Brown County, WI fire, Aug 1886



GREEN BAY, Wis., Aug. 13. - All night long the fires in the northwestern section of Brown County have been raging, and the ruddy reflection of the flames has been painting the murky sky a bright red. The sole topic of conversation here is the fires and the probability of rain. Thursday night a breeze sprang up from the east and hopes were entertained that it would bring with it the longed-for rain. The morning came and the sun rose bright and brilliant. Every sign of rain had vanished, and the evening breeze had cleared the air that for the past week has been almost constantly filled with brown smoke. East of Green Bay the country has been cleared of timber and is occupied by farm houses. Every one is suffering from the drought and the crops are very poor.

In the town of Bellevue the ravages of the fire became apparent. Little patches of burned timber stood among the surrounding pine forests. The ground in places was covered by the gray ashes of the brush and leaves which had been consumed, and here and there a great windfall, as a tree which has fallen down is termed, gave out a red glow. A kich on the massive trunk sent up a shower of sparks and little flames darted forth from the crevices in the log. The woods looked as if nipped by an early frost. The leaves on the oak and hickory trees were brown and faded from the effects of the heat, while in the portions of the woods where the fire had swept away the leaves and small branches the great rees stood grim and bare, spreading out their great blackened branches without obscuring the rays of sun. The woods were devoid of life. In my six-mile ride I did not see a single bird or living thing of any kind. The township of Eaton has suffered terribly, and the loss of property has been great. Near what is known as Lily Lake, a mere pond, near the junction of Bellevue, Depere, and Eaton townships, stood Woodruff's Mill, which was owned by one of the finest typical young Americans, Harry Woodruff. Along for the past week Harry had been anticipating the fires and during the time worked like a beaver hauling water to his place and then to his neighbors, who were a greater distance from the source of supply. On Monday he left his house with a number of barrels of water for James Clansen, a German neighbor. Returning at a slow trot he saw the smoke approaching and whipped up his horses. "At one moment," said Mr. Woodruff, "there was not a sign of fire. five minutes later it seemed as though the woods around me were blazing." He started the team toward home at a mad gallop, barely escaping with his life. There the fight with the fire began. He wet down his house, barn and old mill with water, of which he had laid in a good supply, and as the firebrands came around extinguished them. In less than an hour the fire had swept on and left him out of danger. He went to Clansen's place to render what aid he could. House, barn, and wheat farm had been swept away, and all around were strewn the dead bodies of pigs, sheep, and cattle. Mr. Woodruff began the mournful task of looking for the bodies of the family, but without success, when he heard cries and traced them to an old well which contained about four feet of water, and therein Mr. Clansen, his wife, and three children were found. The Clansens did not save a dollar's worth of property and had no insurance.

All through Eaton township a similar tale is told. Some farm sites are marked by a dwelling which had been saved by almost superhuman efforts, but not a barn in the burned district is left. All through the woods, miles away from the farms, are dead bodies of cattle and other domestic animals, some burned to a crisp and others with no signs of the manner of their death. Anton Borgordin, John Shaffner, Peter Ronkers, and Charles Brockman barely saved their lives and those of their families. The lost everything the possessed. John and Henry Soper and John Norcross lost all but their houses. Most of the families in this belt of fire have taken refuge with friends, but one old German has constructed a kind of shanty out of half-burned logs and is living on the remains of a s sheep which had been killed by the flames and some provisions given him by charitable neighbors. His wife while talking to a newspaper correspondent burst into a fit of weeping as she rocked herself to and fro on the long on which she was sitting. There was not need to ask any questions. The melancholy story was too plain. Years of hard work to lay up a little money against the coming of old age had gone for naught, and the hard-earned savings of years of frugality and labor had vanished in smoke. I drove back by another route through the centre of Depere and Bellevue townships. The loss was even greater than in Eaton. The inhabitants are (or rather were, for it seems as though they had now deserted their townships) mostly Polish, who have carried no insurance, and Swedes, who have something coming from that source. In Bellevue township the devastation is complete, and the suffering terrible. Many of the burned out people have been injured in fighting the flames.

The New York Times, New York, NY 15 Aug 1886