Horatio Lovejoy’s New Year’s Eve 1863-1864

Horatio Lovejoy’s New Year’s Eve is a tiny pamphlet touching on a lot of topics. It’s a story of survival, with three young people lost in a prairie snowstorm. It’s a description of the intense winter weather midwestern Americans endured from December 1863 into the first week of 1864. It’s a glimpse of surgical practices in 1864 and of how a disabled man functioned in the late nineteenth century. It’s an example of a work sold for charity in the late 1800s.

The wind-whipped chill the first weekend of 1864 was breathtaking even to midwesterners innured to temperatures below zero. “We are having, without doubt, the most remarkabl[e] ‘cold snap’ that has ever visited this region,” the Milwaukee Sentinel announced. Errand boys and newspaper carriers had to be rescued and resuscitated. So did editors—mostly from alliteration and hyperbole: “Cold most piercing and penetrating! Breeze most bracing and blasting! It was so bracing that a poor devil must needs have braced himself pretty firmly to escape being blown over.” Just as air travel is affected by winter weather in the twenty-first century, train travel was affected in the nineteenth:

No railroad trains were run on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. The train which left [Milwaukee] for Chicago at 4.45 P. M. Thursday, was snowed in at Rose Hill, and did not reach Chicago until about two o’clock Saturday. The Milwaukee & Prairie du Chien company stopped at stations the only two trains that they started out on Thursday. … Working parties have gone out from each end of the route, and both ways from Madison, who are expected to have the road cleared of snow to-night. On the La Crosse road there are four passenger trains and several freight trains blockaded, but the company are exerting themselves to the utmost to remedy the difficulty. [“The Weather.” Milwaukee Sentinel (4 Jan 1864): p. 1, col 5]

The season was remembered 30 years later as “The cold New Year” [“Ludlow.” The Champaign Daily Gazette (Champaign, Illinois) 16 Dec 1891; p. 2] and Lovejoy’s story formed part of a vivid recounting 65 years later of “the ‘big’ snow and ‘the’ cold New Year’s of 1863.” [“Old Whiteside Story tells of Cold New Year’s.” Sterling Daily Gazette (Sterling, Illinois) 31 Dec 1928; p. 5]

Amelia L. Lovejoy was about 12 years old on New Year’s Eve, 1863; her death date is given as 3 January 1864, on her tombstone in Zion-Smack Cemetery, Whiteside County, Illinois [genealogytrails.com/ill/whiteside/cemzionsmack.html]. Horatio was 18. His life story points up that nineteenth-century Americans didn’t necessarily spend their lives in one place. Horatio Phineas Lovejoy was born in 1845 in Illinois, of parents born in New England. Having apparently spent much of his life in Illinois, in 1883 he married Martha Rorabaugh (1860-1929), and the couple lived in Iowa. [See James Hill’s query at genforum.genealogy.com/lovejoy/messages/908.html and James Hamilton Carroll’s family tree for James and Mary Rorabaugh at www.connectingourkin.com/rora004.htm] In 1900, they were living with three children (they had seven; at least three died in infancy) near Martha’s mother in what would become Oklahoma. [James Hamilton Carroll. “Connecting Our Kin.” www.connectingourkin.com/meclark.htm. Also, family tree at rootsweb.com] Horatio died in Kirksville, Missouri, in 1918.

Lovejoy became a minor celebrity in the Midwest, his visits noted by various small-town editors who also pointed him out as a grateful recipient for readers’ charitable impulses. “Horatio Lovejoy … solicited our sympathy as well as money last Wednesday,” the editor of the Champaign Daily Gazette [Champaign, Illinois] noted. [“Ludlow.” 16 Dec 1891; p. 2] The editor of the Hope Dispatch [Hope, Kansas] added that Lovejoy “is pretty well known all over the Mississippi valley” and that “[h]e eats with a combination knife, fork and spoon made by Steve Tobey more than thirty years ago.” [20 Sept 1900; p. 12] The Ottawa Herald [Ottawa, Kansas] attempted a joke: “Horatio Lovejoy … has had both his hands and his feet frozen off, and makes his living selling a pamphlet entitled, ‘What’s in a Name?’ ” [“Around the County.” 8 March 1900; p. 3]

