|Carroll County IAGenWeb|
Transcribed and donated by Marilyn Setzler.
ST. BERNARD'S CATHOLIC SCHOOL, BREDA
RADICAL MODIFICATION OF CLIMATE COMES WITH SETTLEMENT—WINTER'S BLIZZARDS AND SUMMER'S TORNADOES—SAM TODD'S STORY OF AN EARLY DAY TRAGEDY—PARTY FROM HILLSDALE VISITS CARROLL AND IS CAUGHT BY MARCH STORM —FOUR OF THE PARTY REACH HOME IN SAFETY—FOUR DRIFT WITH THE STORM AND ARE LOST—BLIZZARD CONTINUES THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS—CHARACTER OF THE STORM— AFTER IT SUBSIDES RESCUE PARTY IS ORGANIZED TO LOOK FOR THE MISSING MEN—TWO BODIES FOUND FROZEN STIFF UNDER BOX OF SLED—BROTHERS PERISH ON THE CARROLLTON-HILLSDALE TRAIL HORSES FOUND ALIVE BUT CRAZED WITH SUFFERING AND EXPOSURE—CLOSING OF THE TRAGEDY.
There can be no doubt that many and radical modifications of climate have come about within the years which have passed from the present back to the time when the first white man came and made his settlement in the bottoms of the Middle Coon. The extremes of both summer and winter were then manifestly more severe, and while a certain large allowance must be made for the exaggeration of tradition there is every warrant for the belief that tales of snow six feet deep on the level; blizzards that prevailed for weeks; periods of heat and drouth, tornado, hail and insect plague in presence of which farming as a settled and profitable industry was thought to be futile, are not all fiction.
Fifty years ago one might stand on the high points of the divide or any of the eminences of the county and see for miles, or as far as vision can reach at sea, over a rolling uniformity of space of the same color and character, without an object in all of that visible zone to serve as a landmark, save perhaps the course of a stream, where the grass was ranker and taller, or some rare and peculiar outcropping of the surface. Over these unbroken stretches the winds had fair and free play, carrying with them from the northwest in winter the cold and storms of the arctics, and in summer, from the south and west, the "hot winds" at the touch of which vegetation withered, or the tornadoes whose powers and malevolence are not to be described. But fifty years has changed the face of nature. The field of vision from the higher point is now confined to a few miles, and is everywhere interrupted and broken in upon by trees and houses. Forestration alone is said to modify and balance climatic excesses, but when to widespread tree-culture is added the many barricades afforded by the improvement and development of the towns and farms, the original forces of nature are much disturbed in their freedom and where they were once terrible have become comparatively tame.
The tragedies of the old times, however, must not be discounted by the security of the present, when the seasons roll around in a procession with little to distinguish the fat prosperity of one from the fat prosperity of the other; when life in Carroll county is subject to no hazard that there is not a doctor close at hand to cure, and when the most likely viccissitude Sic [vicissitude] is the possibility of death from old age.
On the 13th day of March, 1870, all of the men folks of Hillsdale—and this includes all inside of what is now known at Roselle township—got up early in the morning, dispatched their chores, and hitched up their teams for a trip to Carroll. Sam Todd, the only survivor of the expedition now living in Carroll county, is telling this story. "That was a pretty fair sort of a March morning," says Sam. "There was a little snow on the ground, enough to make a sled run smooth if you kept off the high places which the wind had blown bare. A light snow had fallen the day before, which was Sunday, and before that we had been hauling hay from old man Cole's place on Brushy. The weather had been mild for some time and it looked as if there was going to be an early spring. It never had more of that appearance than the morning we started out for Carroll—three sleds of us, with four teams. In my party there were Joe James and Joe Mathias. Hussey and Coppage came in together, and with the third sled there were four men, Horn, Ashelberger and two young Germans, who had just come over, by the name of Bruner. They brought in a load of wheat and had two teams hitched to their sled. This was all the men there were in the settlement except father and another old man. We didn't try to drive in by the trail; just followed the low places where there was snow enough to make the sled run easy. It was warmish and some watery clouds made it look a little like rain. We all had some traps to buy and errands to do in town. I was busy and didn't notice things much and was a little late getting a pair of shoes fixed at the cobbler's. But about noon I had finished up everything. It was still warm but the sky had clouded over. A little snow was falling in flakes as big as your hand in mushy, wet dabs. There was some wind and when I ran across Joe Mathias and James a little later on Fifth street it was blowing hard—the snow still coming, not heavy but in the biggest flakes I ever saw. There was sharp lightning and thunder. When I met the boys they said we had better start for home, and I was willing, for I didn't like the looks of things.
"’By dad, Sam,' said Joe Mathias, 'We're goin' to have one of them things you read about.' "
"I asked him why."
"Look over there," he said, pointing to the northwest.
"I tell you it didn't look just first class to me, either. Coppage and his partner had started out a few minutes ahead of us. The other team, I found out afterwards, left town about fifteen minutes later.
"Well, in those days there wasn't a house between Carroll and Hillsdale. There were no fences and no other features—just a rolling prairie. South of the river there wasn't any trail worth speaking of. Every fellow made his own trail in those days.
