Logo courtesy of Jeremy J. Troendle, Managing Editor, Waukon Standard
|page 1 - Introduction * Articles: 1 2
The rolling hills of northeast Iowa, particularly in the area called Wexford, hold within them a feeling of peace and serenity that was first realized by settlers more than one and a half centuries ago. Hugh Conway, a native of that area whose family was one of the first to settle in that Wexford area and still has remnants there today, is attempting to relay some of that early history of the area in a new series of articles entitled Wexford Wanderings. The series will feature monthly installments of the experiences of the Conway family and others who settled and made that area their home. A majority of the experiences have been relayed through generational stories that Hugh Conway finally put to paper and will be sharing with readers of this publication once each month.
"I was fortunate to grow up on a beef and dairy farm in the scenic hills of Northeast Iowa, Hugh relates. It was hard work, even with our big family of nine boys and three girls. My family consisted of father Hugh Conway; mother Alice (Kernan) Conway; brothers Jimmy, Joe, Leo, Pat, Dan, Mike, John, and Ray; sisters Mary (Conway) ONeill, Ellen (Conway) Zwirlein, and Rose (Conway) Ripperger. "I remember helping milk 15 cows by hand twice a day, no matter what the weather, from the hottest day of summer to the coldest day in winter. It seemed that summer and fall were the busiest times of the year with milking cows, fixing fences, haying, growing crops (oats, corn, soybeans, alfalfa, etc.), cultivating, harvesting, and taking care of a large vegetable garden.
"There was one summer day when we moved over 1000
bales of hay from the Madden farm six miles to our
storage barn. Each bale averaged 35 pounds and was moved
four times; a) lifted from the ground to the truck, b)
stacked in the back of the truck and transported down the
hill, c) moved from the truck into the barn, and d)
ranked in the back of the barn. "We never had a lot
of money, yet there were a lot of values and
characteristics gained from growing up in the Wexford
area that are beyond the nature and scope of money.
At the age of 18, Conway went into the Navy and was
sent to Asia on a Guided Missile Destroyer during the
last few months of the Vietnam conflict. After eight
years in the navy, sailing twice around the world by
ship, visiting 35 countries, and riding eight different
war ships, he attended Iowa State University in Ames and
earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, as well
as a teaching and coaching certification.
Conway explained how his idea for Wexford Wanderings came about, stating, I would like to share with you some of the history of the forefathers that settled and grew up in the scenic rolling hills of Northeast Iowa, especially of some of the members of the Wexford parish. Our father, Hugh, cousin Mickey, and many of our neighbors had keen minds and enjoyed listening to and then recanting stories of early times in the Wexford area. Both Mickey and dad recanted stories of their grandfather, Timothy Madden. He was among the first white settlers that made the journey across the Atlantic Ocean to lay claim to a small plot of land in the Wexford area. He claimed that the lush green color of the foliage and the rich dark black earth reminded him of his native land and held promise of bountiful returns.
Hugh Conway is currently serving as the Director of the Mass Rearing Laboratory in the Department of Entomology at Clemson University. He has been married for six years to his wife, Svetlana, who is originally from Russia. They have one son together, four-year old Christopher, and Svetlana has another son, 20-year old Viktor Madyankin.
Conways Wexford Wanderings series will appear the final week of each month in The Standard and The Allamakee Journal newspapers. The first installment appears below.
|Greetings! We would like to share with
you some of the history of the forefathers that settled
and grew up in the scenic rolling hills of Northeast
Iowa. Especially, we would like to share stories from
some of the early members of the Wexford parish.
father, Hugh, Cousin Mickey, and many of our neighbors
and friends had keen minds all the way into their
twilight years and enjoyed listening to and then
recanting stories of early times in the Wexford area.
Both Mickey and dad recanted stories of their
grandfather, Timothy Madden. He was an early white
settler that made the journey across the Atlantic Ocean
to lay claim to a small plot of land in the Wexford area.
He claimed that the lush green color of the valley and
the rich dark black earth reminded him of his native
land. The good earth held promise of bountiful returns.
His story and journey emulate many of the early pioneers
to this area. Many of the stories shared here will be
based on what was passed down from Timothy Madden.
