This is a piece of historical fiction about the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871. It was, and still is, the most devastating fire in the history of the United States. It killed more than 1,500 people. Few people found out about the Peshtigo Fire because it happened on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire. To find out more about the Peshtigo Fire Use the links below or read Firestorm at Peshtigo.
Deana C. Hipke. The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871. <http://www.peshtigofire.info/
Firestorm at Peshtigo: a town, it’s people, and the deadliest fire in American history / by Denise Gess William
Lutz-1st ed. p. cm.
John Jacob Bartholmew
John Jacob Bartholomew walked home from a tiring day of hacking away at white pine with an ax. Being a Chopper is a tricky job to master. He lived in Peshtigo Wisconsin, a small logging town. Little did he know would become an inferno of flames in less than a week.
He arrived home to his lovely wife Theresa and his 3 children, John, 12, Jacob, 9, and Josephine-Anne, 5. Josephine-Anne was his favorite, but he never told anyone, not even Theresa.
The Bartholomews lived in a single story shack near the Peshtigo River. It wasn’t a thing of great beauty like Ogden Gardens was but it worked for them.
Mr. Bartholomew brought home the day’s pay, $0.45.
“Now we can add them to the rest!!!” Josephine-Anne replied with great enthusiasm.
“Yes, we can,” replied Josephine-Anne’s Mother.
She lifted her daughter up to put the coins into the jar. Josephine-Anne dropped the coins into the jar. They made a dull clink clink clink.
Peshtigo was a small logging town at latitude 88 degrees and longitude 45 degrees. William Ogden practically owned the town. Ogden owned the Peshtigo Company, with Isaac “Ike” Stephenson. They both were rich buisnessmen. Ogden had a logging buisness in Chicago also, so he was often there.
Fires in Peshtigo were part of living there. When a building went aflame, the people of Peshtigo would form a bucket chain and douse the fire. They had one pumper, the Blackhawk, which was stored in the Peshtigo Company Sawmill. But they only used it in emergencies.
Just part of life
Later that night as John tucked in his children, Mr. Davidson, a family friend, ran into the Bartholomew’s house saying “Fire, Fire!”
“What is wrong?” Mrs. Bartholomew asked
“The brush piles are getting out of control!”
“I’ll get John. John? JOHN?”
“What’s happening!” exclaimed Mr. Bartholomew.
“Big brush fire by the mill!” hollered Mr. Davidson.
“I’ll find some buckets,” Theresa replied as she rushed away.
Mr. John Bartholomew and Mr. John Davidson ran to the location of the fire.
“Whoa, that’s a whopper,” They said in unison.
The two Johns were scoopers, they scooped water from the Peshtigo River and then passed the buckets down the line. Shortly later, the fire was doused.
“That was tiring,” Mr. Davidson managed to say.
“Yes it was,” Mr. Bartholomew replied.
“Good night, John.”
“Good night to you too John!”
“What is it with all of the fires all the time?” Mrs. Bartholomew questioned.
Mr. Bartholomew replied, “That’s just part of life in Peshtigo, just part of life.”
Uh oh x2
John went to work the next morning, it was much warmer than usual. He didn’t like the feel of it.
Theresa didn’t like the feel of it ether, nor did she like the glow over the horizon.
John and Jacob feel a warm wind, they didn’t like it.
Put those all together, and you get a firestorm. Yes, A FIRESTORM.
The heat became unbearable at the Bartholomew home. Theresa felt worried and had John and Jacob find as many blankets, rags, and towels as they could find. Theresa wet them with what was left of the water in the well.
By the time John came home that afternoon, the sky was a radiant red.
John came home. Nobody was there. His family had fled the fires in the north, afraid they were coming to Peshtigo. John saw they took food and clothing, but left nothing for him. He was alone, with absolutely nothing.
. . .
“Hurry! The fires are glowing brighter!” Theresa exclaimed with a sense of urgency.
“Where is Daddy?” questioned Josephine-Anne.
“Coming soon. I hope.” She mumbled in return.
John was running for his life.
The fires were gaining.
He was running out of breath.
But he kept on running.
Bad Choices Make for Bad Endings
John was tired, he had been running for what felt like forever. (It was really only five minutes).
He just gave up. His legs felt like they would fall off.
He got down onto his knees please Lord, keep me and my family safe.
His call would not be answered.
Number of deaths so far
1; John Jacob Bartholomew
Head for the Hills!
Everything was burning. Trees erupted into flames. Nothing was safe.
People were running into their cellars, only to die of heat stroke.
People jumped into wells, only to be boiled alive.
Nowhere was safe.
Theresa brought the children to the river.
John and Jacob ran into the Peshtigo River, only to be killed by the falling debris.
Theresa ran with Josephine-Anne in her arms to the Peshtigo River Bridge. The bridge then collapsed. Josephine- Anne drowned, her mother struck by debris.
Many of the bodies recovered were too burnt to be identified. Those that couldn’t were buried in a mass grave. The Peshtigo fire was a cross between a tornado and a fire. The fire reached over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.