After Prairie Fire, Family Told to Leave

The words “Prairie Fire!” struck terror in the hearts of the pioneers of Kansas. Dry grass was as combustible as guncotton.

Grandfather knew nothing of prairie fire when he moved his family to Kansas from an eastern state. While they were still living in a covered wagon and getting ready to build a house, he was visited by a sort of neighborhood vigilante committee that warned Easterners about the necessity of being extra careful with fire.

Grandfather openly laughed when they told him that a dropped match might mean a fire that couldn’t be stopped without a team and plow. But in order to placate the callers, he promised to be careful with fire.

By some misfortune a prairie fire started on Grandfather’s claim a few days later, and it burned over hundreds of acres before it was brought under control. That night after my grandparents were in bed in the covered wagon, a man rode up and called to them. Grandfather stuck his head out and saw that the man was masked.

“If it was just you involved, you know-it-all Easterner,” said the man, “I’d let ’em hang you tomorrow. But it’s your wife and kids I’m thinking about, so get hitched and get out of here tonight! And for tarnation sake, don’t tell you was warned or it’ll be my neck instead of yours.”

Grandfather assured him he wouldn’t tell anyone. No one ever would have known about it if Grandmother hadn’t told me years later.

Mrs. Paul Breen
Wellington, 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.