THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
Tales from the old-timer
Issue Date: April 18, 2012
The Pull of Peshtigo
Both of my dads parents were born in Quebec in French Canada. Grandma came here as a two-year-old child with her family, headed up by Charles and Louise Dupuis. They settled first in Menekaunee, where on Oct. 8, 1871 the Peshtigo Fire reached parts of Marinette and Great-Grandma Dupuis and her children got on a boat which took them to safety out in the Bay.
Great Aunt Amelia Derocher on seeing the storm of sparks whirling in the sky, cried out look, Mama, its snowing fire, according to the book, Fire at Peshtigo. They soon moved to the unincorporated village of Peshtigo Harbor, where when Grandma Mary was about 17 she met up with a cocky young Frenchman, Ed Thibodeau, who she married and who worked at the Peshtigo Lumber Company sawmill there.
I still have a pretty kerosene lamp she bought at the Peshtigo Lumber Company store for her hope chest. But long before then, Great-Grandpa Dupuis had got involved with a co-op farming venture in which several families of these French Canadians moved to an area near what is now Coleman. In the first winter Great-Grandpa Dupuis got sick and died of a raging typhoid fever, possibly from drinking water from the Little Peshtigo River. As the area was then a part of the Town of Peshtigo the authorities sent a big horse-drawn sleigh with a coffin for Charles Dupuis atop it and Great-Grandma and her kids rode on top of Charles Dupuis coffin and were taken to Peshtigo, where they went on the town (welfare) and were installed in an upstairs apartment on French Street.
Back then public assistance was run by and paid for by local municipalities only, cities, towns, and villages. This was the American version of the Elizabethan Poor Laws, enacted in Britain about 1802 when industrialization proved to be tough for the small farmers there. Great-Grandma took in a boarder named Alfonse Comeau, ultimately married him and had four more children. My grandma and grandpa moved back to Peshtigo when the Harbor Mill shut down for good about 1890, where they raised their three kids, including my dad.
When the sawmill at Peshtigo Harbor shut down they moved to Peshtigo, then still a sawmill town, which was incorporated as a city about 1918. Here they raised their three children, who after some wanderings, settled in Peshtigo for good. My dad had moved first to Channing, MIch. north of Iron Mountain, then to Hartford, Wis. and then to Kingsford, Mich., but economic and other setbacks brought him back to dear old Peshtigo, as did the families of his two sisters, Hortense and Alda, who returned there with their families where there were always jobs available.
My sister Avis and her husband Bill LeFebvre and their daughter Jody felt the irresistible pull of Peshtigo for all their vacation times, as did their son Butch and Jody and her husband moved back to town after his retirement as a Chicago Police Officer, and Butch and his wife have a cottage in Badger Park where they spend a lot of time.
All through their years in Chicago, these families always headed to Peshtigo for their vacations and holidays.
It worked in my case also, and when circumstances changed in my life, my wife and our oldest child ended up in or near good old Peshtigo, yielding to this area and the great little town that got famous in 1871 by burning down, and recovered its boomtown spirit by recovering and rebuilding.
Only one of our children has settled here to raise her kids though the rest of them come home often. We dont live in the city now, but keep the nostalgia alive with frequent trips from our home in the Town of Peshtigo, where I am still working part time and where we shop for our groceries and visit friends in the City of Peshtigo.