MI "Great Thumb Fire," Sept 1881




DETROIT, Mich., Sept. 8. - Telegraphic communications is entirely cut off with the worst part of the burned region of this State, so that reports are yet somewhat fragmentary, and, it is hoped, exaggerated, but there are many fears that the worst is far from having been told. The complete destruction of Richmondville, Sanilac County, is confirmed. The villages of Carson, Charleston, and Tyre are reported to be completely destroyed, and Ashley partly so. The townships of Delaware, Hunken, Austin, in Sanilac County, and Bingham, Sherman, and Paris, in Huron County, are burned over and deserted. The crops in these townships were all harvested, and nearly all are now lost. The bodies of a family of seven persons named Redmond were found in a well near Charleston, they having entered the well for shelter and were there suffocated. The charred remains of Henry Cole were also found at Charleston, and a family named Lusula in Paris township, and a Mrs. Diebert and her three children were overtaken by the flames and burned to death. In Watertown township another family named Dennison are believed to have been burned. Two families named Thornton and Lee, it is feared, fell a prey to the flames. Near Richmondville there was a gale carrying the fire with a rapidity that often prevented escape. Yesterday afternoon the direction of the wind changed, and this, it is feared, will add new destruction by sending the flames over regions that had escaped. It was much cooler last night, which is in that respect favorable; but the wind is high and the country helpless. There are no signs of rain, without which there seems to be no deliverance. The Board of Trade of this city yesterday appointed committees to solicit relief for the destitute communities, as it is very evident that a large work in that direction is at our doors. Hundreds of families have lost all their property and this year's crops, and are reduced to a condition of absolute and immediate want.

The following appeal has been issued by a committee of citizens at Port Huron, headed by Senator Conger, Mayor E. C. Carleton, and others:


A most appalling disaster has fallen upon a large portion of the Counties of Huron and Sanilac, with some adjacent territory, a section of country recently covered with forests and now occupied by 50,000 largely recent settlers, and either poor or in very moderate circumstances. In the whole of this section there has been but little rain during the past two months, and everything was parched and dry when, on Monday, Sept. 5, a hurricane swept over it, carrying with it a sheet of flame that hardly anything could withstand. We have reports already of over 200 persons burned to death, many of them by the roadside or in fields, while seeking places of safety, and it is probable that thrice this number have perished. We also have reports from 20 or more townships in which scarcely a house, barn, or supplies of any kind are left, and thousands of people are destitute and helpless. All of these people require immediate assistance, and most of them must depend on charity for months to come. We are doing all in our power to succor them, but the necessities of the case are so great that the contributions of the charitable throughout the country will be required to keep them through the Winter. We therefore appeal to you to send money, clothing, bedding, provisions, or any other supplies that will help to maintain the sufferers and enable them to provide shelter for themselves and begin work again. Contributions may be sent to the Mayor, E. C. Carleton, Chairman of the Relief Committee appointed by the citizens of Port Huron, who have sent agents through the burned district to ascertain the wants of the sufferers and distribute supplies."

A few additional particulars have been received this afternoon from Lexington, Sanilac County. The following additional casualties have been reported in Moore township: Mrs. Strong and two children; Humphrey, stage-driver; Mrs. Frank Dennison, child and sister, and George Krictch, who went to their rescue. Twenty persons are reported burned to death in Custer township. In Bingham township: Mr. Thomas Barnes, wife, sister, mother, and two children. In Austin township, an old man named Payne and Michael Welch, wife and two children. Nearly every farmer in that township has lost either his house, barn, or crops, or all of them. The loss of life and property is immense. Dead bodies are being brought in from all directions. It is estimated that 500 human beings have perished, and that 5,000 people are homeless and are in want of immediate assistance. The farmers in the newer townships lose stock, houses, barns, crops, - everything. A farmer who has just come in from Austin township saved his family of eight children in a field of buckwheat, but says that the whole country in that part is totally destroyed, and many lives have been lost. The loss of live stock is simply immense. The older townships escaped with but little loss, but in most of the newer townships nothing remains except a fire-swept, blackened wilderness.

A dispatch from Marlette, Sanilac County, says: "A terrible state of affairs exists at this point. The entire section of the country lying to the north and east of this place has been on fire, and the number of families rendered homeless will reach the hundreds. Up to this time 17 persons are known to have met their death by fire. The horse of Ira Humphrey, a mail courier between this place and Davis's Corners, came home badly burned, with a card attached to the saddle, written by Humphrey, stating his peril from fire. A relief party found him in the road dead. He was entirely denuded, his clothes either having been burned on his person or taken off by himself in his despiration."

