The Cold Wave of 1836

The record breaking winter of 1977-78 and the Easter weekend ice storm in Central Illinois reminded us of this old article about the cold wave of 1836. It was published in the Montgomery News of January 10, 1908 and signed by Wm. Bowls, apparently in response to some disagreement about the date of the cold wave.

We are of the opinion that we old ones have been wrong on the date of the noted cold wave that struck the state of Illinois in December 1836. I quote from Moses History of Illinois the following: Not more remarkable is the climate on account of the variableness, than for the extremes of heat and cold to which it is subject, the most memorable of which occurred in the central and northern parts of the state December 20, 1836. Several inches of snow had fallen on that day, and it was warm enough for rain to fall in the afternoon which melted the snow into slush and water. At about two o’clock in the afternoon it began to grow dark, from a heavy, black cloud which was seen in the northwest. Almost instantly the strong wind traveling at the rate of seventy miles an hour, accompanied by a deep bellowing sound, with its icy blast, swept over the land, and everything was frozen hard. The water of the little pond s in the roads froze in waves, sharp edged and pointed, as the gale had blown it. The pigs, chickens and other small animals were frozen in their tracks. Men going to their barns or fields a short distance from their houses, in slush and water, returned a few minutes later walking on ice. (Judge Blodgett and S. Woods of Morgan County.) Those caught out on horseback were frozen to their saddles and had to be lifted off and carried to the fire to be thawed apart. Two young men were frozen to death near Rushville. One of them was found sitting with his back against a tree, with his horse frozen in front of him. The other was partly in a kneeling position with a tinder box in one hand and a flint in the other, with both eyes open, as if intent on trying to strike a light. As to the extent of the temperature, however, no instrument has left any record, but the ice was frozen in the streams from six inches to a foot in a few hours. When the storm struck Edwardsville, I was sitting in a log cabin I northeast of Captain Wheeler’s residence about 250 yards watching a flock of geese playing in a pool of water about twenty steps across each way. When the wind struck them, they turned their breasts to it and bunched up and started to swim out but the ice closed around them so quickly they were frozen fast and had to be chopped out. A big raccoon was found at a corn pile father had thrown on the ground near the feed lot, with his tail attached to the ice so firmly that he lost his life when feed time came. Uncle Austin Bowles was driving two horses to a light peddling wagon and was near Edwardsville when the storm came and barely escaped being frozen by the time, he reached out house. There were enough serious casualties, if we should attempt to record all of them, to occupy our time for several days. A pleasing story is told by Grandma Armstrong which confirms our opinion that Dec. 20th is the date the storm came. She says: There was a select party a t her home on the 23rd, and Aunt Betsy Brown was one of the number invited to the party and walked across East Fork on the ice to reach her house, it being where Uncle Sam Sellers now lives. That her parents at times told her the noted storm came a day or two before they had the party and that she will be 71 years of age on the 23rd day of Dec. 1907.

It is not clear to us just where Mr. Bowles stops quoting from “Moses History of Illinois” and begins his own observations of the storm. However, we wonder how many persons who experienced the ice storm of 1978 have written down their observations for posterity?

Taken from: Historical Society of Montgomery County Newsletter – April 1978

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Jeff Dunn

Vice President

Historical Society of

Montgomery County

Advisory Board

Illinois State

Historical Society