The book seems to have been produc ed by various printers. My copy was printed in Charles City, Iowa; a notice in the Troy Times [Troy, Kansas] in 1887 states that “The Times office has just turned out a lot of neat pamphlets for Mr. Horatio Lovejoy.” [16 Sept 1887; p. 3]

Did the book help Horatio financially? Lovejoy apparently sold copies wherever he visited. “He was selling a little pamphlet describing his thrilling experience of New Year’s eve, 1863,” the editor of the Lewis County Journal [Monticello, Missouri] explained. “If a person had a dime he could not help giving it to this man, regardless of the pamphlet he was selling.” [“Local and Personal.” 3 Dec 1897; p. 3] However, only a handful of copies appear in online library catalogs, all in Illinois. (One is apparently titled the more accurate Horatio Lovejoy’s Terrible New Year’s Eve.) Since most copies were likely sold to individuals, library catalogs don’t reflect the final number sold. While my copy has no price on it, a library copy apparently is priced 10 cents—the price mentioned in the Lewis County Journal and an amount that went much further in 1882 than it does now. A notice on the copyright page that Horatio didn’t drink alcohol would have assured buyers that their money was going to someone “deserving.”

Because the pamphlet was printed by various companies, there are variations. Library copies tend to be 11 or 13 pages; one copy is 20 pages. Mine is 17. This may reflect differences in the way the number of pages has been calculated (I didn’t include the end papers or the cover, which acts as the title page), or it may simply be due to inevitable differences in printings.

“Horatio Lovejoy’s New Year’s Eve. 1863-1864.” Charles City, Iowa: Advocate Steam Job Print, 1882.

[cover/title page]

Horatio Lovejoy’s



Advocate Steam Job Print, Charles City, Iowa.

[blank page]

[copyright page]

Morrison, Whitehead County, Ill.}
April 28th, 1882.}

We, the undersigned citizens of Morrison, being familiar with the history of the misfortunes of Horatio P. Lovejoy, state that his disability was incurred as is stated in this little book. That he was not at the time, nor has been since, addicted to the use of liquor, so far as we have known or head; and that he has no relatives, of sufficient ability, from whom he is entitled to claim maintenances, and that he is in need of all that he may be able to earn or obtain by the sale of his book

E. W. PAYNE, Clerk of County Court,
Wm. LANE, Ex-Judge of County Court.
A. FARRINGTON, Circuit Clerk.
W. A. THATCHER, County Treasurer.

[p. 5]



Who does not remember the terrible New Year’s night when 1863 died in a whirling roar of freezing wind and blinding snow? You who were safe beside your warm fires, or snugly covered in pleasant beds, thanked God you were safe at home, and fervently hoped that none were abroad that fearful night. Some unfortunates were abroad, and never told to earthly ears the story of the battle with Death, in which they went down before his icy breath. Some survived to tell us what they survived. The story of how three children passed that night, and who they were, is the subject of this pamphlet.

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In 1834, Mr. Phineas Lovejoy (grandfather to Horatio) and his family came from Weston, Vermont, to the “Yankee Prairie,” now called Vergennes, in Jackson county, Illinois. In 1834, Rev. D. Wells and family, including his only brother, settled in the same place, followed in 1837 by his mother and two of his sisters, from Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Southern Illinois was first settled by emigrants from Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia; but about the year 1835 there were many emigrants from New England, who, differing in manners and customs so much from the original Suckers, were for years a class by themselves, and were generally found in colonies by themselves, having their own schools and meetings, quiltings and raisings, funerals and weddings. It took years of intercourse to break down the barriers of prejudice caused by dissimilar customs, sufficient to allow of marriages between a “Yankee” and a “Sucker” family. So when Daniel Lovejoy courted and married Lucinda Wells, it was a subject of congratulations, and considered every way proper and fit. Daniel Lovejoy was a carpenter and millwright, and a very energetic and industrious workman—but not well calculated to make money; perfectly honest himself, he could not learn to deal with everyone as if he would be cheated, unless very careful, and so was frequently deceived, and often lost money by having

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too much confidence in the honesty of others; and when he died at Thebes, Alexander county, January 15, 1853, he had but little to show for all the hard work he had done, and left his wife and three children but poorly provided for a campaign against the hardships of life.

