American Sunday School Union
The Allis Family; Or, Scenes of Western Life 02
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THE ALLIS FAMILY; OR, SCENES OF WESTERN LIFE
THE PRAIRIE FIRE.
It was a trying summer for the Allis family. The weather was hot and dry,
and Mr. Allis, unaccustomed to labour in the fields, often almost fainted
in the sun. His work seemed to him to progress very slowly. He had no one
to assist him in sowing and planting and gathering in his crops; for, in
the first place, there were few people to be hired, and, more than that, he
had no money to pay his workmen if he had been able to obtain them. Every
morning he had to go more than a mile with his oxen for water, which he
brought in a barrel for family use; and it was often nine o'clock before he
got to his work in the fields.
At length November came and found his summer's work completed. He had no
barn in which to store his grain, and could only secure it by "stacking" it
until it could be threshed.
The potatoes, squashes, pumpkins, beets, turnips and other vegetables which
the garden had produced for winter use were as securely housed as possible
and protected from the frost; and Mr. Allis began to hope that now he might
take that rest which he so much required.
For a number of weeks the children had been excited by wonderful lights in
the sky, just above the horizon. Sometimes eight or ten of these could be
seen in different directions at once, and occasionally some one of them
would seem to shoot up suddenly, not unlike the flame of a distant volcano.
To the eager inquiries of the little ones, they were answered that these
singular lights were called prairie-fires.
"What is a prairie-fire, father?" asked both the children at once.
"It is the burning of the long coarse grass which covers the prairie in
summer. This becomes very dry, and then, if a spark of fire chances to fall
upon it, it is at once all in blaze."
"Does it make a very big fire, father?" asked Susie.
"That depends upon circumstances, my child. If the grass is very high and
thick, as it sometimes is in the sloughs and moist places, it makes a big
fire, as you call it."
"Oh, how I wish I could see a prairie-fire close by us! Don't you, mother?"
"I cannot say that I do, my child; they are sometimes rather mischievous
visitors, and I would much prefer that they should keep at a respectful
"Mr. Jenkins told me that a man some ten miles from here had his stacks and
house and every thing he had, destroyed, a few days since, losing his whole
year's labour and all his clothing and furniture. The family barely escaped
with their lives.
"Is there any danger that the fire will come here, husband?" said Mrs.
"There is danger, I suppose; but I hope we shall have no trouble of that
"Is there nothing that can be done to protect your property?"
"I shall try to burn up what grows around the house and stack-yard in a
day or two, I think; but just now it does not seem possible for me to spare
One day, not long after, a long line of fire appeared on the prairie,
several miles distant. It was, however, so distant that Mrs. Allis and the
children did not feel alarmed, as the evening was still; and they were
watching it with interest, as the flames assumed various fantastic shapes,
now darting upwards like tongues of fire, and now weltering and bubbling
like a sea of melted lava. Mr. Allis had not yet returned from town, where
he had been engaged all that day, entirely unsuspicious of any approaching
calamity; and Mrs. Allis was not aware how rapidly the flames were
approaching her home, until she was startled by seeing a horseman ride
rapidly to her door and hastily dismount, inquiring for Mr. Allis.
"He is at ----. I expect him home in the course of an hour or so. But what
is the matter, Mr. Jenkins? Is anybody sick?"
"Matter, woman! Don't you see that prairie-fire yonder? You'll be burnt out
if you don't stir round lively."
"Burnt out, Mr. Jenkins! What do you mean? What shall we do?"
"Do? Why, we must go to work right away and set a back-fire, as quick as
we can, too. Call your girl there, and come out both of you as soon as
Not many minutes passed before Mr. Allis reached home. He had seen the fire
at a distance, and, understanding the danger far better than his wife,
hurried home as rapidly as possible.
Poor Annie and Susie were sadly frightened. When they saw the smoke and
fire so near the house and stacks of grain, they cried as if their little
hearts would break; but there was no one to hear them, for their mother
could not be spared a moment until the danger was past. Poor children! They
soon had enough of prairie-fires, and they thought they would be very
thankful if ever they could see their father and mother and Mary alive
again. Sometimes they were almost suffocated by the smoke which the rising
wind drove into the house, and then they thought they should surely be
burned to death. Still, lonely and frightened as they were, they did not
attempt to go out. They remembered that their mother had told them not on
any account to leave the house, and, like obedient children, they did as
she had told them.
It was two hours-- but it seemed much longer to the poor little girls--
before their mother came in; and then they scarcely knew her, for her face
was blackened with smoke and dust, her hands were burned sadly, and the
skirt of her dress torn and burned in many places. Although they were
excited and curious, yet these good children undressed and went to bed,
helping themselves all they could, that their mother might rest, and trying
to wait until morning for all they wished to know.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Allis busied herself, weary as she was, in providing
a comfortable supper for her husband, who had eaten nothing since
dinner-time. It was past midnight when Mr. Allis and Mary came to the
house, and they too were tired enough, as we may suppose.
But, above all, they were grateful to that kind heavenly Father who had so
mercifully preserved and protected them from harm amid such dangers. Little
did any of them sleep that night; and it was not strange that the morning,
which came on wet and showery, found them but little refreshed after the
unusual fatigue of the preceding night. But the children were awake with
the first light, and eagerly asking questions about the fire.
"But what is a back-fire?" said Annie, when her father had finished
telling them about the matter. "How do you set a back-fire?"
"Well, Annie, we light another fire, nearer the house or fence which
we are trying to save, and then, with a brush or broom, or sometimes a
little stick, whip it out, so that it cannot burn very fast. When the
grass is burnt off in this way there is nothing left for what we call the
'prairie-fire' to burn, you see. If we can do this in season, the house
or stacks are generally safe."
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