On the Wings
of Fire


On the Wings of Fire

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Almost with the first steps taken in the street, the wind overturned and dragged me with the wagon close to the tavern as already mentioned. Farther on, I was again thrown down over some motionless object lying on the earth; it proved to be a woman and a little girl, both dead. I raised a head that fell back heavily as lead. With a long breath I rose to my feet, but only to be hurled down again.

The river was as bright, brighter than by day, and the spectacle presented by these heads rising above the level of the water, some covered, some uncovered, the countless hands employed in beating the waves, was singular and painful in the extreme.

So free was I from the fear and anxiety that might naturally have been expected to reign in my mind at such a moment, that I actually perceived only the ludicrous side of the scene at times, and smiled within myself at it.

When turning my gaze from the river, I chanced to look either to the right or left, before me or upwards, I saw nothing but flames; houses, trees and the air itself were on fire. Above my head, as far as the eye could reach into space, alas! too brilliantly lighted, I saw nothing but immense volumes of flames covering the firmament, rolling one over the other with stormy violence as we see masses of clouds driven wildly hither and thither by the fierce power of the tempest.

Near me, on the bank of the river, rose the store belonging to the factory, a large three-story building, filled with tubs, buckets, and other articles. Sometimes the thought crossed my mind that if the wind happened to change, we could be buried beneath the blazing ruins of this place, but still the supposition did not cause me much apprehension.

When I was entering the water, this establishment was just taking fire; the work of destruction was speedy, for, in less than a quarter of an hour, the large beams were lying blazing on the ground, while the rest of the building was either burned or swept off into space.

Not far from me a woman was supporting herself in the water by means of a log. After a time a cow swam past. There were more than a dozen of these animals in the river, impelled thither by instinct, and they succeeded in saving their lives.

The first mentioned one overturned in its passage the log to which the woman was clinging and she disappeared into the water. I thought her lost; but soon saw her emerge from it holding on with one hand to the horns of the cow and throwing water on her head with the other.

How long she remained in this critical position I know not, but I was told later that the animal had swam safely to the shore bearing her human burden safely with her; and what threatened to bring destruction to the woman had proved the means of her salvation.

At the moment I was entering the river, another woman, terrified and breathless, reached its bank. She was leading one child by the hand and held pressed to her breast what appeared to be another, enveloped in a roll of disordered linen, evidently caught up in haste. Oh horror! On opening these wraps to look on the face of her child - it was not there.

©1998 Peshtigo Times. All Rights Reserved.

This article can be read in its entirety along with various other stories
about the Peshtigo Fire and the city's history in Remembering the Peshtigo













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