Iowa Farm Letters - John and Sarah Kenyon
On Monday, October 23, 1859, John Kenyon wrote:
... and now for the prairie fire we had a week ago yesterday. I went
to the window and looked out. A prairie fire was about one and a half
miles off. I could see nothing but smoke and it looked awful dark.
I grabbed the hoe and scythe and started for our south road about twenty
rods from the house. When I got there the fire had just reached the road.
It came in the shape of a V and the flames rolled higher than the waves
on the ocean. It looked awful to me.
I was so frightened that I shook like a dog. It had crossed the road.
I ran for my life and put it out and followed it up the road ten rods
or so until it was past our land. I hurried back but it had crossed the
road in another place and was within ten feet of the fence.
Father Ellis and Mother and Ann were fighting it like mad (as the English
say) with foot mats, rugs, old pieces of carpet, coats and petticoats,
etc. We fought it to the cornfield then it had to side burn about 20 rods
then it had a clean sweep for the hay. The stables, chicken coops, hog
sties are all made of hay and poles, all but the house.
Father and I stayed and fought it and the women folks cut it for the
stacks and raked up all the old stalks they could. Mary came just as the
fire was coming around the fields. She grabbed bed clothes off the bed,
carpeting, anything she could lay her hands on. She had all of them wet
and ready for action.
On came the fire and how they kept it off the stock the Lord only knows.
I was so frightened that I dare not look that way. If it had not been
for the female department everything would burn. They fought like heroes.
The Beaches and Joneses fought so hard they would come out of the fire
and smoke and throw themselves on the ground. They thought they were going
up. I did not fight as hard as that but I fought hard enough to burn off
my whiskers and hair so I had to have them cut. I looked rather red around
Originally published in the Iowa Journal of History, Vol.
58, No. 1 (January 1960).
Copyright 1960, State Historical Society of Iowa.
Excerpt reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Photos used by permission from the State Historical Society
of Iowa, Iowa City.