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 baby, Florence, in a basket, and turned to retrieve something from the house. A moment was all it took for the fire to separate them.
Joseph LaCrosse was a 14-year-old orphan who lived with the Villers. He was near Florence with the fire separated them from her parents. He grabbed the baby and climbed into a well, holding her as the flames raged above them. The next morning, he climbed out of the well with baby Florence and saw that nothing remained of the city of Peshtigo. As he wandered in search of the Villers and other survivors, he came across a cow that was partially burned but had survived the fire. He drew milk into his hand and fed the baby.
Miraculously, Martin and Octavia also survived.
To honor the young boy that saved Florence Cayemberg nee Villers’ life, her descendants bought a memorial stone. It was placed in the walkway outside Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Due to the courage and quick thinking of Joseph LaCrosse, there are now over 500 descendants of Florence and her husband, Eli Cayemberg.
To see the complete story written by one of Florence’s descendants, see The Worst Fire in American History Was Not in Chicago.