Did the early settlers of Fullersburg have difficulty coping with frigid temperatures? Our available historical sources indicates that they did, and that they sought help from each other when necessary in order to survive. As their primary sources of heat were their wood-burning fireplaces and stoves,
they had plenty of fuel provided by the trees in their surroundings. However, without weather- predicting technology, the pioneers needed more than firewood to cope with cold winter conditions and extreme situations, which usually involved cooperation and kinship.
Dealing with cold temperatures was part of early pioneer life, as shown by George Ruchty in The Fullers of Fullersburg. George Ruchty (descendant of Ben Fuller, who brought his large family from New York to this area in 1835) details the toughness of the early settlers as they faced wintry weather. For example, the Fuller children slid on the ice on frozen Salt Creek in their bare feet, carrying a block of wood with them to stand upon when their feet grew too cold. Gaps in the roof shingles of the family's first cabin caused snow to "blow through the openings and cover the bedding," which was disposed of by shaking it though an opening to the main floor below to be swept out the door. George also describes the school for the children of Fullersburg as the village grew; children met in a "one-room, frame building heated by a wood-burning, pot-bellied stove." A favorite Fullersburg activity was skating on the creek, and in "extremely cold weather large log fires burned brightly along the shoreline, giving warmth and comfort to those brave enough to venture outdoors." The village appeared to be tight-knit as its residents faced the challenges of pioneer life. (The Fullers of Fullersburg can be found in the "For You" section of this website.)
The Torode family also settled in this area and became acquainted with the Fullers, and their descriptions of extremely cold conditions were documented in letters to the extended Torode family in Ohio. In a January, 1836 letter, Nicholas Torode writes to his father, "... it is now 3 o'clock I will close and go to bed my ink frezes so hard... ." His correspondence details life-threatening prairie fires and bitter temperatures. For example, he was forced to travel with his horses and a wagon to the Naper Settlement to have his grain ground for food. On 1/18/1836, Nicholas wrote that he "almost froze stiff with one great coat and two Comforts around me and a parcel of hay in the wagon," but he was "obliged to go or starve." While at the Naper settlement for two days, "the horses almost perished with the cold while at the mill I had to keep them covered with my two quilts or I would have lost them." On the way home, his wagon got stuck in Salt Creek at 10 o'clock at night, but a neighbor's son helped free the wagon and find his way home, which exemplifies the inter-dependent nature of pioneer life.
Perhaps the most famous winter conditions among the pioneers was the "Winter of the Deep Snow" of 1830-31. Juliette Kinzie writes about her adventures traveling to the small settlement of Chicago in 1831 on horseback during sub-zero conditions in her book Wau-Bun (Northwest). Juliette, as a new wife, travelled with her husband from present-day Wisconsin to Ft. Dearborn in Chicago. As they approached the west branch of the DuPage River, she writes:
The weather was intensely cold. The wind, sweeping over the wide prairie with nothing
to break its force, chilled our very hearts. I beat my feet against the saddle to restore the
circulation, when they became benumbed with the cold, until they became so bruised I
could beat them no longer. Not a house or wigwam, not even a clump of trees as a shelter,
offered itself for many a weary mile. At length we reached the west fork of the DuPage.
It was frozen, but not sufficiently to bear the horses.
After breaking the ice so that the horses could cross the river; Juliette writes, "How the poor animals shivered as they were reined in among the floating ice! And we, who sat waiting in the piercing wind, were not much better." They were able to find the pioneer home of the Hawley's, where they had dinner before continuing their journey. They were then forced to cross the east branch of the DuPage River, which Juliette describes as more perilous than the west. The river was very high and flowing quickly; she writes of her fear as she "grasped both bridle and mane with the utmost tenacity." The Kinzies finally reached the Lawton residence, where they found shelter for the night, demonstrating the camaraderie between travelers and local settlers. (Juliette Kinzie's book is online and can be found in the "Sources" section of this website; also see blog post "The Winter of the Deep Snow" at https://www.fullersburg.org/post/the-winter-of-the-deep-snow.)
A later example of the local settlers dealing with extreme cold occurred in the winter of 1862, soon after the Civil War began. By this time, Fullersburg had a post office and an inn called the Castle Inn, known for its warm stove. The winter had been exceptionally frigid, and Delilah and Reuben Fuller (brother of Benjamin), decided to move into the inn from their farmhouse in preparation for their baby's pending arrival. Loie Fuller was born on January 15, 1862, and she became the most famous dancer in the world. She later wrote about her birth in her memoir Fifteen Years of a Dancer's Life:
It occurred in January, during a very severe winter. The thermometer registered forty
degrees below zero. At that time my father, my mother, and my brothers lived on a
farm about sixteen miles from Chicago. When the occasion of my appearance in
the world was approaching, the temperature went so low that it was impossible to
heat our house properly. My mother's health naturally made my father anxious. He
went accordingly to the village of Fullersburg, the population of which was composed
almost exclusively of cousins and kinsmen, and made an arrangement with the
proprietor of the only public-house of the place. In the general room there was a huge
cast-iron stove. This was, in the whole country-side, the only stove which seemed to give
out an appreciable heat. They transformed the bar into a sleeping-room and there it
was that I first saw light. On that day the frost was thick on the window panes and the
water froze in dishes two yards from the famous stove.
The community of Fullersburg rallied around Reuben, Delilah, and their baby, and Loie grew to be a very precocious child and natural entertainer. (Her story can be found on this website in the sections entitled "Loie Fuller," which also contains a link for her memoir.) Once again, the support of others was instrumental to survival during exceptionally difficult conditions in Settlement-Era Illinois.
Sue Devick, M.A.