I like songs that recount history like Dylan’s “Hurricane” or “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman and I particularly like when one of these historical ballads has information that is new to me, requiring some online research.  Laurel Premo’s “Peshtigo” on Red Tail Ring’s Middlewest Chant  was one of those songs.

Of course I knew of the Chicago fire of 1871, and the wrongly accused cow.  What I wasn’t previously familiar with was that the worst recorded forest fire occurred the same night in Peshtigo, Wisconsin.  When the large cyclonic storm that revved up Chicago’s fire also came through Wisconsin, conditions were perfect for a forest fire in that region – a long drought, a town built with wood, logging industry, ‘slash and burn’ methods for clearing farm land, and cleared ground for the railroad. Some theorize that a meteorite or comet might have ignited the flame that killed more than 1200 people and burned over 2400 acres.

Laurel Premo’s family lives in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan near the Wisconsin border and the Peshtigo fire is an important part of her family history.  Though he was just an infant at the time of the fire, Laurel’s great-great-grandfather and his mother survived the fire. Laurel wrote about this piece of history in her song “Peshtigo”.

“Both animal and man, ran from the fiery hand, the waters were the only way, for son and mother to be saved. … The river Menominee, with blankets held over thee, but in the well where soot floats down, one may smother but not drown” (from Peshtigo by Laurel Premo).

Both members of the duo Red Tail Ring write the songs they sing and instruments incorporated by Laurel and Michael (Beauchamp) include: banjo, mandolin, jaw harp, fiddle and guitar. For a night of original songs such as “Peshtigo”, RSVP for Red Tail Ring’s show on Friday, October 24, 2014 by contacting Tim Lehman at or call/text 717-940-9311.  Potluck at 6:00 pm, Show at 7:00 pm.

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