The drought of 1988 will long be remembered as a time of hardships for both man and beast. The early pioneers of this area also suffered greatly with severe weather of all kinds, including several years of dry weather.
How dry was it? Rev. Timothy H. Ball, early historian, wrote the following in his Lake County History of 1872: "1838, a summer of great drought and great sickness. So scarce was water that musk rats, driven out of their usual haunts, were found wandering about in search of it; and even went into houses and about wells to find some water to quench their thirst. One of these animals, entering the house of Solon Robinson of Crown Point, never so much as asked, but went directly to the water bucket. During the continuance of the drought, winter commenced." According to the reports of 1839, the winter was mild and wet.
The winter before was most severe, and the settlers barely lived through the cold and snow.
On Apr. 4, 1835, only a few days after the Bryant brothers pioneered the Pleasent Grove area north of Lowell, their brother-in-law David Agnew lost his way on the prairie during a terrible snowstorm and, swallowed by darkness, perished with the cold. His wife, Nancy Bryant Agnew, bravely took over his claim at the Grove.
The winter of 1842-43 was called the 'hard winter,' one that would long be remembered. Many cattle starved to death.
Rev. Ball wrote a sad story of that season: "Nov. 17, William Wells, a very steady, sober, stout, healthy man, perished with the cold in a severe snow while returning home from Mill. His residence was West Creek, and he had been to the mill at Wilmington, Ill. He perished on the Illinois prairie."
There was a January thaw, but the next month the winter continued severely cold, with food for the cattle very scarce and more animals dying. On Apr. 1, 1843, snow piled up to 18 inches, and Cedar Lake could still be crossed on the ice on Apr. 16.
That hard winter finally ended in May with vegetation only slightly advanced, and cattle found little food.
The summer of 1846 was another very dry one, a time when many of the early settlers died. Rev. Ball noted that the years 1838 and 1846 were the ones most noted for sickness in the annals of Lake County. But the fall of '46 began with mud weather, so mild that the apple blossoms opened, and the following winter was not severe.
Crops were unusually late in the summer of 1857; corn was very small on July 4. No winter grain, rye or wheat was cut until August, though the yield was good.
The crop of spring wheat was considered the best ever raised in the county. One farmer gathered 96 bushels from three acres sowed on May 1. Some raised forty bushels an acre. Corn was sold that season for fifteen cents a bushel.
Weather report of 1860: "A cold and backward spring; Apr. 8 to 14 Snow; June 5, very white frost; June 11, frost; a light frost on July 4; but on July 12 the temperature was 104, July 13, 104. and 105 on the 15th, with several more days following with the mercury over 100. In September light frosts, and in October a hard frost with cold and snow.
"On July 2, 1861, a light frost was reported."
The winter of 1862-63 was very mild and wet, with the geese and cranes staying all winter. This was followed by a most unusual spring and summer. In 1863 there was frost every month! The hard frost killed vines and corn on Aug. 30.
In 1865, the year that saw the end of the Civil War, there was terrible hail on June 20, with much damage also done by wind and rain. Marks of that hailstorm remained in the settlements for years.
According to the following account by Rev. Ball, the pioneers did have some fine weather, too. "January 1869: The month just closing has been remarkable, in the county of Lake, for its even temperature, its amount of sunshine, its mild winds, its general uniform pleasantness. No snow of any amount since the sheet of ice of the first week, and very little mud. Excellent wheeling, no rain, no storm, day after day, week after week.
"South wind, southeast wind, west wind, north wind, east wind -- still pleasant weather. It is said that such a January has not been experienced for some thirty years. For a winter month, it has been truly delightful. Cedar Lake, having been covered with one strong sheet of ice, then again all open, can now, in the latter part of March, be crossed with loaded teams. Quite an unusual occurrence."
Commencing on Jan 14, 1871, a sheet of ice covered everything for two weeks, with terrible damage done to the trees. "The winter scenery during those weeks was indescribably grand.
"Such a scene of resplendent beauty none here ever seen before." But many roads in the area were rendered impassable for days by the icy blockade.
In June 1871 locusts came, large swarms, and were especially numerous in the woods north of Lowell; south and southwest of Crown Point; and also in the eastern part of the county.
The coldest temperature recorded by the early settlers was on Jan. 5, 1884, when the mercury went down to 32 degrees below zero.
(The weather reports in this column were taken from Rev. Ball's histories of 1872 and 1884; from Journals written by Solon Robinson, founder of Crown Point; and from logs written by Rev. H. Wason at Lake Prairie in West Creek Township.)
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