Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Great Peshtigo Fire - Reporting the Unimaginable Part 1

The New York Times republished information from the Green Bay Advocate on the Peshtigo Fire as well as other fires in the area.  The fires and the absolute devastation made national (and international) news.  This article was extremely long.  For sanity's sake I will be posting it in three parts.  Even doing so the final part will still be incredibly long.  It is still a very interesting read, but not  for the light hearted.

"In Wisconsin.

Particulars of the Burning of Williamsonville and Peshtigo - Frightful Number of Deaths.

From the Green Bay (Wis.) Advocate

By GUILLAUME DELALUZERNE, from Uniontown, we learn that the entire settlement at WILLIAMSON BROTHERS' mill, five miles from the shore of Little Sturgeon Bay, was burned on Sunday night.  The proprietor, JOHN WILLIAMSON, with his wife and two children - his entire family - are burned to death, and about fifty-three other persons in the same settlement perished.  Scarcely a soul is left to tell the tale.

There were twelve families about the mill and fifty-two men in and about the mill.  Of all these people, but two were saved uninjured, and ten injured persons still living were found, and were sent on Monday by the tug Ozaukee to Big Sturgeon Bay for medical treatment.  Every other individual in the settlement is dead.  Mr. GARDNER sent twenty-five men to chop through the woods to this settlement, our correspondent being one of the number.  They found the remains of six persons in one house, and piled the partly charred remains of fifty-five bodies of men, women and children.  Twenty-nine human bodies lay on a spot about ten feet square [sic] - some with arms and legs burned off, and all with clothing gone.  A few rods [?roads?] off were others, and a man and child were found dead in a well.  They found fifty-five dead bodies, and think the total number must be from sixty to seventy.


The south-easterly gale of Sunday evening reached the proportions of a hurricane at Peshtigo.  The woods, which had been alive with slowly-running fires for weeks, were suddenly burned with a whirlwind of fire, and, without any warning, great sheets of flames were carried into the village.  Those who escaped describe the scene as awful in the extreme.  No attempt could be made to arrest its progress, and the inhabitants ran terror-stricken and screaming into the river, where they plunged headlong, and sought, by dashing water over themselves, to keep off the fire which filled the air.  Every building but one - an unfinished dwelling - is reported burned.  The great pail factory - one of the monuments of enterprise in this region - the extensive lumber mill and door, sash and blind factory, many expensive dwellings, and scores of smaller houses, tenements, shops, barns, &c., were swept away.

Few names can yet be obtained of those who are probably lost.  We get those of JOHN E. BEEBE, wife and two children.  Mr. BEEBE was a clerk and book-keeper in the Peshtigo Company's store.  W. F. THOMPSON, clerk in the same store, wife and mother; D. McGREGOR, conductor on the Peshtigo Railroad, and sister; JAMES MELLEN, foreman of machine-shops, two daughters; MICHAEL CREAMER'S wife and child; Mrs. DANIEL HUNT and one or two children.  One family, consisting of father, mother and three children, were found dead together within thirty feet of the river.  Large numbers are reported to have been burned in the Peshtigo Company's boarding-house.  CHARLES WOODWARD, who kept the Peshtigo House, estimates the loss of life at nearly 400.  The loss in the 'Sugar Bush' was much worse than in the village.  They had no means of escape, while at the village the people saved themselves in the river.

The Sugar Bush was a thrifty farming settlement seven or eight miles long by four or five miles wide, and contained about 300 families.  It was estimated by competent judges on Tuesday that eight-tenths of its inhabitants were dead.  But about eight buildings were left.  Twenty teams went up there on Tuesday to bury the dead, and up to 4 P. M. Tuesday they had reported the following dead in the Sugar Bush:

L. H. HILL, wife and boy, and forty-two bodies picked up in front of their house;  T. KELLY and one child, (wife and two children saved;) daughter, twelve years old, of FRED BARTEL'S; four families of NEWBERRYS, all gone but one boy; JOHN CHURCH, wife and two grown children; wife and five children of CHAS. LEMBK, JOHN SMITH, wife and five children; JOHN ALSWEIGER, wife and six children; CHAS. LAWRENCE, wife and three children; N. MAY, wife and two children; wife of PETER LEECH, and two hired men; father, mother, wife and child of WM. PENRY; CHAS. CHAPMAN, wife and one child; HENRY HAYS, wife and two children; JOHN PRATT, wife and four children; widow AYMER and two grown-up boys.  Mr. WOODWARD gives us the following addition to the list of dead in Peshtigo village:  JOHN TANNER, wife and two children; eldest daughter of P. J. MARSHAL; A. A. PRATT, wife and one child; wife and five children of DONALD McDONALD."