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Survivor Stories of the Peshtigo Fire

October 8, 1871

This page is dedicated to the people who lived to tell of their survival and stories of the Peshtigo Fire. All submission’s are from the family members and are welcome for posting.
Obituary Editor and Historic Family News Researcher.-Cathe Ziereis

contributed by Peggy Oberbeck

George Foreman wrote the FIRE LETTER on
January 17, 1872 in Blue Earth City, Minnesota, to his mother and father.


Blue Earth City, Faribault County, Minnesota
January 17th, 1872

Dear Father Mother and Josie. I wrote to you some four or five weeks ago, stating how sick Linnie (our boy) was and that I soon should go back to Wisconsin and leave Lucy (Loo) here until spring ect. and hope you receive it.  Well, Linnie got well and on Christmas morning Lucy's sister Fanny's husband (Ves. Varton) and I left here for Oconto, intending to work in the finery all winter and was at work to Ranses (John Van Rensalear Herriman), for $40.00 per month but the first letter I got from Loo, she was sick abed, and has not been able to sit up since.  It is three weeks ago today since she was first confined to her bed.  Fanny wrote to me every day and Loo got "very" low and some thought dangerous, and of course I got uneasy, and on last Thursday I left Oconto and at 9 o'clock the next day (Friday night) I was at home, and on Saturday Loo had another hard day, suffered a good deal.  The Dr. came that night again and from that time until this morning she has been gaining slowly, but not able to sit up yet only as I prop her up with pillows or lift her up while her bed is made.  I am in hopes now she will have no more bad spells but before I go any farther I will tell you what ails her. She has had the worst form of intermitant neuralgis and fever.  You will remember how Mrs. Farwell used to suffer with her head I suppose.  Well Loo has suffered more than she did.  Dr. says her whole nervous system is prostrated and no wonder considering what she has passed through.  She has taken a great deal of morphine and quinine, besides other medine, is taking one morphine powder a day now and the Dr. injected morphine into her arm twice while she was the worst.

      I believe I told you before that the old folks had gone east a visiting.  They are coming home next Saturday.  Fanny attended Loo all the time until I came home, but had to hire a girl to help them.  Fanny was about done out when I got here, so you can bet they were glad to see me.  Linnie is well and getting so cunning, talks considerable, and is such a buster for his age.  We take lots of comfort with him I tell you.

      I am thankful to you both for that $10.00 you sent I got it as soon as I got to Oconto, but as you have sickness more or less you need not to send us any more.  I think if we have no more bad luck we will get along.  "The whole country" has been sending clothing, bedding ect. to Oconto and I have lots of clothes and Lucy has several nice dresses her acquaintances gave her in Wisconsin besides quite a supply af calico dresses and other garments to make her comfortable, and she says, tell your mother how much she "loves" you and would like to see you all and you need not send any more of your hard earnings to us, unless we need it more than we do at the present, and speaks of you both and Josie too coming to live with us when you get old or too sick to work for yourselves, and says if we have a bone you shall share it with us and you "know of course" I agree with her in it all.

