Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Great Peshtigo Fire - Reporting the Unimaginable Part 2

Tonight I'm continuing to blog about the Great Peshtigo Fire.  The article I'm transcribing is a bit long so, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, I'm breaking it up for easier reading.  Tonight's portion of the news article (taken from the Green Bay [Wis.] Advocate and reprinted in the New York Times) is the account of what happened by G. J. Tisdale.  The NYT also includes information as to the situation in other cities/regions of Wisconsin.  Rosiere, where my husband's ancestors were is briefly mentioned toward the end as a town of previously having 180 houses now with only 5 left. 

The account of Mr. Tisdale is well worth reading.  I know much of this can be difficult to read, but I promise a miraculous end to my series of posts!  Stay tuned.

New York Times, 17OCT1871, pg4
"...G. J. TISDALE makes the following statement in regard to the calamity at Peshtigo:

'During the day - sabbath - the air was filled with smoke, which grew dense toward evening, and it was noticed that the air, which was quite chilly during the day, grew quite warm, and hot puffs were quite frequent in the evening.  About 8 1/2 o'clock at night we could see there was a heavy fire to the south-west of the town, and a dull roaring sound, like that of a heavy wind, came up from that quarter.  At 9 o'clock the wind was blowing very fresh, and by 9 1/2 a perfect gale.  The roar of the approaching tornado grew more terrible at 10.  When the fire struck the town it seemed to swallow up and literally drown everything.  The fire came on swifter than a race-horse, and within twenty minutes of the time it struck the outskirts of the town, everything was in flames.  What followed beggars all description.  About the time the fire reached the Peshtigo House, I ran out at the east door, and as I stepped on the platform the wind caught me and hurled me some distance on my head and shoulders and blew me on my face several times on going to the river.  Then came a fierce, devouring, pitiless rain of fire and sand, so hot as to ignite everything it touched.  I ran into the water, prostrated myself, and put my face in the water, and threw water over my back and head.  The heat was so intense that I could keep my head out of water but a few seconds at a time for the space of nearly an hour.  Saw logs in the river caught fire and burned.  A cow came to me and rubbed her neck against me and bawled piteously.  I heard men, women, and children crying for help, but was utterly powerless to help any one.  What was my experience was the experience of others.  Within three hours of the time the fire struck the town the site of Peshtigo was literally a sand desert, dotted over with smoking ruins.  Not a hen-coop or even a dry-goods box was left.  Through the sugar-bush the case seems to be even worse than in the town, as the chances for escape were much less than near the river.  I estimate the loss of life to be at least 300 in the town and sugar-bush.  Great numbers were drowned in the river.  Cattle and horses were burned in the stalls.  The Peshtigo Company's barn burned with over fifty horses in the stable.  A great many women and children and men were burned in the streets, and in places so far from any thing combustible that it would seem impossible they should burn.  They were burned to a crisp.  Whole families, heads of families, children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, were burned, and remnants of families were running hither and thither, wildly calling and looking for their relatives after the fire.'

Peshtigo had nearly 2,000 inhabitants.  The village was mainly owned by the Pestigo Company, of which Wm. B. Ogden, of Chicago, is President and chief owner, and THOMAS H. BEEBE, also of Chicago, general manager.  W. . ELLIS is the resident manager at Peshtigo.  It was the chief point of the company for its large operations on that river, and there were concentrated all the offices, stores and general head-quarters.  It is about seven miles from the harbor at the mouth, with which it is connected by a railroad.  It is also on the highway from Green Bay to Escanaba, between Oconto and Menominee,  and is to be a station on the Northern Extension of the Chicago and North-western Railway.  Among the main features of the place was the extensive pail and tub factory, one of the largest and most complete in the United States, and quite new, having been running less than a year.

There was also an extensive mill for the manufacture of sash, doors, blinds, and a variety of wood-work.  The company also had a large hotel and boarding-house, and a great number of dwelling houses - one of which, the residence of the local manager, was as complete as all the modern improvements could make it.  There were also the company's shops, for the building of cars, logging sleds, and all the implements required by this great lumbering concern.


We are informed that the exact number of houses in Rosiere was 180, of which there are but five left.  In addition to the names of the dead first reported, we get the name of GABRIELLE MANFORT.  The villages of Rosiere and Messiere form the town of Lincoln.  Both are burned.  At last accounts twenty-one persons were missing.  Among the dwellings burned at Dyckesville are those of PAUL FONTAINE, PIERRE LIGOT and JOSEPH TONNARD.

At the burning of SCOFIELD'S mill, town of Brussels, and settlement, nine lives were lost - six men and three women.  HAULOTT'S mill, in the town of Humboldt, was burned on Sudnay.

A letter from Forestville, Door County, says that a settlement of six families, on the west side of the town of Brussels, was burned Sunday evening.  But one family escaped.  They at one time gave up for lost.  All the buildings were burned, and thus far thirty-four dead bodies have been found and buried.  A large amount of stock was burned.  The Kewaunee Enterprise brings news of additional destruction in the towns of Ahnepee, Pierce, Kewaunee, Casco and Carlton.

A telegram from Green Bay, Oct. 12, says:

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 today, and it is thought 100 more bodies will [sic] 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 comes in.  Those left are houseless and almost naked.