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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Fictional Story: Recollections of a Western Deputy (1871 -1897) Tuesday April 20, 1880 Fire at the Ostermiller's House

 Tuesday   April 20, 1880            Fire at the Ostermiller's House

Entry of  Saturday May 1st, 1880
       I am still amazed even after the events of last week's Tuesday that I am still here to record anything about what happened.  Bruno Ostermiller and his wife had 12 children, and lived just a few doors south of the closed up Pete's Snake's Eyes Tavern, which has since been bought and will turn into a place to eat or somethin'.  At least that's what the rumor on good authority is.   Last year I had shot a varmit shootin' in my direction from inside the outhouse behind the Tavern, and when I shot back, had I missed, I might have shot through and accidentally shot one of these Ostermiller family folks, as the entire 12 children was home when that shootout happened.  

     Unknown to most all the folks in the town, for whatever reason, Bruno Ostermiller took up with a married woman who was not his wife, and was found out by his own wife about it.  So Mrs. Ostermiller had relations with that woman's husband for spite, allegedly told her husband what she had done, and then threw a birthday party startin' at 2 o'clock in the afternoon  for her triplet daughters aged 11.  A few days afore the party, Mrs. Ostermiller had  invited near a score of other children and their parents to accompany them.  6 mothers would attend with 15 more children, including one of my nieces, Beth's child, though I didn't know it at the time. 

  The day started out well enough.  I spent 4 hours in Court testifyin' as to various facts and arrests for near 62 folks that Judge Hollister processed through like a man in a chicken feather pluckin' contest.  Get them in, get the facts, fine them, generate revenue by takin' it away from that other fella he had just fined and tell them to hurry up and pay or get fined some more, have them leave, do the same to the next fella that was comin' in.  As I watched the Judge in action like some Carpetbagger, I sneaked out while he stopped to look up something in Blackstone and imbibe about six or eight snorts.  I quickly selected and sent 14 folks home and returned, and told the Judge I had dropped the charges upon those numbers of citizens I had scratched from the list to be brought before him.  I let it be known that I personally dropped the charges as they was my arrests, and I sent them home with a warnin'.  He was none too pleased, but as we had no town prosecutor at present, and the Marshal was away testifying at the Capitol, he was  just drunk enough to accept that he just had to take my word for it.    Court  that day had commenced at 10 in the mornin', and we ran through without rest except for the 5 minutes pause I so stated, and continued until about 1:55 in the afternoon, according to the Judge's 2 foot long and 1 foot wide clock. 

   As Court broke, with only one prisoner given 30 days hard labor for bein' unable to pay his fine for brawlin' and bustin' up private property worth $12.30 that  I had to confine to the Jail and give over to Sheriff Bond who would decide who he owed favors to have repairs and chores done for, after deliverin' him to Sheriff Bond, I went to the outhouse after that for about 10 minutes to rid myself of last night's dinner.  Having finished, and washed up in soap and water, ready to call it a day, only then did I hop Reindeer and then headed over to Beth's General Merchandise Store for some things the wife wanted me to pick up afore I came home.  As I was going over the things to buy inside the store with my nephew, who was behind the counter waitin' on me with an odd look, across the street and two doors further south, was the two story Bruno Ostermiller place, habitation of 14 souls.  The Ostermiller house was notable as it was the first two-story house in town that was built, and also it was the first house in town that was built with a cellar.   Bruno Ostermiller generally used that cellar to run his still, and he mostly made liquor from corn, from potatoes, and from rye. He generally made anywhere from 40 gallons to 200 gallons of liquor a month, folks wantin' more label on the bottle liquor from back East, so business was gettin' slower of late, and his stock was a pilin' up.  