      We hope Father's health is better by that time, and hope to hear from you soon as we have never received but the one letter from you since the fire, but in order to relieve your minds somewhat I will give you an account of the most we have received.  First in Oconto and in Dodge Co. LeRoy and Mayville where we were married and including your ten dollars, we have received $93.57 in cash, as wheat which I sold for cash, almost three bbls flour, 9 bushell potatoes over 100 pounds pork some tea a little sugar, 2 gallons lard, one square No. 8 cook stove, 2 pillows eleven (11) bed quilts some quite new, others a little ragged, but all very good for now grey army blankets, and two quilts saved makes us 13 quilts and 4 blankets in all.  Loo has had about 12 or more dresses four bran new two nice one 50 cents a yard, with velvet and nice trimming for one must costs seven or eight dollars, has it made bask waist looks real neat and nice a new balmoral new hat, shawl  gaitors some shimmies and drawers & stockings.  Linnie has a lot of woolen and cotton clothes.  I have received, I believe 12 coats, 2 fine nice ones for sunday one nice "almost" bran new "overcoat" worth at least $12, and several "good" ones for every day and one or two ragged ones, but all will come good and as near as I can count up now I have eleven pair of pants some nice  for Sunday some nice  for every day and others that have a good deal of ware in them or fit to cut up for Linnie.  I have something less than a dozen vests, two hats & a cap seven pairs of socks two pair new "very nice" and "all" good ones, some eight shirts I believe, two have made from new cloth and have over 4 yds of nice flannel to make another,and the rest are all good ones, some nice undershirts, and some 4 pair of drawers, two pair Loo made from an old woolen dress given her, but they are good ones, but in coming home (I forgot that Ves Varton [John Dillivan Dayton, his brother-in-law] did not come back with me) I pawned my flour and potatoes for a certain lenght of time to get money to come with. Father gave us 100 lbs pork, and I bought the balance of the hog from him for 4 cents per pound, got about 4 gallons lard out of it and took it all to Oconto with us when I went, had about 300 lbs pork in the bbl.  It is in Oconto now. I forgot to say I got one good bed tick.

