Letters of fire (from The Little Corporal)

Like most 19th-century American children’s magazines, The Little Corporal had a letters column: “Prudy’s Pocket.” The issues after the Chicago Fire were filled with letters of sympathy, and with letters about this and other fires which occurred the same night. The drought-plagued summer of 1871 left the Midwest a tinderbox; wind-whipped brush fires burned Chicago, Illinois; Manistee, Michigan; and Peshtigo, Wisconsin, on October 8. All three eventually rose quite literally from the ashes.

Concerned subscribers cheer on The Little Corporal
(December 1871; p. 188)

Painesville, Ohio, October 30th, 1871.

Dear Mrs. Miller: I write to assure you of our deep sympathy with you in the loss of the dear Little Corporal by the great Chicago fire. We were very glad to learn afterward, through the papers, that you expected to start again as so[o]n as possible. We could not afford to lose the Corporal for good; it is bad enough to have to miss one number. Inclosed please find my subscription for new year ($1.50); perhaps I may be able to get you one or two new subscribers, though lying helpless as I am all the time, I shall not be able, probably, to do much in that line. We were burned out ourselves last winter, and have not been able to do much for the Chicago sufferers; but father has sent several crates of grapes to different people, and now sends one for your family, addressed to your husband. If you are supplied with fruit, and do not need it, you will know of plenty who do. Have just received the tiny November number of the Corporal. I am glad to get it and learn more of your plans, especially of the bright promise for the future of our little magazine. I have long known and loved you through your writings, and have often wished for your picture; so I was happy in having my wish gratified when your husband sent it to me some time ago. May the Little Corporal long live to shed its influence for ’the good, the true, and the beautiful’ over the land.—B.”

Delevan, Ill. “Mr. Miller. Dear Sir: The outer circle of the great fire has reached us here. We realize i[t] every day, and in many ways. It touches the children. May I tell you of little Bessie? She sat on the floor early one morning buttoning up her gaiter boots, when all at once her face, usually so sunny, became clouded, and she burst into tears and sobs. ‘Oh! mamma! my Little Corporal, it must be burnt; and the Summer Days at Kirkwood;’ and her tears came fast. The Little Corporal had no more sincere mourner. It would have cheered you, if you could have seen the glad look and heard her happy shout at the New Corporal was handed to her. It was echoed through the house. We are to have the Little Corporal again, as true, as good, and as beautiful as ever.—I. S. R.”

Manistee, Michigan, burns
(January 1872; p. 35)

Bear Lake Mills, Mich. “Allow me, for myself and the little ones who love The Corporal, to express our sympathy for you in the great calamity which has come upon you, and also our joy that notwithstanding the fiery trials through which you have passed, The Corporal still lives. We were in Chicago at the time of the fire, and Lee was sadly disappointed and grieved, because he wished very much to visit you and the home of The Corporal. While the fire was sweeping over Chicago, our own home and property threatened by the same cruel foe, it was only by the most determined efforts of men fighting for their homes, and the goodness of God in sending a rain to stay the progress of the flames, that any thing was saved. As it was, men fought for hours, for fire was in the woods, and all around, and the wind blowing a gale, and every thing so dry; but at last the buildings were saved, but much damage was done to property.”

Peshtigo, Wisconsin, burns
(February 1872; p. 74)


Dear Little Corporal: I am so glad that the Little Corporal is to be published again, for we all love it. I know something of the horrors of that terrible night, for the fire was all around us. We live only seven miles from Peshtigo, and Menekaune is only a mile from us. My pa had a large mill and all the houses belonging to a mill burned. The people saved themselves by remaining in the mill-pond all night. We also had a farm burned over; and my oldest brother was in a camp getting out cedar posts, but saved himself by fleeing with part of his men to the bay shore. The rest of the men remained where they were, but they were obliged to dig a hole in the ground and get into it. Rabbits ran into the hole with them, and they could hear the poor deer bleat when the fire struck them. But my letter is too long to be interesting, so I will close, with my best wishes for the future success of the Little Corporal.

“Yours truly, Mattie M. Ingalls.”

[Note: Mattie was Martha Maria Ingalls (born 26 Jan 1859, Antioch, Illinois; died 27 May 1929, Nevada, California) Daughter of Eleazor Stillman (born 10 June 1820, Nashua, New Hampshire; died 30 Nov 1879, Menominee, Michigan) and Martha Maria Pearson (born 15 Dec 1826, New Hampshire; died 1895, Menominee, Michigan). Married 10 Sept 1877 Percy McLeod Beaser (born 5 Sept 1855, Ontonagon, Michigan; died 1929, Nevada, California). In 1870, Eleazor was a lawyer; Mattie had seven brothers and sisters. [1870 United States census; Menominee, Menominee, Michigan; p. 9. The Genealogy and History of the Ingalls Family in America, comp. Charles Burleigh. Malden, Massachusetts: Geo. E. Dunbar, 1903; pp. 199-200; at]

Subscribers to The Little Corporal worry and help
(February 1872; p. 74)

Doran, Mitchell Co. Iowa.

Dear Little Corporal: We were all so glad to see you once more. When the news came that every publishing house in Chicago was burned, some one said ‘then the Corporal is gone.’ Bertie burst out crying, and grandma told him it was not near so much loss to him as to the Corporal. ‘I do n’t care for that, but I am afraid Mr. Sewell and Mrs. Miller are burned up!’ When he found out they were safe, he was comforted.”

(March 1872; p. 112)

Livermore, Cal. “Having taken up a collection in my little country school, in behalf of the suffering children made homeless by the terrible fire in your city, please find enclosed $4.00—$2.50 of which is from the little ones in my school, who freely gave the ‘bits’ they had intended to spend for candy, to aid the destitute children away in Chicago. This is a newly settled portion of country, and the parents of the children here are all very poor, owing to the past dry seasons. The little we send is but a ‘mite’ but may God’s blessing go with it. I send this money to you, knowing you will see that it is given to some destitute child. Assuring you of the deep sympathy we feel for the afflicted in your city, and hoping you will go on in the noble work you are engaged in, I remain your friend,

“Carrie M. Hawks.”

Mrs. O’Leary’s cow becomes a celebrity
(June 1872; pp. 229-230)

Sharon.Dear Prudy: You cannot tell how very sorry I was for the Little Corporal when I heard of the great fire in Chicago; but I believed all the time that it would come out again better than ever, and so it is. I intend to take it always. Now, Aunt Prudy, I would just like to know if it is true that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow did kick over a lamp and do all that mischief; and that photographs of the cow were taken and sold to people that came to Chicago to see how it looked after the fire? And that somebody finally got the cow’s tail and made it up into watch-guards, and sold them for great prices? I have seen such statements in the papers. I wish you would

p. 230

print my letter, and please answer my questions about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Franky Hurlburt.”

Prudy has certainly seen pictures of a cow in the act of kicking over a lamp, but cannot really say that she thinks they were taken by our artist on the spot. As for the watch-guard story, the cow was more fortunate than most of the residents in that part of the city, if she brought off hair enough to make one.

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