About 10 minutes after 2 o'clock, while I passin' through in the outhouse, Bruno closed up and storm latch sealed  and locked the last of theextra heavily fortified against tornado windows of his house from the outside, while the social event was happenin' inside.  He then went in the back, and out of sight and hearin' of the guests, he took a hatchet and brained his wife, leavin' her on the floor.  I reckon I probably had just entered the General Merchandise Store just as Bruno killed his wife at the back of and inside of his house.  He then barricaded the back door to prevent anyone from leavin' that away, and as I was goin' over the list, I looked out and saw Bruno put 3 locks on the front door of the house.  He then walked to the one side and began throwing buckets of what looked like water on the house, as if he was washin' off the dust from the house.  "He's washin' his house?"  I mused to myself.  

I turned for a moment and asked if anyone knew if the birthday party was called off, and there were several replies of "no" inside the store.  As I looked back, I faintly caught a whiff from a breeze all of a sudden startin' to blow and blow hard, and noticed an odor of coal oil and corn liquor.  And at that moment, the whole outside of the house, and one room on the second floor lit up in an explosion of fire. "BOOM!" 

Suddenly, things were a poppin' in the same kind of sound as if you threw jugs of corn liquor into a camp fire, a poppin' and a "fhoomin"  in the one second story room and then the other next to it nearest the street, and screams could be heard comin' from inside.  I bolted out the door knockin' 2 women and a man aside, and ran like blazes across the street as hard and as fast as I could, and made a runnin' kick at the front door, breakin' only one of the latches through fer sure and seriously loosenin' a second almost free.  About 5 or six kicks later, I was able to force the front door all the way through, as thick hot black smoke billowed out like from a furnace already from waist high on up, and counted I 19 children and 4 women come past me.  I bent over to see if there was more and called out as I heard at least two women and some children in a large room to the right of the front door.  I made my way about on my knees, and guided the 2 women out, and had to tear off two layers from one of the women's dresses when it caught fire and began to rapidly spread over her outer lower dress.  

There were yet 8 children that were left who were tryin' to make it out the back, and were now screamin' in terror as they found Mrs. Ostermiller's corpse as well as findin' that this wasn't a safe way out, as smoke began to pour that way and fill up the back of the house with thicker and thicker burnin' hot black smoke mixed with white smoke from somethin' or other as well.  

Suddenly, there was an explosion over the front doorway, and flames licked up the walls and across the ceilin'.  I grabbed a chair, took a deep breath, and tried breakin' the glass of the nearest window I could reach with my foot from the floor and kickin' through, but it was no use.   I guided the children to the hallway in the middle and back of the house by the stairway, a hallway that lead directly to the front door, and noticed that if one were to make a runnin' slide past the now  near 16 feet long path of flames, they might make it through just toasted and singed a bit.  But even I didn't think I could make a runnin' slide across an unvarnished floor not made slick, and perhaps might not make it even if it were slick.  

I heard Beth callin' out my niece's name and she called back to her mother from behind me.  I then called out to Beth to get 2 ropes, tie them together and have it tossed low through the front door as far back as someone was able, and loop the rope about the horse hitchin' post and the other end of the rope to the horn on Reindeer's saddle.    I needed him to bolt and someone to cut the rope with an axe or something as soon as we got the children clear of the house.   

I didn't realize how hot it was outside, as the flames were sunburnin' Beth and anyone anywhere near the house, so that it was difficult to even be 7 rods close, let alone 1 to 2 rods close as Beth and one of the men of the town, who I could not identify merely by his boots and no spurs, was.   I think it was he who threw the rope, and it was a really good throw, with 4 feet of rope to spare, from whoever he was.

At about this time, the whole town was seein' the black plume of smoke just a chunnelin' up in great fury, and even my Danish in-laws had made it over toward my place and was watchin' in awe with the wife, when a shout relay made mention that I was trapped inside with a bunch of Ostermiller children bein' burned alive.   The wife lost no time saddling her mare Hannah in a Confederate minute, like I showed her and had her practice last year, and was soon a gallopin' my way as my in-laws instinctively looked after our children.  

