This commissioned plat drawing was completed in September 1871. However, before it was published, on the night of October 8th of 1871 the Great Peshtigo Fire completely destroyed the village and a majority of its inhabitants while burning its way into history as the largest natural disaster in the United States. In terms of lives and property lost and the extent of area destroyed, it sadly maintains that title.
The "mud flats" along the river to the left of the bridge, is the only place where people survived; standing in frigid water with their heads in the burning heat and falling hot ash. Those who had any clothing left by the time they reached the river, used it as a wet cover over their exposed heads, and to ease the searing heat entering their lungs. After the fire, a cold rain robbed them of what little body strength they had left, trying to keep warm. Most could not see the total destruction and desolation, due to heat injured eyes. There was no shelter anywhere, no fresh water, no air clear of smoke for their burning lungs, and no one to help them.
At the end of Ellis Avenue, to the left, at French Street is the original church building and cemetery on the Peshtigo River, that now is the location of today's Peshtigo Fire Museum and Cemetery. The church was gone in the fire, but the surviving congregation members decided to open the cemetery to all people who needed a grave site. Eye witness accounts by volunteer rescue workers, after the fire, document wagons carrying human remains lined up as far as three miles, awaiting a chance to put the victims to rest. Some waited with the remains of neighbors, friends and loved ones, while others accompanied unidentified remains to their final resting place.
Not all fatalities were found in this rural region, and many were beyond recognition. There was also no building left in the extensive area of damage in which to report and keep records of names, numbers and the sites of deaths. The severely injured survivors were taken to several hotels, made into makeshift hospitals, miles away. The only buildings left for them to use. No known list of survivors exists, but scattered notes made by hotel employees, newspaper interviews, letters of volunteers attending the injured, and diaries of survivors give a limited amount of information on the dead and those who survived. Many survivors wandered to other places, abandoning their charred and lifeless land. These people were also not documented. Many never spoke of the holocaust they had been through, while others told descendants who passed the stories along. We hope to gather as much as possible on all those confronted by the cataclysm, to offer their memory to the world now and in future.
If you know of personal accounts, photos, survivors or fatalities
of the Great Peshtigo Fire, and books to add to the bibliography on this
site, please add them to the listing by contacting Cathe
Ziereis or site coordinator RITA
. We thank you for your kindness.