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Survivor Stories of the Peshtigo Fire

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Green Bay (Wis.) Advocate


Particulars of the Burning of Williamsonville and Peshtigo - 
Frightful Number of Deaths.

By GUILLAUME DELALUZERNE, from Uniontown, we learn that the entire settlement at WILLIMASON BROTHERS' mill, five miles west from the shore of Little Sturgeon Bay, was burned on Sunday night. The proprietor, JOHN WILLIAMSON, with his wife and two children - his entire family - are burned to death, and about fifty-three other persons in the same settlement perished. Scarcely a soul is left to tell the tale.

There were twelve families about the mill and fifty-two men in and about the mill. Of all these people, but two were saved uninjured, and ten injured persons still living were found, and were sent on Monday by the tug Ozaukee to Big Sturgeon Bay for medical treatment. Every other individual in the settlement is dead.

Mr. GARDNER sent twenty-five men to chop through the woods to this settlement, our correspondent being one of the number. They found the remains of six persons in one house, and piled the partley charred remains of fifty-five bodies of men, women and children. Twenty-nine human bodies lay on a spot about ten feet square - some with arms and legs burned off, and all with clothing gone. A few rods off were others, and a man and child were found dead in a well. They found fifty-five dead bodies, and think the total number must be from sixty to seventy.


The south-easterly gale of Sunday evening reached the proportions of a hurricane at Peshtigo. The woods, which had been alive with slowly-running fires for weeks, were suddenly burned with a whirlwind of fire, and, without any warning, great sheets of flames wwere carried into the village. Those who escaped describe the scene as awful in the extreme. No attempt could be made to arrest its progress, and the inhabitants ran terror-stricken and screaming into the river, where they plunged headlong, and sought, by dashing water over themselves, to keep off the fire which filled the air. Every building but one - an unfinished dwelling - is reported burned. The great pail factory - one of the monuments of enterprise in this region - the extensive lumber mill and the door, sash and blind factory, many expensive dwellings, and scores of smaller houses, tenements, shops, barns, &c., were swept away.

Few names can yet be obtained of those who are probably lost. We get those of JOHN E. BEEBE, wife and two children. Mr. BEEBE was a clerk and book-keeper in the Peshtigo Company's store. W. F. THOMPSON, clerk in the same store, wife and mother; D. McGREGOR, conductor on the Peshtigo Railroad, and sister; JAMES MELLEN, foreman of machine-shops, two daughters; MICHAEL CREAMER'S wife and child; Mrs. DANIEL HUNT and one or two children. One family, consisting of father, mother and three children, were found dead together within thirty feet of the river. Large numbers are reported to have been burned in the Peshtigo Company's boarding-house. CHARLES WOODWARD, who kept the Peshtigo House, estimates the loss of life at nearly 400. The loss in the "Sugar Bush" was much worse than in the village. They had no means of escape, while at the village the people saved themselves in the river.

The Sugar Bush was a thrifty farming settlement seven or eight miles long by four or five miles wide, and contained about 300 families. It was estimated by compitent judges on Tuesday that eight-tenths of its inhabitants were dead, and up to 4 P. M. Tuesday they had reported the following dead in the Sugar Bush:

L. H. HILL, wife and boy, and forty-two bodies picked up in front of their house; T. KELLY and one child (wife and two children saved;) daughter, twelve years old, of FRED BARTEL'S; four families of NEWBERRYS, all gone but one boy; JOHN CHURCH, wife and two grown children; wife and five children of CHAS. LEMBK; JOHN SMITH, wife and five children; JOHN ALSWEIGER, wife and six children; CHAS. LAWRENCE, wife and three children; N. MAY, wife and two children; wife of PETER LEECH, and two hired men; father, mother, wife, and child of WM. PENRY; CHAS. CHAPMAN, wife and one child; HENRY HAYS, wife and two children; JOHN PRATT, wife and four children; widow AYMER and two grown up boys. Mr. WOODWARD gives us the following addition to the list of dead in Peshtigo village: JOHN TANNER, wife and two children; eldest daughter of P. J. MARSHAL; A. A. PRATT, wife and one child; wife and five children of DONALD McDONALD.

