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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.

The Stories of Mary Tolerton Bagnall Keith

Contributed by: Bill Reque

My grandmother  was Mary Tolerton Bagnall, whose father, John Bagnall, had come to Jacksonport, Door county from Canada
and was in the lumber business. She was only a year old, but the family had moved over to that side of Green Bay because there was milk available there for the baby.

This is  an article which appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1953 listing a number of survivors.  My grandmother married Burton James Keith from Egg Harbor, Door country,  who was later manager of the Sawyer Branch of the Bank of Sturgeon Bay, thus her name in the article should have been Mrs. Mary Keith [not Kieth, as it is in the article].

Please see the transcribed text below
Transcribed from The Milwaukee Sentinel
Oct 8, 1953
Transcribed from a clipping by Bill Reque, 
Mary Tolerton Bagnall Keith’s grandson on 3 Nov. 2003
This Date in 1871, 1,700

Exactly 82 years ago today. history rolled an awesome fire tragedy through six Wisconsin counties. It raged through 1,280,000 acres of magnificent forest land—and it left a toll of dead which is recounted at more than 1,700.  The fire stands as one of the great tragedies of the world. It left little Peshtigo, Wis., the saddest city in the world, for it splashed its greatest fury there, causing the death of 800 persons—almost half of Peshtigo’s population. October 8, 1871, the booming milltown was covered with a pall of acrid, green smoke. The area, for weeks, had been stricken with flashing forest fires for the weather had been dry. There had been just two rainfalls from July 5 to Sept. 5. 


On his way to church that morning a man called to his neighbor: “I wish the fire would take everything and be done with it and let us see the sun once more.” His jest, brutal as it was, was understandable. The sun shone over Peshtigo dully as it had for weeks. The smoke was irri-tating. The threat of fire had been great for several weeks. Spasmodic blazes had been fought and quenched by villagers. The day wore on. silent, still. People spoke of the ominous quiet. There was tension and uneasiness. Then a quick, brisk wind fanned through the village. Far to the South a dull red glow of a burning forest could be seen near the horizon. “Snow-flakes,” which turned out to be ashes, whirled through the air. Just after 8:30 that night villagers heard a dull roar from the south, a breeze-fed forest fire. It grew.louder and Peshtigo shone red and gaudy in the firelight, but It was far away. It was very warm. 


By 10 p.m. the roar crescendoed and the wind reached tornado proportions. It howled through Peshtigo, spinning sparks over the wooden streets of the boom town. A roof spurted fire, then another and another. The tornado, shrieking and howling, carried with it flaming debris, sometimes burning crowns of trees which had twisted off in the gale. A burning room torn off, smashed into other buildings. Fire rolled over the ground like hungry waves. Frenzied people shouted to each other, “Get to the river;” Parents rounded up their children. Loved ones ran through the burning town looking for someone who was lost. “May God have mercy on us!” people said; some were certain that it was the end of the world. It was—for 800 ...


The river was teeming with people and livestock. Some stood, wetting themselves until exhaustion overtook them and they floated off down-stream. ‘ It is said that “scores” killed themselves. It is certain that one man killed his three children rather than have them face the torture of the flames. Another man clutched his wife by the hand and pulled her toward the river. Near the shore she fell, and he reached down in the smoke and snatched a hand and pulled his companion into the water. He found he had saved another woman. His wife, near shore, was a horrid candle. In the gray of the following morning, the dead could not be counted. Calcined bones and charcoal flesh could specify neither sex nor number. The children who lived are now very old or have passed away more gently than some of their neighbors. „. One, Mrs. Antone Grandow, 95, of Crivitz, now living at the Ekiund Convalescent Home in Peshtigo, rocked back and forth in her chair Wednesday and said: “Do I remember the Peshtigo fire? Why shouldn’t I, when I lived through it?” She knew her words well. She had spoken them many times. “My dad and all of us stopped at some neighbors, not in Peshtigo, but near to it. We were going to stay a week. and my ;Iad went hunting for pa’tridge . . . There was smoke every-where and he didn’t go hunting on Saturday because the smoke gets in your eyes . . ,. 


*’The fire was in the air and it was just like snow-flakes, and it blowed, I tell you, it blowed. “Then a man came and he had trouble from the fire. He had a box of (surveyor’s) instruments and they was very important. He said, ‘I’ll sing [sic] this box in the mud and if any of us gets out without dying he will know where it Is. But I don’t think we can make it . . .’ “. . . we prayed and prayed and prayed until three o’clock in the morning and then it come, rain and rain and rain and hail. The creek had dried up from the hot . . .”


Mrs, Grandow described the blackened, smoking country. Her father tried to get to Peshtigo, but the roads were covered with ashes and fallen trees. He came “back and then, she said,“He sat down and cried.” For many years after that fateful day in 1871, small heaps of bones were found in woods and at roadsides, each to tell a shocking story of the fire which struck Peshtigo on exactly the same day and the same hour as the much more publicised Great Chicago Fire, in which 450 died. Peshtigo rose from the ashes like a Phoenix and is a busy city largely peopled by descend-ants of those who died 82 years ago. They are careful of forest fires. 

The 45 Peshtigo fire survivors still living are: 
Arthur Prudhomee, W. T. Dolan. Weskley Duket, Edward Fetterly and Mme. John Anderson, Ogodt Farm, Nellie Race, Ida Sterzing and Carrie Heidenworth, all of Peshtigo; Mrs. T. F. Maloney. Mrs. Amelia. Deroshe, Pete Nelson, Chester Duket. William Duket and Mrs. Adele Lamboley, all of Marmette; Mrs. Sadie Friederichs of Germania; Mrs, Dave Martin and Mrs. Antone Grandow, both of Crivitz: Mrs. Wealthy McPherson and Charles Dahnke, both of Porterfield; Mrs. Charles Albright of Milwaukee; Mrs. Belle Moore of Ashland; Charles E. Wright of Dunbar; Fred May of Phillips;Mrs. Carrie Hoppe of Green Bay; W. N, King of Baraboo; Mrs. Mayme BIattery Slanborn of Eagle River; Mrs. Annie Iverson of La Crosse: William Kasson of Antigo; Dr. W. W. Witepalek of, Kewaunee; George Comeau of Three Rivers; Edgar Loucks of Goodman; Frank Clark of Eau Claire; Mrs. Mary Kieth of Sturgeon Bay: [transcriber’s insert: This should be Mary Keith, née Mary Tolerton Bagnall ] William DeMarsh, Menominee.Mich.: Mrs. Alma Corey, Iron Mountain. Mich.; Mrs. E. Wilke, Eacanaba. Mich,; Mra. Nelp Lindroth, Daggett, Mich.; Herman Kietzar, Chicago; Mrs. E. B. Williams, Oberlin, 0,: Edward  A. Drees, Culver City, Calif.; Mrs, Jennie Mullendorf, Sacramento,  Calif; Will Powers and Charles Armstrong, both of Portland, Ore, and Dr. Fred S. Shepard, Manhassett, N.Y.

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