In August, 1854, Mrs. Lovejoy, with her sons Elbrige and Horatio, aged eleven and eight years, and her daughter, Amelia, three years old, came to Kingsbury Grove, in the western part of Whiteside county, where she had a sister living, and where wheat bread was plentier, and fever and ague not so plenty, as in Southern Illinois.

A hundred dollars saved from the wreck of Daniel Lovejoy’s business, invested in land, and afterwards sold at a profit, enabled Mrs. Lovejoy to build a small house in the village of Mineral Springs, and hard work and strict economy fed and clothed her little flock, who soon grew large enough to earn something toward their support.

In December, 1863, nearly all the young men in and around Kingsbury Grove were in the army; among the number, Elbrige Lovejoy had enlisted that fall, and was in camp at Springfield.

The evening of December 30th was pleasant, and Horatio and Amelia Lovejoy made arrangements with Sophronia George, a foster daughter of Mrs. Payne, and aunt of the Lovejoy children, to go to Morrison the next day for a sleigh ride, and to get things

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for New Year’s presents. They were all up early and ready to start before daylight, as they had fifteen miles to drive, make their purchases and return. The weather was not cold, but snow was beginning to fall. Mr. Payne advised them not to start, as everything indicated that a severe storm was coming on; but they were all ready. Caution belongs not to youth; they could not forego the pleasure of the ride for fear of a little snow.

They got to Morrison without trouble, though the storm increased and the wind changed from the east to the north-west, and increased in violence.

They started for home about 3 o’clock P. M., and though the snow flew in their faces in blinding sheets, the horses kept the road until they were about half way home, on the Rock Creek bottom, which is a level, low, swampy prairie, four miles wide, and by the road which runs along the west bank of the creek, it is six miles from a house on one side to the first house on the other[.]

Half way across the bottom, the road makes an abrupt turn to the right and crosses Linn creek, a small tributary of Rock Creek, by a narrow, low bridge which cannot be seen a few rods off. When the horses came to the bridge they tried to turn across; but Horatio, blinded by the snow,—the road being entirely obliterated by the drift,—thought they were not far enough to turn, and forced the horses to keep straight on

p. 9

down the left bank of Linn Creek, and along the neck of land between that and Rock Creek, until they got into the snow so deep they could not go on further.

When Horatio found out his mistake, and tried to turn the team around and regain the road, he found the snow so deep that the already tired horses could not stir. Horatio only knew that they were not on the road, but not where they were.

They were lost! They were far from any help, they could not see which way to turn, and they could not go if they could see; a terrible fear began to creap [sic] over them and they called loudly for help. Amelia, almost insane with terror, screamed wildly, but the fierce wind screamed louder than they, and drowned their cries with mocking voices, as if the resistless forces of Nature were combined to destroy them. They saw death in awful shape coming towards them; they covered themselves with robes and blankets; they hid their eyes and stopped their ears, but the biting, shrieking, eager blast made itself heard and felt through all.

Dr. Livingstone says he was once shaken by a lion and felt no terror—the inevitable calms the victim. So these children, when they found there was no help for them grew calm. They wrapped themselves up; they arranged their clothes and talked of to-morrow when they would be sought for and found—dead! They talked of what “Mother” would do, and how she would feel

p. 10

left all alone; and what Uncle William and aunt Eliza would do, and say. At length drowsiness began to overcome them. Amelia, never very strong, was more effected [sic] than Horatio or Sophronia, who were both very healthy and strong—but they knew that to sleep was death and fought against the feeling. They found they were not frozen, and began to hope they might live till morning and be saved; they encouraged each other, and, remembering the teachings of their pious parents, they prayed to the God of the fatherless to pity them and deliver them to their homes, which were never so dear to them as then, and to their mother, who now as never before, they loved and longed for.

