Grass Fire Was Serious Danger During Depression Era

Missourian remembers being rousted from her bed as a girl in the depression era to go fight a grass fire endangering a neighbor's house.

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In the early hours of morning a shout of "FIRE!" split the yet pitch black of pre-dawn. Hustled from the sultry bed of delayed sleep; backs of hands rubbed blurred eyes at the alarm. The relentless heat and drought of the depression era had kept children and adults from retiring to the scorching beds until cooling midnight came.

While lamps were being lit, this alarming cry continued, coming ever closer to our home. The neighbor shouted, "All hands are needed!" Young ones were to wet burlap sacks in the nearly-dry spring branch nearby and deliver them to adults who were fighting the persistent blaze, which was encroaching upon a blind and deaf couple's two-room log home.

A ten acre field of dried grass, head high to Bud and me, lay in the path of the grass fire, now contained within the woods pasture of another neighbor. Several homes lay beyond the ten acre field, they would inevitably burn should the grass fire spread into the field. No rain had fallen for months; day after day the temperature soared.

Pawp (Pop) instructed Bud and me to dress quickly. Never during summer were we allowed to wear shoes, except to church. They were then carried to near the schoolhouse where the Sunday School and church were held.

"Put shoes on, too," Pawp said. "There will be snakes trying to escape to the water. You can wet sacks in the spring branch." This, while hitching his overall galluses and tying his shoes.

Following the coal oil lantern which Pawp carried, we hurriedly crossed the dry grassy field toward the ever-advancing fire line.

Wetting the sacks and carrying them to the firefighters, we spent all the long hours until daylight, when the last of the spotty fires were extinguished by the men of the community. The little log house where the deaf man and his blind wife lived was saved, as were all the other homes beyond the dry grassy field.

Red, smoke-swollen eyes were relieved by the sleep of exhaustion as we spread our pallets under the giant sycamore trees in our yard. Pawp could afford no such luxury. It was haying time at Grandpa's.

Virginia Snyder
Bismarck, Missouri

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.