Cold Saturday
Cold Saturday


Sandra (Nipper) Ratledge

Older folks attest to the validity of the saying "History often repeats itself." Understandable, it is in light of their experiences, for some have witnessed cyclical events firsthand and know that enduring them can be most uncomfortable, if not destructive. Repeated weather catastrophes, like tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods, for example, can be utterly devastating. Life-threatening more aptly describes some distressful weather-related phenomena. Let's hope another "snowstorm of the century" -- like the blizzard beginning Friday, March 13, 1993, and dumping two feet or more of snow -- never again beds itself in the Tennessee Valley. Similarly, pray that a freeze comparable to the winter of 1835 will never again lodge with us here in East Tennessee. For certain, no one would want to endure subfreezing weather like that of Saturday, January 31, 1835. That was a day vividly recalled by survivors. Historians later recorded the phenomenal event using the same name common folks called it. Local folks and generations of their descendants into the twentieth century referred to the unforgettable day simply as "Cold Saturday."1

January 1835 was a bitterly cold month to be sure, but not especially uncommon for the heart of winter in the foothills and mountains of East Tennessee -- at least, not at first. But, who, at the time, could have predicted the brutal and paralyzing arctic blast that hit by the end of the month? By mid January, the days had grown not only shorter and shorter but also decidedly colder and even colder as winter deep-seated itself from hilltop to hollow, far and wide. There was nothing common, whatsoever, about the atypical weather entrenching East Tennessee by that month's end. How our ancestors survived the ordeal borders on both mystery and miracle.

Scarcely could my ancestor Ephraim Manis have imagined as he built a crude cabin in 1834 in northern McMinn County, Tennessee that his hand-hewn log structure would have to withstand the crippling cold of January 31, 1835. Nor could he have forseen, as he felled trees to build this one-room home, that in the next winter his family would face the coldest freeze ever known in the Tennessee Valley. Into McMinn County, Ephraim, his wife Anna (Lovelace) Manis, and five children, moved all their earthly belongings -- everything from a gourd dipper to a froe -- loaded in a creaking wagon. There they relocated sometime in 1834 in a wooded countryside known locally as "The Blackjacks." It was so named probably for the abundant blackjack oak trees thereabouts. Near what is now the Oak Grove Community, they resided on lands secured by the Hiwassee Purchase only seventeen years previously. The nearest post office to the Manis home place was Prigmores, serving officially from 1827-1828, and then later Prigmore, from 1881-1899. White traders and squatters encroaching on the Indian frontiers had already settled the area during the years 1801-1816. However, McMinn was not established as an official county until November 13, 1819, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.2

Into the milder weather of the softly sloping hills in Southeast Tennessee, came Ephraim M. Manis, a farmer, frontiersman, and from necessity, a jack-of-all-trades. Down from Hawkins County and the colder climes of Northeastern Tennessee, he had migrated about 1819,3 a move subsequent to the Hiwassee Purchase. At about eighteen years of age, he moved into lands ceded by the Cherokee in a treaty signed February 27, 1819.4 The area where he first settled was Monroe County, bordering McMinn to the east. There he remained about fifteen years, began a family, and was recorded on the 1830 census with a wife and three youngsters. Other residents in the immediate vicinity at that time included the following families: Arhart, Brazleton, Clark, Ernest, Ellison, Falkinberry, Griggsby, Hardin, Kile, Madden, Marshall, McReynolds, Moore, Prock, Ragains, Roaper, Tankestly, Townson, Wilson, and James Tucker, the latter of whom died of old age in November 1850. James Tucker was listed as 91 on the 1850 mortality schedule for Monroe County.

Some time after their son's birth on October 21, 1833, in Monroe County, Ephraim and Anna set out for a new home in McMinn County with children John, Sarah, Bill, and Jane, (ages seven, five, four, and three respectively) and baby George. There must have been many long hours of back-breaking work between George's birth and the next child's. Besides felling trees for constructing a cabin, corncrib, smokehouse, shed, and pigsty, many flat stones had to be gathered from the creeks and fields for making a fireplace. Red clay had to be shoveled and prepared for chinking. Every family member was required to help; there could be no idle hands. All had to be busy and productive.

Girls were never too young to churn butter, harvest vegetables, or carry water. They always helped with gathering, storing, and preserving sufficient food to last the cold season. First, however, the land had to be readied for planting, or else there would be no cornmeal. So, boys tall enough to reach the plow handles worked the fields, fed and cared for livestock, and then chopped wood before nightfall. Every day, more logs had to be chopped for cooking and washing -- plus extra chopped and ricked for the cold of winter. This was the only source of heat, and it had to be stacked near the cabin in a dry place. No doubt, Anna used it to feed the fire during the night each time she awoke to nurse her crying newborn.

It was probably in May of 1834 that Anna became pregnant with another child. Little did she know that this baby would be born just before the coldest weather ever recorded in Tennessee history. The infant boy named "James Harvey" was born on Thursday, January 15, 1835, and only two weeks later the most severe cold in local history blew into the Sweetwater Valley. Harvey was only two weeks and two days old when the family awoke to "Cold Saturday." The great cold held East Tennessee within its relentless icy grip.

