I've been looking for this story for about six months and finally found it. The difficulty was that I didn't have a date or even a year to research. I knew Caddo had a "great fire", but couldn't find a source who knew when it had occurred. Then I read the Gideon piece about 1901 and the fire seemed to be a recent event. So I looked in 1899-1900. I finally found the story this week in the Caddo Herald, November 23, 1900**. I apologize for the length of this piece, but it's an important story. Go get a cup of coffee first.
"Monday night’s Fire Burned the First Block Built in Caddo
Caddo was visited by a fire Monday night which burned almost the entire block of buildings on the north side of East Buffalo street, and directly across the street from the Nail Hotel and W. H. Ainsworth’s dry goods store.
Just the manner in which the fire originated is yet unknown, but it is thought by many to have been started by an incendiary.
The fire started in or under F.S. Harvey’s grocer store, and those who first saw it think it most probable that it was the latter.
Mrs. Powers, who ran a restaurant but a door or two east of Harvey’s store said in substance to a Herald reporter when asked about the fire: She was cooking a steak in her kitchen and thought she smelled smoke somewhere and spoke of the matter, and that she also heard a noise which sounded like 22 caliber cartridges. Her little girl a little later went out the back door and discovered the fire and the alarm was given. Mrs. Powers says that the smoke which met her when she went to see the fire smelled very much like powder smoke. It is her opinion that the fire was started by powder touched off by a slow fuse.
The alarm was given and people began to arrive to see what could be done. It was at once evident that the block in which the fire originated was doomed and all efforts to stop the flames in the block would be useless. Attention was therefore at once given to saving the stocks of goods in the block and keeping the buildings in the block west from burning.
It was impossible to save anything from the store of F.S. Harvey, but most of the contents of the little restaurant nearby was saved. A good portion of the stock of J.O. Hampton’s was saved, and also the most of the grocery, harness and saddle stock of W.P. Booker, as well as the contents of the restaurant and pool hall on Main Street.
The wind was from the southeast and it was greatly feared that the buildings on the west side of Main street would catch fire, and great efforts were made to save them, and the efforts proved successful. The buildings became very warm though and it was only by the plentiful use of water that the block was saved.
Some of the houses in the north end of the burning block were torn down and by hard fighting the fire was stopped at the last building before reaching Blooms’ blacksmith shop.
The fire burned east very slowly, as the wind was against it that way, and the house opposite the Nail hotel was the last to burn and as this building was filled with hay it made a very hot fire. The Nail hotel was never in danger on account of the favorable wind, but it was kept wet as a precautionary step as it was feared the wind might change.
The watch maker shop of Mr. Council was rolled off from the other buildings and did not burn.
A small portion of Arnold and Attaway’s stock was removed from the building. Outside of this none of the stocks on the west side of Main Street were moved as the (?) did not want to have their stock damaged until they knew it was necessary.
The fire stated a few minutes after 9o’clock and shortly after 10o’clock was under control. During that time however, it had burned 21 buildings, all of which were frame, and quite a number of them small.
The burned district is the oldest part of Caddo and has been there many years.
Geo. Ahrens Burned to Death
Caught in the Flames of a Burning Building
He Could Not Escape
Little did the people think Monday night as the fire was raging that a human being was being burned to death in one of the buildings. But such was found to be the case Tuesday morning when the charred remains of Mr. Geo. Ahrens, an old man 76 years of age, were discovered.
During the night and after the fire had died down a very heavy rain fell and the fire in the burned district was extinguished with the exception of a few places. A journeyman printer who had arrived in town during the night, was on the scene of the fire early next morning and he was the first to discover the burned body. At first he did not think it was a human body, but was soon convinced that it was. Others had arrived and an investigation as to who the unfortunate could be was begun, with the result that it was soon evident that the remains were those of Mr. Geo. Ahrens, a shoemaker who lived in the rear of F.S. Harvey’s store and had a shop next door east.
The Herald reporter made an inquiry of all those who would probably know anything of the matter and learned the following:
As soon as the fire was discovered Mr. Ahrens, who was retired, was awakened and he arose, dressed himself and went at once to the home of Harvey to tell him that his store was afire. Mr. Harvey says this was the last he saw of Mr. Ahrens as the latter was gone when he (Mr. Harvey) got ready to come to the fire. He was seen later, however, at the fire. The last we can hear of him was when he said to a bystander, a stranger, whose name we did not learn, “I have some money in the house which I must get.” He disappeared and it is supposed he went around to the rear of the building and entered. No one saw him enter and in the hurry and excitement he was thought of no more as those who heard him say he was going in the house supposed he came out again and was in the large crowd somewhere.
Just exactly how he met death will probably never be known, but it is supposed he entered his room and the heat and smoke overcame him and he was unable to get out. (I’m skipping the very graphic description of the body.) An inquest was held over the remains by Mayor Dodd Tuesday morning and a decision rendered about it in accordance with the above statement.
Mr. Ahrens was 76 years of age and a native of Germany. He had lived in Caddo 22 years and was a shoemaker by trade.
Mr. Ahrens was a widower and had one son, H.T. Ahrens of this place. During his life he had accumulated quite a sum of money, some of which he had invested here, but much of which was on deposit.
After the inquest the remains were buried in the cemetery east of town.
Following is a list of the losses and insurance on the burned property:
W.P. Booker, six buildings, $2,200; no insurance. Stock $1,600, mostly saved; insurance $500.
W.T. Smith, three buildings, $1,800; insurance, $500.
D. McCoy, two houses, $1,500; no insurance.
Ben Hampton, two houses, $1,000; no insurance.
Geo Ahrens, two houses, $1,000; no insurance.
J. C. Hampton, goods, partly saved $6,000; insurance $3,600.
John Schwartz, one house $300; no insurance.
Mrs. Walker, loss $600; no insurance.
A.J. Vaugn, loss $100; no insurance.
F.S. Harvey, loss $450; no insurance.
The people of Caddo worked faithfully to get the fire under control and it is due to their hard labor that the rest of the business district is not today in ashes. They also saved many goods from the buildings of W.P. Booker and J.C. Hampton. These goods were piled in the streets and on vacant lots and later moved to the new brick building of Arnold & Attaway on West Buffalo.
One of the parties who was burned out in the fire Monday night said he would build a rock building on one of the lots in the burned block at once, if the dispute as to who the lots belonged to was settled. This shows that the fire has not discouraged them."
Note: On the same page is the story of a Saturday morning blaze that destroyed the luxurious home of W.H. Bates on West Buffalo Street. Cause unknown.
**I don't think I mention it often enough, but the wonderful folks at the Bryan County Genealogy Library & Archives deserve our gratitude and support for making the history of our great county available to all of us amateur historians. If you would like to join their organization send $15 to Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives, Inc., P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730-0153. Membership begins May 1st and ends April 30th of the folowing year. The group publishes a quarterly each May, August, November and February. The library is located at the corner of Ryan and McKinley in Calera, Ok and is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 am until 4:00pm. It is also open the first and third Saturdays of each month, same times.