Durand, WI fire, Dec 1881



ST. PAUL, Minn., Dec. 27. - A correspondent of the Pioneer-Press at Eau Claire, Wis., telegraphed late last night as follows: "Information has just been received from Durand that all of the business portion of the village was destroyed by fire yesterday afternoon. The burned district includes the Eckle House, Lament & Darwin's Store, and every building in the two principal blocks northward and on both sides of the street. The origin of the fire is unknown. The amount of loss was not ascertained." Vigorous telegraphic inquiry at several stations in the neighborhood of Durand, which is 20 miles from the railroad, has failed to confirm this statement up to this time. It has a coloring of probability, however, and contains the possible germ of a very sensational development.

The hanging of Ed Maxwell led to a very bitter feeling among a certain class of people in the county, and the air has been thick with threats of revenge to be visited by his friends upon the town where he met his fate. The Pioneer-Press received a large number of anonymous letters after the lynching breathing threats of revenge upon the town and its people. If the fire was incendiary in its origin, and the crime can be traced to any one identified with the Maxwells, it is not improbable that a new chapter in the series of bloody and violent deeds that have disgraced Pepin County may be opened. The following is an extract from one of the threatening letters referred to. It is dated Pepin, Nov. 22:

This is the fourth man that has been lynched in this neighborhood: nine more that I know of that have been tarred and feathered and rode on a rail, three of them dying from the effects. We ask, is there no law to protect us? Will not the Governor of this State reach out his arm of power and punish the guilty? I speak now for 80 brave, resolute men who are determined to have their rights vindicated at the risk of their lives. If the Governor won't enforce the law and protect the rights of all men, we will do it without his aid. We here now, in one voice of 80 law-abiding citizens, most solemnly swear that if the Governor of Wisconsin does not punish the alleged officers and mob that murdered Ed Williams in cold blood, we will burn the county seat, Court-house, jail, and every building in the village of Durand that shelters one of the alleged mob, but as for Under Sheriff Knight, we will take care of him ourselves and save the arm of justice the trouble and expense. Lon Williams is now on his road to Durand to meet the same fate of his brother, but he will not be the only dead man there on that day. VOICE OF JUSTICE.

Two different dispatches from Eau Claire to the evening papers here give opposite versions of the fire. One says: "Fire broke out from a defective flue in the office of the Eckler House, at Durand, Sunday, at 1 o'clock, and spread to adjoining buildings, destroying almost that entire portion of the city, comprising 28 buildings out of 31. Dr. S. J. Humphrey's loss is $4,500; E. Parkhurst, total loss, $1,400; Ostrecher & Boston, total loss, $1,500. All other losses had partial insurance. Competent authority fixes the loss at $15,000 in the aggregate. The fire was entirely an accident. Ther is no shadow of a chance to attribute it to the Willims brothers' avengers."

The other account is: "Two commercial travelers, who left Durand Monday morning, having been there during the fire Sunday night, say that the fire began simultaneously in several places about the Eckler House, and while the people were occupied with that other buildings were set on fire in different parts of the town. All the business part of the place was destroyed. There is no doubt but the purpose was to burn the whole town, and that the incendiarism was commited in revenge for the lynching of Maxwell, alias Williams. The buildings burned are supposed to include the county buildings and about 30 stores and shops."

The New York Times, New York, NY 28 Dec, 1881