When first known to the white man an estimated 7/8
of Iowa was prairie. The existence of the prairie has been attributed, not
to soil, climate nor underlying rock formations, but to the prevalence of
This poem is woven of imaginary circumstances,
and while we don't know the when and where, we may reasonably believe the
fires threatened and displaced the living in its path. Blackhawk Lake
would've been a refuge.
When my great grandfather Jeff Kruser
drove cattle to the area in 1876, it was told of that time, that there wasn't a tree
between the present Lake View and Sac City.
Like cannon, a storm did thunder
Across the Iowa plain,
It pelted a swath thereunder,
Athirst for moisture of rain...
Yet drought was left aside,
Off the nimbus path, you see...
A lot of land left dried
Like that beneath a tree...
Flying about the sky, up there,
The electrical lit the prairie...
Its crooked forks were pitched in air
And thunder claps did carry...
A sudden bolt, a streaking stroke,
Smote the tree with a flash!
The tree was riven, a limb was broke...
And down its side, a slash!
It ignited grass beneath the tree,
Asmoke, the sere and dry
And tendrils from there arose so free,
From fire from up the sky!
Now flames devoured the grass,
With appetite for more;
It ate the prairie mass,
At times with searing roar!
Wider and wider its table,
Set north, now south, now east;
As if a dragon of fable
Its breath consumed its feast...
The grass that waved in wind
With weed and wildflower,
Stood helpless and chagrined
Before its blazing power...
Across a grassy sea,
It moved, unceasing, unslackened,
Laying waste to blade and tree,
It blazed and burned and blackened!
A red and orangish tide
Swept through the dark of night,
Swept o'er the prairie wide,
And animals took to flight...
It leaped a crooked creek*
That now is Indian called,
Where tinder grass was thick
―It left the bank there palled.
The smell of wafting smoke,
Adrift and hanging in air,
The natives' nostril woke
―They saw the ruddy glare!
The Indians raised alarm,
They ponies did untether...
They fled the path of harm,
In haste, they hurried together...
Ahorse, afoot to water,
The water of glacial lake,
Papoose and son and daughter,
With belongings they could take...
With smoke behind and fire,
They quickened yet their pace;
Their native limbs did tire,
As fire continued to chase...
The rabbit and leaping deer
Outsped the human foot...
At last the lake drew near,
A refuge in nature put.
They reached the lapping shore,
The rocks there slippery wet...
Came native and native more,
To safety there to get.
And there, they shared their fright,
As crackling fire did near,
With animals in fiery light,
With fox and rabbit and deer...
And through the night it burned,
It burned a growing ring,
And through the night it turned,
The land to a desolate thing...
When day to come did dawn
And the sun did swim the lake,
To ashes, their eyes were drawn,
To what the fire did take.
The smoke aloft in air
Did haze the sky around;
The fire still burned out there,
Still on the prairie ground...
It burned in County Sac
And the tree upon the plain;
It turned a portion black,
Till verdant it grew again.
— John Riedell
* "crick," the way we said it.