The cost of passage on the ships was equivalent to the wages an average laborer would make in half a year. Yet, 300 to 500 souls would board each of ships leaving toward America to escape the misery. It took real courage to pack up all of your belongings and step onboard a ship that resembled a large floating cork. During the voyage, the ship was at the mercy of wind and sea currents.
While on board, Timothy did not know what was worse,
the continuous rocking up and down and to and fore of the
ship as it plowed through the water, or the small rations
of hard tack, salted meat, and stale water. Seasickness
and the lack of any toilet facilities (wastes from bed
pans were dumped over the side) led to dysentery and
disease. Any person who died at sea was given a sea
burial, consisting of prayers and condolences from
friends and relatives before dropping the victim over the
side, often with a weight attached, sending their corpse
to the deep ocean depths of Davy Jones locker.
Next, the Madden family booked sail on a flatbottomed
boat traveling northward up the Mississippi River. As the
boat moved northward, the Maddens said farewell to other
travelers who got off at various ports along the way
hoping for a new future. The Maddens split up in
Arkansas, with all but Timothy staying behind.
He traveled north, getting off at Lafayette Landing, a location where the mouth of the Wexford Creek met the Mississippi. In the 1840s, the Mississippi river at Lafayette Landing was three to four miles wide, stretching from Iowa to Wisconsin with many islands scattered between the two states. The slow moving water allowed easy navigation into the inlet.
Timothy found a lush green valley with old growth
trees as far as the eye could see. When he dug down into
the bank of the creek, he found rich black earth that
held promise of excellent crops.
|At that time, Allamakee County was
located on an area known as the Neutral Ground where the
Sioux, Sauk, Fox, and Winnebago tribes could hunt and
pursue food, including large game animals, like elk and
bear, in safety. The Winnebago tribe located at the base
of the cone-shaped mountain (Mount Madden) were peaceable
Indians and Timothy bartered for seeds to plant,
including corn, potatoes, melons, and many other
vegetable crops. He worked his way through the trees,
traveling two valleys over from the Winnebago camp, and
found a flat area at the edge of a bluff and made a
Timothy started the long tedious job of cutting down trees and clearing land. The density of trees was incredible, spreading in all directions with a mixture of oaks, walnuts, and softwoods. It was hard, back-breaking work requiring many hours of cutting trees to clear a small patch of land for planting and another area to build a log cabin. Timothy was especially careful when cutting down large old dead trees (widow makers), since they shattered during felling, sending out flying branch debris and sharp projectile limbs in all directions.
There were already white settlers of French origin who had farms in an area just north of what is now Harpers Ferry. Joseph Cote, Peter La Tronche, and the Martelle brothers (Alex, Chrystom, and Baptiste) were hunters, trappers, and farmers who had moved into the area as early as 1843. Timothy Madden did not start clearing land and building his log cabin until 1846.
The first summer passed rapidly with work of cutting trees, smoothing logs, and mudding the inside of walls. By mid-autumn, the foundation was done and a rough chimney of limestone was constructed. He made the roof but later found that the cold hard winter wind would blow snow through the small gaps in the roof.
Timothy made a root shelter (food storage area) outside along the hillside. The shelter was designed to extend the length of time food would be edible and usable. He constructed the shelter by digging a large hole into the bank of the hillside at an angle. Then, the top of the root shelter was covered tightly to keep animals out. Timothy stored his smoked hams, dried meats, and many of his fruits and vegetables in the root shelter. He had a smaller version built in the dirt floor of his log cabin.
Like most of the early pioneers, Timothy had a pair of dogs that could be used for hunting and to warn when a predator (wolf, coyote, or bobcat) was in the area. Late one evening, the dogs started barking furiously, pointing down towards the root shelter. Timothy grabbed a wooden ax handle and headed over the hill. Much to his surprise, one of the Winnebago Indians came out of his root shelter with a smoked ham over his shoulder. Timothy started screaming, hollering, and running towards the Indian, brandishing the ax like a club. The frightened Indian brave dropped the smoked ham and started down the hill. Timothy recovered the smoked ham and never had another bit of trouble with any of the members of the Winnebago tribe.
|Another early family of settlers into
the Wexford valley was Michael Mooney and his family, who
came from Dublin, Ireland. They survived the hazardous
voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to immigrate to the
United States in 1939 by way of Savannah, Georgia.
