On October 8, 1871 there was a great fire. Where was it? (Hint: we are in Wisconsin.)
If you said Chicago, right date wrong place. In 27 hours the Chicago fire consumed 3 1/2 square miles of ground and killed 300 people.
The fire was in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. In only 7 hours the fire consumed 1,000 square miles of land and killed 1,200 people.
The town of Peshtigo lies on both sides of the Peshtigo river which is a tributary of Green Bay, which is an arm of Lake Michigan. In olden times it was a great place to trade goods, and later on part of the lumbering industry.
A little history on why these fires are on the same day. For the entire summer of 1871 there were only 2 rain days, the last one 6 weeks before October 8th. It was an unusually warm and windy season. After the Civil War, the area of Peshtigo was looking to populate and they offered any Civil War veterans 80 acres of land. But they had to clear the land of trees. After felling the trees and using the wood for homes, etc. they would remove the stumps by burning them. This was a common practice of the time. Here, as elsewhere, including Chicago, there was no education on fire safety, and people where very careless, letting fires burn and smolder unattended. Smokey Bear had not yet been born.
Ok, you ask, when was Smokey Bear born? What, do you think I know everything?
Actually I do.
Smokey Bear was born August 9, 1944.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, because of the arid summer and high winds, there were numerous fires, not only here, but all through Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. In fact in Chicago the week before October 8th the fire department, consisting of only 200 men, responded to over 40 alarms.
No one knows how the Chicago fire started, but the O’leary cow makes an excellent story. Here in Peshtigo, the winds picked up the embers of the smoldering fires in the area, sent the sparks to the dry fields and houses, which then consumed the area. There was no fire department.
Three blocks from our campsite was the Peshtigo Fire Museum. In addition to facts about the fire, it had vast exhibits on other items through time, including Uncle Fred’s dentist equipment.