Oconto County Wisconsin
 
DISASTERS

A TORNADO
Passes over Oconto County 5 Miles South of Oconto
Pensaukee in Ruins
Terrible Destruction to Farm Property!
6 Killed and 32 Wounded!
Swift Destruction
Oconto County Reporter (Oconto, Wis.) 1 November 1917; submitted by Diana Heser Morse

'Twas not a trackless wind, but one which left behind it a broad and well marked track of desolation, of ruin, of death, of misery, such a track of fearful and impartial ruin asówith one single exception, that of Oct., 1871ówas never before made by the elements within the borders of the State of Wisconsin. At between four and five o'clock the afternoon of Saturday the 7th inst. the sky became overcast with black and threatening clouds, flash after flash of blinding lightening chased each other through the murky air, peal after peal of deafening thunder shook the firmest buildings to their very foundations, and reverberated with terrifying distinctness, with two short intervals, the rain descended in torrents for about one hour, when it ceased and immediately the clouds took on a peculiar and indescribable appearance which all who beheld it instinctively knew portended danger and destruction. The clouds in the northern heavens were moving westward with fearful velocity, and in the southern heavens they were moving eastward with equal speed. At a point ten miles west of Oconto, and near the big hill just east of Stiles the two swift currents of air met, then after a few moments opposing their fearful forces they united in a swift round dance of desolation and death. The result of the union of those opposing currents was visible from many miles, taking the form of an inverted funnel with the appearance of leaden colored mist, which apparently remained stationary for a minute or two, as if deliberating in its choice of victims. Its track was quickly chosen moving southeast it crossed the Oconto river near the residence of Mr. Peter Plain it dismantled the barns on the farm of Thos. Duffy. Now fully off on its career of vandalism it seemed to fairly laugh at such obstructions as human hands had built in its way. The largest trees in its course were broken like pipe stems or uprooted and hurled to incredible distances, striking the wing to the residence of Rev. O. B. Clark it demonstrated to the Rev. gentleman how frail "are all things here below" next in its track it hurled from its foundations the new residence of Mr. Milton Weaver; further on the barn of Peter Kosencrautz, the barn and blacksmith shop and cattle sheds of John Hartung and one barn of John Traverse were demolished. Yet a little further and it struck the residence and barn of Charles Ritter, seriously perhaps fatally injuring Mr. Ritter, and utterly destroying his buildings, next came the residence of Squire J. A. Glynn, which was struck on the southwest corner, demolishing the kitchen, and badly bruising Mr. Glynn by falling brick, here one of Mr. Glynn's sons, a half grown lad was lifted to the height of twenty-five feet in the air, and carried a distance of forty-five rods and deposited in a rye field, he was found badly frightened, but unhurt and entirely destitute of clothing. Across the ravine it struck and damaged the residence, and destroyed the barn of the Widow Davis. At this point, seemingly tired of buffeting with barns and houses, the Tornado quit the clearings and entered the unbroken forest to test its strength with mighty trees which had stood up unbroken before the storms of centuries; with a rushing, roaring defiant sound it grappled with the giant trees, and hurled them like play-things from its path, on through the woods it mowed a swathe, clean as any which reaper over cut in harvest field, until it arrived at the village of Lower or East Pensaukee, when as if maddened by the resistance offered by the three or four miles of timber through which it had just come, it darted with redoubled fury on the doomed village and commenced in earnest the fearful work of destruction at which it had before been but playing.

The first obstacles which here presented to its fury were the School House, a commodious and strong structure, the large and heavy residence of Peter MeGovern, and the fine residence of Joseph Blackbird the two first on the south, and the last on the north side of the Pensaukee River. The large School House was hurled to atoms as though it had been a card house. McGovern's house was unroofed, the west side blown out and what remained was lifted from its foundation, turned completely round and set down in the road some 6 rods away. Mr. Blackbird's house was completely annihilated, even the foundation and sills have not yet been found, the bridge across the Pensaukee at this point was totally destroyed. The village of Pensaukee proper was situated about 80 rods east, or towards the Bay Shore, from the bridge and buildings just spoken of, and consisted of the finest hotel in Northern Wisconsin, one large Gang Saw Mill, Planing Mill, Flouring Mill, Machine shop, one large general store,ójust filled with new stock of goods, one very large boarding house, two large, and several small barns, Railroad Depot buildings, and about 25 dwelling houses, all of which were partially or totally destroyed; the proportion of partially destroyed being to the whole number as one is to ten. There was in stack and on scows in the place some 300,000 feet of manufactured lumber, belonging to F. B. Gardener and A. Eldred of which not 15,000 ft, will ever be available. The goods in the store were the property of Mr. A. Baptist, and are nearly a total loss. The steam tug (John Spry,) one of the best on northern waters, was razed to her main deck, her machinery being badly damaged, even the paddles being blown from the wheels, one scow capable of holding 125 thousand feet of lumber, was capsized, also a large barge lies bottom up in the river. The smoke stacks of the mills and steamers can not be found, and probably are at the bottom of Green Bay. A 4,000 lb. safe which stood in the store was carried fifteen or twenty feet, the heavy Railroad bridge was moved eight inches out of position. The badly shattered depot building was set astride the track.

The furniture in the Gardner House óor in the portion of it left standing ówas winrowed on the east side of the rooms and smashed into kindling wood. A large organ was in the parlor, of which no trace can be found. Cattle were taken into the air and carried a distance of 45 rods, and thrown down lifeless. A plow was driven into the ground to the very beam, and made to turn a perfect furrow of that depth for a distance of 15 rods. Strong wagons and carts were broken into fragments with the same apparent ease with which the fragile buggies beside them were broken.

Heavy logging sleighs were torn in pieces and scattered in every direction.

Pieces of boards and timber were driven through the sides of the steamers, and through the wall of the brick hotel as easily as shots from a Colombaid could have been.

In fact, without warning, and in a 1 1/2 minutes time, the once busy and pleasant village of Pensaukee was whirled out of existence, and its site literally covered with the broken remains of its once comfortable homes, and many families who five minutes before were in comfortable circumstances, found themselves without where with to cover their nakedness or satisfy their hunger.

Shortly after the Tornado had completed its terrible work the southern bound express arrived at the Pensaukee crossing; being unable to cross, the conductor at once backed the train to Oconto and there took on all the Physicians that could be found in tho city, medical, and other stores, with many citizens who volunteered their assistance and their means. And many willing hearts and ready hands spent Saturday night in ministering to the wounded, and caring for the dead.

Ever since the calamity a constant influx of visitors have been arriving at the scene, all bringing sympathy, and many bringing more substantial aid to the sufferers. It is estimated that up to date of this writing, (Wednesday morning) from 5 to 7 thousand persons have visited the scene of the ruin.

From the best data at hand we estimate the casualties to be as follows:

KILLED
Louis Zanta, aged 35 years; Lizzie Zanta, aged 6 months; Albert Blackbird, aged 7 years; Mrs. E. Chesly, aged 28 years; Geo. Farley, aged 2 years; H. Baumgartner, aged 9 years.

WOUNDED

Chas. Ritter, J. A. Glynn, M. Weaver, Geo. Hubblamb, Jos. Reynolds, Mary Dinzie, Jos. Laville, G. Halsey, W. H. Varley, Wm. Varley, Mattie Morrison, O. Chesley, Jos. Blackbird, Jennie Chesley, Mary Zanta, Henry Baumgartner, Hugh Jones, Minnie Farr, A. Chapman, Sarah Varley, Mary Farley, Frank Farley, Henry Last, John Dinzie, Wm. Baptist, Jr., Albert Guskey, Minnie Guskey, Wm. Baptist, Sr., Martin Dale, Mrs. Coleman, Willie Powers, Phenie Blackbird.

Killed 6, wounded 32.

Our information as to loss of buildings is somewhat conflicting, but the number must be about 50. The loss in stock was considerable, and in fences and growing crops the aggregate loss is very great, and will fall with almost crushing weight on some of the sufferers.

It was a sad calamity, one of the heaviest that has fallen on this Community, and we sincerely hope it may never be our lot to record another like it. Since writing the above we learn that the buildings of John Lucas at Little River were entirely demolished. The family were not hurt, though stripped of all their possessions but simply the farm on which they resided.

The above article including head is from an extra edition of the Reporter published July 14, 1877, soon after the Pensaukee cyclone. The copy belongs to Dennis LeComb and was found in the packing of an old chair belonging to the late Roger Waggoner.

 

 


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