     Lucy has been very anxious to write you "all" a long letter concerning the fire but has not had time nor been able, and has requested me to every day since I got home, and I will give you a pretty good account, as you have I suppose like many others a good deal that you can't  understand about the fire.  First of all we had a long drought very "dry".  Where I cut a small piece of wild land on my place in July, ankle deep in water, some weeks after I had to dig six foot to get water for the cow.  This is in a little swamp "always Wet."  The R.R. was put though 2 miles east of us, and they burned as they went, and having no rain the fires never went out, hanging all summer to old logs roots in the ground etc.  For weeks we could only see the sun a few hours in the middle of the day it was so "very smoky" it fairly made our eyes ache (for miles around I mean) then after the frost in the fall the leaves fell and my nearest neighbor (that was lost with his wife and 3 girls) once remarked that if we got no rain before all the leaves were down there would be an awful fire.  My neighbor had fire around him for weeks and it came down the woods and brush fence in front of our house and fires were running in the woods in many places was all around Johns and Ranse's, [John Barton and John Van Rensselaer Herriman, J. V. Herriman was George's brother-in-law and my g-grandfather] and on that Sunday fire was running gradually from Rans's towards my place in the leaves, and I went away that day some five hours and when I came back I found the fire marching a long in the leaves like an army in a line of battle, over my place going straight towards the house.  Ranse and Mary [J.V. Herriman and Mary Jane Foreman Herriman, George's sister] were there, and Rans and my neighbor (Mr. Cook) had been pulling some of my corn stocks into the field away from the fence as the fire was getting close by and would burn the corn when once in the fence.  As soon as I got home I took the broom and parted the leaves nearly acrost the 40 acres and checked the fire.  I worked hard you bet,  but the fire hung to logs roots etc., so when about 7 oclock in the evening the wind was very stronge and the fire swept acrost the path I had swept and moved on rapidly.  I tried once more to check it but nearly suffocated and gave it up, and went to the house and draged the tool chest out to the well which was about 30 foot from the door, also your cousin Hannah's chest and our valice.  Loo told me to put the watch into the chest which I did.   I put our clothes on one of the beds, and Loo packed up some of the dishes.  I carried water and threw on to the hay and barley stack, and then Loo and I threw water on to the house & all around it.  Cook was there at 7, went home a few moments, then came back to see how we were getting along urged us to go home with him, and as he passed by the house he said to Loo, "Come Lucy now and I will save you."  She said, "No, Ed, I will stay with George and if he dies I will die with him." And that is the last that was ever seen of poor Ed Cook. By the time the wind was a perfect gale almost.  The wind blew the hay up so sparks blowed into it and and in a moment the stack was in flames blowing towards the house.  I was doing something close to the house, forgot what now, when Loo hollowed and I ran in and the house was in flames inside in the roof.  I grabbed the clothing with one quilt off from the bed run into the garden with it, and spread the quilt over them and put a pail of water on the quilt, and ran back to Loo.  She grabbed two quilts and threw over her and Linnie and we went to the well, and I had Loo stooped down behind the tool chest and I wet the ground all around her but it seemed too terrible to stand it there, so I said "let us to the Cooks."  I took Linnie and one quilt and Loo wet her feet and dress and we started but before we had got 50 foot, I saw that we would suffocate long before we could get there, and I said, "Come back!  Come back!"  and went back past well and stopped in the garden, and Loo stooped down took Linnie and I carried two pails of water and threw over her, and by that time I was so full of smoke and heat I said, "My God. I can carry no more  we must die right here!"  Loo said, "No.  Let us go to the well."  I said, "No.  I and never get there."  She said, "Yes.  I can carry Linnie."  We were then probably 30 feet from the well, so I said, "Come on" and made a rush for the well.  I jumped in and braced my feet acrost the well, reached up and took Linnie and then Loo came in and down my leg and dropped to the bottom.  Then I went down and gave her Linnie, and seemed to breathe a little easier for a moment, but as soon as I gave the baby to her I rushed up out of the well and tore the curo and the covering of the well away and pitched it to one side so it would not burn and fell into the well on our heads.  Then I jumped down again, and O! what a "roaring" like thunder, and how the fire and smoke blew down the well.  I shall never forget.  I threw water on our heads and back.  The water was about 30 inches deep and cold.  One spark some where lit on the baby's nose and he wore a scab for a while and Loo thought he was dying in the garden once, undoubtedly would had we not kept him covered up.  He squealed some when I threw cold water on him, and when Loo got into the well she threw the two quilts in, and after an half hour or so I had gulped a tremenous amount of wind from y stomach and felt better, and I climbed to the top and peeked out and said, "O Loo the tool chest is not on fire," and she said, "Take one of these wet quilts out of the bottom of the well and spread it over it" and I done so, and while up on the ground I saw a small box and our valice and I threw them down the well and got Loo on to them so she was out of the water.  Then I noticed the Hannah chest open and shut it.  Then I open it again to get something out when about a shovel full of fire blew in and things commended to smoke so I emptied the chest right into the well.  It contained Little Adas clothes presents and the watch and various other little things.  My army fife was in it.  Then I drew up water and threw on the bed quilt that was over the tool chest several times during a period of ome 4 hours, during which time Loo got very cold and after about 4 hours I thought Loo could stand it on land and I got her out after considerable hard work she was so exhausted.  Then I got out the valice which was on the box and not much wet, and Loo's flannels were in it, and she changed her clothes by the remains of the house, I keeping the sparks off from back while she done so.  That is, she put on those flannels.  Then we took the quilt off from the chest which was dry after all the water I had put on it, and spread it on the ground and lay there until morning.  O! no one knows how we suffered with our eyes, nearly smoke out of our heads. The wind blew  strong all night but nothing to what it did when we went into the well.  Hattie was in the chest and was saved, and all of Ada's long clothes and most of what she had before she died.  Her moreno cloak was lost.  I think it blew out of the chest when it blew open, also Loo's black silk shawl.  We saved the knives and forks & silver spoons & butter knife  some 8 or 9 tea cups and 4 or five saucers.  I believe that is about all. During the night several times I whistled and yelled "all right" to Cook's folks, thinking to encourage them.  You see the fire blew from our place to theirs, consequently we all thought it safer at his place then at ours.  He had an outdoor cellar which they all went into, and after daylight Loo urged me to go and see about them, thinking that if there were safe he would have been over to see us before that time.  So I groped my way over, being almost "blind", and I could find no trace of them, only I saw the cellar was caved in and I knew at once that they were in it.  So I returned told Loo and we started south toward John's. I was bare headed and in shirt sleeves excepting a part of one of my blouses I found next morning.  The smoke was mo[s]t awful thick and I could hardly follow the road, so much fallen timber and so near blind. Got to John Bartons (His nearest neighbor) and found them safe.  Soon after went to John's and was there until Thursday, when we left for Dodge Co. [where Lucy's parents lived].  [I believe "John's", refers to John V. Herriman.  On the 1870 census the Barton's and Foreman's, and Herriman's are on page two of Oconto Township {later Little River}, families 10, 11, and 12 respectively. It does not appear that the fire hit the Herriman house, only a small distance away]

