Thanks to Google Books, we found this incredible first hand description of the fire which was written by Samuel's daughter, Elizabeth Lincoln Shackford (1857-1947) when she was only 14 years old. Her article was published in the magazine "Our Young Folks An Illustrated Magazine for Boys and Girls, Vol. VIII." under the name Lizzie L Shackford which is how she was listed in the 1870 census. Lizzie's description of the fire helps you visualize this terrible experience which killed 300 people and left over 100,000 people homeless.
THE CHICAGO FIRE.
I was one of the many turned out, or rather, burned out, on that fearful Monday
morning. We little thought Sunday evening, as we heard the alarm, and remarked
quietly that there was another fire on the West side, that in a few hours we, with
thousands of others, would be homeless.
By ten o'clock we saw that the fire was increasing instead of decreasing, but thought
that our engines would subdue it as usual. At twelve, men were on the roof of the
house with pails of water, for the sparks were then falling thick and fast. After
trying in vain to sleep we got up and dressed ourselves. We watched the fire as it
came nearer and nearer, until it crossed the river, then we began to think of what
we should do and where we should go, for not until then had we felt that we were in
danger. Before we knew it the house diagonally opposite us was in flames, for the
fire had taken one great leap from the river, leaving the other buildings between us
and it still unharmed. We managed to get three trunks down the long flights of
stairs, only to have two of them burned. Papa saved one by harnessing himself to
it with a piece of rope that he took from a neighboring awning.
I never shall forget the scene I witnessed then and there, - the fire roaring and
hissing, the falling of building, men, women, and children all fleeing to the north,
loaded with bags, boxes, bundles, and in fact, anything that they could snatch up
in those last hurried moments; and with it all a wind so fierce that it was with diffi-
culty we kept on our feet.
Our first stopping-place was Washington Park; thence to La Salle Street, where
we witnessed a strange scene. The usually quiet street was crowded with people;
large wagons, piled up with furniture, stood in front of most of the houses; and over
all was that same strange light.
No one thought of laughing at sights, that day, which at any other time would have
appeared very ludicrous. My cousin, a boy of fifteen, having lost his cap very early
in the morning, wore a nightcap given him by his grandmother, which she fortunately
had with her. No one seemed to notice it, until, getting on to the Milwaukee can
towards evening, an Irishman said to him, "An' shure it's a fine head-gear ye have
on," at which he took it off and went without any "head-gear."
Every one seemed intent on saving his pets. One woman had a large white turkey
under her arm, another carried a parrot, and a little boy a white rooster. I saw a
carriage with two dogs on one seat, a raccoon on the other, and another dog tied
underneath. I must confess that I too went round with a bird-cage in my arms, for
how could I leave my little canary to be burned? It was all that I did save of my
many treasures; the celebrated baby-house which I drew at the great Sanitary Fair
of 1865 went with the rest.
Vehicles were in great demand, and everything was made use of that could answer
the purpose of one. I saw a sleigh piled up with household goods, and tied to its
side was a goat, that did not seem at all inclined to hurry himself. A baby's crib
pushed on its rollers also served as a wagon; and a very tall man was making use of
a boy's sled to get a large trunk to a place of safety, - he was having a hard time
tugging it over the bare ground. Any one who owned a handcart or wheelbarrow
that day was fortunate.
Some of the articles that people were trying to save appeared very funny. One
man had an elbow to a stove-pipe, another a coffee-mill, another a kerosene lap,
while a fourth had a looking-glass about a foot square; when asked if he could not
find anything better than that to save, he threw it down, breaking it in pieces, then
turned and walked in the other direction.
By degrees we were driving to Lincoln Park; and there on the Lake Shore drive,
where usually were seen the fashionables of the city in their carriages, were crowds
of tired men, women, and children, black with smoke and dust. As we sat there,
close to the water's edge, waiting to see if we were to be allowed to stay, I felt like
an ancient Briton, only in the place of the Picts and Scots was the fire. As the
flames came nearer and nearer, and the smoke grew thicker, we saw plainly that we
must again move on, so we took up once more our weary march. Towards evening
we seated ourselves on the prairie, feeling that we would almost rather burn than
walk much farther. There kind friends found us and took us to their home in Lake
Till after midnight we had no rest, for the fire was still raging, and we expected
every moment to have to leave, but at this time there came a change of wind, and
with it rain, which subdued the flames and put an end to our fears.
Lizzie L. Shackford
More information about the Great Chicago Fire can be found at The Great Chicago Fire and the WEB of Memory.
Edwards' Thirteenth Annual Directory of the Inhabitants, Institutions, Incorporated Companies, and Manufacturing Establishments of the City of Chicago Embracing a Complete Business Directory for 1870 Volume Thirteen (Chicago: Richard Edwards, 1870), page 747, Samuel Shackford; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 November 2014).
The Essex Institute Historical Collections Vol XLVI-1910 (Salem, Mass: The Essex Institute, 1910), page 137; digital images, Google eBooks (books.google.com : accessed 9 January 2014.
"RootsWeb," database, RootsWeb (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ilbiog/sshackford.htm : accessed 9 January 2014), Capt. Samuel Shackford; extracted from Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits (Chicago: Calumet Book, 1895).
Trowbridge J. T. and Lucy Larcom, Our Young Folks: An Illustrated Magazine for Boys and Girls Vol. VIII (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1872), page 307-9 [May 1872]; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 17 November 2014.