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THE PESHTIGO FIRE AND THE FIRST MARINETTE VS. MENOMONEE GAME FOOTBALL

 FOOTBALL CATCHING ON THE TWO SCHOOLS LIKE A WILDFIRE

NOTE:  This is a blog about the earliest meeting of two great football programs (Plus a mention of another) and where they stand today.  A story also about a great event that took place in Wisconsin and Michigan. Before moving on in the blog read about the M&M Games from yes, the Congressional Record.  Copy and paste the following to get a feel for the M&M Games… Congressional Record, Volume 152 Issue 114 (Thursday, September 14, 2006) (govinfo.gov) 


In 1893 Menominee High School began playing football and matched up against several Michigan teams.  The game caught the area’s attention and the sport blossomed. The city formed a town team and played such cities as Oconto, Escanaba and Iron Mountain and they were good from the get-go. 


In 1894 the football bug crossed the river that divided the two cities hit Marinette.  The high school’s first game after several weeks of training occurred when they met the local Y.M.C.A. at a place called The Race Course.  Alvin Hilles, the assistant to the Marinette city engineer, was the umpire and had played, what the Eagle-Herald newspaper called the center rush position for Purdue University.  Richard Fairchild (No occupation mentioned) was the referee.  The paper called it a “fine exhibition” as the two squads battled.


As I’ve mentioned in the past, from the early days of the high school game, few newspapers ever printed a roster of the players and when they did it was without the first names.  In my research I found that the Eagle-Herald consistently did so for years posting full coverage of the teams. 


Marinette received the kickoff, but the ball was turned over to the Y.M.C.A. squad after three plays (Remember the story on the 5-yard/7-yard rule?) and Fred McCallum had the ball on the “Y’s” first play.  Will Ross, the right guard for Marinette, reached out and snatched the ball and before the “Y’s” could react, he dashed to the endzone for a score.  The goal (Extra point) was kicked, and Marinette led 6-0.  The euphoria wouldn’t last for long and the boys from the “Y” would blow the high’s away and won 24-6.  Touchdowns were worth four-points, and a goal was worth two.  The paper stated that Will Hamilton of Marinette and Frank Chace for the Y.M.C.A. distinguished themselves by brilliant play that day.

In the crowd watching the game was Mr. Mills, the coach of the Menominee high school team along with his players.  After the game representatives of both teams met and decided to play the next week on Thanksgiving Day.  The game was set to be played at the Race Course and start at 3pm.


The two weeks before Marinette High and the Y.M.C.A. team met, a game was scheduled between Menominee and the “Y’s”.  The paper never mentioned if they met as no score was recorded.  It may have never been played or the score just didn’t make it into the newspaper.  It’s my guess that the Y.M.C.A. players were only a few years older, for the most part, than the high schoolers.  The “Y” team would cease playing regular football around 1898.  Besides the high school and the Y.M.C.A having teams, the local Wisconsin National Guard unit known as Company I formed a team.  They would first play in 1895 and this would become the premier town team in northern Wisconsin.  Company I also often played the Menominee Town Team, the Green Bay Team and the town squads and other military units from Kenosha, Madison, Stevens Point, Manitowoc and upper Michigan.  The Company I squad had such a good team that when Fred Hulbert of the Green Bay Team needed help, he contacted the unit and they would loan a player of two to help the Bay’s. When the United States fought Spain in Cuba in 1898 during the Spanish American War, the unit couldn’t play as they were called up to fight, but they roared back in 1899 and played until just before World War I.


The Firey Prelude to The Sport

Twenty-three years earlier life in the northeast part of Wisconsin changed dramatically.  On October 8, 1871, many events in the Mid-West occurred that changed the look of the landscape.  There was the Great Chicago Fire.  About 3.5 square miles of the city burned and about 300 people perished due to either Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over a lantern in her barn or some guys throwing dice nearby did the same.  Across Lake Michigan there was a major fire in Holland, Michigan that burned many acres and buildings.  About 100 miles north of Holland a blaze broke out in Manistee in what was called the Great Michigan Fire.  There were many deaths here as well, most were lumberjacks plus a few farmers.  Further east, along the Lake Huron shore the Port Huron Fire occurred that same day and night and roared farther up the Michigan “thumb”.  All this occurred on the same day, October 8.


