Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
Collected and posted by RITA
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FAMILY STORIES
OF
THE PESHTIGO FIRE
Survivor Stories of the Peshtigo Fire
This page is dedicated to the people who lived to tell of their survival and stories of the Peshtigo Fire.
 RITA

From the family scrapbook of survivor descendant: Pat Drees
 

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.

Peshtigo Harbor
 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.

Friend,
Mrs. W. A. Ellis"

Researched information on some of the people 
mentioned in this letter: 

The "Big House" mentioned in the letter refers to
the cluster of connected boardinghouse buildings
at one end of the bridge. It was across the river 
from the mud flats and those who thought it would 
be a safe refuge parished inside. It was estimated 
that between 50 and 75 lives were lost there. 

The "Store" stood at the opposite end of the bridge,
past the mud flats. Many people took refuge there, 
some eventually moved on the the mud flats while 
others stayed and parished.

* Hellen Ellis, author of the letter,  was born 1832 in
Maine. She was 38 years old at the time of the fire, 
and lived with her husband William (W. A. Ellis),
44 year old agent for the Peshtigo Lumber Company
as saw mill superintendant. At the time of the fire, 
W A Ellis' first duty was to save the company buildings,
however he stayed to try and protect his family home.
It fell to Hellen to secure safety for the family. Sons 
Edward, age 18 and William Jr. age 13 were also living
in the family home, which was across the street from 
the Congregational Church. The Peshtigo Fire Cemetery
and museum are now found on that church location.

* Edward Ellis, age 18, was indeed a brave young 
man to venture forth into the smoking enferno to help
neighbors to the safety of the mud flats along the river.
Due to the drought, the water level was low, leaving 
a flat bank of mud along which the people who survived
the fire took refuge. This mud flats was on the Peshtigo
River bank opposite the point where the creek joined
the river. There was no safe sactuary on the creek side 
of the river, so people had to make it accorss the only
bridge to make the relative safety of the flats. Knowing 
this, Edward was able to give proper directions to the 
Bartells family when seconds literally meant the 
different between life and instant death. He then went 
back to help the elder Mr. Oaks and daughter Nan.

Name     Age     Place of Birth  Gender
* Nancey Oaks 25  Maine   Female 
Wilbert Oaks 19   Maine  Male 
William Oaks 64   Maine Male 
 
 

* Ardris Anderson 44   Norway   Male 
Anna Anderson 34  Norway  Female 
William Anderson 26   Canada   Male 
Adolph Anderson 18  Sweden  Male
Otto Anderson 70   Norway   Male 
 

*  Joshua Cramer 52  1817 Ohio   Male
Diana Cramer 33  1836 New York  Female 
Joshua Cramer 13  1856 Wisconsin   Male 
Anna Cramer 10  1859 Wisconsin   Female 
Lewis Cramer 6  1863 Wisconsin   Male 
Elina Cramer 5  1864 Wisconsin   Female 
Mary Cramer 3  1866 Wisconsin  Female 
 

* Donald Mcgregor 28   Canada  Male 
Duncan Mcgregor 16  Canada  Male 
Jennie Mcgregor 13   Canada  Female 
John Mcgregor 18   Canada   Male 
Margaret Mcgregor 55   Ireland   Female 

* Nicolas Emery 40 Maine  Male
Abby Emery 40   Maine   Female 
Charles Emery 14  Maine   Male 
James Emery 13   Maine Male 
 

* Henry Bartels 43   Mecklenburg  Male 
Dora Bartels 34   Mecklenburg  Female
Eliza Bartels 14   Wisconsin  Female 
Frederick Bartels 12  Wisconsin  Male 
Henry Bartels 11   Wisconsin  Male 
Charles Bartels 9   Wisconsin   Male 
Louisa Bartels 8   Wisconsin  Female 
Sophia Bartels 7   Wisconsin Female 
John Bartels 2   Wisconsin   Male 
Crist Bartels 73   Mecklenburg   Male 
It was neccessary for the Bartels to cross the river by bridge in order to reach the safety of the mud flats along the bank.
 

* Paul Marshall 41   Vermont   Male 
 Katie Marshall 10   Vermont  Female 
Martha Marshall 39   Vermont  Female 
Nellie Marshall 7   Vermont  Female 
Edwin Marshall 28   Vermont   Male 

From Lyme Township, New London, Connecticut
* William H Beebe 53  1816 Connecticut Male Blacksmith 
Frances Al Beebe 51  1818 Connecticut   Female 
 Alvin Beebe 19  1850 Connecticut   Male Blacksmith

* James E Beebe 26  1843 Connecticut  Male Blacksmith 
Elisabeth Beebe 21  1848 ConnecticutFemale 
Charles J Beebe 1  1868 Connecticut   Male 

From New York, town of Kingsbury, Washington County
* John J Tanner 59  1810 New York  Male  farmer
Frances Tanner 48  1821 New York  Female 
John M Tanner 34  1835 New York   Male 
Sarah A Tanner 25  1844 New York   Female 
 
 
 
 
 

 


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