Sunday, March 3, 2019

1914 Krupp Fire Account

From the "Odessa Record."

July 30, 1964

A July issue of the Odessa Record included in its 50 Years Ago column an account of one of the high points in Marlin history.

“Krupp was visited by two serious fires this week. Sunday evening the first blaze started in the west end of the Seattle Grain Warehouse, burned it down and also destroyed the Krupp warehouse and 10 boxcars. Monday night the fire started at the east end of the Puget Sound warehouse and the Krupp Hotel. The people of the town have mounted a night watch plan to prevent further work of the fire bugs.”

In these few words this “double-header” fire was passed over as just another one of a series of fires that have plagued the small towns of the Big Bend. As a matter of fact this fire has become more or less forgotten in what we have all said and remembered about the “Big Fire” on 1909 in Marlin.
There are several things unique about this Marlin double fire. For one thing it was of incendiary origin as became abundantly clear when it broke out in what was left of the town’s warehouses the second night. Like the 1909 fire, beginning along the railroad track, the first night’s blaze seemed to be tied in with the Great Northern passing engines, even if no train had been through town in the initial half hour before the Sunday night’s outbreak.

Was too soon

But that second night’s nightmare was clearly the work of fire bugs. We had been up all night and had managed to save the warehouse and Krupp Hotel, which in the east end of town had escaped the general 1909 fire and were about all that was left of the town’s original buildings. When the alarm was cried down the street for the second outbreak, I for one was unable to find my way out of bed, or get into my clothes, all the while struggling with the conviction that I was being tortured by a terrible nightmare hangover from fire number one.

It was the real thing, and the town’s chief landmark, the Urquhart Inn of pioneer days had gone up in smoke.

Became A Story

Few people know the book or seem to be aware that this double fire became one of the featured episodes of Zane Grey’s “Desert of Wheat.”

My own recollections of this matter are not to be taken too literally for the details are merely things that I remember remembering, and I have no record written at the time by myself or anyone else. But this is the way I have always understood the story to go.

Zane Grey made a one day’s trip through the Big Bend – from Moses Lake (Neppel) to Ritzville by auto in 1917. I was teaching in the Neppel high school that year and may have heard of it at that time. He either got inspiration for his story then, or was making the trip to check the area he had chosen as the setting for a new book.

Somewhere I picked up the proposition that the old Kenmerer homestead some four miles east of Wheeler is the site for the home of the Dorn family of the book and that the name Chris Dorn was borrowed from the name of a family nearby, the Christ Dormaiers.

Zane Grey gave the distance to “Wheatly” the neighboring town as eight miles and the general description as a valley visible from the Dorn farms suggests Ruff rather than Marlin. But he states definitely that the hero of the story, Kurt Dorn, caught a freight from Wheatly to Adrian and then another southward to Connell. That pin points Marlin.

Have Choice

We have three choices. We can keep the warehouse fire in Marlin and think of the Dorn farms as connected with the Amendes on the old Eastman place: we can think of the fire as being moved to Ruff for the purpose of his story and hold to the Kenmerer site; or we can assume that Zane Grey had no particular existing town in mind and transplanted the Marlin fire of 1914 some three years and 20 miles to an imaginary town, “Wheatly.”

That he doesn’t mention canyon scenery at all suggests that he only saw the strip from Moses Lake to Ritzville and wasn’t aware of the actual setting of Krupp, if in fact he had that town in mind.
That he uses the connection of the Industrial Workers of the World with the fires and their determination to interfere with the harvesting of the year’s crop of wheat fits in with the 1914 fire situation at Krupp. I can see why in the interests of his plot he would report but one fire at Wheatly (Krupp?) in which the Dorns lost their whole year’s production.

Zane Grey got mixed in his people, in his methods of harvest, etc., but he has a very fine opening description of the country, which with a book reviewer’s privilege we add here:

The Desert of Wheat
1919, Zane Grey

“Late in June the vast northwestern desert of wheat began to take on a fringe of gold, lending an austere beauty to that endless rolling, smooth world of treeless hills where miles of fallow ground and miles of waving grain sloped up to the far-separated home of heroic men who had conquered over sage and sand . . . a lonely, hard, heroic country where flowers and fruit were not, not birds and brooks, nor green pastures.

“Half of this wandering patchwork of squares was earth brown and grey, curried and disked, and rolled and combed and harrowed with not a tiny leaf of green in all the miles. The other half had only a faint golden promise of mellow harvest.

“Among the desert hills of the (Big) Bend country near the center of the (Columbia) Basin where the wheat was raised lay widely separated little towns the name of which gave evidence of mixed population.”

No comments: