Thursday, October 15, 2009

Deer Lodge Montana Fire - 1872

My great-grandfather, James P. Preston was co-owner with John Coffee of the large livery stable mentioned in the following news account of the time:

From Saturday morning, Feb. 24, 1872, New North-West, Deer Lodge, Montana

A Disastrous Conflagration.

An Entire Business Row of Deer Lodge in Ashes.

Sixteen Buildings Burned
LOSS, $68,325.

[From the New North-West Extra, Feb. 18.]

Almost simultaneously, at a little before 3 o'clock this morning, Mr. Wm.
Rowe, night watchman, and Mr. Robert Wiles discovered flames issuing from
the rear portion of the roof of Coffee & Preston's large livery stable,
standing at the corner of Main and Second streets, and at once gave the
alarm, Mr. Rowe rousing Main Street in a few minutes. When discovered it
had gained but little headway, but almost a gale prevailing from a point
or two east of south it was fanned to fury in a few minutes, and the eager
flames swept from the immense stable front and rear around the adjoining
store of Parchen, Paynter & Co. gathering its rich store of combustibles
to its assistance, and presaging almost inevitable destruction to the two
principal business blocks of Deer Lodge. In a few minutes hundreds of men
were at the scene, and to save the most valuable goods from the stores in
the certainly doomed block, was accepted as a first duty, and, like Trojans,
scores of willing men applied themselves to the task, in some instances
standing by their dangerous task until the flames enveloped them, and skins
were parched in the on sweeping furnace.
But on sped the fire, Mrs. Wright's, Sharp & Napton's, and D. B. Halderman's
buildings ignited in quick succession, and the ferocious flames lashed by
the quartering gale reaching eagerly on and across swept almost over the
100 feet wide Main Street, a spray of fire sweeping up against Valiton's,
Thompson's, the Scott House, Emerson's and the Occidental, and fairly raining
fire upon the scores of earnest workers who battled and beat it as manfully
as ever men met and vanquished the fire fiend. So fierce was the heat that
thoroughly saturated blankets on these buildings repeatedly ignited, and
the face of them is browned - almost blackened - and the paint is crisped
and peeled. In some places the pitch from the pine exuded under the heat
and fried like a spider. Fortunately not a blaze started on that side, for
the sheet of flame would have flashed along the entire block almost instantly
and no man could have withstood it.
While this was going on, Bein's Brewery, Robinson & Thornton's, Grant's
large City Hall and adjoining Restaurant, the Harris Building, Welch Building
(Wolf's Barber Shop), and the Welch & Willey Building (Kleinshmidts),
caught in quick succession, and at 4:30 o'clock the entire block was in
blaze - a grand, glowing mass of flame and coal, an alter on which was sacrificed
this Sabbath morning the hard earnings of many and the all of more than
one good, honest, industrious man.
While the Grant Building was burning hottest there occurred one of the heroic
incidents of the fire, seen by hundreds, and its success was rewarded with
a round cheer of grateful appreciation. The roof of the "old Decker
Building," an eye sore and standing iniquity of the town, was fired
in three places by wafted brands. In anticipation of this, ropes had been
put to it, the corner posts and tenons cut, and all in readiness to pull
it down if need be, as it commanded, and its burning made inevitable, the
destruction of Dance & Murphy's Planing Mill and the yard containing
over a million feet of piled lumber. When it caught it was found impossible
with the force of men available to pull it down. At this juncture, John
Murphy, Chas. Murphy, and "Bob" Bouier, ascended inside, and Bouier
mounting on the shoulders of the others jumped through a burning hole in
the steep roof to the outside with a pail of water, sprang up it, ran along
the high comb like a Blondin, and extinguished a burning spot inaccessible
from the inside. The other places were easily reached, and no other places
igniting, in that portion of the town, the valuable machinery and lumber
requisite to rebuild the burnt district was saved. Bob Bouier is a hero.

