May 2014


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).

Middle Western History Isn't Getting the Attention It Deserves

By John Miller

There’s a movement emerging out here on the edge of the Midwest. It’s still rather tame and quiet, not surprising in that it emanates from a loose coalition of intellectuals—historians concerned that their region is not receiving the attention it deserves. Spearheading the group is Jon Lauck, 42, senior counselor and advisor to US Senator John Thune, who moonlights as a historian while working full-time for the senator out his office in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Before signing on with Thune, Lauck, who has a history Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, had been an attorney and then, for a time, was a history professor at South Dakota State University. But he never lost his yen for history and has published four books with university presses on the subject. His most recent tome, The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History, published last December by the University of Iowa Press, explains “Why the Midwest Matters” in its introductory chapter. The book goes on to describe the once vital role that Midwestern historians played during the early twentieth century, explains the subsequent decline of the subject after World War II, and suggests ways in which the field might be resuscitated and made more relevant again in the twenty-first century.

Welsh Heritage Centre Celebrates Welsh Settlers in the Prairies

The Great Plains Welsh Heritage Centre in Wymore, Nebraska. (Berwyn Jones)

By Berwyn Jones

In the little Gage County town of Wymore, an hour south of Lincoln, Nebraska, is a small but important museum of prairie history. It documents the history of Welsh settlement throughout the Midwest. As you approach the downtown museum from the north on Seventh Street, you first see a huge mural of the north wall of the building, overlooking a lovely garden with a path containing memorial stones engraved to Welsh settlers and their descendants, an oak tree (beloved in Wales), and comfortable seating. The whole garden is surrounded by a metal picket fence, again suggestive of the Welsh scene. In spring, the garden is full of daffodils, the national flower of Wales.

Book Review: Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disasters by Christine A. Klein and Sandra B. Zellmer

Review by John Davidson

Title: Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disasters
Authors: Christine A. Klein and Sandra B. Zellmer
Publisher: New York University Press

Few stories in our national annals are as pervasive and fundamental as water resources development—the federal (and occasionally local) government’s investment in the physical engineering of our rivers, shores, lakes, and wetlands. Most of these projects are attempts to control rivers with levees, channels, dams, locks, and irrigation diversions. Whether as developer of projects or licensor of private enterprises, these federal initiatives touch every aspect of human activity. Many have brought positive changes, facilitating trade and commerce, developing hydroelectricity as an alternative to coal, expanding agricultural opportunity, and creating aesthetic attractions. But the scale and ubiquity of water projects alter the biophysical, social, and economic landscapes and have far too often resulted in serious negative consequences. Whether one is concerned with flooding, a changing climate, land use and development, agriculture, urban affairs, pollution, wildlife protection, or the politics of federalism, the topic of water development is central and inescapable.

Alfredisms: Mother Alfred, Part Three

Mother estimated that Dad Alfred had, at the most, five years of home life when he arrived with his parents, Nils and Elsa Jonsson, in the United States at age nine years. He was third oldest in a family of six children. Julius Anton was fifteen, Albert Theodor was twelve, Hilma Jenny was six, and Carl Emil three. John was born at Genoa, Nebraska, November 22, 1885. (This information came from Jerry Alfred, son of Anton Alfred, who lives in the state of Washington and adds that the Nils Alfred family came to America in 1884.)

I know Uncle Anton and his family lived near his brother Olof and his family at West Chicago. How near they were, I don’t know. I do know grandfather Nils was a frequent visitor at mealtime. Mother was a good, intelligent cook. She knew her spices.

Seeds of Wisdom: Jim Faulstich: Advocating for Prairie and Agricultural Diversity

By Peter Carrels

We’re slowly traveling along an expanse of snowy pasture in late January. It’s been a rough winter in this part of South Dakota, with a parade of blizzards and cold fronts. Foot travel would be treacherous on this icy roadway, but it’s the only route across this prairie. So we crawl ahead in a pickup truck.

The land bordering the narrow two-track is so densely draped by dormant grasses and drifted snow that hiking there would be nearly impossible. On a rare, windless day a dramatic calm settles over the smooth topography. The sun glows yellow-orange, and an almost cloudless sky surrounds us in a dome of frigid blue air. If you conjure a romanticized image of the Great Plains in winter, this might be what you visualize.

