Station Pride Articles

Peshtigo, Wisconson. What Do You Know?

Mrs. O'Leary'S Cow Starting Fire

Original caption: Illustration of Chicago Fire: How it started. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow upset an oil lamp. Undated illustration. BPA2#5175. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


“Late one night, when we were all in bed,
Mrs. O’Leary lit a lantern in the shed.
Her cow kicked it over,
Then winked her eye and said,
“There’ll be a hot time in the
old town tonight!”

On October 8th 1871 in Chicago, in a barn on the west side, a cow was made famous. “Daisy” (the milk cow) caught the blame for knocking over a lantern and starting “The Great Chicago Fire.” History has been proven to have holes in the story, so to know whether ole’ daisy was at fault or not is indeterminable. What we do know is, the fire department at the time was exhausted from an approximate four-block fire earlier in the day, add to that errors in judging, delaying in signaling the alarm, resulted in a much-delayed fire department response, poor “Daisy”.

At the end of the 3-day fire, 2000 acres, 17000 homes had been destroyed and 300 people were dead.

17hz1vr4ztg15jpgAt the same time, just a day before, in a place a couple hundred miles north of Chicago named Peshtigo, Wisconsin was another, less-known fire. Not just a fire, but it labeled in many literary information locations as a “Firestorm”.

Peshtigo was a saw mill town. A town very vulnerable to fire due to its heavy timber structural members in most buildings. Once considered on of the largest wood products factories in the United States (sounds like the inside of a match box to me), the town was comfortable, the residents were comfortable, even with a layer of dust on everything, the roads were covered in saw dust too.Smith_Plan_Figure_2_small

On October 7th, 1871 a blaze started in an unknown exact location in a very dense wooded location around a smaller area known as “Sugar Bush”. As the fire grew and eventually spread through “Sugar Bush”, every resident was killed by the blaze. The natural living conditions of a saw mill town in that time, combined with a weather condition at the time that not only presented with high winds but swirling, inconsistent high winds. Flames were reported to have been 1000 feet tall, miles wide and temperatures reaching 2000 degrees with stories of trees literally exploding into flames.peshtigo-fire-map

On October 8th 1871 the fire, reported to have been, unexpectedly, spread to the town of Peshtigo without warning. approximately 200 folks died in a single tavern. residents died from drowning as they fled into local rivers, some said to have even boiled to death in water tanks. the burnt result of the blaze made it necessary to have at least one grave of 300+ people due to families not being able to recognize their family members.

Peshtigo firestorm would be labeled as the “Deadliest Fire in U.S. History”.

The result of these 2 fires was more strict building codes, and code enforcement. along with better, more efficient fire alerting systems. Water pumping abilities.

These fires were essential in the growth of the American fire service to adapt and overcome. it posed the forever question of “How can we serve our people better?”



About James Cook (32 Articles)
James's great grandfather was a career Firefighter, his grandfather was a firefighter, making his way to fire chief in his home town and taught at Texas A&M fire school for 50 + years. James’s grandfather on his dad’s side was a naval firefighter in the Navy Seabees, James’s father has been a paramedic since 1979, and his mother’s a nurse also. James himself is a career Captain / EMT-I in northwest Texas, and has been in the fire service since Aug/2005. James loves teaching as much as learning the craft.

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