Perhaps the most dangerous weather in the Midwest is the blizzard.
Temperatures plummet, and the wind not only drives that cold through a person, but blows the snow so hard that they can hardly see. Many lives have been claimed by Iowa’s winter storms over the years, and H.V. Morrill was almost among them.
Morrill lived in Lyons, which is now the north end of Clinton, during the 1850’s. He was a lawyer, and for him, travel was essential in those days.
The Clinton County Courthouse in DeWitt, several miles to the west, was where the majority of legal proceedings would have taken place. Not only that, but Morrill’s law firm also served the area surrounding the town of Elvira, requiring him to regularly travel there.
The winter that bridged the gap between late 1856 and early 1857 was harsh. Like many other people of the era, Morrill travelled by sleigh, which was both easier and faster in the winter months.
One day, he and his wife visited a friend’s farm about four miles west of Lyons. As they sat, a blizzard began to howl across the fields outside. For whatever reason, Morrill decided that he needed to return home that night instead of waiting out the storm.
His friends provided a room for Mrs. Morrill to sleep in while Mr. Morrill went out and got his sleigh and horse team ready for the short journey home.
Morrill was no stranger to winter travel. In addition to what he would have normally worn in winter, he also had thick buffalo and bearskin robes to keep him warm and block out the harsh winds. His sleigh would have travelled effortlessly across the snow, pulled by a good team of horses that he knew and trusted.
Full of confidence, Morrill bid his wife and friends farewell and set out for Lyons at about 8 p.m. that evening.
Through the driving wind and blowing snow he went, expecting to see some sign of civilization at any moment. But there was nothing. No city lights, no streets, no rows of houses. It was just the prairie and the storm, howling unchecked across the open ground.
Soon enough, Morrill determined that he must have driven off course. He thought that he was north of town, close to the steep bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Between the blinding snow and the dark, Morrill became afraid that he would ride his team right off the edge and fall to his death.
So, he decided to camp for the night. Stopping at what looked like a decent place, Morrill turned his sleigh over on its side, and settled in to make camp for the rest of the night.
The temperature dropped low, and even his buffalo robes were no match against it and the wind. Morrill often became so cold that he had to stand and walk around, forcing his freezing limbs to move.
Finally, dawn broke. The storm had subsided, and everything was now clear. Looking around, something else was especially clear to Morrill. He had spent the better part of the night driving his sleigh in a circle, not even one-hundred feet from the farm house he had left!
Probably feeling somewhat sheepish, Morrill went inside to his friend’s home, who graciously invited him to stay for breakfast. For sometime after, his circle of friends gave him a hard time about the incident.
However, Morrill probably never forgot how dangerous driving in a blizzard can be, and learned to stay indoors when he could!
“The History of Clinton County, Iowa.” Chicago; Western Historical Company, 1879.