The Curious Case Of The Cow Who Was Blamed For Causing The Great Chicago Fire Of 1871

Jonatan Rundblad - - illustrative purposes only

On October 8, 1871, a fire started in a barn in Chicago. The blaze traveled through about three square miles of the city, burning everything in its path.

When it was finally contained two days later, the city was left in critical condition. The fire had killed 300 people, wiped out the homes of 100,000 residents, and demolished $200 million in property. The catastrophe became known as The Great Chicago Fire.

The fire starter was believed to be an ill-tempered cow that belonged to Patrick and Catherine O’Leary.

Newspapers quickly placed blame on the cow, reporting that it had kicked over a kerosene lantern while Mrs. O’Leary was milking it.

After the fire was extinguished, several other theories surfaced, causing more fingers to be pointed at the O’Learys.

For instance, some newspapers claimed that Mrs. O’Leary had been selling the cow’s milk illegally, and when city officials discovered her crime, they forced her to stop. As a result, she set the fire as revenge.

The month after the fire, the O’Learys were interviewed by the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners.

Mrs. O’Leary stated that she never milked the cows in the evening and had been asleep when the fire started.

She had gone to bed early because her foot was sore. A neighbor, Daniel Sullivan, backed up her claim. He was the first person to notice the blaze.

Jonatan Rundblad – – illustrative purposes only

Sign up for Chip Chick’s newsletter and get stories like this delivered to your inbox.

1 of 3