Letter: Martha Newberry Coon

George Coon married Martha Newberry and Grace Coon married Martha’s brother Charles Newberry (Martha and Charles were brother and sister; they were children of Henry Sr). George, Martha, their son, and Grace all survived the Peshtigo Fire. Charles Newberry and his and Grace’s two sons died.

Grace survived by taking refuge in a small pond (along with William Newberry and his family, who survived) and constantly dipping her shawl in the water and covering herself with it.

After the fire, George and his family stayed in the Peshtigo area for a few years and then moved to Hancock, Michigan. Grace moved back to Fort Ann, New York, where her father lived. It is noted in the family history that she was blind for two years from the effects of the fire and shock. Later she remarried and moved to Vermont where she had two children with her second husband.

The following letter is from Martha Newberry Coon to Mary Coon Powell (George and Grace’s sister).

Menominee, Michigan

October 10, 1871

Dear Sister:

I have bad news to tell. Charlie and his two little boys are gone. Oh! What a horrible death. There was a tornado of fire swept over the farming district and on the Peshtigo village; it came on us very suddenly. Charlie and his family started to flee. They got about a half mile from home when they went into a little pool of water, Charlie had the two children and some things he was trying to save. He passed through the water thinking to get farther away from the fire. Grace turned back into the water and was saved. In the water were brother William and his family; his wife and baby and his wife’s sister; they were all that remained to tell the tale. Oh Mary, it was truly a night of horror. It rained fire; the air was on fire; some thought the last day had come. Mary—my father, four brothers, two sisters-in-law and five of their children, two of Grace’s, and three of brother Walter’s, ah dear Mary, we are almost crazy; one can hardly keep one’s senses together to write you anything.

George went over to see if he could find their bodies. He found Charlie and the children about five rods from where Grace was. Charlie and Jessie were lying on their faces, and Frankie was sitting down by a stump with his hands up to his face, poor, poor little ones. Mother was saved; she was in Menominee on a visit, but poor old father, he was burned and most all of my brothers.

Grace counted 89 dead bodies within the space of a half mile. There were probably 300 dead. O Mary, Grace has no clothes, I either; our eyes were all burned, but we are better now. Grace has poultices on her eyes, and they are getting better. George, Eddie and I were saved by fleeing to the river.

Grace wants to go to her father as soon as she gets the means to do so. We will have to make some clothes for her. George and I did not save any clothes. Eddie was in bed; I got him up and dressed him, without his stockings. He is without a stocking to his name. It seems that I did not want anything more. George wants you to go see her father and have him send her some money to get home with. Poor Grace is sadly afflicted, and my poor Mother. George found the bodies of all our folks except three, father, one brother and his wife. He is going tomorrow with some men, and some boards to bury them. One brother was all burned except for his face. Oh it is too horrible to write about or to believe. Oh if they have only gone to heaven, they had time, they must have prayed. Grace said Jessie and Frankie prayed. Eddie said, “Pray Mama to God” and Oh how we did pray. Those who never prayed before prayed that night. I can’t write any more, all I can think of is those dead bodies lying there in the woods. Write to Grace as soon as you can.