Meantime the fire was slacking. It had burned the entire block; its expansion
had been prevented, walls and chimneys were crumbled to their bases. The
apprehension was over - the actual could be realized. So far as we are enabled
to learn today, the following will approximate closely to the actual losses:

Buildings Burned.
Coffee & Preston - livery stable and adjoining store building, $ 6,000

Wm. Copinus - clothing [Coffey's building], 2,000
Parchen, Paynter & Co. - house and drug stock,
$5,000; burnt in cash $500, 5,500
[Fireproof with $10,000 stock saved, will open
tomorrow adjoining Gas & Klein]
Cohen - groceries, [Mrs. Wright's building] 3,000
Mrs. A. Wright [owned Cohen building] 1,500
Joseph Rosenthal - clothing and dry-goods,
house and merchandise 8,000
[The fire-proof burned; no goods of any consequence in it.]
Wm. Coleman - grocer - stock, from $500 to 600
Sharp & Napton - law office and Coleman building, 1,500
C. Elias - clothing - stock $2,500 to 3,000
[Largest part of stock in fire-proof]
D.B. Halderman [owned Elias building,] 3,000
M. Bien - brewery - building, saloon, and brewery, 6,000
[malt house save, value $1,000]
E.T. Heuson - tobacco and cigars, 800
[fire-proof safe, and nearly all stock saved.]
R. W. Donnell owned Heuson building, 2,500
Thornton & Robinson - law office and building, 800
H. Lansing - shoe shop, 100

Jon. Grant - City Hall and restaurant building, 8,000
Billiard table, etc., 1,000
Deer Lodge Club, 100
John Anderson, (col.) - restaurant, 250
Harris Bros. - shoemakers - building and stock, $1,500 to 2,000
[Saved nearly all the stock.]
Dr. O. B. Whitford - instruments and furniture, 1,000
D.J. Welch - [Wolff building,] 1,500
Estate of B. Wolff - barber shop, 800
R.C. Hancock - butcher fixtures, etc., 500
Kleinschmidt Bros. - grocers - m'd'se $1,500;
personal property $200, 1,700
Commission goods, 800
[saved fire-proof and $40,000 worth of goods.]
Welch & Willey - Klienschmidt building, 1,800 Total.......................................................

N. Thompson & Co........................................... $ 200
H.G. Valiton 500
R. Boisvert 75
Chas. Blum 500
Gilbert & Meyer 50
Aspling & Son 250
Dance & Stuart, on Buildings 500
Emerson & Co., 500
Richardson Bros 200
Scott House, 1,000
Total....................................................... $4,775
Grand Total............................................ $68,325
The following diagram will give a fair idea of the locality of the fire:
{Coffee & Preston Livery Stable listed as "Coffee & CO."}

And thus, at last has the valuation of fire fallen upon us. An entire block
is in ashes. We do not believe that any time after fifty men reached the
scene, a fire engine could have saved any building that was burned, but
in a less vigorous breeze, with engine, hooks, and ladders, some might have
been saved, but they could not have been with the appliances at hand this
morning. The saving of the Scott House block was not miraculous, but it
was an astounding result of energy, endurance and determination. Men never
worked better, and although some were indifferent, some paralyzed, and some
were poltroons who stood back with the Chinamen and absolutely refused to
assist, nearly every one came forward nobly when shown where he could be
of service. We join with the Independent in giving the colored men of Deer
Lodge due mention. Every one of them worked manfully, and fought the fire
like salamanders. The Chinese, with one exception, positively refused to
render any assistance. We acknowledge gratitude to the employees of the
New North-West, to others who assisted us, and to the many, including our
Independent friends, who proffered service when the situation was perilous.
However, the wind happened to hold firm in one direction, and that with
the night thaw - the first of the year - which flooded the streets and made
water plentiful, saved a large portion of the town. It is an unhappy fact
that not one of the force pumps in the vicinity of the burning block was
in working condition. The cool wind, too, favored the west side of Main
street. Nearly all the glass on that side is broken, and also the large
glass in Donnell, Clark & Larabie's Bank, the intense heat splitting
the panes in innumerable fragments across 80 feet and 100 feet streets.

is unknown; but the general belief is that the fire was started by an incendiary.
There had been no fire in Coffey's stable, and no one, that Coffey knew
of, occupying it since Feb 1st.
We think Deer Lodge would be a pretty warm ant-room to Hades for the wretch
who fired it, if he were known.

Coffey had just removed his last buggy from the stable yesterday, and it
only contained two tons of hay.
Hank Valiton cut his sixty horses loose, and got nearly all them out of
the stable and across the river without trouble, where they and the other
horses of the neighborhood behaved frantically till morning, but were prevented
from recrossing the bridge.
We noticed Mr. Stevens, painter and glazier, at work at Chas. Blum's by
noon today.
So rapid did the fire sweep over some buildings that not even the money
was saved from the tills.
Thornton & Robinson will rebuild at once, and doubtless many others
purpose (sic) doing the same.
We have noted but briefly and hastily, for the information of other localities,
this disaster to our fair village. Before midsummer we believe the entire
block will be rebuilt with better structures. But it is bad enough; Thank
God it is no worse.
Deer Lodge, Sunday, Feb. 18, 6 p.m.

