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The Centennial
History
of
Oconto County

Written by RICHARD HALL
Published in 1876
Oconto County Reporter

November 12, 1876

Peshtigo Fire

The varied and increasing industry at Peshtigo had given a new impetus to farming. When in 1871 it was known that the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company was to extend its line northward, Peshtigo seemed destined to become as thrifty and vigorous as any place on the line of the railroad.

On Sunday the 8th of October 1871, the church going part of the little community had assembled in their new and beautiful churches. Many children had gathe ed in Sunday school. The people generally had enjoyed the rest and restoration which Sunday brings to those who labour, and the quiet and peace of Sabbath evening was setting down upon Peshtigo.

Anxiety was felt on account of the forest fires which had been long raging. For weeks an incessant wearing contest with the fires had been kept up, but it was believed the worst was over.

At ten o'clock many had gone to rest. Others still watched anxiously and some with foreboding. A calm, breathless and unnatural stillness fell upon the town. Flakes were falling thickly in the streets. These, examined, were ashes. Then hot breaths of air were passing. The low rumbling of the forest fires was plainly heard. The wind suddenly rose to a tornado and the roar of the now approaching fire was fearful. Scattered coals fell in the streets, and then a steady shower of them. The startled people beheld writhing columns of flame high above the tree tops rushing upon the town, borne on by a fierce tornado. Then a blinding, suffocating and scorching sea of flame rolled in waves through the streets. To breath the air was death. Few could tell where safely lay. In a few moments all thought of saving property was given up, only life was struggled for. Who can tell the woes of that fearful night and who shall tell the fearful revelations of the morning. Peshtigo was gone, a smoldering ashy plain lay in its place. But one small house had escaped.

With the first light, commenced the search for friends and relatives. Over seventy were found where death had met them in the streets. And more than one hundred had perished during that fearful night. And who can forget or shut out the sickening horror that crept over those who, seeing the shrunken, blackened, scorched, objects before them, knew they had found the friends they sought. With morning came the dread news that the fire and tornado had swept through the farming districts, and that even a greater number had perished there than in the village.

Peshtigo has been rebuilt. It is stated on good authority that there are more farmers there now than before the fire. Good farm buildings, schools and good roads are the sure evidence of returning confidence and recovery from the blight of that terrible disaster. Time with kindly healing has softened and even made sacred the memories of that awful night. In a few instances the places where families perished are not yet rebuilt, a place is pointed out where swift death overtook some. While the wind sighs among the blackened trees the wavy grass rustles and you heard not sound; the lonely sleepers sleep on. The turmoil of life is hushed and suddenly afar off you stand alone with Him who made the wind and flames his messengers; the Voice of the Eternal is known; time sprints on and His years are upon us.



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