G. J. TISDALE makes the following statement in regard to the calamity at Peshtigo:

"During the day - Sabbath - the air was filled with smoke, which grew dense toward evening, and it was noticed that the air, which was quite chilly during the day, grew quite warm, and hot puffs were quite frequent in the evening. About 8 1/2 o'clock we could see that there was a heavy fire to the southwest of the town, and a dull roaring sound, like that of a heavy wind, came up from that quarter. At 9 o'clock the wind was blowing very fresh, and by 9 1/2 a perfect gale. The roar of the approaching tornado grew more terrible at 10. When the fire struck the town it seemed to swallow up and literally drown everything. The fire came on swifter than a race-horse, and within twenty minutes of the time it struck the outskirts of the town, everything was in flames. What follows beggars all description. About the time the fire reached the Peshtigo House, I ran out the east door, and as I stepped on the platform the wind caught me and hurled me some distance on my head and shoulders several times on going to the river. Then came a fierce, devouring, pitiless rain of fire and sand, so as to ignite everything it touched. I ran into the water, protrated myself, and put my face in the water; and threw water over my back and head. The heat was so intense that I could keep my head out of water but a few seconds at a time for the space of nearly an hour. Saw longs in the river caught fire and burned. A cow came to me and rubbed her neck against me and bawled piteously. I heard men, women, and children crying for help, but was utterly powerless to help any one. What was my experience was the experience of others. Within three hours of the time the fire struck the town the site of Peshtigo was literally a sand desert, dotted over with smoking ruins. Not a hen-coop or even a dry-goods box was left. Through the sugar-bush the case seems to be even worse than in the town, as the chances for escape were much less than near the river. I estimate the loss of life to be at least 300 in the town and sugar-bush. Great numbers were drowned in the river. Cattle and horses were burned in the stalls. The Peshtigo Company's barn burned with over fifty horses in the stable. A great many women and children and men were burned in the streets, and in places so far from any thing combustible that it would seem impossible they should burn. They were burned to a crisp. Whole families, heads of families, children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, were burned, and remnants of families were running hither and thither, wildly calling and looking for their relatives after the fire."

Peshtigo had nearly 2,000 inhabitants. The village was mainly owned by the Pestigo [sic] Company, of which WM. B. OGDEN, of Chicago, is President and chief owner, and THOMAS H. BEEBE, also of Chicago, general manager. W. A. ELLIS is the resident manager at Peshtigo. It was the chief point of the company for its large operations on that river, and there were concentrated all the offices, stores and general head-quarters. It is about seven miles from the harbor at the mouth, with which it is connected by a railroad. It is also on the highway from Green Bay to Escanaba, between Oconto and Menominee, and is to be a station on the Northern Extension of the Chicago North-Western railway. Among the main features of the place was the extensive pail and tub factory, one of the largest and most complete in the United States, and quite new, having been run less than a year.

There was also an extensive mill for the manufacture of sash, doors, blinds, and a variety of wood-work. The company also had a large hotel and boarding-house, and a great number of dwelling houses - one of which, the residence of the local manager - was as complete as all the modern improvements could make it. There were also the company's shops, for the building of cars, logging sleds, and all the implements required by this great lumbering concern.


We are informed that the exact number of houses in Rosiere was 180, of which there are but five left. In addition to the names of the dead first reported, we get the name of GABRIELLE MANFORT. The villages of Rosiere and Messiere form the Town of Lincoln. Both are burned. At last account at least twenty-one persons were missing. Among the dwellings burned at Dykesville are those of PAUL FONTAINE, PIERRE LIGOT, and JOSEPH TONNARD.

At the burning of SCOFIELD's mill, town of Brussels, and settlement, nine lives were lost - six men and three women. HAULOTT's mill, in the town of Humboldt, was burned on Sunday.