How to Eat an Acorn and Why

By Jack Phillips

October 17, 1857. Glossy-brown white-oak acorns strew the ground thickly, many of them sprouted. How soon they have sprouted! I find some quite edible. But they, too, like wild apples require an outdoor appetite. I do not admit to their palatableness when I try them in the house. Is not the outdoor appetite the one to be prayed for? —Henry David Thoreau

I once remarked to a massage therapist that anyone who wants to heal a body should know how to plant a tree. She was the director of a massage college and took me to heart. At her invitation, I began teaching an “alternative therapies” course that culminated in a native plant garden and outdoor classroom that included many wild, edible plants.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge: The Whooping Crane's Vulnerable Winter Retreat

By Paul A. Johnsgard

Perhaps no North American species of bird has come closer to extinction and yet managed to survive into the twenty-first century than has the whooping crane. The ratification and activation of the Migratory Bird Treaty in 1918 had brought the whooping cranes of Canada and the US into complete protection, but by then there were probably no more than about of these sixty birds still surviving. And, at least twenty-five more were killed during the next four years. By then it was apparent that most of the surviving birds were wintering in coastal Texas and migrating north to unknown breeding grounds somewhere in Canada. It was not until 1955 that the species’ breeding grounds were in an already protected area on the border of Alberta and Northwest Territory, Wood Buffalo National Park.

Igniting Fires, Sparking Change: Fire Trainees Leave Nebraska with New Skills, Perspectives

Firefighters Anu Kramer and Riley Bergseng light and hold the black line. Landowners put in the mow lines prior to the fire crew’s arrival. (Guy Duffner.)

By Jill Wells

What could possibly motivate a PhD student from the University of California, Berkeley to spend her spring break in Nebraska … in March? The answer is simple: fire.

Anu Kramer is a student of forestry, fire ecology, and fire modeling. “The prairies of Nebraska are very different from the forests I am researching. To be a well-rounded fire scientist, I want to learn firsthand about fire behavior and fire’s ecological role in a diverse array of ecosystems,” she said.

Kramer was joined by more than a hundred others—some students like her; some who serve state and federal conservation agencies and fire departments; some associated with private sector nonprofits and businesses; and some landowners—for a Fire Training Exchange designed to advance fire education.

O Canada!

Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada. (public domain)

By Jeff Cole

The reputation of Canada, our ever-so-humble northern neighbor, is taking a beating; perhaps justifiably so.

Exhibit A: Toronto’s coke-snorting, dancing-challenged mayor. You are not going to win many sympathy points with leadership or dance moves that egregious.

More ominously, we recently experienced the polar vortex, with weather maps showing those icy winds, born deep in the Canadian hinterlands, flowing unchecked across our porous northern border. One can scarcely fathom the hatred this subzero invasion created in the minds of millions of Americans whose plans for the first week of 2014 did not include having to enjoy a typical Manitoba winter lock down.

Stem Cells: Ready or Not, a Revolution

By Paul Knoepfler

Stem cells give real reason for hope to millions of people suffering from various conditions. At the same time stem cells are also all too frequently hyped or used as a wedge to divide people. How can one intelligently navigate the increasingly complicated field of stem cells? As a stem cell researcher and educator, I am here to help. In my talks last month in Nebraska, I discussed the stem cell revolution in more depth and answered questions.

Nebraska's College Savings Plan Account Owners Find Information, Advice Easy to Come By

By Don Stenberg

For the two hundred and fourteen thousand account owners in the Nebraska Educational Savings Trust (NEST), sound information and helpful advice are easy to come by. NEST is Nebraska’s state-sponsored college savings plan.

NEST account owners live in every state of the union, and beneficiaries attend institutions of higher learning across the United States and abroad. NEST is committed to providing thorough information and answering questions promptly and completely for all its account owners, wherever they may be.

Mom's Life on the Middle Loup River

By Moni Usasz

Memories of my mom are threaded through birdsong and the constant Nebraska wind. From her ranch house, every day for over twenty years, mom looked south down the hill, over the wet meadow, across the Middle Loup River, and into the Sandhills.

Every morning a parade of pigeons would fly in to loaf on the meadow. Canada geese flew over, “honk-hinking.” The open-sky spaciousness around the house made it perfect for watching sunrises, sunsets, and prairie storms. Mom’s favorite walk was south to the river. All four seasons brought beauty and wildlife to her doorstep.

Sonny's Corner: LR 399

Editor’s Note: In 2013 the Nebraska Coalition for Immigration Reform, in partnership with Prairie Fire, conducted a series of forums in five Nebraska communities to learn how they coped with the challenges and opportunities offered by growing immigrant populations. Following each forum, an essay was published in Prairie Fire summarizing the conclusions and recommendations of the forum participants. After completion of all forums, the results were summarized in a final report titled Immigration in Nebraska, Part II.

Immigration in Nebraska

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