Monday, October 10, 2011

The Great Peshtigo Fire - Reporting the Unimaginable Part 3

Today I will be continuing with my posts on the Great Peshtigo Fire.  This is the last series of posts dealing with a rather long article that appeared in the New York Times on October 17, 1871 regarding the fires.  This last bit is the longest of the three sections I broke it into, but I've got to admit that I'm rather impressed with how much space the New York Times actually gave to the fire.

The New York Times, 17OCT1871, pg4
"Several Villages Utterly Destroyed - Appalling Loss of Life - Four Hundred Dead Bodies Already Recovered.

From the Green Bay (Wis.) State Gazette, Extra, Oct. 10

On Sunday night, about 9 o'clock, fire broke out in the southern part of the Belgian settlement at Brussels, in Door County, and rage with terrific violence, destroying about 180 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 follow:  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, 200 people breakfasted on four loaves of bread.  Houseless and homeless, the camp out on their land, and seem struck dumb with their great losses.  Their houses, barns, 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.  At Sturgeon Bay WILLIAMSON'S mill is reported burned, and fifty persons are said to have lost their lives.  our informant reports the most pitiable state of things all through the district devastated by the fire, and hunger and starvation staring the wretched inhabitants in the face.

The [sic] inhabitants during the conflagration only saved their lives by throwing [sic] themselves on the ground and covering 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.


The George L. Dunlap has 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, Spofford & Gilmore and Spaulding & Porter, the latter being the largest, with one exception, on the bay shore.

The villages of Menominee and Marinette were in great 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 steamers 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 was 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, none miles west of Menominee, every house was burned, and ten or twelve lives lost, only three persons escaping.

At Peshtigo Harbor they were met by a number of people from the village of Peshtigo, seven miles west, who gave a heart-rending 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 int he timber into a blaze and drove the flames into the village.  It came rushing into the village between 9 and 10 o'clock.  So great was the violence 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 feet 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, &c., are totally destroyed, not a vestige of property remaining.  The people who were saved escaped in a destitute condition, being without clothing or provision.  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, 100 in number, nearly all perished in the flames.  A special messenger was dispatched to this city last evening for supplies for the people of Peshtigo, and the steamer George L. Dunlap left this morning with everything necessary for their sustenance and comfort.

Aid for Wisconsin and Michigan

E. C. FISHER, President of the Anchor Life Insurance Company, No. 178 Broadway, states that being personally acquainted with the people of Maintee, Mich., whose homes have been destroyed, he will gladly take charge of and forward any donations, either in money, clothing, or other necessities, that the generous-hearted may contribute for their relief.  Acknowledgements will be made through the public press."

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