In honor of the 137th Iowa Firefighters Convention being held in Story City this month, I wanted to share an article from the 1940 Story City Herald Anniversary Book about one of the earliest fire related incidents on record in our part of Story County. P.A. Olson included an article from June 2, 1938 in the Anniversary Book on the Schweringen Family monument being dedicated and the tragic story of the family perishing in a prairie fire.
In October of 1860 the Schweringen family was traveling by covered wagon from Ohio to take a claim of land near Fort Dodge. When they had come as far as Nevada, they were foot-sore and tired and decided to rest a couple of days. While in Nevada they bought a few household necessities such as cotton batting, cloth, and groceries including lard.
When the Schweringen family started out from Nevada, they were happy and thankful they were within a day or so of their future home. The wind was from the southeast and as they were traveling northwest, they considered this in their favor. After traveling a few hours they noticed a hazy condition behind them, but they didn’t pay particular attention to it. Mr. Schweringen did not know of or had never had any experience with prairie fires.
When the family came to the southwest corner of section 10 in Milford township the prairie fire overtook them. The wife and three little girls were enveloped in the fire, the flammable cotton and lard burned fiercely. “Mr. Schweringen fought valiantly, but lost against the demon of the prairies.” He crawled to the Hoover home, over a mile away. As soon as the fire had burned out, the few neighbors gathered up the charred remains of the wife and two children and buried them in the Sheffield Cemetery. Within two days Mr. Schweringen died and was buried with his family. The skull of the third child was found the next spring and buried where it was found. The exact spot is not known.
In 1938 L.J. Tjernagel headed a project to get a marker placed in the cemetery for the Schweringen family. On May 29, 1938 several hundred people attended the dedication of the monument at the Sheffield Cemetery. A rock was taken from the Henry Jacobs place to serve as a tombstone and a suitable bronze marker was placed upon it. The bronze marker tells a brief description of the tragic deaths of the Schweringen family and lists the names of those who contributed to the monument. This monument can still be seen at the Sheffield Cemetery just southeast of Story City.
The Historical Society has recently installed an exhibit on the Story City Fire Department, including a timeline that goes back to 1860 and the Schweringen family. The exhibit is located at the Carriage House Museum which will be open from 12-2:30 pm on Friday and Saturday September 11 & 12 during the Fire Convention. If you would like to see vintage firefighting equipment, uniforms, and learn more about the history of the Story City Fire Dept. please stop by the museum.