A letter from Forestville, Door County, says that a settlement of six families, on the west side of the town of Brussels, was burned Sunday evening. But one family escaped. They at one time gave up for lost. All the buildings were burned, and thus far thirty-four dead bodies have been found and buried. A large amount of stock was burned. The Kewaunee Enterprise brings news of additional destruction in the towns of Ahnepee, Pierce, Kewaunee, Casco and Carlton.

A telegram from Green Bay, Oct. 12, says:

The northern steamer is just in. Three hundred and twenty-five bodies have been found and buried at Peshtigo up to last night. The river will be dragged today, and it is thought 100 more bodies will be found. Between sixty and seventy dead bodies were brought into Oconto last night. The loss of life on the east shore - in Door and Kewaunee Counties - is appalling as the terrible news comes in. Those left are houseless and almost naked.


The New York Times, New York, NY Oct. 17, 1871


The George L. Dunlap has just arrived from Escanaba, having been delaqyed thirty hours by heavy winds and dense smoke. Her passengers bring terrible accounts of the devastation by fire. At Menominee they received accounts of the burning, last night, of nearly the entire village of Menekaunee. At the mouth of the Menominee river, on the Wisconsin side, 150 buildings were burned, including three extensive saw-mills, owned by McCartney & Hamilton, Spofford & Gilmore, and Spaulding & Porter, the latter being the largest, with one exception, on the bay shore.

The villages of Menominee and Marinette were in great danger, and many of the people fled to the bay shore for safety, remaining in the water all night. The steamer Union, lying in the river, took about 300 women and children to a place of safety in the harbor. The women and children of Menominee went on board the steamers Favorite and Dunbar and vessels lying at anchor in the roadstead. The male portion of the population of three villages lying within three miles of each other spent the whole night in fighting the fire. No lives are known to be lost, with the exception of one man, who died from fright after he had been rescued from the water, and another, who was sick in a house, which was burned before he could be rescued. At a small settlement of five or six houses, called Birch Creek, on the State-road, nine miles west of Menominee, every house was burned, and ten or twelve lives lost, only three persons escaping.

At Peshtigo Harbor they were et by a number of people from the village of Peshtigo, seven miles west, who gave a heart-rending account of the total destruction of their town. During Sunday evening a hurricane of wind from the west sprang up, which fanned the smouldering fires in the timber into a blaze and drove the flames into the village. It came rushing into the village between 9 and 10 o'clock. So great was the violence of the wind that in less than one minute after the first house took fire the whole village was in flames. There was no prospect of checking the flames, for the smouldering forest presented one mass of fire. People could only flee to the river for safety. Those living in close proximity to the water reached it and waded in to their necks. Here they remained for two to four hours, and by constant wetting of their heads were enabled to escape with their lives, although many were terribly burned. Those who lived only one or two streets from the river were struck down by the fiery fiend and burned to death. Whole families were thus destroyed. This morning the streets were strewn with burned bodies. In one case eight or nine bodies were found together. One family, consisting of father, mother, and three children, were found dead within twenty feet of the stream. It is impossible as yet to form any correct estimate of the loss of life at Peshtigo. Fully seventy-five are known to have perished by fire and water. Reports are constantly coming in of new cases of destruction of property and life. In Peshtigo not a single house remains standing. The immense wooden-ware factory and the large saw-mill of the Peshtigo Company, at the village, are burned. Stores, dwelling-houses, &c., are totally destroyed, not a vestige of property remaining. The people who were saved are in a destitute condition, being without clothing or provisions. The names of but a few of the lost could be learned. Among those who are known to have perished are JOSEPH S. BEEBE, book-keeper to the Company, wife and two children, and Mr. THOMPSON, express agent.

It is supposed that the inmates of the Company's boarding-house, 100 in number, nearly all perished in the flames. A special messenger was dispatched to this city last evening for supplies for the people of Peshtigo, and the steamer George L. Dunlap left this morning with everything necessary for their sustenance and comfort.

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