Book Location: Google Books; Internet Archive Year Published: 1887
The police force immediately preceding the fire is said by some authorities (notably by James W. Sheahan and George P. Upton, in their book, “Chicago, Its Past, Present and Future”), to have mimbered 400 men; but as the force only numbered 425 in March, 1872, according to Supt. Kennedy’s report, we are led to believe that it was much smaller in October, 1871. All data concerning the principal stations in the 1st and 3d precincts was swept away by the fire, and nothing of an official character was left to tell the story of the quarter of the year ending with Sept. 30th. And for many days succeeding the fire, the policemen of these stations had nowhere to report, except at headquarters, and confusion reigned supreme throughout the burnt district. One hundred and fifty of the police force were left homeless and almost penniless by the fire. Most of these were on duty during the nights of October 8th, 9th and 10th, doing what little they could to assist the firemen, to help the distracted and fleeing people, to protect property and to keep the peaee, while their own houses were being swept away, and their own families were being driven before the flames, to the lake side or the prairie. Testimony is not wanting to prove that many of the officers and men performed heroic service during these dreadful nights, and during many nights afterward, when the city was but a desolate and ghastly waste of ashes. “I desire to bear testimony to the cordial co-operation and efficiency of all branches of the service,” said Supt. Kennedy, in his report to the council, “especially during the trying times succeeding the disastrous conflagration of last October, when about 150 of our men were burned out, and while their families were houseless and homeless they rallied with but few exceptions to their posts of duty immediately after the fire, and did their utmost, along with the balance of the force, in the restoration and maintenance of order. To them and io the entire force, as the executive head of the department, I desire to bear testimony for their faithfulness and coolness in their duties, when so many of our citizens were apparently panic-stricken.‘‘
The fire had done its worst when it consumed everything in its path, but a new and even a more dreadful terror than that just passed seized the public mind when it became rnmored that incendiaries nnd robbers were attempting to complete the disaster which had already befallen the community. Not only the 75,000 homeless people who had fled before the advancing columns of flames, but the thousands who still hail roofs to cover their heads, in the sections that had escaped the calamity, were panic-strickeu by this newly threatened calamity. There was no water, and a fresh outbreak of fire on the West Side, or on the South Side, below the black line of debris, would probably result in the complete annihilation of the city. No wonder, then, that horror seized the people when the rumor spread that incendiaries, with an eye to plunder, were at their devilish work. The citizens at once formed themselves into patrol parties, to protect what little there remained in the burnt district, and to prevent, if possible, the designs of the incendiaries and thieves upon those sections which had escaped the fire. These patrol parties in the main did excellent service, but they did not always act with discretion, and it was popularly believed that many innocent persons met death at their hands. Undisciplined, inexperienced, panicky and inclined to look with suspicion upon every stranger who came along, they served to increase rather than to diminish the alarm of honest people in many quarters.
While the flames were leap.ng from house to house and from block to block on the South Side, and driving thousands of frightened people before them over the bridges and through the tunnel, there were gathered together in a little West Side church a few of the city officials. There, on the night of October 9th, on a coarse piece of paper, was drawn up with a lead pencil the famous proclamation of Chicago to the civilized world. It is preserved in the rooms of the Historical Society, plainly framed, and may now be easily read, for it is as legible as ever. It ought to be encased in a cabinet of solid gold, and placed beyond the possibility of loss or destruction. With many other treasures, above price, it is at the mercy of the first neighborhood fire, in the miserable quarters which are provided for the use of the Historical Society—quarters which, by the way, are a sad commentary on the vaunted public spirit, home pride and culture of our citizens. The proclamation touches upon police matters, but if it did not, it deserves a prominent place in any work which aims to follow the history of this city, no matter how lightly. It runs as follows:
Whereas, in the providence of God, to whose will we humbly submit, a terrible calamity has befallen our city, which demands of us our best efforts for the preservation of order and the relief of the suffering. Be it known that the faith and credit of the city of Chicago is hereby pledged for the necessary expenses for the relief of the suffering. Public order will be preserved. The police and special police now being appointed will be responsible for the maintenance of peace and the protection of property. All officers and men of the fire department and health department will act as special policemen without further notice. The mayor and comptroller will give vouchers for all supplies furnished by the different relief committees. The headquarters of the city government will be at the Congregational Church, corner of West Washington and Ann streets. All persons are warned against any acts tending to endanger property. All persons caught in any depredations will be immediately arrested.
With the help of God order and peace and private property shall be preserved. The city government and committees of citizens pledge themselves to the community to protect them and prepare the way for a restoration of public and private welfare.
It is believed the fire has spent its force and all will soon be well.
R. B. Masox, Mayor.
George Taylor, Comptroller.
Charles C. P. Holden, President Common Council.
T. B. Brown. President Board of Police.
Chicago, October 9th, 1871.