Fire stories

Father Peter Pernin’s story of the fire can be verified—he wrote it himself for posterity. Most other stories have been passed down through storytelling. Some have become legends; many cannot be verified. Here are some of the stories we’ve heard. Fact or fiction? You decide.

Charles Lamp/Lemke

Charles “Karl” Lamp (or Lemke) was a German immigrant farmer in the Lower Sugar Bush with his wife, Fredricke, and five daughters. His very pregnant wife began having birth pains during supper on October 8, 1871. Karl hitched the horses to a wagon and loaded his family—Fredricke holding the reins—when… Read more

Survivor! Mrs. Carrie (Jackson) Hoppe

Hoppe was four months old at the time of the fire. She lived with her parents and 18-month-old brother on a farm six miles from Peshtigo. Her father, Ezra Jackson, was bedridden with scarlet fever, and her uncle was on the farm at the time, assisting the family. “When the… Read more

Survivor! Anna (Korstad) Iverson

Anna was only nine days old on the day of the fire. She was born in Peshtigo on Sept. 29, 1871, and was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lars Korstad. Her father came from Norway in 1864 and worked for the next three years to save enough money for… Read more

Survivor: Wesley Duket

“When balls of fire started coming down from the sky, my mother and father took us to the spring and wrapped us in wet quilts,” said Wesley Duket, who lived in Sugar Bush, five miles from Harmony Corners. “My sister saved the sewing machine by wrapping it up, too.” “We… Read more

Survivor! Amelia Desrochers

“Wake up! The end of the world is coming!” Mrs. Amelia “Stoney” Desrochers recalled her mother shouting when she was only five years old. The blaze reached their home at about 9 p.m. “There had been fires all along. The men had been fighting them,” Desrocher said. “One night a… Read more

Prejudice and humility

Abram Place, originally from Vermont, was the second largest landowner in the area. He also worked at the Peshtigo Company. Yet people looked down him because he had married a Native American woman. He regularly welcomed Native Americans to his home—they warned him that fire was coming. To prepare, Abram… Read more

Good Samaritan rewarded

The family of J. E. Beebe—he, his wife, and four children—were running for the river. Both parents and three of the children were struck down by the flames, but the four-year-old daughter was unhurt. She was seen and snatched up by a cobbler, Fred Guse, who carried her to the… Read more

Can you save my children?

Many people thought plowed fields would provide protection from the fire, and they often do in a regular forest fire. This, however, was not a normal fire, and most who sought refuge in a clearing perished. An exception is the Bakeman family. Henry Bakeman lived with his wife and six… Read more

Separation and reunion

Some survivors suffered for hours or even days, agonizing over the unknown¬†fate of their loved ones. Charles Albrecht lived with his wife and three children in a house on Emery Street, west of the Peshtigo River. He worked as a carpenter and at the time of the fire was employed… Read more

Sparks of romance

Most stories of the fire are about people desperately trying to save themselves and their families. The young man John Cox, however, courageously helped a stranger—a young woman named Kate Guillfoyle—find safety in the river. Even with the town burning around them, John noticed Kate was pretty. And Kate must… Read more

Human combustion

Fireballs rained and hot air rushed ahead of the main fire, detonating and exploding buildings—and people—faster than it took to describe the scenes. Women and girls were especially vulnerable. The combination of layers of clothing and higher fat content in their bodies intensified the heat, just as a covering wrapped… Read more

Peshtigo Fire hero honor brick at Lambeau Field

The Villers and Joseph LaCrosse

The Martin Joseph Villers family was traveling in October¬†1871. They were Wisconsin residents, but not from Peshtigo. How they ended up there that fateful evening is still a mystery. When the fires struck the town, Martin and his wife, Octavia, prepared to flee to the Peshtigo River. They put their… Read more