Introduction:
Fire

Next | Back
Fires in tallgrass prairie could be more dangerous than those in short grass prairies because the cover was both more abundant and continuous.

In 1832, George Catlin wrote about fires in the Missouri bottoms:

Hell of fires! Where the grass is seven or eight feet high, as is often the case for many miles together and the flames are driven forward by the hurricanes, which often sweep over the vast prairies of this denuded country.The fire before such a wind, travels as fast as a horse at full speed, but that the high grass is filled with wild pea-vines and other impediments, which render it necessary for the rider to guide his horse in the zig-zag paths of the deers and the buffaloes, retarding his progress, until he is overtaken by the dense column of smoke that is swept before the fire - alarming the horse, which is wafted in the wind, falls about him, kindling up in a moment a thousand new fires, which are instantly wrapped in the swelling flood of smoke that is moving on like a black thunder-cloud, rolling on the earth, with its lightning’s glare, and its thunder rumbling as it goes (as quoted in Pyne, 1982).

European settlers often found the fires threatening, and sought to suppress them by plowing and setting back-fires.

Prairie Fire
Vernon L. LaGesse
An account from the Chicago area in 1834 illustrates this:

The first attempt at actual farming of which the writer has any account, was in the fall of 1834. Mason Smith and Hezekiah Duncklee cut and stacked a few tons of hay near Salt Creek, to keep a small pony. Their stack was completed after several days and they were advised to burn the grass for several rods around it in order to protect it from the annual fires set by the Indians (Watts, 1957).




Next | Back
Illinois State Museum State of Illinois IDNR Search



http://exhibits.museum.state.il.us/exhibits/midewin/fire02.html, Last modified September 1st 2011, 03:13PM.