From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Reports of Prairie Fires and Wolves

Turn of the century homesteader adventures



I'm fascinated. I've recently discovered the New York Times (NYT) archives. To travel back in time, just use the search bar (below the masthead) and select the "1851-1980" option.

If you ever want to research U.S. history from 1850-1920, this is an excellent resource. NYT news reports within that time frame can be viewed free of charge in PDF format (Adobe Acrobat reader required.)

I spent a while today reading a few of the many old articles about Hopkinsville, KY. Wow, what an eye-opener regarding local history. To summarize it in just a few words: slavery, its aftermath, and tobacco. I may write a post or two about some of the events, but I need to read more of it first.

I even found a couple of short, but interesting stories, about Rock County, Nebraska, in the NYT archives. (Rock County in northern Nebraska is where I grew up.) Both articles are from the era when northern Nebraska was being homesteaded.

A February 24, 1911, dispatch from Bassett, Nebraska, reports that 1000 men and women conducted an intensive wolf hunt (PDF file) over 175 square miles in northwestern Rock County. Apparently they didn't find as many wolves as they had expected.

The homesteaders probably didn't realize what a large range wolves may have. According to a PBS website, "Wolf packs usually live within a specific territory, which typically ranges in size from 50 square miles to 1,000 square miles, depending on prey." I expect that some substantial livestock losses led the homesteaders to organize the hunt.

The other article is a report from Newport, Nebraska, in November of 1892. It concerns a prairie fire that 200 people from Newport and Bassett went to fight.

No lives were lost, but some families lost their homes, barns, and everything they owned as well as many tons of hay. In other cases, the buildings were saved. At the time of the report, the fire was still burning fiercely in a southeasterly direction.

At that time, a great deal of hay was shipped out of the Newport area via the railroad. It was terrible to lose the year's hay harvest.

Some families had to take refuge in lakes and wells. Water for firefighting would have been brought by horse and wagon from such sources. Probably "gunny sacks" were soaked in water and used to beat back the flames. They might have plowed firebreaks around the buildings that they managed to save.

This prairie fire took place at Clarksville in Clark County. I have no idea where Clark County was, but apparently it was close to Newport, Nebraska. I can only guess that it might be a "ghost county."

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.