The Winter Storm of 1856-57 in and around Early Denison
Denison, Crawford County, Iowa
A heavy snowfall began on December 2 nd and lasted three days, burying Crawford County in a three-foot blanket. Some were isolated in their houses, but Mr. Didra encountered a special challenge according to a story told in the county history compiled by the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration. Didra had built his family’s house on the south slope of a hillside. When he and his family awoke December 3 rd , not only was the cabin completely covered with snow but also the garret had filled with snow. He dared not build a fire for fear the heat would melt the snow in the attic and its melting would flood the house. So while Mr. Didra dug out, his family huddled shivering in bed. Outside he found his oxen wandering in the snow—all but one. He plunged his pitchfork into the deep snow to find the cow but found neither her nor the bottom of the drifts.
On the night of the storm, in town, Jacob Seagrave, a guest at the tavern walked a block away to visit a friend. But when it grew late and he had not returned, the proprietor and other guests were concerned. One travelled in the storm, down the block, to the friend’s house where Seagrave had gone and learned that the young man had visited then left for the tavern. The guests beat tin pans and set up a racket hoping Seagrave “would hear the noise above the roar of the storm and find his way back.” The story goes that they also tied together the tavern’s bedcords into one long rope that they used to circle the tavern in hopes of finding Seagrave. They were unsuccessful. The next morning the proprietor’s son saw Seagrave’s boots sticking out of a snowdrift and pulled him out. Two men walked to Council Bluffs to fetch a doctor, returning two weeks later with a retired army physician. Seagrave lived but he lost both of his feet.
Humans were not the only ones suffering that winter. A herd of some 75 deer who had sheltered in a grove with many of the resident’s cattle remained there into January. A January thaw followed by a freeze “glazed the snow with ice.” When the deer attempted to run across the ice, they fell through, became trapped, and then were easy prey for wolves. Deer and elk starved in the bitter cold of that winter and their bleached bones were found in the grove for years after.
Source: SHSI: Crawford County History Iowa, Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in Iowa, 1941.