While the wife was gallopin', I had by this time tied a back hall rug about all 8 of the children, and we was all coughin' and chokin' somethin' awful. I ordered them to hang on extra tight, as it meant their lives to hang on and to do so.  Then I had a coughin' fit just as I finished shoutin' that.    I was unable to shout to Beth to bolt Reindeer now, so I sounded off two slugs from my right .45 six gun, and the children was off like a shot.    Just then, the floor opened up where the children just was, and there was Bruno, havin' a look of insanity and anger and lost desperation all in one look.  He left the 3 foot by 3 foot cellar access wide open and kicked free the ladder underneath him, as he leaped upon me and we struggled as he grabbed for my gun with his left hand, and tried to knife me with his other.   The smoke grew lower and lower to the floor so that it was maybe less than 4 inches off the floor, when the face was driven down, that you could blurrily see any clearness past the burn of the smoke in the eyes, and the ash that was now flyin' and swirlin' about.   The walls on either side was aflame now by feel, though we could no longer see.  Bruno Ostermiller drove me into the flames twice, and I pushed him against the flames of the wall once, and then, just as I did this, I fell through the openin' in the floor into the cellar.  

My wife had now just rounded the corner of Main Street into South Road when the still and whatever else was in the basement and the whole house blew sky high into smithereens.  18 folk were injured just in bein' knocked to the ground, 7 from wood shrapnel, but thankfully none were wounded seriously.  Every window within 30 rods in most any direction was blown in by the blast, and "the Earth", those that were there outside on South road and the part of Main Street connectin' to it said, "it rippled like water and knocked man and beast all off their feet."   When the explosion happened, I was just clearin' the hole in the floor, as if suspended in time and space.  I blacked out, and awoke under a 16" by 12" thick rafter beam and some debris, and what was left of the house on top of me was still on fire.  The townsfolk rushed off to put out debris spread fire on at least 5 rooftops, and lost one tree that was also set ablaze near the barber shop that had hot baths available for 25 cents a bath.   

The wife ran about the circumference of what used to be the Ostermiller's place, and called out my name.  I felt a burning of my left shoulder, and awoke what was probably about 6 or 7 minutes after she first called out, and answered her.  Then, all of a sudden, it began to rain down in sheets outside, even as she moved this and that board and was quickly joined by about 18 men of the town, until they pulled an opening where I was and I could see through that openin' that there she was. The wife threw down a lasso and tied it to Hannah, and slowly pulled me clear.  I remember I felt a couple of sprains, but at least I had no broken bones, and was sure glad I hadn't got caught on a nail or a sharp broken board.  The top left of my clothin' was gone, and as she touched my shoulder, a whole section of skin, 6 inches by 8 inches just all slid off and I screamed in agony several times over afore regainin' my wits and composure, seein' stars, and then passin' out again.  

That was Tuesday of last week.   Since then, the Ostermiller children have been placed in the care of their maternal grandparents, who then packed up and took them back to Wisconsin to live and settle among other relatives there.  The wife has told me she is expectin' again, and if things work out right, I should be back to Deputy Marshalin' the first week of June.  I can still hear alright, but I lost some of the finer senses of it, and they still haven't come back yet.  I notice a loss in certain very high pitches, especially.  

-- Deputy B.

[June 15, 1898 -  One mention of note.  The land that was owned by Bruno Ostermiller was defaulted to the town based on tax delinquency.   Later, that land was scraped away, filled and leveled,  and put up for sale.  Folks claimed that the ghost of Bruno Ostermiller haunted the land, and later it was purchased at a very low price and a Church was built on that same spot.  As soon as the land was accepted and then consecrated with holy water and blessings and prayers by the new minister, the ghost of Bruno Ostermiller was never again seen, but probably went to hell where he belongs. 

Oh...and in case you wondered, it took near 8 months for all my burnt off skin I lost on my left shoulder from that Ostermiller fire to grow back.  
-- Deputy B., (Retired). ]   

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