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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”