Reminiscences of Some Severe Winters

By Mrs. J. R. Wilhite - written in 1917


Extracted from: History of Richardson County Nebraska

by Lewis C. Edwards

Published 1917 - B. F. Bowen & Company, Inc. Indianapolis, Indiana

This page added 10-13-06

-- The below article was edited by DelC --


People in this day of modern advancement and the conveniences we now have, little realize the hardships endured by the pioneers of this county, and it is those who have gone through all these struggles who can fully appreciate the comforts of a warm and comfortable home.

In April, 1855, I, with my parents, Jesse Crook and wife, moved to what was then the neighborhood of old Archer, located about two miles north of Falls City in the southwest quarter of section No. 36, of township No. 2, north, range No. 16, of Ohio township. It was not until that fall that an attempt was made to start a town site, which they called Archer, consisting of a little hotel of logs, three or four log houses, a post office and store, which grew to larger proportions later. There were only a few families there at that time, mostly French, and a few Indians.

From St. Stephens, in the northeast corner of the county, down to Archer, the country was a vast unbroken prairie and anything but a bright future greeted us on our arrival. The sufferings and trials of some of the settlers that year are pitiful to relate. The country being new, and having little to do with our existence that winter depended a great deal on the killing of game, and some parched corn we had saved up. No vegetables had yet been raised, and those wanting meat were forced to go to Missouri, a distance of fifteen miles. The unfortunate ones who were not blessed with a team or horse were forced to struggle through the long, trying winter, as best they could, with the kind of assistance their neighbors were able to give. Thanksgiving time and from then to April, the ground was never free from snow. This winter was particularly a hard one, and we had nothing to do with, and the hard sleet and crusted snow made it almost impossible for travel. The cattle could not stand on it and we depended almost exclusively on the oxen for motive power at that time.

My father, Jesse Crook, in company with another man, named Samuel Howard, started out for Andrew County, Missouri, with their team to get supplies of meat and groceries. They killed hogs, dressed them and threw them in the wagon like logs of wood, and started home. They had just crossed the Missouri river at St. Stephens, when they were overtaken by a blizzard and could not see their way. My father started out on a horse to try to break a road for the team as the blizzard by this time was worse than ever. Mr. Howard abandoned the team and started out on foot alone. He got as far as the mouth of the Muddy, when he was so nearly frozen he gave up to die. Just then he heard a dog bark and the tinkle of a bell and he knew that an Indian Camp must be close at hand, as the Indians always kept bells on their ponies. With a little renewed energy he struggled across the frozen river, and was taken in by the Indians. His boots were frozen on his feet. They cared for him that night, giving him food and shelter, but his feet were badly frozen and he was laid up all the winter suffering with them. The next day, having failed to return home, his friends and neighbors started out in search of him. The team and wagon were found and they learned from a man named Hughbank that a white man was taken in by the Indian Camp. So he was found and taken in by his friend, Jesse Crook, and cared for that winter.

Fatherís Heroism Saves Family - A family, by the name of Dodson, residing near Salem, lived for three weeks that winter on little besides parched corn. They were among the unfortunate ones, having no horses, and the heavy snows had almost completely blockaded them from any outside help. Realizing that starvation was inevitable, the father started on foot from Salem and struggled his way clear through to Missouri for meat and carried a ham of meat that distance on his shoulder. He was nearly dead when he again reached home, but his heroic effort was the only thing that saved his little family from actual starvation. Another incident that I now recall to mind was that of John Hoitt and wife, who resided in a little claim shanty on what was later known as the John R. Smith farm near Falls City. The neighbors had not noticed smoke coming from the chimney of their little home for three days and fearing something was wrong went to the rescue. They were found in bed, nearly frozen to death, and had nothing to eat for the three days and no fuel in the house. They were carried from the house to that of a neighbor, where, with kind assistance, they were able to survive the winter.

Died Within Sight of Help - Another sad experience during the winter of 1855 was that of Martin Rutherford. The snow was very deep, and it was bitterly cold, and he had started back home on horseback, as he lived near Barada. Finding the road could not be traveled by his horse he got off and tried to walk. The ice and snow soon became too much for him. Weak with the cold and the plodding through the snow, he crawled on his hands and knees, perceiving a little house nearby. By a great effort he finally managed to reach the door of the cabin, but died before anything could be done for him. The winter of the early sixties brought forth many renewed hardships. Cattle froze in their sheds and food was scarce. Many days we trapped game for food, by stacking the corn in ricks to tempt the quails and prairie chickens. The snow was so deep the women could not think of doing any work out of doors without high top boots. Having no place to store the winterís supply of meat, the butchered hogs were stood up on their hind feet by the chimney on the outside of the house, and whenever we needed meat, we would take an axe and chop off as large a piece as we wanted; just as we would chop a piece of wood. My brother, W. H. Crook, then a small boy, had a number of calves, whose horns and ears were frozen off, and to keep them alive he put them in the cellar and cared for them all winter.

Mr. Lones and his son - Another memorable incident that happened during the year 1856 and remembered by many of the early pioneers, was that of Mr. Lones and his son. Some time in the early part of November, 1856, Mr. Lones and his son, Cirus, started out from their home near Mound City, Missouri, with a sleigh loaded with their household effects. Their intention was to locate on a claim on the Nemaha in this county, just west of what we know as Pearsonís Point, a little east of the present Falls City. They had intended to stop over night with his son-in-law, Charles Robertson, who then lived one-half mile east of what is now known as the Pearson cemetery, east of Falls City. It was after nightfall when they reached the place and found to their disappointment that the son-in-law had moved away. A terrific blizzard was upon them, and being already fatigued and cold from their long, tiresome trip, it was useless to try to proceed any further. Of course the cabin was cold, there was no fuel or stove and nothing to eat. Unable to fight for existence, they were found so badly frozen in the morning that they both died from the effects, the father dying one week later, while the son survived a little longer. They were the first white people to die in the neighborhood, and they were buried near Pearsonís Point. This was the beginning of what we now know as Pearsonís Point Cemetery. (DelC's note - I think this might be now known as Preston Cemetery)

Many times during the winter of 1863 and 1864, the children would climb out of the upstairs windows and play in the snow, as it had drifted as high as the top of the house.


---- This article was edited by DelC ----



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