Peshtigo, WI "The Great Peshtigo Fire," Oct 1871 - Eyewitness Stories


Soul Harrowing Story an Eyewitness.

300 Persons Burned to Death.

The Coming Tornado of Fire Heard For Miles Away.

It Wraps the Town in an Instant.

Statement of G. T. Tisdale in the Green Bay Advocate, Oct. 12.

During the day-Sabbath-the air was filled with smoke which grew more 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 half past eight o’clock at night we could see there was a heavy fire to the southwest of the town, and a dull roaring sound like that of heavy wind came up from that quarter.

At nine o’clock the wind was blowing very fresh, and by half past nine a perfect gale. The roar of the approaching tornado grew more terrible at ten. When the fire struck the town it seemed to swallow up and literally [sic] drown every thing. The fire came on swifter than a horse-race, and within twenty minutes of the time it struck the outskirts of the town, every thing was in flames.

What follows 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 to my head and shoulders, and blew me on to my face several times on going to the river. Then came a fierce, devouring, pittiless [sic] 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 not keep my head out of the water for but a few seconds at a time, for the space of nearly an hour. Saw-logs in the river caught fire and burned in the water. A cow came to me, and rubbed her neck against me, and bawled most pitteously [sic]. 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.