Sod and Stubble: The Story of a Kansas Homestead

By John Ise | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
A Prairie Fire

T HE latter part of the summer of eighteen seventy-nine was very dry, and the corn had to be cut in August. The fields were too dry to plow, so Henry could put in no fall wheat. As the lumber wagons moved along the roads, they raised clouds of dust, which on still fall days hung in long streamers across the landscape, drifting slowly into shapelessness. At last came the rain, in middle October, too late to do any good except to bring water back to the wells and creeks, and clear the air.

Nearly all the neighbors stayed, even those who had lost their faith in the future of the country. There was nothing else they could do. As George Graeber once expressed it: "When we have rain and crops, we don't want to go, and when there ain't no crops we're too poor to go; so I reckon we'll just stay here till we starve to death."Henry had given up the belief that the breaking up of the sod, and the planting of trees and crops would change the climate; but he had so many hostages to fortune in the new country that he never dared to think of going. He was able to live anyhow, and even to help out a few of the neighbors. Toward spring Wilson Athey ran short of corn meal, which had been about the only food he had for his family -- served alternately as corn mush and corn bread -- and Henry lent him enough to last until spring.

That spring Henry broke out five more acres down in the south field, and fenced in more of his pasture -- the end of live stock picketing. He built a good fence, of barbed wire, although it was not yet determined whether horses would be safe with barbed wire fences. Henry was always indignant at the means

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