Fires of October, 1871

Horse-drawn engines played a large roll in putting out fires when the city of Manitowoc and surrounding areas were threatened in October, 1871. This undated photo was taken near the front of south side firehouse at 911 Franklin St., Manitowoc.

Horse-drawn engines played a large roll in putting out fires when the city of Manitowoc and surrounding areas were threatened in October, 1871. This undated photo was taken near the front of south side firehouse at 911 Franklin St., Manitowoc.

“From Two Creeks to Two Rivers, the woods are burning. Heavy rain is our only salvation. All the roads are impassible and the worst is not yet known,” wrote Henry Marshall of Milwaukee on October 5, 1871. Marshall was traveling to Two Rivers and boarded the steamer Sheboygan to escape the fire. The days that followed, October 7 and 8, would bring the Peshtigo Fire and the Great Chicago Fire, destroying communities, livelihoods, and families.

Marshall continued in his account, “From Kewaunee south to Two Creeks the fire has swept away everything and should a high wind set in the later place [Two Creeks] will suffer almost total destruction. I saw farmers burying household goods in the ground.”

The October 5, 1871 edition of the Manitowoc Pilot stated:

“The fire which has been devastating the surrounding county for the past three weeks shows no abatement of its ravages…On Tuesday morning, a high wind from the west sprang up, and very soon our city was enveloped in smoke so dense as to obscure the light of the sun, and the wind, which seemed like the blast from a hot furnace, bore on its wings burnt leaves and other debris from the conflagration which seemed at that time to threaten with destruction everything within its reach.”

“At about half past 4’oclock on Tuesday afternoon the alarm bells of the fire engine houses and the Catholic church gave notice to our citizens that their worst fears were realized, and that the fire fiend had entered our city. The sparks blown over the hill on the south site had ignited the stumps of cedar trees and other inflammable material in the cedar swamp at the foot of the hill leading out on the Calumet Road just outside city limits.”

“Too much praise cannot be accorded to our fire department for the exertions they put forth to stay the progress of the devouring element.”

One Two Rivers family found their wells dry and threw the contents of their pickle barrels onto their outbuildings to save them from the fire.  Only one log building was destroyed and family history has said that deer later came to eat the pickles.

The community of Maple Grove publically posted a list of losses that included “500 bushels wheat and oats and 15 tons hay… $1,000,” and “barn, grain, and hay… $1,200. The farmers with insurance were fortunate as many did not carry insurance at the time.

Two Creeks residents stayed up throughout the night to pour water on roofs to protect them from flying sparks. “It was so hot the manure piles or rubbish heaps in the farmers’ yards caught fire.”

It began to rain on October 9 and fires were slowly extinguished. Many relief supplies were brought north, but one ship brought clothing, blankets, and food to the residents of Two Creeks, Mishicot, Cooperstown, and Gibson. At Two Creeks the Andy Johnson from Milwaukee brought 11 boxes of girl’s clothing, two boxes for women, two for men, and two for boy’s clothing. There was also a box of shoes and quilts.