Snow of Snow Prairie



On my ride to Coldwater on May 18, I came to the north end of Snow Prairie Road. The road is named after one of the first settlers in Branch County. His cabin was several miles to the south of this point, but he is remembered by the name of a road that passes mostly north-south through four townships.

The 1879 county history tells about him. Snow hadn’t lived long in Branch County after he came in 1830, but some of the people who contributed to the 1879 history still remembered him. They said some things about him that county history writers would not usually have said about someone who was still living among them:

Of the first settler, Eleazer Snow, we can say that he was a very restless individual, and was constantly changing his location. Upon selling his property in Bethel to Mr. Olmstead he purchased 80 acres of land in St. Joseph County, and lived there until the breaking out of the Black Hawk war, in 1832, when he became frightened and went as far east as the State of New York, having previously disposed of his land for two yokes of stags and an old Pennsylvania wagon. Upon the return of peace and good order he returned, and repurchased the land he had parted with at such a low price. Subsequently, he owned for a time the land upon which the village of Burr Oak now stands, but under the impulse of his desire for change, disposed of it, and entered upon a wider range of travel. He first went to Iowa, from there to the hills of Arkansas, and some years later returned from that State to his old home in Branch County, poor, decrepit, and infirm from the effects of age and the hardships he had been called upon to endure. A short time after, he once more left this part of the country and went to Minnesota, since which time nothing has been heard from him. He was, at the time of his settlement here, apparently between forty and fifty years of age. Tall and spare in build, with sloping shoulders, tightly-compressed lips, and deep-set, black eyes, which furtively glanced at one from underneath his shaggy brows and always evaded the gaze of those he chanced to meet, his appearance was, on the whole, singular, disagreeable, and almost repulsive. His life was mainly devoted to hunting and trapping, the solitude and seclusion of the forest seeming best to accord with his taciturn, morose, and hermit-like disposition. While in this locality the principal scene of his operations was along the course of the Prairie River, sometimes called “Hog Creek.”

That doesn’t exhaust the unfavorable things said about him. But I tend to take this description with a grain of salt. For one thing, I don’t think the writers even got his first name right.

There are no records in the General Land Office database indicating that an Eleazar Snow bought land in Branch County. The only other Snow who bought land there was a Calvin Snow, a person who was also known to the county historians as a person other than the Snow after whom the prairie is named.

What then about the statement that he sold out to a Mr. Olmstead?

There is no reason to disbelieve that part. That was not uncommon among the early settlers. If someone settled (“squatted”) on a piece of land hoping to buy when it was put up for sale by the government, he didn’t necessarily have any legal right to the land, though sometimes he did under one of the various pre-emption acts. But whether or not, it wasn’t uncommon for another person with money to buy out the “claim” of the first settler to settle the matter peaceably, then go to the U.S. land office to pay again for the land and become the first real owner under the U.S. legal system. That could very well be what happened with the land in Bethel Township, and a careful parsing of the words of the county historian doesn’t contradict that possibility.

There are no land records for Eleazar Snow in Branch County, but there are records for a Snow in the Burr Oak area of St. Joseph County where he is said to have gone next — 280 acres worth. That would have cost him $350 at the $1.25/acre price then in effect. The first was an 80 acre parcel purchased at the White Pigeon Land office, which means the purchase was made during the period 1831-1834. The rest was purchased at the Bronson land office, which would place it some time in 1834 or later.

On the first purchase he is identified as being from Branch County, so it would seem this is the same Mr. Snow that the county historians told about. But the name given on this and the other land records is not Eleazar. On all of the records, he is listed as Silas Snow, not Eleazar Snow.

It is not likely he would have used an assumed name if he wanted to protect his title to the land. Maybe he told his Branch County neighbors that his name was Eleazar, but I’d bet that he told the truth to the recorder at the land office. And maybe he did give his correct name to his Branch County neighbors, but they remembered it wrong 40 years later.

How ever this discrepancy came about, I would not be surprised if some of the other things said about him in the county history are not entirely accurate, either.

YTD mileage: 685.5

[morning edit]

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  • A.J.

    Could you do me a favor? There’s a particular landmark on Snow Praire Road that I’d like to look for and I was wondering if you could tell me how many miles long the road is?

    Thank you.

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