FIRE IN PESHTIGO: A COINCIDENCE? (Illustration) American History Awesome Radio - Narrated Stories Famous Historical Events Social Studies STEM Nineteenth Century Life Geography Disasters Ethics

On the 25th of November, 1871, Harper’s Weekly published this two-page illustration of the disaster in Wisconsin. The drawing has this caption: "Forest Fires In The West—The Burning of Peshtigo.”


Although Chicago received most of the publicity, the fire in Wisconsin was much more deadly.  Peshtigo (and its environs) lost about 1200 people; Chicago lost around 300. Property damage in Wisconsin was $169 million; Chicago’s losses were about the same. To this day, Peshtigo’s fire ranks as the worst American forest-fire disaster.

Peshtigo itself was gone in an hour. Eight hundred of its citizens died, including many children. 1.2 million acres of forest burned.

The town’s river was the only haven from the fire, but even there people died. Father Peter Pernin’s first-hand account describes mass confusion at the bridge as people tried to pick the direction that would take them farthest from the flames.

I resolved then to cross to the other side, though the bridge was already on fire. The latter presented a scene of indescribable and awful confusion, each one thinking they could attain safety on the other side of the river.

Those who lived in the east were hurrying toward the west, and those who lived in that west were wildly pushing on to the east so that the bridge was thoroughly encumbered with cattle, vehicles, women, children and men, all pushing and crushing against each other...

The tale would get worse. Much worse. 

The local paper - called The Marinette and Peshtigo Eagle - reported the story with these headlines:

  • Holocaust of Flame
  • Peshtigo Annihilated!
  • The Farming Country Ruined!
  • Whole Families Burned to Death!
  • Hundreds Starving and Dying
  • Heart-Rending Detail
  • We Must have Help

Despite this staggering disaster in Wisconsin, most of the national aid went to help people in Chicago.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Sep 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Jan 19, 2017

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

"FIRE IN PESHTIGO: A COINCIDENCE?" AwesomeStories.com. Sep 01, 2002. Feb 29, 2020.
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