Dugouts Sheltered Settlers from Vast Prairie Fire

Prairie fire swept through western Kansas in 1885 after starting at the Colorado borner.

| Good Old Days

In October 1885, a big prairie fire started at the Colorado line and swept through western Kansas, taking everything in its path. Hundreds of settlers and ranchmen fought desperately with fireguards, but the flames jumped fireguards and creeks and burned houses and people.

Frame shacks burned like paper. Settlers lost the hay and feed they had stored for winter. Just as dugouts were the best protection from blizzards, so they were the best in case of prairie fire. Men walked on the low roofs of dugouts with wet sacks beating out the fire. Inside, the dugouts were like bake ovens, and it was difficult to breathe.

Once as fire swept over our homestead, a neighbor fighting the fire ran to our door and warned Mother to watch out for her self and the children, but God mercifully spared our family, though it was most uncomfortable.

The story goes that because the cattlemen were opposed to homesteaders settling their free range land, they agreed to set fire to the tall grass on the Colorado line.

Carrie Omeara
Caldwell, Kansas

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. 

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