Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

A prophecy and the 1918 Fire

1918 Revisited

 

January 25, 2018



Editor's note: 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of a turning point in the area's and nation's history. The events of 1918 will be revisited throughout the year in this column.

Our country and the area suffered through the most challenging time in its history in 1918. Three major events took many thousands of lives, devastated property and tested the mettle of the survivors.

A Native American prophecy foretold the tragic events of that year.

In 1854, the Ojibwe signed a treaty and turned over Wisconsin Point, located just south of Superior, to the government. Chief Joseph Osaugie, as headman of the Chippewa band, was one of the signers.

In 1915, United States Steel was going to build loading docks for lake freighters on 300 acres of land on the point that the federal government had obtained in an 1842 treaty. The descendants of Chief Osaugie refused to give up occupation of a portion of the peninsula. Litigation was begun on behalf of the Native Americans by attorney John A. Cadigan. Cadigan told of a Native American entering his office in the fall of 1916, telling this story:

“My father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, the mightiest chief who every ruled the Chippewas, and their fathers before them, lie buried on Wisconsin Point. Their bones must not be disturbed. I tell you now that the day the white man enters the point to dig up the remains of our ancestors will see this nation visit the most terrible fire in history, swept by the most terrible plague and plunged into the bloodiest war the world has ever known.”

“In October 1918, the United States Steel Corporation found it necessary to move the bodies in the graveyard, despite opposition by the family members still entrenched on the land,” said Cadigan.

Two hundred bodies were removed from the graves, loaded on a garbage scow, and reburied in graves on a hillside in St. Francis Cemetery.

“That day around noon, the heavens became black for a time with a peculiar cloud,” Cadigan recalled. “When we picked up the evening papers we read of the devastating Cloquet fire, truly the worst this part of the country, if not the entire nation, had ever seen.

“The same paper conveyed news of the sweeping wave of influenza, which inundated our nation and took so many lives. And to make the prophecy complete, America and the rest of the world was in the midst of a world war, and in the midst of the Meuse-Argonne drive, an offensive, which dwarfed all other martial engagements in the world's history.”

After the fire had passed, the damages were compiled: 1,500 square miles were burned within an area of 8,400 square miles and a total of 52,371 people were affected. Nearly 8,000 families lost their homes, 38 communities were destroyed and 453 died. Forty-one schools, 4,089 houses and 6,366 barns were destroyed. Total losses escalated to more than $30 million, a staggering figure in the 1918 economy.

The 1918 influenza epidemic swept through the nation, taking 500,000 to 675,000 lives, including many of the lives of the people that had survived the fire.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was fought from September 20 to November 11, 1918, when the Armistice was signed. The United States and France battled the German Empire, which resulted in an Allied victory. Over 26,000 American soldiers lost their lives in that battle and there were nearly 96,000 injured.

It was a terrible year in history, but the people persevered, rose from those ashes and rebuilt. Surviving soldiers came home, raised families and began to build the nation that we have today.

Sources: Indian County Media Network, article 'The Heavens Became Black: The Curse of Wisconsin Point' by Donna Ennis, Fond du Lac Band; Minnesota Forest Fires Relief Commission; Wikipedia, 1918 flu epidemic, World War I.

 

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