Fire in Medicine Lodge, 4 Nov 1903, Barber County, Kansas Barber County, Kansas.  

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The Barber County Index, November 4, 1903.


The Immense Chase Hardware Establishment a Mass of Ruins,


Lightning Combustion or Possibly Incendiarism,
Supposed to be the Cause,
but there is no Definite Information on the Fire's Origin.


Last Friday morning Medicine Lodge experienced the most disastrous fire in her history and the Chase Hardware Company sustained a loss that runs high into the thousands. The fire broke out at 4:30 and at daylight a mass of ruins which covered nearly a half block in the heart of the city, told the story of the awful wreckage which the angry flames left in their path. The large Chase block built only a little over a year ago and the frame buildings adjoining it on the south together with all the contents, were devoured. The Higgins block on the north was saved but it was badly damaged. The entire damage is not less then $30,000. Mr. Chase valued his stock at $20,000 and the buildings destroyed and damaged were probably worth $10,000. He carried only $4,000 insurance. Mrs. Higgins carried no insurance on her building at all. Her loss is probably about $500.

For fully an hour after the fire started the entire block on either side of the street seemed doomed. To add to the discomfiture of the people who had gathered to check the flames, it was impossible to get water pressure for more than an hour after the fire started and nothing could be done until water could be secured. The heat was so intense that windows on the opposite side of the street broke. The only circumstance that saved the Grand hotel, the Higgins, Fair and Woodward buildings, and others on the opposite side of the street was the fact that a heavy rain had fallen previously and everything was thoroughly wet. Pieces of debris were scattered as far as two blocks from the scene of the fire and the furious flames extended high into the air. The force of the flames was augmented by reason of oil and explosives in the store, and the booms that bellowed forth sent the news for many miles around of the impending catastrophe. How the loss, great as it is, was restricted as much as it was, with the facilities at hand, is almost marvelous.

The origin of the fire, as usual in such cases, is largely a matter of speculation. It was suggested by some that lightning struck the telephone lines and carried the current into the building. This theory Mr. Chase does not accept at all, although he is inclined to believe a direct bolt of lightning struck the building at some point. On Saturday Mr. Chase went to Wichita to take minatory steps in regard to a new switchboard. He talked with the superintendent of construction of the long distance telephone there, also the superintendent at Wellington and the superintendent of Western Union construction work at the last named place. All agree that the bolt of lightning could not have been carried through the telephone wires, as these come in through a cable. All the wires in this are copper, so that the wires and the lead cable would melt before lightning could possibly be carried into a building. Mr. Chase states that every wire passed through a fuse on the large pole in front of the store. In addition to this, all wires coming in on the large pole at the post office, pass through fuses. There are about one hundred of those fuses at the corner. If lightning had struck the wire being carried in there, any distances at all, every fuse at the post office would have burned out, whereas an investigation finds only three burned out. In addition to this, Mr. Chase says the cable was well ground on the outside of the building.

The theory of incendiarism is also advanced; but that is based entirely on imagination and the only circumstance that would point to it at all is the hour at which the fire started. Mr. Chase, himself, is loth to believe that there could be any person in Medicine Lodge so low and degraded as to commit such a monstrous crime.

So far as the future is concerned Mr. Chase has no present plans. He thinks he will rebuild because most of the brick can be used, but beyond that he has not formulated any ideas. The misfortune has drawn heavily on his stock of courage, and all, who know him know that he is a man of courage and energy, but this seemed to be an instance in which the loss is so extraordinary that it is bound to almost unnerve the most aggressive and determined. He had an extensive business and an immense stock. He got it by many years of hard work and close application to business. In fact he overtaxed his physical resources accumulating it. His business tact and determination was one of his admirable traits and his success was the direct result of his own individual effort. He has rented the Boardman Smith building adjoining the Young Drug Store for temporary quarters for his tinnery for the purpose of completing a few unfinished jobs, but has so far taken no steps toward securing another stock of goods. Much depends on how promptly his patrons respond in meeting their obligations and accounts which are on his books.

We think we will find a hearty response from people all over Barber county when we say that we deeply regret and deplore Mr. Chase's great loss. Aside from the financial blow to him and his family, which is the first consideration, it is calamity to the city. This establishment was a source of pride to every citizen. It is a public benefit in many ways and its destruction means an indirect loss to many people.

The human heart vibrates with emotions of sympathy on occasions like this, but how can sympathy restore the values now consigned to ashes? If sympathy and good will could do it Mr. Chase would be made whole. The Index hopes that fate will point out an illuminated path through his present seemingly dark dilemma, and that it will not be many days until he will again be in business.


The calamity again emphasizes the necessity of a night watch.

The same old trouble - no pressure, no water until damage was done.

The change of wind from north to south was all that saved the Grand Hotel.

The local telephones will not be ready for use short of two weeks. A new switchboard must be supplied.

O. Q. Chandler's new automobile was among the ruins. It was stored there while not in use. It represents a loss of $700.

Jim Thom__ got to the scene early enough to save most of his tools, which were in the store. Nothing else was saved.

The long distance telephone east was temporarily connected at the Grand hotel, and west at T. L. Lindley's office. Now the entire long distance office is at Lindley's.

H. T. Woodward was damaged more than $200 by reason of his stock being carried out by the excited crowd. As soon as Mr. Woodward arrived he stopped the "moving" but nearly all of the goods was out.

W. H. McCague's law library and the A. O. U. W. lodge furniture in the upper story of the Higgins block were badly damaged. The water and burned debris accompanying it did the mischief.

Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!

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