Fires, Cows, and Faulty History

On today’s date in 1871, a fire began in the barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary of Chicago. Two days later, 7,450 buildings had been destroyed and 100,000 people were homeless. A big chunk of the business district was in ruins.

Never mind that the weather conditions were dry. We forget that all those buildings, as well as the streets and sidewalks were made of wood. Forget that there had been numerous fires in Chicago before this one, so fires were nothing new.

Who got the blame for the fire?

Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. 

Mrs. O'Leary'S Cow Starting Fire
this was published in Harper’s magazine in 1871

I guess I should note that over one hundred years later, the Chicago City Council exonerated Mrs. O’Leary and her cow.

But it is a sad reflection on our history that a massive fire was not blamed on poor planning, but on a woman and a cow, neither of whom had any power or influence in 1870’s Chicago.

Today as we remember that great fire, how about leaving them out of it.

This is NOT an actual photo of Mrs. O'Leary's cow.
This is NOT an actual photo of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.

33 thoughts on “Fires, Cows, and Faulty History

    1. Just like humans to blame a poor innocent woman and her COW fur that disaster. The poor woman must have been afraid to ever leave her house! And how generous of them to exonerate her 100 years later (after she’s dead and gone)…I’ll bet she was so relieved! (HISS!!)


  1. (Um, Rumpy…..not meaning to be the snobby proofreader, but you may wanna check the date in your opening sentence….)
    And I agree: so glad the cow was pronounced not guilty…after all those years.
    Love, Sundae

  2. At least they didn’t blame it on jews, Chinese people, Indians, black people, muslims or any minority ( f.e. the red-haired) they’d like to harass.

  3. One of the latest theories on the Chicago Fire is that it was caused by a meteorite that broke up over that part of the continent. Wisconsin had devastating forest fires that same night, and if you draw a line from where all of the Wisconsin fires were it points directly to Chicago. Interesting to say the least!

  4. Very interesting history, Rumpy…..poor mrs O’leary and her cow though….I wished the exoneration had been much much earlier….at least mrs O’leary and her cow had been still alive….

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