Educator and Author Julie Courtwright Offers History of Prairie Fires

For Immediate Release:
March 21, 2012
Contact: Robert Butler
816.701.3729
Educator and Author Julie Courtwright Offers History of Prairie Fires

The world we live in has been formed by forces of water, wind, earthquakes, and volcanic activity.

But especially on the Great Plains, the landscape has been fashioned through fire.

Julie Courtwright looks at the phenomenon in Prairie Fire: A Great Plains History on Sunday April 1, 2012, at 2 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Prairie fires always have been a spectacular and dangerous part of life on the prairie.

Native Americans burned away old growth in an attempt to replicate the natural lightning fires that cleared the earth for fresh vegetation, which attracted bison and other game. They used prairie fires both for hunting and for warfare, and in the process maintained the prairie ecosystem.

Nineteenth-century settlers realized the beneficial effects of burning, but soon learned of the danger to farmsteads and small towns. Some lost their lives to uncontrolled blazes.

But suppressing fires had its own drawbacks, allowing the growth of water-wasting trees and causing a thick buildup of old grass which, ironically, made accidental fires even more likely.

Courtwright draws from diary entries and oral histories from fire survivors, colorful newspaper accounts, military weather records, and pop culture artifacts ranging from Gene Autry stories to country song lyrics to Little House on the Prairie. Through these she demonstrates how prairie fires always have been a significant part of the Great Plains experience.

Born and raised on the tallgrass prairie of Butler County, Kansas, Julie Courtwright learned firsthand about her subject. She is an assistant professor of history at Iowa State University.

The event is part of the Library's Missouri Valley Sundays series. Admission is free. RSVP online or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available at the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore.  

Major funding for programs at the Kansas City Public Library is provided by a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.