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The flames from the two edifices met across the road and none could reverse this fiery passage without meeting instant death. The banks of the river as far as the eye could reach were covered with people standing there as motionless as statues some with eyes staring upward and tongues protruded. The greater number seemed to have no idea of taking any steps to procure their safety. Imagining as many afterward acknowledged to me that the end of the world had arrived and that there was nothing for them but silent submission to their fate. Were the way it was presenting eyewitness accounts of historic events. Material for this series of programs was selected from the files and papers of the State Historical Society it was guns and today the push to go fire October 8 1871. In the fall of 1871 northeastern was guns and was swept by forest fire.
The hardest hit area was the prosperous lumbering village of Bush to go near the Michigan border. Bush to go was completely destroyed by fire. Half of its inhabitants. More than 800 people burned to death. Three years after the disaster the village priest Depeche to go Father parañaque published a book entitled The finger of God was there printed in Montreal in 1874. The book begins with Father Perron as description of the area around place to go. A country covered with dense forests in the midst of which our clearings sometimes for an infant town on a farm with the exception of these isolated spots all is a wild but magnificent forest trees trees everywhere trees as far as you can travel the face of the country is undulating valleys overgrown with Cedars and spruce trees sandy hills covered with evergreens tracts of rich land covered with hardwood. Oh maple
beech ash Elm and birch. There's been a continued summer and autumn drought in 1871 in September and the early days of October. Prairie fires swept vast areas of the country. All of this burning culminated in the horrors of the Chicago fire and on the same day October 8 1871 the pressure to go fire John Kaesong an employee of the push to go a lumber company reported that before the major outbreak there were many fires in that area and tracts near a village in a dense swamp of turmeric cedar and heavy undergrowth. The water it all dried up and the soil was composed of leaves and marks all burned to the sand beneath. Letting the trees fall into a mass which created a veritable furnace when the heavy winds swept through and carried it directly into the town. On several occasions when the fires whipped the smoke into the village we were compelled to lie on the ground in order to get a
breath of fresh air. Lumber baron Isaac Stevenson remembered that the construction of a new railroad north from Green Bay which would give the lumber industry had pressure to get a much needed outlet to the west unwittingly helped pave the way for disaster. The summer and autumn were unusually dry and the forests and brush were reduced to tinder to make conditions worse the wind blew almost continuously for day after day from the southwest. When I work on the railroad was begun fires were started to clear the way the contractors carelessly allowed these to spread and they ran through the country with startling rapidity feeding on the dry forests. In some instances even the marshes and bogs were burned to a depth of four feet. As one pass to go who doesn't recall there were other fires near past ago which preceded the great disaster for several days. The fire had been raging in the timber all around north south east and west. Saturday the 23rd of September the flames had burned through to the river a little above
town. And on Saturday night much danger was apprehended from the sparks and cinders that blew across the river into the upper part of the town near the factory. Well as the night wore on all earnestly hoped and prayed for rain. Sunday morning the fires died down so that we began to hope the danger was over. About 11 o'clock while the different congregations were in their respective churches the steam whistle of the factory blew with a wild blast of alarm. In a moment the temples were emptied of their worshippers the latter running wildly out to see what had happened. Fired caught in the sawdust near the factory again. But before we reached this spot it was extinguished. The wind had suddenly risen and was blowing a gale from the northwest. The fires in the timber were burning more fiercely than ever and were approaching the town rapidly. It seemed nothing short of a miracle could save it from utter destruction. Teams were set to carrying water and the whole force of over three hundred laborers in the factory and mills were on the ground besides the other citizens. The goods were packed up and
moved from the building supposed to be in immediate danger. Indeed a general conflagration seemed inevitable. With the going down of the sun Sunday night the wind abated and with it the fire timber was felled and water thrown over it. Buildings were covered with wet blankets and and all this under the scorching heat and in the blinding suffocating smoke that was enough to strangle one and thus passed the night of Sunday. A Monday the wind of it away to the south and cleared away the smoke. Strange to say not a building was burdened. Monday the factory was closed to give the men a rest and by Tuesday all was quiet and going on as usual. Despite these warnings and the extreme dryness of the country a tragedy of the scope of the press to go fire to calm seemed beyond the imagination of the populace. In the words of one observer the great pine woods were remote its settlers were a humble helpless folk with but few connections in the centers of industry wealth and
commerce. The country expected wood fires in the fall of the year just as it looked for prairie fires. The atmosphere over southern Wisconsin would have lacked its accustomed to point a cool Indian Summer of facts and smoke not drifted in from the prairies of Iowa or through a bearing of the wind from the Pineries of the north and west. The first indication of the imminent tragedy of Sunday night October 8th came in the evening as many people were returning home from church. They heard a startling ominous sound coming from the southwest some compared it with the rumbling noise of a great storm. Others spoke of its resemblance to the sound of a threshing machine. Still others said it was like the moving of many freight trains. All were alarmed. Yet it appears that the fire was not spotted for no one thought of going to a lookout high enough to see over the forest wall which surrounded the town. Father Perron there had been scheduled to leave for Maranatha on October 7th but due to the dense smoke clouds hanging over the village the steam boat on which he was to have travelled could not land.
