June 2013


Prairie Fire Newspaper went on hiatus after the publication of the September 2015 issue. It may return one of these days but until then we will continue to host all of our archived content for your reading pleasure. Many of the articles have held up well over the years. Please contact us if you have any questions, thoughts, or an interest in helping return Prairie Fire to production. We can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you to all our readers, contributors, and supporters - the quality of Prairie Fire was a reflection of how many people it touched (touches).

Recapture the Open Road along the Lincoln Highway

Spanning across Interstate 80, the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument near Kearney, Neb., delivers a one-of-a-kind interactive experience. (J. Nabb/Nebraska Tourism)

By Shannon Peterson

Today’s road trips are often as much about getting there as they are about enjoying the final destination. But that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, in the early 1900s the journey was more of an exercise in patience and determination than it was a relaxing getaway. The country lacked quality roads linking cities and towns, meaning travel was a monumental undertaking.

Many travelers know little of the road that literally paved the way for our now easy cross-country travel. This year the Lincoln Highway turns 100, and there’s no better time to celebrate this oft-forgotten icon.

Sand Hills Discover Experience 2013

By Keevin Arent

On Jan. 1, 1863, Illinois native Daniel Freeman filed a claim for a parcel of land near Beatrice, Neb., under the terms of The Homestead Act signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. He was one of the first Americans to do so. This was the beginning of a great exodus to western lands, even though the young and energetic nation was embroiled in a conflict threatening to tear its sinews and muscles from its very skeletal frame.

In 1854 Illinois Sen. Stephan Douglas had introduced The Kansas-Nebraska Act, leaving the issue of slavery to be decided by the newly acquired states themselves. A number of Douglas’s fellow democrats and Northern Whigs argued it nullified the provisions of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that banned slavery north of a line extending west from Missouri’s southern border.


Unpublished Journal
April 1, 1992

Sometime last week the Arborville Church was robbed of all the antique chairs. The church members have enough pictures of meetings in the church that show the chairs, there is hope they will get them back. This is based on the theory that persons who swipe such items sell them to some dealer. A tour of antique dealers’ stores might prove worthwhile.

Today and yesterday were cold with face-freezing wind from the north. Dr. Loschen called this morning to report the sed rate is now down to 50. Dr. Garwood had reported it as down to 70 or so when he tested my blood about a month ago. Normal is 20 or so, if I correctly remember what I was told when I asked. When it was first tested, the blood had a sed rate of a 100 or slightly under, and it remained high until last month. I will see Dr. Garwood on April 13 and hope to have more good news—a below-50 reading.

What's Your Degree Worth?: Bright Outlooks on a Dim Economy

By Callie Rietfors

With spring graduation ceremonies fast approaching, many college seniors have been caught up in the desperate, stressful job hunt. Many of them, in a panic to ensure income, often consider settling for jobs outside of the area in which they earned their degrees. This raises many questions: how beneficial is a college degree anymore? Does it really set you apart, or does it merely keep you up to speed with the rest of the workforce? Many students are pursuing their master’s degrees directly out of their undergraduate studies, but is graduate school necessary to be competitive in the job search nowadays?

The Post and Courier announced that an Associated Press analysis found that “college graduates who majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history or humanities were among the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their educational level; those with nursing, teaching, accounting or computer science degrees were among the most likely.” However, in a survey of recent and soon-to-be college graduates, I found a wide range of diverse majors with jobs in their fields of study.

"Just Like Hitler"

By Mark Gudgel

My wife, Sonja, spent three-and-a-half years of her youth in Great Britain, the only daughter of a member of the United States Air Force stationed overseas. Fondly she recalls field trips to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London, while most of my school trips were to the city park to collect water samples from the Minnechaduza Creek to be later utilized in science class. One of my wife’s favorite memories of a school trip from her childhood life in the U.K. was of the time that her class had gone to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, and for that reason she and I revisited that special place on her recent trip to London. In case you haven’t had the pleasure, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum is an immense and densely packed maze, populated half by creepy, somewhat lifelike figurines of famous people and half by rabid packs of tourists snapping pictures of themselves with said mannequins on their iPhones. I will not pretend that my wife and I enjoyed the experience very much, her nostalgia dissipating quickly as we queued for great lengths of time just to pass from room to room, though in the end it was not without a takeaway.

LB 1161: A Bad Idea, Poorly Executed

Nebraska Sandhills in Hooker County, seen from Hwy. 97 south of the Dismal River, Oct. 12, 2010. (Ammodramus)

By Kietryn Zychal

Retired rancher Randy Thompson has become the face of the fight against TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. His image appears on banners and cardboard cutouts around the city of Lincoln. “Stand with Randy” is a popular slogan for the pipeline fighters. As one of three taxpayers suing the state of Nebraska over LB 1161, the 2012 bill that may—or may not—determine how pipelines are sited in Nebraska, Thompson stands to lose nothing personally if Keystone XL goes in the ground. The pipeline was rerouted away from his family’s farm on an island in the middle of the Platte River in Merrick County. So, why is he suing the state?

“People should be outraged by what the legislature did. They threw us under the bus,” he said during an interview at his home in Martell, southwest of Lincoln.

In the fall of 2007 Thompson received his first call from TransCanada. “We were totally unaware that there was any type of pipeline project,” he said. He was also unaware that a 1963 Nebraska law, 57-1101, granted oil pipelines the power of eminent domain, even companies owned by foreign corporations. Thompson wrote a letter to Gov. Heineman and received a form letter in return that did not answer any of his questions. “It was just a brochure about the pipeline,” he said. A subsequent letter to the attorney general complaining about his treatment by TransCanada did not receive a response.

