Old history books of the area contain many stories about the hardships of the early pioneers of our county. Following are a few stories relating the problems of some .
The winter of 1842-43 was an unusually early and severe one. On the 11th day of November, 1842, William Wells, an early pioneer of Lake County, started from his home two miles south of Lowell, and traveled to the grist and woolen mill at Wilmington, Ill. As he was returning on the 13th, he drove his horses into a terrible snow-storm and the temperature was very low. He was blinded by the storm and lost his way on Grand Prairie, in Illinois.
When his horses came home without him, a search party was organized. He had cut the hame strings and other harness to allow the horses to find their way home or to seek shelter.
It is thought that he tried to seek shelter for himself in the wagon, but finding himself unable to keep from freezing, he started out into the driving snow storm without any definite idea of where he was going. His frozen body was found over four miles from the wagon. The body was then brought back to Lowell for burial.
Another story also grew out of this sad accident. It seems that some medical men heard about the burial and were determined to rob the grave, hiring an "Irishman" to open it. While digging, the man's lantern set fire to the escaping gases, and "he ran a furrow thru the field."
The medical men, waiting with a cutter, plied their horses with whips as if an avenging spirit was after them. But they were captured and brought before a Justice of the Peace for trial. After an exciting time in the courtroom, the charges were dismissed, much to the great relief of the alarmed doctors, and the disappointment of onlookers.
The March column of Pioneer History written on the Surprise family told about their cabin burning. It was about the year 1836, when some flax caught fire in the loft of the Peter Surprise cabin. The family had all retired, with the exception of Mrs. Surprise, who gave the alarm.
The flames spread rapidly and the family was driven out into the deep snow, scantily clad. Martin Driscoll, who was staying overnight with Mr. Surprise, escaped with only a pair of pants. It was discovered that one of the Surprise children had been left behind, and Mr. Driscoll rushed the flames to rescue the little infant.
In a story on the Bryant settlement at Pleasant Grove (Pioneer History, Mar. 1980) we mention that David Agnew, on the 4th of April, 1835, lost his way on the prairie in a terrible snowstorm, and over taken by darkness, perished with the cold. The following is a more complete story of that sad event:
David Agnew, husband of Nancy Bryant Agnew, was driving an ox team from Morgan Prairie in Porter County to the new settlement at Pleasant Grove, near Lowell. The weather had been mild and a terrible snowstorm in April was not expected.
David became separated from other members of the party, and the storm became very severe. One of the group, Simeon Bryant, stopped at Hickory Point, built a fire, and waited for a time for him to come. At about four in the afternoon, Simeon started on foot for the settlement, thinking that David had decided not to come thru the storm. Simeon was a strong man and was able to reach the cabin.
The next morning, when the storm was over, and an April fog was coming in, a search party was formed by the Bryants. They found the body of David Agnew.
A quote from the Bryant Family records says: "Upon looking 'round they found beaten paths where Agnew had at first run around in a circle to try to keep from perishing, and then, as if strength had failed so as not to be able to do that, he had supported himself with his arms around the trunks of the trees, running around them till there was quite a path worn, and leaving the lint of his coat sticking to the bark. He finally got hold of a pole about seven or eight feet long, and placing one end on the ground and leaning on the other, ran in a circle, until, as it would appear, his strength was entirely exhausted and he fell across his support, leaving no sign of having made a struggle after."
David, with his oxen, had reached Hickory Point where Simeon had built the fire, but instead of camping there, set out on foot for the settlement, ten miles away. Somehow he nearly made it across, but perished almost within reach of help. He was buried at the cemetery at Morgan Prairie in Porter County.
His widow, Ann Bryant Agnew, took possession of the claim, and the settlement grew.
About the middle of February, 1835, coming from Jenning County, Indiana, was William Clark and his family, and with them the family of W.A. Holton.
It was an unusually severe month. Their wagons, drawn by ox teams, which most of the early settlers used instead of horses, were slowly winding their way across the bleak open prairie when they came to the wild Kankakee marsh which was covered with ice. Darkness overtook them while they were trying to force their teams across.
There was no shelter, but they finally discovered a pile of logs someone had hauled out to make a cabin. They made a tent out of the wagon covering, built a warm fire and sheltered themselves from the cold prairie wind.
The next day, by going many miles out of their course, they reached a little hut of an old Frenchman named Shobar. Weather was so severe that they stayed in the traders' hut with his Indian family for two days and nights. Then they were able to follow old Indian trail back into Indiana, and came to West Creek. There the oxen broke thru the ice. Finally they were pulled out and the wagons were brought across. Following along the Indian trail across Lake Prairie, they found a board that read "To Solon Robinsons." Soon they enjoyed the hospitality of Mr. Robinson in Crown Point.
The pioneer historian, Rev. Timothy Ball, had this to say about the pioneers: "The pioneers in every part of this country, whether they came amid the snows and ice of winter or the flowers of summer, or as the family of which I was a member came, amid the deep mud, and crossing the bridges streams of December, knew the meaning of privations and of hardships. But all seem to have borne them with great cheerfulness. The hardy came, the intelligent came, men and women mostly young or in the prime of life, and happy, light hearted children."