I found myself at a push to go Sunday evening October 8 where according to our previous calculations projects and arrangements I should not have been at about 8:30 in the evening. I was engaged in digging a trench six or seven feet deep in which to bury some of my belongings. Indications of the tragedy to come were becoming more pressing. The Crimson reflection in the western portion of the sky was rapidly increasing in size and intensity. Then between each stroke of my pick axe I heard plainly in the midst of the unnatural calm and silence reigning around a strange and terrible noise. The muttered thunder of which became more distinct as each moment drew nearer. This sound resembled a confused noise of a number of cars and locomotives approaching a railroad station. Or the rumbling of thunder.
With the difference that it never ceased but deepened in intensity each moment more and more the spectacle of this menacing crimson in the sky. And the sound of this strange and unknown voice of nature pushed me to complete my task to go Wisconsin. Sunday evening October 8 1871. As the wind blew to a full gale the fire broke in all its fury coals and slabs of fire dropped into the streets. Buildings flashed into flame burning from roof to ground in minutes. Some survivors describe the scene. Men women and children horses oxen cows dogs swine and everything that had life was seized with pain and ran without method to escape the impending destruction. The smoke was suffocating and blinding the roar of the tempest deafening the atmosphere scorching. Children were separated from their parents and were trampled upon by the crazed beasts husbands and wives were calling blindly for one another and rushing in wild
dismay they knew not where others believing the day of judgment was surely come hell upon the ground and abandoned themselves. When I heard the roar of the approaching tornado I ran out of my house and saw a great black shaped object whirling through the air over the tops of the distant tree is approaching my house. When it reached the house it seemed to explode with a loud noise belching out fire on every side. And in an instant my house was on fire and every. Million Greece tells about the escape of her parents who are newly married and arrived in Paris to go in the early summer. Father said the only chance we had was in the little creek which was about half a block across the street. Some of the wide boards of a fence beside the road and I showed the crowd through. He was the last one to scramble through and by then the fence was burning so fiercely that he sued and he had to drop all of his
possessions. Mother together with the other neighbors was in the ice cold water of that creek up to her neck from nine o'clock that evening until 6 o'clock the next morning they had to throw water over their heads at times to keep their hair from burning because the terrific wind was carrying burning boards and branches through the air and scattering sparks of father tried to persuade one old lady to join the group going to the creek but she refused point blank convinced that the world was coming to an end. The next day when mother was pulled from the creek her legs were lifeless and she couldn't walk. The scene was desolation. Everything that one small house was leveled. Ashes. John Kass saw the Pashley Gomel employee saved himself in a river near the mill. He tells of efforts to fight the fire. We ran a line of hose to the peak of the mill started the pump and gave the
roofer a thorough spring cleaning. By this time the wind began blowing hard bringing sparks and fire from the woods which started fire in the rubbish in the rear of the mill and the sparks were blowing up against the boarding house. The majority of the people save themselves on the flat below the dam. Here the wind was not so strong and the banks much higher toward the wind so that most of the fire passed over their heads and the water was shallow enough to get into safely. The other pair nap to found safety in a river in a central area of the village. It was about 10 o'clock when we entered the river. Once in water up to our necks I thought at least we would be safe from fire. But it was not so. Flames darted over the river as they did over land. The air was full of them. Our heads were in continual danger. It was only by throwing water continually over them and our faces and beating the river with our hands that we kept the flames at bay in their blind panic to escape from the fire.
