MI "Great Thumb Fire," Sept 1881


CHICAGO, Sept. 7. - Later dispatches from East Saginaw, Port Huron, Flint, and other places in Michigan continue to give alarming reports of the fires. The additional rumors of loss of life continue. Several persons have been burned to death while fleeing from the fire. The village of Deckerville, on the Port Huron and North-western Railway, is totally consumed. Anderson Station is partly burned. In Mendon the only loss was the elevator. Port Hope is nearly all burned. In Verona Mills, in Huron County, the buildings are all destroyed but the church and a store. Bad Axe is all gone but the Court-house and a hotel. Sandusky is totally destroyed, and Richmondville is totally consumed. The fire is raging in the western part of Fortsville, and the people are all moving to the lake shore in Watertown Township two entire families have been burned to death. The mail-carrier from Marlette to Bad Axe is reported lost. The mail-carrier from Sandusky to Carsonville saw two dead bodies on his route, and the horrible truth remains only partially told. George Ayres hart and his wife, grandmother, two children, and a grandchild have been burned to death. Terror reigns in the whole country. It is very dark, and so smoky as to render breathing troublesome and cause harm to the eyes. Lamps are kept constantly burning. It is impossible to ascertain the full extent of the terrible calamity, as there is no mail, and the telegraph wires are burned down from Forrester to Point Crescent.

DETROIT, Mich., Sept. 7. - Reports are beginning to arrive from the northern and northeastern portion of the State, showing a terrible condition of affairs. The long-continued drought has rendered everything as dry as tinder, and numerous "flashings" or partly cleared tracts of land, covered with brush, decayed timber, and other inflammable materials, afford the best possible medium for the rapid spread of the flames, carried by the high winds which have been prevailing. Sanilac and Huron Counties, lying on the shore of Lake Huron, between Port Huron and Saginaw Bay, are the scenes of the greatest destruction, which is growing positively appalling in character. Hundreds of farms have already been reduced to blackened ashes. Stock, crops, farm buildings, and fences, all have been swept away. Men, women, and children have been overtaken by the flames, and several lives are known to have been lost. It is feared, when full accounts are received, that the loss of life will prove terrible. The little hamlets of Anderson, Richmondville, Charleston, and Sanilac are all reported to have been wiped out, while Port Hope, Verona Mills, and Bad Axe, Huron County, are reported wholly or partly burned up. The people are flocking to the shore of Lake Huron from the interior of these counties as the only refuge from the flames. Some were overtaken by the spreading fire. Not less than 20 deaths are already reported, but it is hoped that these statements may prove incorrect. In Tuscola County, in the next tier of counties back from Lake Huron and south of Saginaw, fires are also raging, but with less severity. The losses there are overshadowed by the more terrible condition of things in the adjoining counties. The same state of affairs exists in Lapeer County, next south of Tuscola, and the whole country around Saginaw and Bay City is ablaze from the marshes taking fire. Reports of many losses to farmers are beginning to reach here. The weather continues excessively hot, and there is no sign of rain.

The New York Times, New York, NY 8 Sept 1881



Another family that perished

Another family that perished was the Sylvester Richmond & Laura Augusta Short Richmond (my distant 3rd cousin) family. They were:

Sylvester Richmond age 43. his wife Laura Augusta age 37
Edward Richmond age 12
Adeline Richmond age 10
John Richmond age 8
Oliver Richmond age 6
Maud Richmond age 4
Jane Richmond age 1
one son Kenneth Richmond age 13 was not at home that day, he was the only survivor. The story goes: Sylvester Richmond's house, 4 miles west of Forestville caught fire. In an 8 foot well, nine rods from the house there was about 2 feet of water. Mr. Richmond placed his wife and 6 children in this and then fought the fire until the heat could no longer be endured, when he himself took refuge in the well. The terrible force of the wind soon lifted the roof of the house carrying it off toward the well, over which it was dropped. Suffocation followed and in this condition they were found 2 days later. A very sad story.

The Great Fire of 1881-Michigan


The family that perished was that of John Phillip Freiburger not Francis Joseph Freiburger his twin brother.

Sources: Huron County Death Register for Bingham.
Find a grave

Freiburger Family Perish in 1881 Thumb Fire

John Phillip Freiburger family perished in the 1881 Thumb Fire. One of the families found in the well on their farm. This family has not been recorded in the papers as one of the families mentioned by name as taken refuge in their well. I have their death record and their gravestone is located at the Most Holy Trinity Church in Paris/Ubly, Huron, Michigan.You may view it on Find My Grave.

John had a twin brother named Francis Joseph- It was not his family that perished as earlier recorded.

Here are the names of the family members who perished. The oldest daughter spending the summer in Canada with relatives died 6 months later, unknown illness.
Husband: John Phillip Freiburger (1838-1881)
Wife:Mary Brautner Freiburger (1842 - 1881)*
Maria Anna Freiburger (1867 - 1882)*
Verinicah Freiburger (1868 - 1881)*
Herbert Freiburger (1872 - 1881)*
Ann C Freiburger (1875 - 1881)*
Barbara Freiburger (1877 - 1881)*
Joseph Freiburger (1879 - 1881)*
Leutwina Freiburger (1881 - 1881)
Sources include: Huron County Death Register and Find a Grave

We lost a whole family of

We lost a whole family of Freiburger's from the original 5 settlers in that fire in Argyle . Francis Joseph Freiburger and his family.The daughter ( lone survivor) whom legend has she was away at the time, died of a broken heart later,,

Fire in Sandusky

My Great Great Grandfather, David Berden and his family lived in Sandusky on Snover Rd. They escaped the fire by climbing down into a well. I have read where some died doing this, maybe from the smoke or lack of oxygen.

Michigan Forest Fires

My great grandfather established village throughout the thumb area of Michigan. His faith was very instrumental in stopping the raging fires. He died at the age of 105.

Michigan Fires

My mother , 1904-1994, told me of these fires. Her father was born in Vicksburg, Kalamazoo county Michigan in 1881. His parents left there in severe smoke and had to cover the baby's[my grandfather's] face with cloths as they headed west to South Haven, Van Buren county.