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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 submissions are from the family members and are welcome for posting.

 Mrs. Amelia Desrochers and Wesley Duket, both of Peshtigo, talk about the famous Peshtigo fire which both survived.  They had trouble conversing, however,  because both are now hard of  hearing.  She is 92 and he is 93. She remembers going to school with "the Duket boys," but she did not remember Wesley.

The Peshtigo Times
October 8, 1957

The Peshtigo Fire as told by Mrs. Amelia Desrochers, 92 and Wesley Duet, 93. 

Mrs. Desrochers was living at nearby Marinette and Pike at Harmony Corners.  Of  Peshtigo’s 2,500 residents, few know or seem to care much about the great fire which 86 years ago tonight snuffed out 800 lives (in Peshtigo Village) — the highest human toll ever taken by a forest fire.  But two Mrs. Amelia Desrochers, 92 and Wesley Duket, 93, know and care a lot because they were there.  And though they were only five and six then, the eight interviening decades have failed to erase the indelible imprint which that horrible night in 1871 left on their minds—a night when “balls of fire” rained down upon the village and people thought the world was ending.  For 800 of the residents of Peshtigo, it did end. 

Sitting by the window of her hospital room playing solitaire, Mrs. Desrochers handed the reporter a pad and pencil to write out his questions—because she is deaf.  Both she and Duket live at a convalescent home in Peshtigo.  She is a tiny, gray-haired but well-preserved woman.  “Why, of course, I remember the Peshtigo fire,” she exclaimed.  “There had been fires all along.  The men had been fighting them.  But one night a terrible windstorm came up.  The sky got very red.  Mother said to father: “Wake up! The end of the world is coming.”  “At that time it was thought the world would end by fire.  Because of that many of the men said; what’s the use?”  As soon as they got tired, they quit fighting and perished.  “Mother got us up.  I put on my shoes but forgot my stockings.  When we ran out of the house, the wind was blowing the sand so hard that it pinched my limbs.  People told us to go to the river.”  (The river she referred to was the Menominee.  She lived in Marinette, which though not destroyed was heavily damaged.)  “When we got to the bridge, a man told us to get on a boat.  It was a barge with a cabin.  We sat down at the bottom of the boat.  After the boat was full we went down the river.  The boat caught fire and many jumped out and drowned.  But, the fire was put out before we got to Green Bay.  I remember looking out the window and telling my mother; “Look, it’s snowing fire out in the bay.” 

“When the fire was over next day, we came back.  I remember passing a place where there were many bodies laid on blankets by the shore.  Beside them was a little baby crying.  I’ll never forget that.”  None of her family perished.  Her father had stayed in Marinette and hauled all the furniture to the river.  But their house burned. 

“Remember the Peshtigo fire? I should; I had my ear burned in it,” replied Duket.  Tall, thin and bent with age, Duket can’t hear or see well.  The reporter had to shout his questions into his ear.  “We lived near Harmony Corners (several miles from Peshtigo).  When the balls of fire started coming down that night, my mother and father took us down to the spring.  We lay down on the ground and they wrapped us with wet quilts.  A ball of fire hit the house and it burned.  But my sister saved the sewing machine by wrapping it up with blankets.  “We had a team of oxen, one stayed with us at the spring; the other ran away and burned. 

We had a shed of colts and we could hear them thrashing as they burned.  My brother wanted to open the door but my sister wouldn’t let him.  “Next morning my mother and father were blind.  (Only temporarily, though, he explained).  I went to see our neighbor—Mrs. Reinhart.  I liked her very much.  I found her dead; it really got me.  Part of her shawl—a little corner of it—had not burned and I kept it for many years.  I don’t know where it is now.”

Because of deafness, the two survivors were unable to exchange memories.  Mrs. Desrochers remembered going to school with “the Duket boys.”  But she did not remember Wesley specifically.  Except for these two, and a few others, no one in Peshtigo knows too much about the great fire.  A teacher recently asked her students to write a theme about it and many flocked to the town’s newspaper — The Peshtigo Times — to “find out about it.”

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