Fort Ransom, ND Fire, Oct 1867
PRAIRIE FIRE AT FORT RANSOM.
Exciting and Horrible Spectacle.
Our dispatches have mentioned the great prairie fire at Fort Ransom, Dakota Territory, by which several half-breeds were burned to death. The following account, written by an officer at the fort, appears in the Cleveland Herald:
Fort Ransom is a new one, not yet completed. It is located on the Northern route to Montana, at Bear's Den Hill, near the Shayenne river, distant from Fort Abercrombie about 78 miles. Three companies of the 8th Regiment, Regulars, with several ladies, are stationed there. The fire suddenly reached the Fort on the 7th of October.---The extracts follows:
"The winds, which had been blowing strongly, increased into a gale on Sunday night, and by Monday morning had worked themselves into almost irresistible fury. I was writing in my tent, about 11 o'clock, when a man put his head in and told me that my kitchen tent---a Sabley---was being blown away. I went out in time to see it rent into ribbons; and the kitchen furniture, and other articles, striking out over the prairie, on their own book. So occupied was I in recovering my property, that I did not notice the immense volumes of smoke coming over the hill, until a suffocating blast made me feel it; and, strange to say, no one else seems to have been prepared for the fire. You can understand this better when you recollect that we are in a hollow. One glance showed me the danger, and to rush into the tents and haul out the women and run them down to the sutler's store, (the only covered building) was the work of a moment. Being officer of the day, I had to rush back and turn out the guard and sound the alarm. The fire rolled down on us with terrific rapidity, and was accompanied by immense banks of smoke that threatened suffocation before the raging element reached us. Blinded and stiffled[sic], anything like resistance was almost impossible; and our feeble attempts would have been futile, for the wind caused the fire to leap fifty yards in some places. I had thrown myself down on my face to save my eyes and get a breath, when the recollection flashed upon me that 600 pounds of powder were stored in the sutler's; I ran back, and found * * * sitting down by the corner of the cattle corral, surrounded by the frightened animals, and shrieking with terror. It appears that Major K---- had also recollected about the powder, and had sent the women down to the Post, but she and * * * became * * * thought that her sister was lost.---Providing for her safety I ran back to the camp. By this time the whole camp would have been destroyed, but a sudden change in the wind drove the fire past the flank of the camp, within five yards of the tent, jumped the plowed ground around the hay stacks, devouring our 600 tons of hay (our whole winter's supply), struck the corner of the Post, setting fire to a few outer buildings and the corded wood, dashed up the side of the hill, and was off on the prairie, destroying the half-breed camp, burning men, women, children and animals---leaving us suffocated with smoke and cinders, and blinded with the ashes. The whole garrison worked for dear life to save the Post, and the wind proved entirely favorable for us. To put out what was on fire was impossible. The flames burnt with almost a white heat, but they were forced away from the other buildings by the terrific force of the tornado. Everything was destroyed that was set fire to; but the main body of the camp and Post was saved. All the rest of the day was occupied in heating out the remnants of the fire; and by night we were fain to lie down and rest our wearied bodies. Everything was covered with soot and my loss has been considerable, but I am thankful we escaped as we did. But rest was denied us, for as the sun went down the wind grew worse. Foreseeing what would happen, I ran the ladies down again into the store, and the other officers soon followed my example.---In a few minutes a genuine hurricane swept over us, carrying everything before it. Trying to get back to my tent for bedding, I was struck in the eyes and blinded with the sand and earth, and carried away from camp past the nearest corner of the post, when, by a merciful Providence, I fell over a man, whom I found to be the hospital steward. The hospital tents had been pitched here, and were filled with the burned. The tents were now down, and the sufferers covered by the fallen poles and canvas. I managed to get back to camp and sent some men to their aid. * * The fury of the storm did not abate until morning, when the remnants of the camp were to be seen. Nearly every tent was blown down or torn into pieces, and property all more or less injured, * * * If you could see us now you would imagine we were all more or less afflicted with opthalmia, for such a collection of inflammed[sic] eyes I never saw. * * * Prairie fires of the ordinary kind are easily met; but the fact of these half-breeds being burnt, and their camp destroyed, is proof of the swiftness and unexpectedness of the visitation. The Indians who have come in say they never saw anything like it in their lives. Two half-breeds were burned to death; two women have died to-day from the effect, and also and infant, only seven days old; one squaw, who is daily expecting confinement, lies in the hospital very badly burned; an old squaw and an old man in the same condition; two children of six or seven years frightfully schorched[sic], and others in a less serious state. They present a horrible spectacle, as they lie there with their blackened and swollen faces and bodies. It would be a happy release for them if they all die. * * * The loss of our winter supple of hay and wood is a serious matter. We have sent away nearly all the stock, and it will be hard work to fine hay enough for what is left, as the severe frosts have taken all the nutriment out of the grass. A train of lumber was on the road, and an Indian has reported it destroyed. If it be so, we will be in a bad fix, sure enough."
These ladies give an intensely interesting account of the dire confusion and dismay prevailing among the women, and of the many thrilling incidents which occurred. Providentially, there was mental terror, but no bodily harm; but the incidents of that day will be forever pictured on their memories, illumined by the fierce glare of that raging fire.
Daily State Register, Des Moines, IA 2 Nov 1867