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Prairie Fire
Prairie Fire

This image depicts a prairie fire, a fairly common occurrence on the Great Plains in the years before its mass cultivation by white farmers. Many prairie fires were started by lightning. But Native American tribes set fires, knowing that in dry seasons they burned away dead and dying vegetation, enriching the soil for the next year's crop. Many Native Americans also deliberately set fires to assist in their hunting activities. Set fires drove wild game toward waiting hunting parties. In a fire's aftermath the new, tender plants that grew up could also attract grazing animals. Prairie fires were a major factor preventing early white settlers from venturing out onto the open plains however. Illinois' first settlers preferred to remain close to rivers and their accompanying stands of trees. In part these settlers clung to surroundings similar to those of the eastern and southern woodlands they had left. But they also preferred these surroundings' shelter to a life on an open prairie prone to flash fires.

Image source: Chicago Historical Society
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project