People lost all reasoning power. Another pair Nan saw for himself at the moment I was entering the river. A terrified and breathless woman reached its banks. She was leading one child by the hand and held pressed to her breast what appeared to be another and developed in a roll of disordered linen evidently caught up in haste. On opening these wraps to look upon the face of the child it was not there. It must have slipped from her grasp in a hurried flight. No words could portray the look of stupor of desolation that flitted across the poor mother's face. She wildly strove to force her way through the crowd so as to cast herself into the river. Things went well enough with me during the first three or four hours of this prolonged ban owing in part I suppose to being continually in motion either throwing water on my own head or on that of my neighbors. It was not so however with some of those who were standing near me for their teeth were chattering their limbs convulsively
trembling. Reaction was setting in and the cold penetrating throughout their frame dreading that so long as joining the water might be followed by severe cramps perhaps death. I endeavored to ascend the bank a short distance to ascertain the temperature. But my shoulders were scarcely out of the water but a voice called me father. You are on fire. I finally came out of the river at about 3:30 in the morning and was seized with a violent two almost lifeless I stretched myself out full length on the sand. The ladder was still hot and the warmth in some degree restored me. Around me were piles of iron hoops with the intention of employing these latter to dry my socks and shoes I touched them but found that they were still intolerably hot. Yet strange to say numbers of men were
lying some face downward across these iron circles. Whether they were dead or rendered almost insensible I cannot say I was suffering too intensely myself to attend to them. Nothing remained of Pesh to go except the boilers of two locomotives iron of the wagon wheels and brick and stone work of the factory. The desolation afterwards described by many witnesses was horrifying. After making arrangements to send out the calls for help on Tuesday morning I drove over Depeche to go along the edge of the path the fire had followed. First I sent men with teams into the farming country in the vicinity of the obliterated village to build bridges repair culverts clear the roads of the fallen trees and debris so that communication could be restored and the transportation of food and supplies facilitated. In the progress of their work they came upon an old man named Leach sitting on a stone
smoking his pipe. The picture of desolation and despair during the two days following the fire he had buried 11 of his children and grandchildren and remained alone with the ruins of his farm about him. All of the population almost 1 1/2 or 700 died from burns or suffocation. The inhabitants had been panic stricken and sought relief in all directions often without the slightest breeze. Many of them crowded into the boarding house under the false impression that it would survive and suffered fiery deaths when it collapsed like paper under the onslaught of the flames. Others with a bit more reason had sought safety by the river. Some huddled together by the bridge as the heat increased some horses crowded onto the shaky structure and down it went to destruction. Horses people timbers in a hellish mixture. Hundreds of people had hair burned from their head. There was a general impression that the world had come to an end and in the villages
surrounding patch to go many people committed suicide evidently desirous of being among the first to greet Gabriel. If you ever walked over the ground were a camp had been burned and there are a few that served during the war that have not. You found there as much resemblance of a substantial city as now marks the spot where Pesta goes. Two thousand people carried on the business of life. A few days ago charred carcasses of horses cow oxen and other animals may scattered here and there. Bodies of human victims were collected and endured their number was easily seen by counting the rows of freshly made grain. To find the street was a difficult task save where the houses were built with cellars which was very rare. There is no trace of former habitation here and there are metallic
remnants of sewing machines and cracked stoves. The hardware and drug stores leave almost the only reminder of things that were a blackened mortar stands idly in a wild confusion of melted glass and lead with the pestle ready for a new dick auction. The effects of the fire were not everywhere the same by the side of the streaks of white ashes or charred remains were bodies that lay almost as they had fallen untouched by flame and bearing no evidence of the consuming gruesome relics of the fright of the cost on the first day of the rescue work. We came upon the bodies of a Mrs. Tanner and her two children a boy about three years old with flaxen hair and a girl five or six years old. Mrs. Tanner we discovered afterwards had put the children to bed and gone downtown and had evidently returned to rescue them when the torrent of fire engulfed the village. The little girl's hand was clasped in hers and the boy's body lay five or six feet away.
Urs was the only body we found face upward. All the others had fallen forward some encroaching positions apparently trying to shield their eyes from the awful heat. The clothes had been burned from the children but their hair remained untouched by the flames. House barn and fences of Mr Hill of the river bush burned Mr. Hill and his family all lost by the side of the family was a narrow alley just wide enough to drive through in this alley stood a wagon and while the barn and the fence were in Tara Lee destroyed the wagon box was not even seen. But what agony of despair the victims of the awful good times to face off to escape the withering flames maybe imagined faintly from the position in which some of the bodies were found. The young man had climbed a tree in a small grove near a church every day for a week I had driven by within 30 feet of the blackened trunk before I observed the charred corpse which
fell to pieces when taken down. Other persons took refuge in wells where they smothered many victims only traces were discovered. So I have no doubt were swallowed up by the obliterating cataclysm of flame as completely as if the earth and open and gulf of them shortly before the fire for example we had engaged an expert to establish a system of ditches for the cranberry marshes in the vicinity of the village employed seven men all Scandinavians and all that was left to mark the fact of their existence with the blades of their shovels. We have in our possession a copper cent taken from the pocket of a dead man in the push to go sugar bush. This scent has been partially but he still retains its round form and the inscription upon it is legible. Others in the same pocket were found partially melted and yet the clothing and the body of the man were not even seen.