    Where I put our cloths next morning was a pile of pins and buttons all that left of them.   Tuesday I cleaned out the well and took care of the things tool chest and other things are safe at Mary's.  Out two hogs suffocared and were badly burned and never gave out one squeal.  Our poor little puppy howled just one and was burned up in the house.  All the chickens perished.  Some I saw around the field with not a feather left on them, all burned off.  Cook's heifer was with our cow and when the wind commenced to blow I let them into the clearing, and when we started for the well they started back through the fire an dare alive today.  The cow was badly burned, so I got $5.00 for her.  My turnips and potatoes were were principally baked in the ground.

      I can tell you I was almost gone when we went for the well (it was 13 feet deep).  Loo says she will never forget how I looked.  One moment more and I should have fallen, and had I done so, Loo & Linnie would have died too, for had they got down the well the curb would have burned and suffocated them.

      You may ask, as others have, why didn't we throw our things down the well.   If we had and stopped our access to the water we would surely have been lost.  Some people ask was there no plowed fields in which people could save themselves.  I know of those that were in the fields half a mile from the woods and died there of suffacation.  Just imagine the whole heavens a dense body of smoke, and "Millions" of sparks and coals of fire flying through the air and then think of some place to run to, and you have an idea of what it was that night.  To be sure, many were saved one way and another, while several hundred [1200] perished.

      You may ask what I done with all my money.  $40.00 was used for me to go to Oconto and back here, and it was while back there I got the most of those cloths, so considerable money was spent before some for medicine and clothes and some for travling etc.

      Loo has not been well since the fire to speak of and the neighbors here thought Linnie would never get well but we have the very best kind of Dr. here.  Linnie was just 7 months old the day of the fire.  My old English leather pocket book with those English letters is safe.  If you have any neighbors who anxious to know more about the fire read this to them and write as soon as you get this.  Loo sends her love to all, and I send same.  Address as I headed this letter.

 From your affectionate son Geo Foreman 

Jan. 18.  Loo has had another attack of headache today.  O! how she has
suffered.  The Dr. was here again.  She is very weak and sick.  I will
write again soon but you write when you get this.    George.
The preceeding is an exact rendering of the copy of the "Fire Letter" that my Grandfather, A. E. Herriman, past on to us.  The only conscience difference is that where George underlined a word I have put the word in parenthesis, due to software.

What follows is the location of the land George was homesteading.  It is now located in Marinette Co. Wisconsin.

Patentee Name: Foreman, George
Accession Number: WI1780__.422
State: Wisconsin
Volume: 1780
Page: 422
Document Number: 437
Land Office: Menasha
Aliquot Part Reference: SESE
Section Number: 12
Township: 29 North
Range: 21 East
Meridian/Survey Area: Fourth Principal Meridian
Misc. Document Number: 626
Act/Treaty Authorizing Sale: Homestead Entry Orig.
Date Signed: May 15, 1876
Acreage: 40.00

The Foreman family survived the Peshtigo Fire. George Foreman took his family to Blue Earth City, Minnesota after the fire. They eventually settled in Cisco, Eastland County, Texas. Lucy “Loo” died at the age of 40 in 1886. George died in 1917. He was 75 years old. “Linnie” lived in Crescent City, California and died at the age of 74 in 1945.

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