TransCanada eventually sent Thompson a letter in 2010 with an easement agreement offering him a one-time payment of $18,900 for a perpetual right of way across 80 acres of his land. They directed him to sign in 30 days or they would initiate condemnation proceedings in court, an option for those who have eminent domain powers. At the time, TransCanada did not even have a permit to build the pipeline.

An Immigration Roundtable

By Mary Garbacz

Issues surrounding immigration are many—and often, the issues depend on the town, city or state where the immigrant has chosen to live.

Omaha’s history of jobs in the city’s meatpacking, brewing and railroad industries attracted immigrant workers beginning in the mid-1800s. Some were escaping famine or persecution; others were attracted by promises of free land or jobs, recruited by “agents” hired to find workers willing to move to America.

Immigrants arrived in Omaha from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Greece and Italy; Jews arrived from Eastern Europe and Russia; Mexicans arrived starting in 1900. African-Americans added diversity to the Omaha landscape beginning in 1854.

How I Learned Tree Planting from Salamanders

By Jack Phillips

My work with Native Alaskans took me to the Tsimpsean village of Metlakatla on Annette Island. On a day off I hiked up the appropriately named Purple Mountain. I found a barren and rocky landscape laced with cold streams and dotted with alpine pools. In this exposed place on that intensely sunny afternoon, I was surprised to find an abundance of salamanders.

Back home on the Plains, our tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) are usually found alone or in small groups in dark humus and decaying vegetation. They are nocturnal creatures of the mysterious margins where organic matter is transformed to soil and slimy creatures live in a secret world webbed with roots and fungi. But the newts of Purple Mountain displayed no such secrecy that bright day. They behaved in a very unsalamander-like manner as I found them in the shallows, unashamed, in great squirming balls of sexual embrace.

A Look at Plastic Bag Bans

By Angela Ritchey

Across the nation and around the world, people are calling for and implementing bans on single-use plastic bags. The driving force behind these bans is an emotional response to a pollution problem created by the improper disposal of plastic bags—a real problem indeed, but is banning the use of plastic bags the correct response?

More than 80 communities in the United States have a ban on plastic bags. Not only does this figure include five of the 29 largest cities in America—San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Seattle, Wash.; and Portland, Ore.—but it also includes an additional 39 cities and seven counties in California, or roughly 16 percent of the state’s population. To date, Nebraska does not have any communities with pending legislation that would require a ban on or fee for the use of plastic bags.

Cigarette Filters and the Environment

By Emma Trewhitt

The effects of cigarettes on our health as human beings are well known. According to the CDC, smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and is the cause of nearly one in every five deaths within the United States. In the 1950s there were increasing studies showing these harmful effects of tobacco on the body, therefore filters were added to cigarettes. These filters were added with the intent of reducing the amount of tar and nicotine inhaled into the body, allowing them to be marketed as “healthier” than unfiltered cigarettes. However, the extra material added to the cigarette appears to mostly end up as litter. The purpose of this essay is to explore social factors that may contribute to the increased littering of cigarette filters compared to other sorts of waste, as well as to understand how this littering has a negative impact on the environment.

Why We Need Native Wildflowers

By Benjamin Vogt

I’ll just come out and say something to alienate lots of folks: I believe our landscapes should be planted with mostly native trees, shrubs, flowers, sedges and grasses. And by mostly I mean 80 percent, 90 percent, 100 percent. I know, I know. But I’m the kind of guy who sees a cause and knows that to even get halfway, you have to push for all of the way. And yet folks still aren’t sure what “native” means or where it is. Nurseries often have a sparse collection; independents have more, but big boxes have practically none. All have a large number of cultivars and hybrids—not the straight species plants, which can sometimes be more robust and particularly attractive to wildlife.

America's Original "Info-tainment"

By SheriLynne Hansen

Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people all across the U.S. flocked to travelling events called Chautauqua (she-TAW-kwah).

The concept was based on an 1875 summer enrichment program for adults launched at the Chautauqua Lake resort in New York State. Folks poured in from all over for a week of teachers, ministers, humorists, musicians and other inspiring speakers.

Book Review: "The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture" by Mary Pipher

Review by John Atkeison

“The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture”
Author: Mary Pipher
Publisher: Riverhead Books

Many people avoid even thinking about things they believe that they cannot control: “Why get all stressed out about it if I can’t do anything about it?”

If that’s you, then Mary Pipher wrote you a book!

And most people naturally avoid pain, even pain that leads to something good. Like going to the dentist, which can prevent a lot of pain and loss of teeth. But even people who can afford to go sometimes delay a visit or avoid it altogether. She wrote the same book for you all, too.

Sonny's Corner: Debating the Death Penalty - Again, Part One

By Fran Kaye

Some years ago at one of his openings at the Burkholder Project, my husband, Howard, included a watercolor of the then newly finished sculpture “Torn Notebook,” with some figures in front of it to provide human interest. They were holding signs lettered “Down with Up” and “This is That” and such. My friend Margaret, strolling through the gallery, paused for a moment. “What protest is that? … Was I there?” That’s how it is when you’re a progressive in a midsized conservative city. You go to all the protests, and you automatically check to see if you were there.

Immigration in Nebraska

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