I think most people have heard of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but few have heard of the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871, that started the same day, October 8, 1871. I’m sure that Chicago, being a much bigger city, made it a fire that stuck in the minds of the people, but in reality, the Great Peshtigo Fire was far more deadly. The Chicago fire burned an area about four miles long and almost a mile wide through the Windy City, including its business district. The fire destroyed thousands of buildings, killed an estimated 300 people and caused an estimated $200 million in damages. That is a horrible fire, and a horrible loss of life and property, but it truly pales in comparison to the Great Peshtigo Fire. The Great Peshtigo Fire took place in the area around Peshtigo, Wisconsin and the death toll was estimated at around 1,500 people, and possibly as many as 2,500. I suppose that it seems odd for the estimate to be a difference of as many as a thousand people, but when the fire was finally out, twelve communities were destroyed. An accurate death toll has never been determined because local records were destroyed in the fire. Between 1,500 and 2,500 people are thought to have lost their lives. The 1873 Report to the Wisconsin Legislature listed 1,182 names of deceased or missing residents. In 1870, the Town of Peshtigo had 1,749 residents. More than 350 bodies were buried in a mass grave, primarily because so many had died that no one remained alive who could identify many of them. In the end, over, 1,875 square miles, or 1.2 million acres of forest had been consumed, an area approximately twice the size of Rhode Island. Some sources list 1.5 million acres burned.
The Peshtigo Fire was a forest fire that took place on October 8, 1871 in and around Peshtigo, Wisconsin. It was a firestorm that caused the most deaths by fire in United States history. A firestorm is a destructive fire which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires and wildfires. The biggest problem in 1871 was the prolonged and widespread drought and high temperatures, capped off by a cyclonic storm in early October. The blaze began at an unknown spot in the dense Wisconsin forest. It first spread to the small village of Sugar Bush, where every resident was killed. There was simply no way of escape for them. High winds then sent the 200 foot flames racing northeast toward the neighboring community of Peshtigo. Temperatures reached 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing trees to explode in the flames. The setting of small fires was a common way to clear forest land for farming and railroad construction. On the day of the Peshtigo Fire, a cold front moved in from the west, bringing strong winds that fanned the fires out of control and escalated them to massive proportions. A firestorm ensued. In the words of Novelist Denise Gess and historian William Lutz, “A firestorm is called nature’s nuclear explosion. Here’s a wall of flame, a mile high, five miles (8 km) wide, traveling 90 to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), hotter than a crematorium, turning sand into glass.”
It would be impossible for most of us to imagine the way the people in that area felt that night. For so many of them, the way of escape, and with it, the hope of life disappeared in a matter of minutes. They didn’t know that the fire was coming until it had cut off their way of escape. Whole families were wiped out, and for the parents…well, I can’t imagine the sick feeling they had, knowing that they could not save their children. The fear the children must have felt, and the fear their parents shared with them…but, nothing could be done. They could only sit and wait for the end, trying not to speak the thoughts they were thinking…trying to give the children comfort and peace, even though their short lives were all they were going to get. So much has been learned over the years about drought and red flag (severe fire danger) days, but back then, they did not have the tools we have now, that can warn us of red flag situations, and even now, there are wildfires that destroy miles and miles of land, and with it towns and homes. If that can happen these days, I can only imagine how easily it could have happened then. Many people have called the Great Peshtigo Fire, the forgotten fire, but in recent years America’s “forgotten fire” has proven to be anything but. The tragedy is a subject of inquiry and debate among meteorologists, astronomers and conservationists. It has been dramatized by novelists and playwrights. It continues to fascinate history buffs and frustrate genealogists, which is where I come in. While the list of the dead from the Great Peshtigo Fire, does not include names I know to belong to my family, the idea of a thousand people unaccounted for in any way, makes me wonder if some of the Wisconsin connections I have been unable to make could be among the lost ones of the Great Peshtigo Fire.
Losing weight is not easy, as anyone who has tried to do so can tell you, but this story isn’t just a weight loss story. It is a story of a journey to good health. On October 17, 2013, I got a call from my sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg. She was having some health problems that would result in a hospital stay that began on October 18, 2013, and would last until November 11, 2013. She would go first to Wyoming Medical Center, and then over to Elkhorn Rehabilitation Hospital for physical therapy. Brenda practically had to learn to walk again. This journey was going to be a long struggle, but she stepped up to the plate, prepared to take back her life, and make it better. Brenda had known that something was wrong, and was concerned that she might have to take early retirement or go part time at work, because at that point just getting into the office was a major undertaking. Her journey started with the hope that she could go to Urgent Care and get a prescription to take care of the problem, but that was not to be. Brenda had Cellulitis, and so began her hospital stay. During that stay, she was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure and Sleep Apnea. At this point, so many people would have pretty much given up, taken early retirement, and moved into a wheelchair or Hoveround. That would have led to a slippery slope toward a future on oxygen, other health issues, and eventually total disability.