They asked God to save them, if it was His will to save their bodies; if not, to take their souls to the heaven where many of their friends had gone before them, and to comfort the dear ones left to mourn them. They were calmed and comforted; they knew that God could help them and enable them to help themselves.

Amelia was the weakest, and the others must help her; they aroused her and would not let her sleep, they chafed and shook her, though she begged to be left alone, they forced her to keep awake and stir, and their efforts for her safety proved their own salvation, and saved them all from torpor and death. The long night passed thus and day-

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light found them able to move, but terribly suffering—between life and death. Indeed, it was a horrifying picture.

As soon as Horatio could see, he got out of the sleigh and tried to get one of the horses unhitched, and turned around to ride for help, but the snow had drifted onto and around them so high that they could not move, but had saved them from perishing. The wind and storm still continued.

That New Year’s morning was one of the coldest ever known all over the WEST. From Lake Superior to the GULF it was THE cold day. Soldiers froze to death between Nashville and Chattanooga, on the cars; guards on duty at Memphis, froze their hands and feet; at Huntsville, Alabama, the ground was frozen deeper than it had been for forty-five years; more than a dozen people froze to death in Wisconsin. A family started that morning with an ox team and sled to go from Rush River to Prescott, Wisconsin; the father, mother and child perished with cold, leaving three little boys with their arms and legs frozen off.

Horatio’s only chance now was to go on foot three miles through drifts, against deadly cold wind and driving snow, with feet and hands already beginning to freeze, to get somebody to save the girls! There was no other hope; this was a desperate chance to take, but he took it, and started through the snow and gullies, against the blast, a mile and a half across the bottom to the

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bluff, where the thickets partly broke off the wind; and he could have gone faster, but his feet were frozen and his hands like sticks. He was freezing all over; still he struggled on a mile and a half further, to Benjamin Hubbard’s the first house, and kicked his frozen feet against the door, when bidden to come in he could not, but making a last possible effort he kicked once more against the door, when Mr. Hubbard opened it and pulled him in almost lifeless; he could not speak nor move.

Mr. Hubbard saw his condition and took him into a cold room, and the family chafed him with snow and cold water, and gave him stimulants, till he revived sufficiently to tell them where the girls were, and to beg them to hurry to their relief. Mr. Hubbard, as soon as possible, got out his team and started for them, and sent to his neighbors for help.

He found the girls as Horatio had left them, but freezing. He put them into the sleigh and drove home as fast as possible, but froze his face and hands before he could get there. Some men, with hard work, got the team out of the snow, and got it to Mr. Hubbard’s; but the horses were so much injured by the exposure that they could not be used all winter.

The girls were carefully thawed and warmed. Sophronia was found but little frozen; only very much chilled. Amelia was much worse; both feet and hands were froz-

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en hard and she seemed chilled to her vitals.

Word was sent to Mrs. Lovejoy, and she went to her children. When she got to Amelia’s side and clasped her dear child in her arms, Amelia kissed her and said, “Oh ma! ma! I thought I should never see you again. I am happy now; all I wanted was to see you once more.” She feared not so much to die as that she might never see her mother.

Horatio said: “Mother, we prayed to the Lord and he saved us.” And who dare say that the ear of the Almighty was not open to the cry of these poor children, and that His hand was not reached out to help them. More help than could be used was offered to take care of the children.

The third of January they were all taken to Mr. Payne’s. Sophronia was able to walk from the sleigh into the house, and in a few days was as well as ever. Horatio and Amelia could not help themselves. Horatio’s hands and feet turned black and threatened to slough; one of Amelia’s feet did the same but otherwise she seemed to be doing well.

Sunday morning Amelia complained of being sick, and appeared a little deranged, or at least light headed; at noon she was worse. Dr. Taylor, of Morrison, had been sent for. He feared congestion of the brain, and at night pronounced her in danger, although to unprofessional eyes, beyond a little wandering of the mind, she did not appear very ill.

p. 14

Through the night she grew worse, and on Monday morning it was plain to all that she was in great danger; at five she died—frozen to death! A good, intelligent girl, very much liked by those who knew her, and dearly loved by all near to her—a flower-bud cut off just as it was opening; her mother’s dearest hope; her brother’s most cherished darling—gone in suffering and delirium, never again to be kissed, or petted, or played with, no more to be cared or toiled for; in this world never to be seen or heard.

