter I ever saw, considering the unusual length of the cold season and the depth of the snow. Before the war the old settlers always spoke of it as 'the cold 'winter.' "
St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

Works Cited:
“The Cold Winter.” Indiana Democrat 35.47 (24 Mar. 1897) 1. Access Newspaper Archive. Baxter County Library, Mountain Home, AR. 1 Dec. 2009

“The Cold Winter.” Democrat Times 13.146 (3 Apr.1897) 4.Access Newspaper Archive. Baxter County Library, Mountain Home, AR. 1 Dec. 2009

No comments: