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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Old Peshtigo Story

Peshtigo was a “town of immigrants” back when my dad was young. The area north of what is now US 41, Maple St., was “Swede Town,” which included Norwegians also, and there was a Swedish Lutheran Church on Beebe Ave. and a Norwegian Lutheran Church on Noquebay Ave. South of Maple Street was “French Town” and across the river on the west side was “German Town.”

West side Catholics outnumbered east side Catholics, and they won the territorial dispute as to where the church should be. The congregation bought an old Congre-gational Church near Triangle Park and Contractor Edmund Dupuis put it on rollers and towed it to the location on Oconto Avenue, a great achievement, where it eventually became the home of the Peshtigo Historical Museum. A new building was put up elsewhere on the west side.

A French-Canadian nicknamed “Che John” (Little John) was born in French Canada Jan. 1, 1864. He came to Peshtigo with his family about 1895, 24 years after the great fire. Peshtigo was a booming sawmill town with plenty of jobs for these immigrants, but Che John, being one of Peshtigo’s alcoholics, had no steady work. He was a “pig sticker,” or itinerant butcher by trade, my Dad told me, at a time when town families often raised one or two hogs for home consumption. Chickens roamed freely in those days.

Tavern patrons, for a laugh, would sometimes call Che John off the street to offer him a shot of whiskey, with an angleworm at the bottom of the shot glass. He would down the drink, worm and all, as he had a craving for alcohol in any form, and he would drink it in any form, whiskey, brandy or gin.

What else would Che John do on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 1909 but to get drunk, even drunker than usual, to celebrate? He got so drunk that Police Chief Zimmerman lodged him in the city hall’s tiny jail cell. The French community told it that the Police Chief himself had had a few that day, and that he “forgot to build a fire,” and the nighttime temperature was said to have reached twenty degrees below zero. Che John was dead in the morning, frozen to death in his cell.

The death certificate states that death occurred at 4 A.M. Dec. 26, 1909. It was signed “James Twede, Coroner.” There is no physician’s signature on the document.

There was no uproar, no scandal, no investigation. The Frenchmen, meeting on the street that day, would shrug their shoulders with Gaullic resignation, and say, “Che John, he froze to death.”

I personally checked the records listed here, and my dad told me about Che John’s sad Christmas story.


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841 Maple St
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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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