Osawatomie’s pioneers endured Kansas winters in log cabins and sometimes even tents and lean-tos, which testifies to their courage and fortitude.

John Everett wrote to his father from Osawatomie in a Feb. 1, 1856, letter and offered a picture of life in a pioneer cabin to his father. He wrote: “Sarah has had no chill since we wrote last. She is gaining strength a little. Franky is quite well. He is very busy when he feels at all well. He is writing a letter now on a chair, beside me as he sees his father writing, but I think the specimen of his chirography which we sent last week will suffice for a time at least. My health continues about the same. I fear I cannot do a great deal till the weather moderates.”

The winter of 1856 was cold, and Osawatomie’s pioneers were enduring it in log cabins that, despite what modern movie scenes may portray, were not warm. The reality is that 10 feet beyond a cabin’s fireplace, it was as cold inside as it was outside, with the log walls only providing a windbreak for the frigid winds of winter.

Everett continued in his letter and wrote of the weather, stating: “Yesterday, was a very pleasant, mild day. At the warmest, mercury at 34 degrees, Last Monday morning, mercury at 17 degrees below zero. Many cattle have died this cold weather. They do not make calculations for such cold weather.”

One of the great challenges of enduring winter on the Kansas frontier was that for long days, the pioneers would simply be stranded in their cabins and have to fill what seemed like endless hours with “homemade” activities. Reading was a common past time, along with appreciating nature.

Everett writes, “I have seen what are called “sundogs” thrice, and once I noticed the same phenomenon about the moon- three moons one faint one on each side of their central prototype, with rainbow hued shafts above and below them. I noticed the other evening a column of light just after sunset, extending from the place of sunsetting the apparent width of the sun, halfway up the sky. It resembled the tail of a comet except in uniform width. But it was ten times brighter than any comet’s tail I have seen on auroras here.”

Osawatomie’s pioneers who were living through the rigors of the Kansas winter also were often homesick, and Everett wrote in his letter to his father: “How does it sound to hear the steam horse snort and whistle in Ramsen? It would be quite an additional inducement to go home to think of riding in the cars to Remsen.”

Everett then implored his father to write the Everett family, and stated in the closing of his letter: “Sarah sends her love particularly to father and mother, and to all the rest. I join. Do not be discouraged in writing us.”

Osawatomie’s pioneers endured many trials on the frontier, one of them being the Kansas winter, and persevered, and built the town that we all enjoy and work to build up today. We owe them a debt of gratitude and respect.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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