In upper northeast Wisconsin the Peshtigo Fire took place.  The fire started near the woodworking factory on the west side of the town and spread quickly.  Within an hour the town was gone.  Between 1,200-2,500 people lost their lives and over 1.5 million acres of Wisconsin land was burned.  The winds swirled and a person standing only 10-feet away from another burned to a crisp while the other survived with only singed hair or clothing.  In Oconto, Shawano, Brown, Kewaunee, Door, Manitowoc, Outagamie and Marinette counties the blaze burned bright and of course, deadly.  In Door County the town of Brussels burned like Peshtigo and about 120 people died. The northern edge of Green Bay suffered some fire damage as a 10-mile wide and over 40-mile-long path (400 square miles) destroyed lives.  North of Peshtigo, across the Menominee River in Michigan, the windblown fire threatened the town of Menomonee as well as Marinette on the Wisconsin side.  Only about seven miles separated Peshtigo and Marinette, but the latter city escaped the devastation that occurred in the town south of it.  An 1870 the census showed that 1,300+ residents lived in Peshtigo.  The fire caused as many as 800 deaths in Peshtigo alone.  Many people fled into the Peshtigo River to escape the flames, with some resting on a marshy area of the east side of the river.  While the river saved many lives the flames did skip over the survivors and spread eastward as well as threatening Marinette and Menominee to the north.  Thankfully the two cities were mostly saved first by fire brigades in Menominee and in Marinette by the newly formed city fire department.  People from both sides of the “Twin cities” crossed the bridges that connected the two cities to help one another in putting out fires.


The entire upper part of the US had gone through a drought starting in October of 1870 that extended into late 1871.  The fire would severely curtail the lumber business as over 2,000,000 trees would burn plus thousands of farm and forest animals at an estimated cost of $5,000,000 (About $126,000,000 in 2024 dollars). This was a fire that even Bambi couldn’t escape. 


To put things in mid-1900 perspective, during World War II the United States used cluster firebombs to attack Dresden, Germany in February 1945 burning 1,600+ acres of the city with civilian deaths numbering up to 25,000.  In the Pacific the US attacked Tokyo, Japan in March 1945, also with cluster firebombs and 16 square miles of the city burned with over 100,000 deaths and leaving over 1,000,000 people homeless. The differences here was that Dresden was a city of brick and block buildings while much of Tokyo’s home were made of wood.  I mention this to put the Peshtigo fire in perspective.  A lot more human lives lost in the war but a much greater loss of land mass in the Peshtigo Fire.  It would take years for the forests and grasslands in Wisconsin and Michigan to recover.    


Logging was the main industry of the Peshtigo, Menominee and Marinette area as well as all of upper Wisconsin and Michigan in 1871.  The extensive property owned by Canadian born Issac Stephenson, on the Wisconsin side of the Menominee River, and that of his brother, Samual Stephenson on the Michigan side would recover.  The two lumber giants not only fortified their holdings but helped their neighbors build again.  In 1881, Samual built The Menominee Hotel to house big city lumber buyers.  The hotel became so popular that it had to be expanded twice in its 96-year history.  Sadly, while it was to be scheduled for revitalization as part of the planned downtown urban renewal program it burned to the ground on February 11, 1977. 


Issac opened the Stephenson National Bank in Marinette, donated to the founding of the city library and supported multiple local businesses as a partner. Each Stephenson had a town in their respective states named after them as well as an island in the Menominee River.  Very wealthy but not overly ostentatious, they both had political careers as well as the business ventures and relatives would play against each other in the rivalry.  Issac won the US Senate race in 1907 after serving several times in the state assembly as well as the US Congress.  At age 77 he was and is the oldest freshmen, Senator.  He also owned vast tracks of land in Illinois, Indiana and Louisiana.  Samual served in the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate and later served in the U.S. House of Representatives. His business interests, besides lumber and real estate and owned a 900-acre dairy farm near Kenosha. He had vast lumber lands in Michigan as well as having a major lumber interest in the area of North Tonawanda New York.  The local NY high school team would be the “Football Champs of the East” in 1897 and play Madison High School for the football national championship.