That is what many people in Brenda’s position would have done…but that was not the choice Brenda made, and that has made all the difference. Brenda decided that she was too young and too interested in living her life to give up and let her future be spent on the sidelines of life sitting in a wheelchair. During her time at Elkhorn, she worked very hard on her physical therapy, and on making changes in her eating habits. That was an amazing feat too, because every step she took required a seriously great amount of effort. The time spent in the hospital had so weakened her that she really had to learn to walk all over again. For many people, this too would have been the point where they gave up…but not Brenda. She joined Weight Watchers Online, and she has faithfully stuck to it, and she faithfully wears her CPAP machine, so that she is getting good oxygen for a better night’s sleep.
It has been a long road, and many people would never have expected Brenda to persevere, but that is because they only think they know Brenda. The real Brenda is very determined to take back her life and her health. She has seen many victories already. For almost all her walking, she does not use the walker now…only using it in bad weather and on her long walks at one of the local shopping centers, where she is now walking five times as long as she could when she first started. She is able to go out and buy her own groceries again, something she really couldn’t do for years. She makes frequent trips to visit friends, including one who was in the hospital…a place Brenda would only go to if she had help before, and she walks a lot at work too. It has been a very hard road, but the other day she told me that she knew that she did not feel good before, but she had no idea how really bad she felt, until she got to where she felt so much better. At her last appointment with her cardiologist, she was told that if she keeps going the way she is, she will actually be able to reverse the Congestive Heart Failure…such good news. To date, Brenda has lost 180 pounds, and she is still going. Brenda, we are sooooo proud of you!! Today is Brenda’s birthday, and the day that she had set as a goal of being free of the walker. Since she only uses it on snow and the long walk at Sunrise Shopping Center, I’d say she has met that goal. I know the future is going to be amazing for her. Happy birthday Brenda!! Have an awesome day!! We love you and we are so proud of you!!
In 1910 – 1911, my Grandpa Spencer and my grandma’s brother, my Uncle Albert Schumacher, spent the winter months trapping and working in the logging camps in northern Minnesota. This was before my grandparents were married. The men took several pictures before embarking on the journey from the Schumacher farm in Elliot, North Dakota in September 1910 for their “winter in the woods”. My grandpa took his 1895 Winchester 30-03, the gun that was his pride and joy, and Uncle Albert had a 1899 Savage and they headed off on their adventure. It would be a winter to remember. It was freezing cold, often getting down to 30° below zero.
They built what they called a flat boat to carry their supplies, two rifles, two handguns, plenty of ammunition, and plenty of dried and canned food. The boat could also be loaded onto a wagon when they needed to travel across country, although, I’m not sure where they got the wagon after traveling by water. Still since I have seen the picture with the boat on the wagon, I know that they got that part covered as well. In the end, the cold winter sort of won out. They trapped during October and November and then worked in the logging camps until spring.
While the cold winter, and the freezing conditions did change their plans for the winter, you could still say that they had a successful winter of trapping anyway. Now, I don’t know how I would feel about trapping skunk, because at some point you have to go and deal with that carcass, and to me that would be horrible. We have all driven by a spot where a skunk was killed, and…whew, what a smell!! Nevertheless, my grandpa and my uncle took that in stride and came away with a good amount of skunk and muskrat pelts for their efforts. My Uncle Bill, who I must credit for the information in this story, figured that in all, they probably made about $100.00 for that cold winter’s trapping venture, plus the money earned while working in the logging camps. It may not sound like much money for all that work and the freezing conditions, but in 1910 and 1911, it was a pretty decent wage.
Many people find themselves living, with no plans to move, in a climate that they are often unhappy with. This would apply to me when it comes to Wyoming winters, but, of course, not the summers. My granddaughter, however, is another story. I never would have expected her to be the one to like the winter, and especially the snow. I mean, she did as a little kid, but then most little kids do like the snow…then they wise up…again, my opinion, but Shai still likes the snow today. She wants it to snow a lot from October through March. Crazy kid, but she is my granddaughter, and I love her. Still, on this one issue, we will never agree.
We do agree that driving in snow isn’t such a lovely thing, and we do agree that watching it snow, as long as I don’t have to be out in it, is also a lovely thing. On the rest, well…sometimes I think Shai should have been my sister, Cheryl’s granddaughter, because Cheryl absolutely loves winter…every part of it, except maybe for the driving in it. I shouldn’t be so surprised about that, because Shai’s mom, my daughter, Amy maybe should have belonged to my sister-in-law, Jennifer, in that both hate beef, love vegetables and fish, and both could easily live on pasta. I don’t know how I managed to have such a mixed up daughter and granddaughter. Thankfully, the areas that we disagree on are few, and far between. We like many of the same or similar things, but on this one thing, well, I have to say that Shai is crazy concerning snow, and Amy is crazy concerning beef, and I will never change my mind on that one.
Of course, the snow scenes on Christmas cards, and other pictures is something I doubt if anyone could dislike. As long as you can be warm and cozy in front of a crackling fire with a mug of hot chocolate, those scenes are very nice and create a cozy atmosphere…at least until the reality of just how bitterly cold it is out there, sets in.