In the Township of Argyle, in Sanilac County, the following were burned to death: Paul Whitsle, wife and five children; George Gratch, wife, and three children; Mrs. Morris Welch and two children, James Gilson and two women recently from Canada, names unknown. There were also several so badly burned that they cannot live. In some sections the fire swept everything before it, and spread with such rapidity that the people were obliged to flee with only the clothing on their backs. In Lapeer and Huron Counties, back from the Lake Shore, the devastation has been more serious, especially in loss of life, although the property losses have also been severe. The loss in Tuscaloosa[sic] County is estimated at $200,000.

The work of forwarding clothing and supplies from Detroit began to-night by boat and rail. Efficient committees on the ground have been or will be appointed to receive and properly distribute supplies, and every effort will be made to reach the sufferers as promptly as possible, and to see that all contributions are properly bestowde [sic].

EAST SAGINAW, Mich., Sept. 8. - Yesterday the wind blew freshly from the north-east, and the temperature dropping from 97 on Monday to 64 at 5 P. M. yesterday. The smoke, however, was unusually dense, and it was dark at 5:30 P. M. About 1 o'clock this morning it rained for about five minutes, but not sufficiently to lay the dust or check the fires east of this city. It rained hard in the north and at Bay City. Reports show that in Millington Township, Tuscola County, 21 families are left homeless; in Denmark, Guilford, and Tuscola Townships, of the same county, 20 or 30 families have been burned out, and many acres of timber and crops, and many miles of fences have been destroyed by the flames. In the vicinity of this place, the fires are chiefly confined to Buena Vista, Blumfield, Bridgeport, and Birch Run Townships on the east, and Kochville, Zillwaukee, and Saginaw Townships on the west, in all of which numbers of buildings and large quantities of property have been swept away. The Indian settlement, seven miles below this city, which is surrounded by a dense forest, is reported to be burned, and, doubtless, a number of lives were lost. Thirty families lived there, and there was no mode of escape. Fires are reported to have done great damage in Isabella County.

The New York Times, New York, NY 9 Sept 1881



Another family that perished

Another family that perished was the Sylvester Richmond & Laura Augusta Short Richmond (my distant 3rd cousin) family. They were:

Sylvester Richmond age 43. his wife Laura Augusta age 37
Edward Richmond age 12
Adeline Richmond age 10
John Richmond age 8
Oliver Richmond age 6
Maud Richmond age 4
Jane Richmond age 1
one son Kenneth Richmond age 13 was not at home that day, he was the only survivor. The story goes: Sylvester Richmond's house, 4 miles west of Forestville caught fire. In an 8 foot well, nine rods from the house there was about 2 feet of water. Mr. Richmond placed his wife and 6 children in this and then fought the fire until the heat could no longer be endured, when he himself took refuge in the well. The terrible force of the wind soon lifted the roof of the house carrying it off toward the well, over which it was dropped. Suffocation followed and in this condition they were found 2 days later. A very sad story.

The Great Fire of 1881-Michigan


The family that perished was that of John Phillip Freiburger not Francis Joseph Freiburger his twin brother.

Sources: Huron County Death Register for Bingham.
Find a grave

Freiburger Family Perish in 1881 Thumb Fire

John Phillip Freiburger family perished in the 1881 Thumb Fire. One of the families found in the well on their farm. This family has not been recorded in the papers as one of the families mentioned by name as taken refuge in their well. I have their death record and their gravestone is located at the Most Holy Trinity Church in Paris/Ubly, Huron, Michigan.You may view it on Find My Grave.

John had a twin brother named Francis Joseph- It was not his family that perished as earlier recorded.

Here are the names of the family members who perished. The oldest daughter spending the summer in Canada with relatives died 6 months later, unknown illness.
Husband: John Phillip Freiburger (1838-1881)
Wife:Mary Brautner Freiburger (1842 - 1881)*
Maria Anna Freiburger (1867 - 1882)*
Verinicah Freiburger (1868 - 1881)*
Herbert Freiburger (1872 - 1881)*
Ann C Freiburger (1875 - 1881)*
Barbara Freiburger (1877 - 1881)*
Joseph Freiburger (1879 - 1881)*
Leutwina Freiburger (1881 - 1881)
Sources include: Huron County Death Register and Find a Grave

We lost a whole family of

We lost a whole family of Freiburger's from the original 5 settlers in that fire in Argyle . Francis Joseph Freiburger and his family.The daughter ( lone survivor) whom legend has she was away at the time, died of a broken heart later,,

Fire in Sandusky

My Great Great Grandfather, David Berden and his family lived in Sandusky on Snover Rd. They escaped the fire by climbing down into a well. I have read where some died doing this, maybe from the smoke or lack of oxygen.

Michigan Forest Fires

My great grandfather established village throughout the thumb area of Michigan. His faith was very instrumental in stopping the raging fires. He died at the age of 105.

Michigan Fires

My mother , 1904-1994, told me of these fires. Her father was born in Vicksburg, Kalamazoo county Michigan in 1881. His parents left there in severe smoke and had to cover the baby's[my grandfather's] face with cloths as they headed west to South Haven, Van Buren county.