Belfield, ND, Prairie Fire, Nov 1914

From Bismarck Daily Tribune, Bismarck, ND, Saturday, 7 November 1914, p. 1, col. 1-2 :

Teacher and Three Children Burn in
Terrible Prairie Fire; Three Others
May Die and Flames Are Still Raging

School Children Near Belfield Try to Escape From the Path of Seething Flames Fanned by Thirty-Mile Gale; Bodies Found Huddled Together Only Four Rods From Where They Would Have Been Safe.

Dickinson, N. D., Nov. 6. The worst prairie fire tragedy in the history of this country occurred this afternoon, when a teacher and three pupils of a country school were burned to death, and three other children so badly burned that their death is only a question of hours.

The fire was started some 17 miles southwest of Belfield, about noon, by a threshing outfit, which was moving to a new setting, and, fanned into a devastating flame by a 30-mile gale, swept on to claim a terrible toll of life and property.

Saw Fire Coming.

About 1 o’clock, Miss Gladys HOLLISTER and her little flock of 12 school children in the Davis school, 12 miles southwest of Belfield, saw the fire, about five miles away, coming up the valley towards them. Frantic with fright, they left the building, which tonight stands uninjured and which would have kept them safe while the fire demon swept by, and made superhuman efforts to reach a plowed field, which they thought was their only salvation. Five children, living in a direction away from the path of the fire, succeeded in reaching home.

Four Rode From Safety.

Their teacher and six little comrades struggled on, now falling, overcome by fear and smoke, then up and stumbling on again. But the dense smoke enveloped them and they were found huddled together, only four rods from the plowed ground, and safety. Three children were dead when found and three terribly burned. Their clothes were completely burned off. Miss HOLLISTER, who was in a most pitiable condition, with 90 per center of the skin of her body burned, was unconscious, but regained consciousness long enough to say that she realized she made a mistake in leaving the school house, but did what she thought was best.

Doctors were rushed from Belfield and two of the three living children were taken there, but there is little hope for any of the three.

The Dead.

The dead and injured are:

Two children of William MENGE, one dead.

Two children of William PIKE, one dead.

One child of Vern SMITH, life despaired of.

One child of C. H. GEARY, dead.

Miss Gladys HOLLISTER, teacher, dead.

Teacher Popular.

All the children were between 6 and 12 years old. Miss HOLLISTER, 22 years old, has been a popular teacher of the country for two or three years and was a sister-in-law of Robert GRAY, a farmer, residing three miles from Belfield. Frank DAVIS, an uncle of some of the children, struggled heroically to avert the tragedy and is himself in a critical condition.

Flames Still Rage.

Thousands of acres of valuable grass lands have been burned and the flames are still sweeping on in spite of the frantic efforts of men, women and children to stay their course. The wind did not go down with the sun and is still blowing 25 miles an hour, so that the property toll will be enormous. Plowed fields to turn the fire and slacken its fury is the only hope.


From Bismarck Daily Tribune, Bismarck, ND, Sunday, 8 November 1914, p. 1, col. 1-2 :

Three More Added To the List of Victims of Belfield Disaster



Hero of Fire Tells Tale of Horrors; All Blinded by the Flames

Dickinson, N. D., Nov. 7.—The body of Miss Gladys HOLLISTER, the teacher in DAVIS school, 16 miles southwest of Belfield, who lost her life in trying to escape from a prairie fire Friday, was shipped Saturday to her old home in Mapleton, Ia., where her aged parents and brother await its arrival. Her sister, Mrs. Robert GRAY of Belfield, and Mr. GRAY accompanied the remains.

Seven Dead.

The toll of death from Friday’s fire now numbers seven of the fourteen who were in the DAVIS school busy with their lessons when the prairie fire swept down upon them.

The dead:

Gladys HOLLISTER, aged 24, Mapleton, Ia; Earnest GEARY, aged 8; Irving MENGE, aged 10; Alfred MENGE, aged 8; Rexie SMITH, aged 8; Francis [ William ] PIKE, aged 7; and Ruth [ Evelyn ] OLSON, aged 13.

Seven Escaped.

Seven children escaped. They said when they saw the flames swooping down they all ran, panic-stricken. The PARISH girl, Gladys DAVIS and Johnnie OLSON were caught on a tongue of land between the two fires, but made a dash through the flames and escaped unharmed, save for singed hair. Alfred WALTER, Henry SCHWARTZ and Dollie SMITH succeeded in reaching some flax stubble and were safe.

Faces Changed by Fear.

Horror and fear had so changed the faces of all the survivors that their parents scarcely recognized them. Frank DAVIS is the hero. Director of the ill-fated school and living only a half-mile away, he was the first to arrive on the scene of the holocaust.

DAVIS’ Story.

“Words cannot describe its horror.” he said. “The blackened and smoking prairie — the little deserted school house — the two groups of awestruck children safely beyond the path of the fire, and scattered over the burned area the bodies of the victims. Here a hand moved, there a head — and again another was past movement. All seven were totally blinded by the fire. Some were within 80 rods of the school house, one a half

(Continued on Page Two)


From Bismarck Daily Tribune, Bismarck, ND, Sunday, 8 November 1914, p. 2, col. 1-2 :

Three More Added To The List of Victims of Belfield Disaster

(Continued from Page One)

mile away, and all save one were lying on their backs, their limbs drawn up.”

Nearest the school he found the teacher and little Rexie SMITH, only a portion of their shoes remained, but both were alive.

Asked For Sister.

Miss HOLLISTER recognized DAVIS’ voice and asked that she might see her sister before she died. DAVIS took off his outer shirt and put it around her and wiped the ashes and dirt from her mouth.

“That feels better,” she said.

She was taken to the school house, where she died a few hours later, with her sister. Mrs. GRAY, by her side. Rexie died earlier, at the DAVIS home. Continuing the rescue work, DAVIS picked up another victim, who died in his arms. With no coat and with nothing but his undershirt on, DAVIS took two of the terribly burned, but still living children, wrapped in cotton, in his car and drove in a biting wind 16 miles, to Belfield.

A Heroine.

No less heroic was the conduct of Ethel SMITH, who, without a hat and in a shirt waist, went with him and held one of the boys in her arms.

W[illiam]. A[lfred]. PIKE found his little son sitting in the road. A rag of a cuff of his waist hung from his wrist and part of his shoes remained. The little fellow complained that it was “so hot.”

Public Funeral.

Joint funeral services for the six children will be held in Belfield Tuesday afternoon, the German Lutheran minister officiating, and interment in the Belfield cemeteries. The ladies of Belfield are providing flowers and aiding the bereaved families.

Relatives Coming.

A brother and sister of MENGE are coming from Fall Creek, Wis., and also relatives from Wheaton, Minn., and Mrs. PIKE’s daughter [ Hildur OLSON NEID ] from Fargo and Mr. PIKE’s father [ Philander PIKE ] from Fonda, Iowa.