THE FIRST M&M MEETING

Excitement was growing in the two communities for the upcoming event.  On Thursday, November 29, 1894, Thanksgiving Day, the two teams played a great first game.

Marinette Eagle-Herald Newspaper, November 30, 1894


Hundreds of fans flocked to The Race Course to watch the first ever meeting between the two schools.  Arriving up to an hour before the opening kickoff, fans jockeyed for a good spot to view the two teams.  Wearing maroon, Menominee overpowered the orange and black uniformed Marinette squad 14-4.  In a few years Menominee would take the nickname “The Maroons” while Marinette would adapt the color purple for their uniforms and become known as the “Marines”.  The Maroon dominated the first half, 14-0, led by McLain who was carried off the field by his teammates and fans after scoring all three touchdowns and one goal.  He was able to weave through the Marinette defense almost at will.  While the game was out of reach for the Wisconsin squad they did score on a fine run by Gene Allen.  The week before against the Y.M.C.A. the roster listed his first name as Jean but it really was spelled Gene.  The fans were respectful of each other throughout the game as they showed their favorites by wearing colorful clothing in their team’s colors.  Sorry, the newspaper didn’t give many additional details.


Currently the rivalry between the two schools is tied for the longest series although there were a few seasons when the two didn’t play.  The Darlington vs. Mineral Point and Sparta vs. Tomah series also started in 1894.  Baraboo vs. Reedsburg started playing in 1900 but have met often more than just once a season as they have played 136 times. 


After losing in 1895, 24-8, let’s move ahead a year to 1896 and look at the rosters for the two teams:


The Marinette lineup


Look at the two lineups.  The name Stephenson pops up, probably grandchildren of Issac and Samual.  After the 1896 win by Mwnomonee, 22-0, Marinette would dominate the series until 2014 when Menomonee finally passed them up.

While the series is only the seventh longest in state history, yet it is possibly the most storied.  It is listed as the third longest interstate rivalry.  The 1949 showdown was covered by Look Magazine in a multi-page layout.  Menominee led the series for the first few seasons until Marinette caught up in 1900 and from then on, the Marines dominated the Maroon until they tied the series in 2013.  Owning an overall 59-50-7 lead in the series, Menominee has dominated the storied matchup the past nine games.  The two didn’t play 13 times over the 129 years of the series but they did play twice in 1899 and 1902.


Overall, Marinette has posted a career 616-403-33 won/loss/tie record, 1894-2023.  On the other hand, Menominee’s record stands at 700-317-40 record, 1893-2023.  Michigan started their own state playoffs in 1976.  Since 1991 Menominee has won at least 10 games 13 times with state titles in 1998, 2006 and 2007 with three runner-up teams plus seven semi-final squads.  Marinette has won one WIAA title, 1989 and since the WIAA playoffs began that has been their only season with 10+ wins.  Marinette won the mythical state title in 1917, 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1926.and 1949.  While Menominee’s fortunes of late have risen, Marinette’s have gone down a bit.


One other school that I want to mention is Peshtigo, a town that rose from the ashes, has a 582-284-19 record and one WIAA title, that being in 1983.  It is remarkable that three schools so close, only seven to ten miles apart, have performed so well over the years.

 

I’d loke to thank the staff at the Marinette Stephenson Public Library, especially Brooke Uhl for sending me important information and granting access to the school yearbooks that they had on file.  Also, thanks to the staff at the Marinette High School for access to looking at old yearbooks in my research.


Check out the link from WISSPORTS on rivalries for more information…Wisconsin High School Football Rivalries (wissports.net)

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