Whatever we may believe the great hereafter to be, is but a small consolation in the first hours of grief. What we lose we know, but what the lost one gains we can only guess. Earth and our loved ones are here, close to us; we see, and feel, and hear them; we clasp their dear hands, kiss their lips and we know they love us; but when they die and are buried out of sight, we know that as long as we live, we shall see their faces no more.

On Wednesday Amelia was buried.

Horatio’s hands and feet had peeled like frozen apples, and the flesh was black and putrid. It was certain that his extremities must be amputated or he must die; and it was very doubtful if he could live through an operation, so long as it must be, or if his system could rally from the shock and loss of vital force. On Saturday, Dr. Taylor carefully examined him, and though there might be a chance for him, but wished to

p. 15

wait till the dead flesh seperated [sic] from the wound, so that as much as possible might be saved.

Mrs. Lovejoy told Horatio what the doctor said, and that it was only possible that he could get well, and that he must lose his limbs. Horatio was not frightened or in despair, but said he thought he should live and be company for his mother, if nothing more, that the same God who kept them alive through that dreadful night would still provide for him.

Instead of needing comfort and encouragement, he comforted his mother and kept her from despair by his resignation and hopefulness.

On Sunday, Dr. Taylor, assisted by Drs. Nowlen and Roberts, in four hours of very cautious and careful work, took off his left foot above the ankle, and his right foot at the instep, and both hands across the palms, save for a little of each thumb. It was a very hazardous and difficult operation, and from the great care necessary, very long. The surgeons exercising the utmost care in saving to the poor boy all of his members that could be saved, and to take away all that could not be saved.

After the operation, he was stimulated, and when the influence of the chloroform was gone, he did not seem dangerously reduced; he had a fair chance for his life. Though crippled and mutilated, he was spared to his mother; but for three months

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he lay in bed, tended by the best of nurses, a mother, assisted by Mrs. Payne and by the neighbors, who did all that a kind-hearted people could do for the afflicted mother and son.

Mr. Payne was almost entirely disabled by rheumatism, and all his sons were in the army, so there was no one on the place but women to do anything, but now the kindness and generosity of the farmers of Newton came out strong and bright; one day they made a bee and cut and hauled wood enough to last several Weeks, and it required a good deal to keep three fires night and day in that cold winter.

When the wood pile got low, the boys from Kingsbury school came and cut another lot. Some one came every day to find out if anything was needed. They, God bless them, did not wait to be asked for help but sought an opportunity to do good. Mr. I. B. Emmons and O. A. Root rode over the country collecting offerings of the people, who gave freely to help this widow and fatherless boy.

Mr. William Prothrow took means to get Elbrige Lovejoy discharged, and was successful. He got home the first of April; and Horatio having by that time got able to be removed, Mrs. Lovejoy went again into her own house, after an absence of three sad, long months.

The Supervisors of Whiteside county voted an appropriation of $200 to buy artific-

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ial limbs for Horatio, which has been expended in getting an artificial leg, and getting it repaired at different times.

It would naturally be thought that one so crippled would be a helpless burden on his friends; but such is not the case. Horatio can dress himself, he can harness and drive or ride a horse, he can feed himself, and do many things that seem impossible for one without fingers or feet.

His pluck and powers of endurance are great. Before his affliction he was very industrious, and though very small, could do a man’s work at any kind of labor, and was sought after by the neighboring farmers; and he always gave his mother all his earnings to assist in supporting the family; and now he is a living rebuke to all grumbling, discontented boys, who having feet to run on, and hands to work and play with, are dissatisfied with their lot in life, while this boy, who is cut off from all that makes life pleasant to youth, and cannot even labor for himself or mother, bears his great loss and privations without a complaint, and s always cheerful and ready to do anything he is able to do, which, alas! is but little; and he now seeks, by selling this little book, to assist his mother and himself to live.

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