"It was blowing right smart when we started, as I said before, but when we got in the open country across the 'Coon, those big flakes had split up into a million little pieces and were coming at us stinging and slantways. A man could have walked into it head-on the way it was then, but he wouldn't if he could have helped it. Ever see one of them storms? Every second it was growing blacker and thicker and colder. We had to go quartering and the team was beginning to want to take the storm in the rear instead of the flank and go with the wind. But old Sam he had the strings and he knew he had to hang on to the off line and make the critters go his way or there would be trouble. Well, we went b' guess—and—b' god for a couple of hours. We didn't know for sure any more where we were than nothin,' but we knowed we ought to be somewhere near Hillsdale. Say, the way she was a comin' was a plenty. The whole works had broke loose. They was shootin' cinders at us out of cannon, the way she stung and cut. The snow was coming so fast and drifting so deep in the low places that we had to keep on the ridges or get stuck, and just then we didn't want to be detained. We all wanted to get home pretty bad. We weren't lost but we suspicioned that we wouldn't be in just bad luck if we could only get a sight of something that seemed familiar.
"The storm kept getting worse all the time and the cold colder. The only way I knew the team was ahead was by the feel of the lines. Old Dobbin's rump wasn't in sight, but I was hanging on to that off line like grim death and I knew we were still going quartering with the wind. Well, at last we could tell by the way the sled was running that we were climbing a middlin' steep hill. Then the runners on one side bumped up and the sled came near going over. Joe Mathias jumped out to see what was the matter. We had run over a heap of nigger-heads that some one had piled up on the top of the hill just north of Hillsdale. We were mighty tickled, for then we knew just where we were at. The settlement was south of us. We lived a mile west. Over a little ways was a quarter-section, around which there was about five furrows of breaking which had grown up with weeds. If we could strike them weeds we could follow them right up to my old shack door. We had our luck with us, but, near frozen, it was all the three of us could do to make the team half-face the blizzard. Mathias and James got out and led the brutes and we at last got home, plum tuckered out, half frozen and 'most scared to death.
"Well, the storm kept up all night and the next day—and the next night and the next day till four o'clock in the afternoon of the 15th. It had been 35 degrees below zero for thirty-six hours. The wind was so heavy that we had to go out once and brace the cabin with the boom-pole of the hay wagon for fear it would blow to pieces. When the heavy blasts came the shack just canted forward and groaned back and the nails that held it fairly screeched.
"The storm came to an end in an hour's time and the sun came out. But the air was still so full of snow—there was no wind now—that it seemed to be still snowing. Many of the hollows were filled bank high with snow twenty feet deep, but the knobs were swept bare. We went over to the settlement as soon as it was safe to go outside and there we found that Bussey Sic [Hussey] and Coppage had got home after a hard fight.
"But Horn and his party had not showed up. The women and children were crying pitifully. We comforted them as much as we could by saying the men might have stayed in town, but they did not believe it and neither did we, though it was at least a hope and some comfort.
"The next day we men hitched up and went back to town, shoveling our way through the drifts in places. In town they thought we all must have perished and the newspaper man, J. F. H. Sugg, had already made up a party to go out and look for us. A crowd of fifty men soon started back in sleds in search of the missing men and outfit. There was little or nothing to trace them by, but the men scattered on foot and when we got east of Hillsdale a sled track was found about two miles out going with the wind. By care it could be followed. The sled had packed the track and the wind had kept the snow from filling it so that occasionally these marks were found leading south and east. A couple of miles of careful work brought the rescuers to a hill which overlooked and somewhat sheltered a low gully. At the bottom of this they saw the upturned bed of a sled, where a ghastly and shocking spectacle lay in wait. Under this protection we found the bodies of Horn and Ashelberger, one sitting upright on a pile of sacks with the head and face sheltered by the hands. This was Horn. Ashelberger was lying on a blanket. Both were frozen into solid chunks of ice. A mile from the sled we found two of the horses walking round and round in a track which their hoofs had beaten hard and deep into the snow. The beasts were crazy and on the point of perishing from hunger and cold. The other team drifted before the storm to the Cole place on Brushy and had been given shelter but not until after the storm had gone down. They had also beaten a hard path around the fence enclosure.
"The bodies of the Bruner boys were found on the old mail road from Carrollton to Hillsdale, several miles from where their companions were found. They had left the sled together and were driven by the storm toward the road along which ditches had been plowed and there was some grading to mark the way. When found they had separated. The weaker brother had fallen and struggled to his feet and fallen and struggled again. The tracks showed that his brother had helped him. But when he could go no further the other pushed on and his body was found a mile beyond on the way to Carrollton, with sustenance and safety still ten miles away.
"The Bruners had evidently remained with the sled until daylight and had perished early on the second day of the storm. If they could have faced the storm for the same distance they traveled toward Carrollton, both would have been saved, for the road would have taken them to Hillsdale. But it was not in the power of human strength to face such a storm.
"The bodies were taken to the Horn and Shellenberger place," resumed Mr. Todd. "They were laid on planks around the red hot stove and I was left to act as fireman and watcher for the night. I would not want to go through the same experience again. Frequently, as the bodies thawed out, they would move, and a good many times that night my old hair stood straight up. That was the longest night I ever put in."
And Mr. Todd scratched his now denuded crown reflectively.
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