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Flash From The Past - 1871

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Peshtigo Fire Page

The Milwaukee Sentinel
Friday, October 13, 1871
Researched, transcribed and contributed by: Bill Paul

“The Great Fires in the North”

Full Confirmation of the Loss of Over Five Hundred Lives

Four Hundred Bodies Already Recovered

Latest News by Mail from the Scene

Appalling Loss of Life.

Green Bay, Oct. 12

To Mayor Judington:

The northern steamer is just in. Three hundred and twenty-five bodies had been found and buried at Peshtigo up to last night. The river will be dragged to-day, and it is thought one hundred 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 come in. Those left are houseless and almost anked.

Robinson & Bro.

[From the State Gazette Extra, Oct. 10]

The Fires in Door County.

On Sunday night, about 9 o’clock, the fire broke out in the southern part of the Belgian settlement at Brussels, in Door county, and raged with terrific violence, destroying about one hundred and eighty houses, and leaving nothing of a large and flourishing settlement but five houses. Nine persons are missing – supposed to have perished in the flames. The names are as follows: Mrs. John B. Wendricks and three children, three children of Jos. Dandoy, one child of Jos. Monfils, and a young man by the name of Maurice Delveaux. The remains of some of the clothing of the latter person were found, by which he was identified.

On Monday morning two hundred people breakfasted on four loaves of bread. Houseless and homeless, they camp out on their land, and seem struck dumb with their great losses. Their houses, bars, implements of farming, house furniture and cattle were burned and destroyed. The roads are filled with carcasses of horses, cattle, sheep and hogs, suffocated by the smoke and heat.

Williamson’s mill is reported burned, and four persons are said to have lost their lives, one of whom, Hyppoylte Ligot, without doubt.

Our informant reports the most pitiable state of things all through the district devastated by the fire, and hunger and starvation staring the wretched in habitants in the face.

The inhabitants during the conflagration only saved their lives by throwing themselves on the ground and dovering their heads. They had no warning of the approach of the fire, except the ringing of the church-bell for a few minutes in advance. Then suddenly a great fire came down on them from the woods, roaring like a cataract, and they had no time to save anything. The heavens were all ablaze, and the earth also seemed on fire.

Williamson’s mill, at Sturgeon Bay, was burned. Fifty lives were lost. No particulars.

Peshtigo, Menominee and Menekaunee

The George L. Dunlap just arrived from Escanaba, having been delayed 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, Spafford & Gilmore, Spaulding & Porter, the latter being the largest, with one exception, on the bay shore.

The villages of Menominee and Marinette were in grat 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 steamer 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 wa 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 Pestigo Harbor they were met by a number of people from the village of Pestigo, seven miles west, who gave a heartrending 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 nine and ten o’clock. So great was the vilence 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. The 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 from 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 together within twenty feed 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, etc., are totally destroyed, not a vestige of property remaining. The people who were saved escaped in a destitute condition, being without clothing or provisions. The names of but few of the lost could be learned. Among those 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, one hundred in number, nearly all perished in the flames. A special messenger was dispatched to this city last evening for supplies for the people of Peshtogo, and the steamer Geo. L. Dunlap left this morning with everything necessary for their sustenance and comfort.

From the Green Bay (Wis.) Advocate

October 17, 1871, Wednesday

Page 4

Depiction of Williamsonville Stuggle

IN WISCONSIN.; Particulars of the Burning of Williamsonville and Peshtigo--Frightful Number of Deaths. Several Villages Utterly Destroyed--Appalling Loss of Life--Four HundredDead Bodies Already Recovered. Aid for Wisconsin and Michigan.

Here is how Fred J. Holmes described the memorial to the Williamsonville victims in 1944:

Beside the concrete highway midway between Brussels and Sturgeon Bay is a hill and valley section set aside as a memorial to the pioneers of that tragic hour. It bears the name of "Tornado Park." Before its entrance portals I paused with uncovered head, and in humility copied from the inscribed tablets this cryptic recital:

Here was the Village of Williamsonville with a population of 77 persons on October 8, 1871. This Village was blotted out by a tornado of fire. 60 persons sought refuge in an open field surrounding this spot and were burned to death.