Edited by James O. Brayman
More thrilling adventure tales of whaling, Indian fights, homesteading, the gold rush, and more, taken from 19th century accounts in magazines, newspapers, and memoirs.
Short, punchy, and to the point, the stories are action-packed. Written as they were in the 19th century they may contain words offensive to some as folks were not as conscious of political correctness as today, and attitudes toward hunting that were prevalent before the times of endangered species lists.
ISBN: ISBN 1-59431828-X Action-Adventure / Young Adult
Fire on the Prairies
The following account of one of those fearfully sublime spectacles--a fire on the prairie--is from the Wild Western Scenes by J.B. Jones. The hunters have been out and are overtaken by night, and are lost in the darkness.
Ere long, a change came over the scene. About two-thirds of the distance around the verge of the horizon a faint light appeared, resembling the scene when a dense curtain of clouds hangs overhead, and the rays of the morning sun steal under the edge of the thick vapor. But the stars could be seen, and the only appearance of clouds was immediately above the circle of light. In a very few minutes the terrible truth flashed upon the mind of Glenn.
The dim light along the horizon was changed to an approaching flame. Columns of smoke could be seen rolling upward, while the fire beneath imparted a lurid glare to them. The wind blew more fiercely, and the fire approached from almost every quarter with the swiftness of a race-horse. The darkened vault above became gradually illuminated with a crimson reflection, and the young man shuddered with the horrid apprehension of being burnt alive!
It was madness to proceed in a direction that must inevitably hasten their fate, the fire extending in one unbroken line from left to right, and in front of them, and they now turned in a course which seemed to place the greatest distance between them and the furious element. Ever and anon a frightened deer or elk leaped past, and the hounds no longer noticed them, but remained close to the horses. The flames came on with awful rapidity. The light increased in brilliance, and objects were distinguishable far over the prairie.
A red glare could be seen on the sides of the deer as they bounded over the tall dry grass, which was soon to be no longer a refuge for them. The young man heard a low continued roar, that increased every moment in loudness, and, looking in the direction whence they supposed it proceeded, they observed an immense, dark, moving mass, the nature of which they could not divine, but it threatened to annihilate every thing that opposed it. While gazing at this additional source of danger, the horses, blinded by the surrounding light, plunged into a deep ditch that the rain had washed in the rich soil.
Neither men nor horses, fortunately, were injured; and, after several ineffectual efforts to extricate themselves, they here resolved to await the coming of the fire. Ringwood and Jowler whined fearfully on the verge of the ditch for an instant, and then sprang in and crouched trembling at the feet of their master. The next instant the dark, thundering mass passed overhead, being nothing less than an immense herd of buffaloes driven forward by the flames. The horses bowed their heads as if a thunderbolt were passing.
The fire and the heavens were hid from view, and the roar above resembled the rush of mighty waters. When the last animal had sprung over the chasm, Glenn thanked the propitious accident that thus providentially prevented him from being crushed to atoms, and uttered a prayer to Heaven that he might by a like means be rescued from the fiery ordeal that awaited him. It now occurred to him that the accumulation of weeds and grass in the chasm, which saved them from injury when falling in, would prove fatal when the flames arrived. And after groping some distance along the trench, he found the depth diminished, but the fire was not three hundred paces distant.
His heart sank within him. But when on the eve of returning to his former position, with a resolution to remove as much of the combustible matter as possible, a gleam of joy spread over his features, as, casting a glance in a contrary direction from that they had recently pursued, he beheld the identical mound he had ascended before dark, and from which his unsteady and erratic riding in the night had fortunately prevented a distant separation.
They now led their horses forth, and, mounting without delay, whipped forward for life or death. Could the summit of the mound be attained, they were in safety--for there the soil was not encumbered with decayed vegetation--and they spurred their animals to the top of their speed. It was a noble sight to see the majestic white steed flying toward the mound with the velocity of the wind, while the diminutive pony miraculously followed in the wake like an inseparable shadow. The careering flames were not far behind, and, when the horses gained the summit and Glenn looked back, the fire had reached the base!
Fortunately, that portion of the plain over which the scathing element had spent its fury, was the direction the party should pursue in retracing their way homeward.
The light, dry grass had been soon consumed, and the earth now wore a blackened appearance, and was as smooth as if vegetation had never covered the surface. As the party rode briskly along, (and the pony now kept in advance,) the horses' hoofs rattled as loudly on the baked ground as if it were a plank floor. The reflection of the fire in the distance still threw a lurid glare over the extended heath. As the smoke gradually ascended, objects could be discerned at a great distance, and occasionally a half-roasted deer or elk was seen plunging about, driven to madness by its tortures. And frequently they found the dead bodies of smaller animals that could find no safety in flight.