* * * * *
Monday, P. M.

Kleinschmidt Bros. opened today in Louis & Coleman's building, adjoining
Gans & Klein's.
The losses to the Scott House and Emmerson & Gerber's, omitted in first
account, are inserted today.
Mr. Henry M. Parchen informs us that $5,000 will cover their entire loss,
inclusive of cash.
R.C. Hancock, butcher, opened yesterday adjoining the Metropolitan Billiard
Cohen, grocer, has re-opened adjoining Sweeney & Frazier's.
Higgens & Murphy and Dance, Stuart & Co., will erect two large fire-proof
stores next to Osborn & Dennee's, as soon as material can be used.
Emmerson & Gerber are repairing their hall in first-class style before
The Burnt District was thronged with workers today, clearing off rubbish,
collecting "rich dirt," and removing goods from firs-proofs.
Phil. E. Evans authorizes us to say he will furnish all his customers who
were burned out, with milk without cost for two months from date.
Parchen, Paynter & Co. reopened adjoining Gaus & Klein today.
Dr. O. B. Whitford announces his office at C. N. Bowie's drug store until
further notice.
Thornton & Robinson contracted with John Murphy this afternoon to erect
them a law office 13 x 30, on the site of the burned building. It will be
commenced tomorrow morning.
Jos. Rosenthal has reopened Dry Goods Store adjoining Aspling & Son.

* * * * *


On Wednesday and Thursday Mr. Wm. H. Richardson and Dr. Mitchell interviewed
Deer Lodgers on the Fire Engine question to the following effect:
We, the undersigned, agree to pay the amount set opposite our respective
names, for the purpose of purchasing a Fire Engine, complete:
Strang & Richardson $100 C.N. Bowie $100
Chas. P.H. Bielenberg 100 H.G. Valiton 100
Sam. Scott 100 Murphy, Higgins & Co. 100
Murphy & Co. 100 Dance & Stuart 100
F.B.Miller 100 Donnell, Clark & Larabie 100
Emerson & Gerber 100 Con Kohrs & Bro 100
Jas. Talbot & Co 100 S.A. Willey & Co 100
Kerley, Smith & Co 50 Osborn & Dennee 50
J.V. Suprenant & Co 50 D.S. Kenyon 50
Mitchell & Holmes 50 Rev R. DeRyckere 50
Peter Valiton 50 Chas. Blum 50
Jas. H. Mills 50 R. Boisvert 50
Ah Kane Co 30 A. Heath 25
J. M. Steward 25 R.T. Kennon 25
R. Plummer 25 Wm. Wilson 25
Chas. Warren 10 Jas. E. Owings 10
O.B. O'Bannon 10 Wes. W. Jones 10
V.A. Smith 10 Henry DeWitt 20
D.Gamer 10 Wm. Hyde 10
Thos. F. Frasier 10 Cash 10
C.Elias 10 G. Bogk 10
Gem Kee 20 Jas. O. Grady 10
L. J. Sharp 10 R.C. Hancock 10
O.B. Whitford 10 B. Levy 15
J.C. Thornton 25 Louis McMurtry 10
Jno. Glass 5 A. Elliott 50
M. Goodman 5 Jno. Maxwell 5
Gans & Kllen 50

The total amount to date is $2410. It is designed to buy a Button &
Blake Engine, 40-man power, throwing a 2-inch stream, with 600 feet of 4-inch
hose, hose-carriage, etc., the net cost of which, at the manufactory, is
$2,040. Arrangements are being made to have it brought through direct. It
will cost, probably, as much more to supply the requisite cisterns, engine
house, etc. That done, and an efficient company organized, the town will
be comparatively safe. Deer Lodge has done tip-top in this matter, and there
is plenty of property yet subject to danger, although "a horse was
stolen" before "the door is locked."

* * * * * * * * * *

Megan Thompson (Genealogy Researcher), of Deer Lodge, in a letter of August 20, 1996 stated:
Within two weeks after the fire, the town had raised the necessary funds for a
new fire truck and established the first volunteer fire department here
which continues today. Most of the buildings were immediately replaced by
the owners with brick and granite "fireproof" buildings, many
of which are still in use.

1 comment:

  1. Bill, I love these old stories. Such rich detail. Thanks for the sharing.