We do not know how to account for this unless as asserted by the tornado and fire were accompanied by electrical phenomena. Two days after the gruesome search began we discovered in a kneeling position with the face resting on the ground. The body of a man who had been employed on a street in the rear of the factory. It was clothed in a gray suit and heavy underwear. The only evidence of fire was a Spock as large as a man's hand. Burned out Philip's house in the upper Sugarbush was destroyed but the family they state that opposite currents of their apparently struck the house which was sixteen by twenty four feet and carried it body Lee into the air. They think a hundred feet in the air it burst into flames and in a few minutes was in Tyrolese destroy.
House was not on fire when it left the ground. As we worked in the blackened debris and ashes at every turn we came upon the horrible evidence of the destructive fury of the flames. But more than a week we found bodies or parts of bodies. By noon on Tuesday we collected one hundred and thirty nine. Some of them some ghastly fragments. In many cases however there was nothing left of human beings other than a streak of light which puts them in others the bones as well as the flesh had been consumed and only that remained the only means of identification with key naives or other metal objects. Sometimes the bodies of the victims weigh in groups near the factory. Ten men were discovered lying on their faces within a space of 12 feet with their hands covering their eyes. What it was like my grandmother used to say I was in the way it was written down. You know a lot of the stuff its been printed I wasn't thinking of myself of
course but I talked with my grandmother with others who went through and I think I know something about it. I'll tell you what it was my place to go that night. It was Josh Despite the horror. There was evidence of considerable looting. One looter was about to be hanged by a. Burned rope could be found. After an attempt to improvise a noose with an iron chain the temper of the mob. And the man was let go. Comedy strode hand in hand with tragedy. There were many incidents which proved laughable and the pain subsided. One of these incidents I should relate it deals with a man I shall call Ferguson. There were a few banks in the region in those days and people who dealt much in money were forced to carry considerable currency in their purse.
One such man a collector made an attempt to flee from Paris to go as did many others and was overcome by the heat and smoke dropping to the road he die. The flames crept around him and burned him so that blood trickled from his side and stained a huge bunch of bills three or four thousand dollars sticking out from his pocket. The fire had died. Morning came and with it the dead man's brother and a group of morbid onlookers. Among them was FERGUSON The brother was overcome with grief and with tear wet eyes looked down upon the body of the dead man. Ferguson also appeared to be grief stricken but his keen eyes were undimmed by tears and they spotted the pack of blood stained bills. Then indeed the hypocritical rogue was overcome with sorrow. He kneeled by the dead man's side took the bunch of currency a blood stain or so as a small matter in Ferguson's estimation and in a sorrow shaken voice announced that he would keep
these as a remembrance of the dead man. The bluff was so bowed that it almost worked. But the brother of oak to his senses in time and taking the bills reminded Ferguson that the newspaper by the side of the deceased would perhaps do as well were remembered with the greatest alacrity for he was always quick to realize defeat. Ferguson agree and taking the paper departed wishing no doubt that he had encountered such a lucrative opportunity under cover of darkness. Meanwhile about 200 miles to the south the Chicago Fire had caused millions of dollars in property damage but it cost only about a third as many lives as were lost in past ago when news of the pets to go disaster reached the capital of Madison the following day. The governor was not on hand to receive it. He and all the state officials had gone to aid the victims of the Chicago fire. His
young wife Mary however took charge in a way her daughter was to remember years later. When a telegram came to the governor. We are burning up. Send us quick to talk with my mother. She was only a girl but she had initiative. She had on her cloak and hat it was all one thing. She took everybody down there was a conduit of supplies destined for Chicago. On a side track in the railroad yard this freight car she commandeered. Finding it contained food
and clothing she said. Who came into the already full cooperation. Your car should be started off at once over this first car she gave the people of Madison to get more supplies on the same night. As aid poured in from all over the state and nation. The town quickly rebuilt and recovered but the survivors would not soon forget the way it was fiery Sunday night of October 8th 1870 when more than 800 of their fellow citizens burned to death. To go Wisconsin. The way it was presenting eyewitness accounts of historic events.
Material for this series was selected from the files and papers of the State Historical Society it was Gunson. Consultant for the series was Doris planned script by Ruth Lakin's and Beth helper and music contemporary. Production Ralph Johnson. This is the national educational radio network.
The Way It Was
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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"The Way It Was" is a radio program which presents eye witness accounts of notable topics throughout American history. Each episode begins with a description of a specific event, person, or historical topic, followed by several dramatic readings of witness testimonies found in the files and papers of the state historical society of Wisconsin. The program was originally released in 1969, and was re-broadcast from the program library of National Public Radio.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 69-37-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:29:15
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Chicago: “The Way It Was; 8,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 21, 2024,
MLA: “The Way It Was; 8.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 21, 2024. <>.
APA: The Way It Was; 8. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from