Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Extra! 150 years later, Northeastern Wisconsin catastrophe brings awe

Critic At Large

The Great Peshtigo Fire

PESHTIGO, Wis. (WFRV) – Disaster struck for thousands of people in Northeastern Wisconsin 150 years ago this week.

What happened in the Great Peshtigo Fire remains incredible.

The tales are chilling.

Scenes from California wildfires today give a hint of what happened in Oconto, Marinette, Brown, Shawano, Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Outagamie counties.

Peshtigo in Marinette County was obliterated in a few hours starting Oct. 8, 1871.

The city gets the most attention for what is called “America’s Most Disastrous Forest Fire.”

Most of the estimated 1,500 souls lost were from that area.

Scores of people took refuge in the Peshtigo River.

Imagine the chaos surrounding the water 150 years ago.

It’s hard to grasp the scale of what happened because fires also engulfed massive areas all the way across the bay of Green Bay – in deadliest ways in Door County.

Stand on the shore of Red River Park in Kewaunee County and peer across the bay, and the opposite shore where fires raged is a mere thread on the horizon.

Near the southern edges of fires in northern Brown County, witnesses said everything burned except the area around what has become the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help near Champion.

North of Brussels in Door County, a historical marker calls attention to the site of a well where seven people sought safety and two persons died.

Less recognized is a memorial that is just a stone’s throw away at a place of horror.

A plaque reads, “Sixty persons sought refuge in an open field surrounding this spot and were burned to death.”

Another plaque on the memorial lists the dead at Williamson’s Mill:

Joseph Married, wife and three children.

Nelson Dimrow, wife and two children.

Michael Adams, wife and three children.

John Williamson, wife and one child.

Jos. Marcoix, wife and two children.

James Williamson and wife.

Mrs. Buckland and two children.

Unknown French woman and two children.

Thomas Crane, Thomas Whelan, John O’Conners, Dan Nicholson, Chas. Duncan, Frank Borway, Emery Jervis, Jason Williamson, John Conlan, George Buckland, Unknown woman, J. Williamson, Sr., Henry Jervis, James Whelan, Maggie Williamson, James Donlan, Freddy Williamson, Mike Rogan, Maggie O’Neil, John Ahearn, Patrick Ahearn, Frank Donlan, Charles Weinbeck, Louis Longley, Peter Bordway, Maggie Heaney, Joseph Verbonker.

Unknown woman.

Four unknown bodies found in the woods/river.

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