clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tales from Buzzard Point - Chapter 10: Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow and the Great Chicago Fire

The tenth in a series of Tales from Buzzard Point, exploring the rich history and traditions of legendary Buzzard Point – a legacy that the current D.C. United ownership may have set aside in selling naming rights for the new soccer specific stadium but is forever enshrined in the chants, songs, and hearts of Black-and-Red fandom. 

Today’s entry was researched by “Tales from Buzzard Point” Series Editor David Rusk.

As regular readers of Tales from Buzzard Point well know, the online files of the Evening Star have proved a treasure trove of lore about Buzzard Point. My most recent researches turned up this notable report from 1871.


Crosby N. Noyes .... Editor


Tuesday ......October 10, 1871


An Awful Calamity!

Sad Loss of Life & Terrible

Destruction of Property

“A Raging, Roaring Hell of Fire”

Probable Origin of Fire Tied to Buzzard Point

The awful excitement in our city yesterday caused by the news of the conflagration in Chicago was as intense and unabated today. Long before the appearance on the streets of the Extra Star, issued about 12 noon yesterday, with the latest progress of the fire, throngs of people gathered about The Star office to read the bulletins and discuss the great calamity to a sister city.

By the light of today’s dispatches we are enabled to state that the reports of yesterday were not much exaggerated. A very large part of the business portion of the city is in ashes, and it is estimated that at least 150,000 people have been rendered homeless.

Lithograph by Courier & Ives, courtesy of Library of Congress

In many features the Chicago calamity has never been exceeded in any part of the world; even by the burning of Moscow in 1812 or the great fire in London in 1666.

Chicago authorities report that the fire started at about 9:00 p.m. on October 8, in or around a small barn belonging to the O'Leary family that bordered the alley behind 137 DeKoven Street. The shed next to the barn was the first building to be consumed by the fire, when Mrs. Catherine O’Leary’s cow allegedly knocked over a lantern.

Local investigations by the Evening Star have today confirmed that not six months ago one Mr.Patrick O’Leary, husband of Mrs. O’Leary, had purchased a cow in this city from the Greenleaf Farm located at Buzzard Point.

Courtesy Harper’s Magazine, via Wikimedia Commons

The cow was reputed to be descended from the giant red bull that James Greenleaf had imported from Jersey in the 1790s. The red bull was killed in unparalleled circumstances, but had serviced several cows before its death and its descendants are reputed to be prodigious milkers.

Extensive charitable efforts are underway among the residents of Washington City to succor survivors of the Great Chicago Fire, who will forever rue any visit to Buzzard Point.

Note from Series Editor David Rusk: “Tales from Buzzard Point” includes historical fiction and should be considered a work of homage or parody.

All members of the B&RU Commentariat are invited to submit manuscripts of their own researches into the history and traditions of Buzzard Point. All must a) involve Buzzard Point, b) have some relationship to football/ soccer, and c) demonstrate that Buzzard Point is hallowed ground for D.C. United and our MLS opponents are doomed to never come away from Buzzard Point with a result.