S. M. Eaton
The Double Winter
1842 - 1843
The winter of 1842-43 was the hardest winter ever known in Wisconsin and was called the double winter. From the 8th of November to the 10th of January there was good sleighing; then a January thaw came and all the snow went off and people thought that spring had come, but it froze up again after about eight or ten days of soft weather and snow began falling again every few days until it was three feet deep everywhere. Hay, oats and corn got so scarce that the many settlers drove their cattle to the woods and cut down the trees and saved their cattle in that way.
My father took the Parsons farm and worked it the season of 1843. We had a field of wheat east of the house that threshed 47 bushels to the acre. There was no place to store it; no barn or granary, so they took fence rails and built a square pen and laid a bed of straw on the bottom and lined up the sides with straw and put the wheat in it and covered it with hay. It kept all right until our pigs, (we had had a few that were on the farm and they had increased considerable, so with what wolves had not caught there must have been a dozen) and they got to rooting around the wheat pen and caused a leak, so that the wheat ran out and they lived on it. My father could not stand to see the waste but could not prevent it. He went down to Whitewater and told Mr. Parsons about it. He listened to father's story and then ask whose hogs are they? Father said they are ours. “0, well, as they are our hogs and our wheat let them eat, they won't eat any more than they want.”
We lived on that the farm two years and then father went into what was then called Barkwoods, where he preempted a quarter section, all heavy timber. Mr. Joseph Green, a brother-in-law of Mr. Parsons, and father of my wife, had come from the east and he joined a father in the land and took the east 80. A pre-emption would hold the land one year and then he paid a patent. Father pre-empted after one year and Mr. Green the next year, and that gave them two years to pay for it.
Our only revenue was selling timber. As people came into the country, and more especially into Whitewater, all had to get timber from the woods to build with. (Both my father and Mr. Green were good timber makers.) Father got several jobs to supply the timber, among others one for a church which would net him money enough to pay for his land.
We used to haul the timber to the river (Bark River) and raft it down about two miles, then by wagon to Whitewater. I did the hauling to Whitewater with the oxen.
When the time came to pay for the land he wanted the money, but the church people had no money; they had spent all they had in building the church. They wanted father to take a pew in the church and they would credit the pew rent on his bill. As we lived fully seven miles from the church and had no way of getting there only by walking he did not engage a few. Father was in great trouble then as to how he was to get the money to pay for his land and told the church people his situation, finally one good Christian Brother consented to loan my father $100 at 25 per cent interest.
Father took the money and secured the land, but he was four years paying it back. That was Christianity at 25 percent. He had a severe sick spell and was given up to die. The doctor from Whitewater refused to come anymore. The last time we sent for him he said it is no use. I can send him something to make him die easy, that's all I can do. The messenger said, I don't want your medicine and then consulted one other doctor that had lately arrived. He was a Thomasonian doctor, a Dr. Powers, he came and treated father and he and improved from his first treatment and finally was cured entirely. We finally got land enough cleared so we could raise enough to live on; and I have seen that country all cleared and blossom as the rose.
I could write many pages and tell of the situation and hardships we endured. How practically everyone had fever and ague. How we waded the river in the spring nightly to spear suckers for food; how we made maple sugar and traded it for other necessities; how we caught a wild hogs, and how we secured quantities of wild honey. We had come to the land of honey minus the milk, but the milk came in due time. I knew one man that had three barrels of strained honey and one time and he had no meat, only as he killed a deer occasionally and he traded a barrel of honey for a barrel of pork, so he had pork and honey.
I could fill many pages with stories -- some of joy and pleasure and some of sadness, sickness and death. How many were sick and unable to help themselves; how we that were well went and took care of them and harvested their crops, of wheat and corn and all without the thought of pay or reward.
My brother-and-law, Calvin Green, an old soldier, now over 85 years, living at Hebron and myself used to be the good Samaritans in our neighborhood and we have done many a hard days work in saving neighbors crops and helping to thresh the same, and we never received or expected any pay, other than the satisfaction of having done a kind act.
I could tell of the first 4th of July celebration in Jefferson County where we had a big free dinner for everyone; where a special oven was built by Maj. Boyington to cook turkeys and pigs; and a bass drum was made by a Jesse Wright from a hollow basswood log and hundreds of other things, but I think I have written enough to weary your patience to decipher it.
So I will quit right here.
Your old friend and pioneer,
S. M. Eaton.
Eaton & Son file