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Ringgold County's Oral Legend & Memories Project



Fires set out carelessly, or purposely, by Indians or settlers would visit the prairie every fall, and sometimes the timber as well. When a fired was started it took everything in its wake, and the settlers could not always defend themselves and their homes against the destroying element.

On the approach of a prairie fire, the settler would set about cutting off supplies from the devouring enemy by setting out a "backfire." This was done by setting a small fire near the bare ground around the premises, and keeping it under control next to his property.

He would burn off a strip around his home and thus stop the blaze there when it reached the burned strip.

In early days, every settler had what they termed a "backguard" around each farm to protect the rail fence, as well as the buildings, as it was worth more than the land. This "backguard" was made by plowing several furrows, thus leaving 30-feet of grass between the two divisions of furrows, then on a still day, burn off this 30-feet of intervening grass.

Each fall and as early as possible this strip was burned off and "woe be" to he who neglected it.

There was a law against setting out fire, and the person who set one was hunted down as much as a horse thief and shown the errors of his ways.

When the wind was very high the fire would often jump across a road and often a creek was no barrier.

If one was caught out on the prairie in a fire, they had to start a back fire and let it meet the prairie fire which would stop at the junction of the two fires, thus giving a place for horse and rider to stand, but this was filled with terror as the smoke and heat was suffocating, but it was a practice that old hunters, trappers and scouts have had to resort to many times in the history of the West.

Mrs. LESAN notes, "I only know of the prints of one old backguard left - that is on the west of the old C. K. PIERSON farm [1936] where the land was never broken up."

LESAN, Mrs. B. M. Early History of Ringgold County: 1844 - 1937 p. 31. Blair Pub. House. Lamoni IA. 1937.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, June of 2010

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