Following an drought which extended into the fall, a series of small fires were wind-whipped out of control and soon merged into a deadly mass. The area was filled with a wildfire of historic proportions. An estimated 2,400 square miles burned.
All of this happened on October 8, 1871 in the Northeastern portion of Wisconsin.
Isolated farms, small communities, and the thriving town of Peshtigo were consumed as the flames spread across the forest. Everything was build of wood — this was lumber country. Lumber and wood products equaled jobs and money.
The author of this eyewitness account was a priest. He and others survived only by fleeing into the river and repeatedly dousing each other with cold, river water (Oct in northern Wisconsin is not know for warm rivers.) He was in the river for five and a half hours. The number of the dead will never be known — 1,152 is one accepted number but other estimates are slightly higher. Few bodies were identified unless a belt buckle, pin, or some other possession with them survived. One of the mass graves is located in a cemetery adjacent to the local museum and fire memorial.
October 8, 1871 — does the date sound familiar?
Another fire of note raged in the Midwest that same night — in Chicago.