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Reminiscences of Pioneer Life

by Alfred W. Appleby



     As with the history of the war, much has been written of the trials and adventures of the early settlers on the Dakota plains, but the half has never  been told.

    The writer has enough now crowding his memories which if written would fill

volumes from thirty years on the western prairies.  Being requested by the publishers of this work to furnish a sketch or two.   We give a few as we have them recorded in our old memorandum as myself and family have experienced many of the horrors of the raging blissard and prairie fire.  Which is the worse in a new country, I do not know.  The feelings of anxiety and fear that harassed the homesteader, for his home and family located in oceans of dry grass,  has cut off many years on the prairie. 

    After a lapse of nearly twenty years experiencing all the horrors of prairie fires and when the country was well settled up with roads, railroads and plowed fields for fire breaks, we stood in our doorway, April 1, 1889 and beheld the whole prairie in flames, driven by a hurricane of wind.  The very air, for a hundred feet high, seemed aflame with great balloons of fire flying past where the wind had caught up  a haycock or small stack and carried it far in advance. That day a strip of country, from four to eight miles wide and so long we never learned the extent, lay, in ashes.  

    In less than half an hour from the time the oncoming fire attracted our attention we saw seven of our neighbors homes in flames with barns and stocks likewise; animals stampeding, that were not roasted, jack rabbits and wild birds rushing by; here and there loose teams a veritable pandemonium.   

    One near neighbor was horribly burned while both horses were roasted with their harness on.  One brave woman was pouring milk on the  burning foundation of her house and many were saving their lives sitting in the plowed ground.

    All this was after the country was well settled up.  To save our home, we  fought with help of wife and daughters while the cattle bellowed with fear and the dog howled amid the rushing flames.  We give this as a sample prairie fire."


Reminiscences Of Pioneer Life, published in 1897, in Memorial and Biographical  Record of Turner, Lincoln, Union and Clay Counties, South Dakota.  From the same publication, a biographical sketch of John T. Appleby, brother of Alfred.


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revised:  8 May 2001

reviewed: 06 March 2005