Great Fire of 1871 - Summary

From the very beginning Catherine O’Leary and Daisy, her cow, were blamed for the Great Chicago Fire. Mrs. O’Leary swore she was in bed when the fire started, but such testimony didn’t change people’s opinions. She'd made too many statements earlier - when she told her neighbors it was just an accident. That's, at least, what her neighbors remembered.

Ironically, although 17,450 buildings were destroyed in the Chicago fire, the O’Leary’s home survived. The cow (and the barn) didn’t.

Chicago, however, was not the only city which burned on that October night in 1871. Although it garnered most of the nation’s attention, it wasn’t even the deadliest blaze as various towns in the Midwest erupted in flames at about the same time.

Take, for example, Peshtigo. Located 260 miles north of Chicago, the Wisconsin town began to burn at precisely the same time (around 9 p.m.) as fire started to ravage Chicago. Twelve hundred people died and 1.2 million acres were incinerated.

Across Lake Michigan, Holland was destroyed in two hours. Hungry flames also overwhelmed Manistee, fifty miles to the north.

Portions of the entire central section of Michigan, from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, were ablaze - at the same time. About 200 people died and 2 million acres of land were laid waste.

So ... could it be that Daisy really didn’t do it?

In this story behind the disaster, virtually visit Chicago, Peshtigo and Holland. Examine primary sources, including pictures, of the fire (and its impact). Read eyewitness testimony describing how people survived, learn about nineteenth-century fire-fighting techniques and discover how quickly the devastated cities recovered from their tragedies.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5189stories and lessons created

Original Release: Sep 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Jun 29, 2019

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Great Fire of 1871" AwesomeStories.com. Sep 01, 2002. Dec 11, 2019.
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