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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
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
They had trouble conversing, however, because both are now
hearing. She is 92 and he is 93. She remembers going to
"the Duket boys," but she did not remember Wesley.
October 8, 1957
The Peshtigo Fire as told by Mrs. Amelia
Desrochers, 92 and Wesley
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
snuffed out 800 lives (in Peshtigo Village) — the highest
taken by a forest fire. But two Mrs. Amelia Desrochers, 92
Duket, 93, know and care a lot because they were there. And
they were only five and six then, the eight interviening decades have
to erase the indelible imprint which that horrible night in 1871 left
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
Peshtigo, it did end.
Sitting by the window of her hospital
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,
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
up. The sky got very red. Mother said to father:
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
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
When we ran out of the house, the wind was blowing the sand so hard
it pinched my limbs. People told us to go to the
river she referred to was the Menominee. She lived in
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
cabin. We sat down at the bottom of the boat. After
was full we went down the river. The boat caught fire and
out and drowned. But, the fire was put out before we got to
Bay. I remember looking out the window and telling my mother;
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
laid on blankets by the shore. Beside them was a little baby
I’ll never forget that.” None of her
family perished. Her father
had stayed in Marinette and hauled all the furniture to the
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
my mother and father took us down to the spring. We lay down
ground and they wrapped us with wet quilts. A ball of fire
house and it burned. But my sister saved the sewing machine
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
and we could hear them thrashing as they burned. My brother
to open the door but my sister wouldn’t let him.
“Next morning my
mother and father were blind. (Only temporarily, though, he
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
“the Duket boys.” But she did not
remember Wesley specifically.
Except for these two, and a few others, no one in Peshtigo knows too
about the great fire. A teacher recently asked her students
a theme about it and many flocked to the town’s
newspaper — The Peshtigo
Times — to “find out about it.”
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