From the family
scrapbook of survivor descendant:
Letter Written By: Mrs. W. A. Ellis
To see the very
detailed "bird's eye view"
plat drawing of Peshtigo, done just before the fire in October 1971,
please click Here .
It will help in understanding the locations Mrs. Ellis describes in the following post-fire letter.
Nov. 12, 1871
My Dear Friend Miss Jackson,
"No doubt you will be surprised on receiving a letter from me. Such sudden changes have taken place in out once prosperous little village that I feel like opening my heart to you and telling of the narrow escapes of some that you know. What an experience we all have passed through. Sad to all - heartrending to many. We cannot realize that every home in Peshtigo is in ashes - though we were eyewitnesses that dreadful night. How many precious souls were wafted to heaven as on the wings of fire? Our Father only knows.
Men, women and children who but a half hour before were in all their loveliness - were trying to escape through fire - only to be driven back and burned in the streets, As soon as service was over, the Catholic bell began to ring. It gave us all a start - though the bell had sounded the alarm for fire many times during the tow or three weeks before.
On going out of doors a terrible roaring as of the rushing of mighty waters was heard in the south west. All was darkness on account of the smoke: how thick and strong it was; every one's eyes were more or less affected by it. Then the air was becoming hot and suffocating. What was to be done we did not know - we watched - soon I saw a spark of fire alight near the hen house. In a few moments a breeze sprung up and a piece of fire the size of my arm dropped on the roof and fell off into great sparks. A little remained. Mr. Ellis went up and put it out. I had been down but a few moments when a terrific wind burst upon us carrying two of those immense chimneys to the ground with a terrible crash - in a few minutes more the whole place was lighted up and then began the shower of fire and the simultaneous rush for life from every house. The tornado was upon us - Mr. Ellis told us to leave the house and go somewhere - we went in to the house for a moment - I took two of my dresses and two of sisters - blew out the lights, and left. I thought we would burn before we got out of the yard, our clothes being linen. The fire came on to us and all around us like snow - the hot sand and cinders filled out eyes and blinded us we could scarcely keep our feet or keep from fainting. The air was so hot - before I got to the guideboard the wind had taken all my dresses like chaff.
We went as far as Mr. Emery's yard and got as close to the ground as possible. Before we got that far, houses were in flames all over the village. It seemed as if everything caught at once. The fire and sand blew into our faces so that we were obligated to keep our heads covered as much as we could. We stayed there until Mr. Shepherds house took fire, then we had to move down toward the guideboard; it seemed worse there and we gradually moved down below the road until we got into the cleared flat where we stayed the night.
What scenes of suffering were witnessed above the bridge. Scores in the water, frightfully burned getting there, some drowning - others burning in the streets and by the warehouses - trying to get to the river.
As soon as I knew of the danger I sent Edward over for Mr. Oakes (Oaks) and Nan. Wilbert was gone and Mr. Oakes was so feeble I knew he couldn't get across the bridge alone. Edward crawled over the lower bridge - it was so dark he couldn't see to walk - told Nan they must leave the house or they would be burned. They started in a few moments , crossed the bridge through the fire and smoke and got as far as the boarding house fence. They could go no farther.
While they were coming across the bridge, Ed went up to Mr. Anderson and Bartels to see if they were all right. He found Mr. Bartels in front of the house saying he could not find his wife. Ed went into the house and found his wife sitting on the bed crying. He got her and the children out into a buggy, told Bartels to drive across the bridge as fast as he could. He did and saved them.
When Ed came back he had all he could do to get by the Big House for fire. Mr. Oakes and Nan (were) still there. Ed says "Nan you go ahead and I will take care of your father". He took him by the hand and drew him with all his might until he got him to where we were. He looked like a spectre from the cloud - with his white hair streaming in the wind and fire - I am proud of my boy for persevering that night. Nan says they both would have perished if it had not been for him; she had made up her mind to perish with him if no help came.
Mrs. Marshall lost her beautiful daughter Nellie - what a blow to them. When they got as far as Mr. Emery's yard they turned in there and Nellie went right by. Her father went for her but went only half way to the store, had to turn back for the flames. Nellie fell but a short distance from the store - Probably in two minutes after she left her mother, she was died.
Old Mrs. McGregor lost 11 out of her family. She had a beautiful daughter, same age as Nellie, burned to death in the Big House. One of her daughters and five children were burned in the same place. Also a son and wife. It is estimated that between 50 and 75 were burned in that building. Thought the house would be saved.
Mr. Creamer (Cramer) and two boys were burned trying to get to the river. A Mrs. Tanner and two children were burned. Mr. Beebe and family were burned to death tryng to get from the store to the river. They stayed too long. He was crazed with fright. It was an awful thing for out darling Mrs. Beebe and family we loved so well to meet such a fate. They both belonged to the church. Their little boy was saved. Three darling children died with them.
I cannot describe to you that awful night. I hope no one on earth will ever witness another such a scene. Between 4 to 500 parished in the Bush and P (Peshtigo). No escape for those that lived near the creek. I have been weak ever since the fire, but an feeling some better.
Mrs. Alban was here when we came down from the fire but has returned home. Has a darling baby. My Billy is in Milwaukee at Dr. Nicholas attending school. Miss Oakes and Father are in Marinette. I send love to you and shall be glad to hear from you sometime - Well expected to go up to P (Peshtigo) to live again in a few weeks. Mr. Ogden is to build up P (Peshtigo) again. Our new church was the last to burn.
information on some of the people
mentioned in this letter:
"Big House" mentioned in the letter refers to
"Store" stood at the opposite end of the bridge,
Hellen Ellis, author of the letter, was born 1832 in
Edward Ellis, age 18, was indeed a brave young
Age Place of Birth
Ardris Anderson 44 Norway
Joshua Cramer 52 1817 Ohio Male
Donald Mcgregor 28 Canada Male
Nicolas Emery 40 Maine Male
Henry Bartels 43 Mecklenburg
Paul Marshall 41 Vermont
Lyme Township, New London, Connecticut
James E Beebe 26 1843 Connecticut Male
New York, town of Kingsbury, Washington County