This letter was written from the Kansas prairie where Jasper Clay Bowen (1839-1887) and his wife and five young daughters had homesteaded the previous year. Several days after writing the letter, Clay, as he was known, passed away.
Sunday Eve Apr 3rd/87Mr. N. A. Bowen-
This leaves us all as well as could be expected under the circumstances. As we have just experienced our first prairie fire. And such an one I hope never to see again - the wind was blowing a perfect gale from the north. The fire must have traveled at the rate of 20 to 25 miles an hour and swept down on us as you have seen pictures of prairie fire in the old readers. We had our mules, cow & calf in the stable and a two year old heifer picketed rear by. I knew in reason that the stable and all of the feed I had would burn so took the stock to the plowed ground.
Did not get to write much yesterday eve. Worked until 10 1/2 o'clock trying to put out corn, rice corn, sorghum seed. Millet &c., but had very poor success. Only saved about 7 bushels of indian corn & some four bushels of seed corn - enough millet seed for to sow. Our loss as near as I can count is only about $60. Yet when it is almost all a person has it is a great deal. Quite a number of calves through the neighborhood were burned to death. A sheep ranch 1 1/2 miles north of us lost a frame barn 48X100 feet-it took fire before the flames got within 200 yards of it. They had about 1000 head of sheep. I do not know how the managed to save them unless they drove them onto plowed ground as they had 40 acres near the house.
We had 9 hens setting. Then a hen with a brood of small chickens - some 12 hens & our ducks (5) were roasted alive and are lying scattered over the prairie. I have not heard from Mary Bowen yet. She lives 3 1/2 miles west of us. She had no stock or feed and we hope lost nothing.
Kate thinks we were getting too much stuck up as we were beginning to see one meal where the next was to come from. We were in the best condition for feed of any person around. But are as bad off this morning as any of them. I am sick this morning = billious and have just taken a big dose of medicine.
Nick, I want you to let me have some money. $30 to $40, if you call possibly raise it as I will be obliged to buy some lumber & feed and it is not like it is with you. No one is able to sell on credit - I can get groceries on 30 days time if I desire, but not feed or lumber. I have considerable work engaged but must put in my corn first. We have been intending to write to Thomas ever since we heard of Sallies Burnetts death, but have been very busy and kept putting it off.
Thomas N. Glimore of Effingham wants to know the best cash price on the house and lot in Effingham. And wants you to write him. Mary & Josh Bowen are over. They lost nothing. Two or three of our neighbors were considerably burned though not serious. We are not a bit discouraged - although this has upset our plans very much.
Nick, What may be coming to me from Fathers estate I want you to make out to Kate, as I know that would have been his desire. And I would prefer it as I intend for her to own and con-trol the personal property - and I will have to prove up on the land in my own name, but will not do that for 4 or 5 years as I will not have to pay on land until I prove up.
I see in reading this over I did not tell you the stable and chicken house were burned. We expected to have had at least 12 dozen early young chickens for sale by june 15th to 20th.
Send money by registered letter.
Notes in top margins of pages:
It is said one of the railroads through our county will be commenced next Friday. The county voted $120,000 bonds to it.