Folks must have suffered hardships beyond imagination. This was indeed a time of "survival of the fittest," and only the strongest and best-prepared residents lived through it. How the Manis family and others on the Tennessee frontier survived are testament to good health, know-how, great determination, and most of all, God's deliverance. They . . .

had to provide for the warmth and safety of their families and live stock without the benefit of electricity, indoor plumbing, gas, coal, etc. Their weather-related problems boggle the mind especially when consideration is given to Captain W. E. McElwee's 1922 list of cold winter superlatives as follows: The coldest day known in Tennessee was the 'cold Saturday' January 31, 1835. The mercury sank into the bulb of the thermometer showing 30 degrees below zero. Many old trees still show the splits made by the trees bursting with the freeze of that day. On the first of March that year the thermometer stood at 8 degrees below zero at 7:00 A. M.5
This was an unwonted cold that crept in slowly, took its chokehold, and lingered long. Fortunately, this family, including the newborn baby boy, was blessed and somehow survived.

Eventually, at least two other children, another son and daughter, Easter and Joe, were born in 1836 and 1839 respectively. Eight offspring grew to adulthood, married, and reared families of their own. John, Harvey, Sarah, and Easter all set up households and lived the remainder of their lives in northern McMinn County. George returned to Monroe County and dwelled at Gudger. Jane moved with her husband a little farther north into Roane County where they became members of Shiloh Baptist Church. She and husband Francis Asbury Manis are buried most likely in Old Shiloh Cemetery, on Riley Creek, off Highway 58. Only Bill emigrated from the beautiful Tennessee Valley, moving across the entire country to California in 1849, and then later to Linn County, Oregon where he died in 1908.

Interestingly, three of the Manis brothers, namely John, George, and Harvey wed three Randolph sisters, daughters of Thomas and Martha (Avans) Randolph, i.e. Lucinda "Cindie," Caroline "Callie," and Sarah "Sallie," respectively. These three brothers remained close throughout the years. When the War Between the States arose, all three joined the Confederacy. George, Harvey, and their youngest brother Joe served as privates in Company G, 2nd Division, Ashby's TN Cavalry; John served as a Corporal in Company F, Lillard's Third Infantry and afterwards as Private in Company D, 62nd Mounted Infantry, CSA. All were die-hard Confederates.

Undeniably, Harvey was a survivor, a hearty and robust soldier, for he managed to survive imprisonment in three different Union prisons. Military records show he was captured at the Battle of Big Hill, Kentucky and registered at the military prison in Louisville on July 31, 1863. From there, he was transferred to Camp Chase Prison in Ohio where he was listed on August 7, 1863. In the cold of February 29, 1864, he was sent to Fort Delaware where he remained until exchanged in February 1865. How he survived the damp and frigid cold, unsanitary conditions, and diseases prevalent in Union prisons was yet another of God's micracles. He did, however, contract neuralgia which settled in his right eye and caused blindness in that eye.

Thanks to Cousin Marvin Stephens, great-great-grandson of John Manis, we have a written account of Uncle Harvey Manis' demise as follows: "It was Bob Manis, son of Joseph, who told me the story about Harvey's death. Bob lived in Oak Ridge near O. K. Tallent. This is what I remember of Bob's story."

Harvey had ridden his horse from the Blackjacks into Sweetwater to pick up his pension check at the post office. Being a man who liked his whiskey, he bought a bottle of liquor to enjoy on the trip home. Evidently, he enjoyed a little too much of it, got drunk, and fell off his horse. Unfortunately, there was a snow on the ground, and Harvey lay there quite awhile before he eventually made his way home. He got a terrible cold which later turned to pneumonia. His daughter took him to her house and nursed him, but he died as a result of the pneumonia. His death certificate gives the cause of death as Lagrippe which would seem to confirm his ailment. Mrs. S. H. Tallent, his daugther living in Englewood, Tennessee, was the informant for the certificate.
Mark Twain, the famous American writer, said of himself that he "came in" with Halley's Comet in 1835 and thought it fitting "to go out" when the comet reappeared. Approximately seventy-six years later, just after his death on April 21, 1910, the comet once again blazed across the night skies. For him anyway, history had come full circle. Similarly, it can be said of Uncle Harvey Manis that he was born into the "Great Cold" of January 1835, lived eighty-two years, one month, and a few days before taking his death of cold in the snow and then expiring on February 28, 1917, with the cold.

Many thanks to Cousin Marvin Stephens for valuable assistance with the genealogical research and family stories! He is a great-great-grandson of John and Lucinda (Randolph) Manis, and I am a great-great-great-granddaughter.


1. Snyder E. Roberts, Roots of Roane County, Tennessee 1792 -, (Kingston, TN 1981), p. 160.
2. Goodspeed's History of East Tennessee, (Nashville, TN), p. 811.
3. William Ballad Lenoir, A History of Sweetwater Valley, (Baltimore, MD), pp. 249-250.
4. Goodspeed's History of East Tennessee, (Nashville, TN), p. 811.
5. Snyder E. Roberts, Roots of Roane County, Tennessee 1792 -, (Kingston, TN 1981), p. 160.


©1999--present year by Sandra N. Ratledge. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any reproduction or inclusion of this website's contents in publication whether online or in print is prohibited. Do NOT copy photographs and upload on Find a Grave or any other internet websites, blogs, attach to family trees, or print in publications. Do NOT copy stories, articles, documents, sketches, anecdotes, letters, obituaries, content data, etc. and attach to family trees or upload on other websites of any kind.

Sandra Ratledge

This site is dedicated to the memory of my mother,
Beulah Cline Nipper, a beautiful product of the Knobs.