The family traveled westward through several states looking for a piece of Gods country to settle down and raise a family. Along the way, Michael helped on the building of the Erie Canal and worked for a short period in the lead mines in Galena, IL. The family traveled north along the Mississippi River, stopping in Allamakee County, where they found the perfect site to settle down, build a log cabin, and farm.
When they arrived, there were only eight families with farms in Lafayette Township. By hard work, industry, thriftiness, and good management, they raised their family and increased the size and value of their farm.
Like all of the early settlers to Allamakee County, they faced many perils and dangers that can occur unexpectedly. In the autumn, the long thick prairie grass and built up debris of leaves and tree limbs are a tinderbox for fire, and such was the case in 1852 when a prairie fire burned down their log cabin. The fast moving prairie fire was a red scourge that rapidly moved over hills and valleys like a monstrous fiery wave burning all in its path.
These fast moving prairie fires imperiled travelers and were a constant fear for homesteaders. The fires moved with tremendous speed, stopping only at rivers or when there was a large break in prairie vegetation. Luckily, all members of the Mooney family escaped unharmed, even the youngest baby who was less than one month old. It is really depressing to see all of your hard work and effort put into your home going up in smoke and flames, but the family persevered and ultimately succeeded.
Michael Mooney and his family decided to build their new two-story home out of native limestone that would withstand the worst of any possible prairie fires. They went to a nearby limestone quarry and painstakingly cut the stone to size and hauled the rocks back. They carefully assembled and constructed the native stone into a fine house.
Even today, the outer foundation and walls of the limestone structure are still in remarkable good condition and can be seen when driving along Sweet Ridge Drive, a gravel road leading from Thompson Corners toward the blacktop leading to the Wexford Church.
The Mooney family and their descendants are an
integral part of the Wexford community. They are
excellent neighbors, faithful parishioners, and active
participants in activities and events within the area.
Historically, there were hardly any permanent white settlers in Iowa until the end of the Black Hawk War in 1832. After the Indians lost the war, the Indian titles to the lands of eastern Iowa were relinquished in the Black Hawk Purchase. The treaty opened the way for white settlers from Ireland, England, Germany, Scandinavia, and many other European countries to move into the untouched wilderness in Iowa and establish a new life.
In the late 1830s, Bishop Mathias Loras was the founder and patriarch of the Dubuque Diocese that then included a good part of Wisconsin, northwestern Illinois, much of Minnesota, and all of Iowa. In 1849, Bishop Loras sailed to Europe, visiting several countries looking for prospective priests from Ireland, France, and Germany to move to America and minister to the growing population of Catholic settlers in the Dubuque Diocese.
In Ireland, he visited several local seminaries looking for promising candidates who were willing to come to America after ordination. Additionally, he called on the Trappist at Mt. Melleray Abbey promising to donate seven hundred acres of prairie and woodland to Irish Trappist from Mt. Melleray Abbey to establish and build a Monastery near Dubuque, Iowa. Several monks from Mt. Melleray Abbey arrived in Dubuque on July 1949 and began to clear the land and start construction of a Monastery.
Until the 1840s, it was mainly French priests who were ministering to the spiritual needs of the Catholic people in the area. In 1841, Father Joseph Cretin was the pastor at Prairie du Chien, WI. Father Cretin had established Indian mission outposts with nearby villages of Winnebago Indians. There was a permanent year-round Winnebago village at the foot of Mt. Madden in Lafayette Township in Allamakee County that may have been one of his Indian mission outposts. Another French priest, Father Petiot, worked with the Winnebago Indians in northeast Iowa and was involved with mission work near Fort Atkinson on the Turkey River.
The Cotes, La Tronches, and Martelles were early French settlers who purchased over 2,000 acres of land in Allamakee County north of Harpers Ferry. In the 1840s, they built a cabin, later called Cabin Hill, on a little knoll located just a little below James Kernans old farmhouse and up the valley from Ralph Mohns fish market. The cabin on Cabin Hill was built so the early missionaries could have a place to stay and say mass while traveling up and down the Mississippi River.
When Father Thomas Hoare and the Irish immigrants came up the river in the spring of 1851 from St. Louis, MO, they landed near the mouth of the Wexford Creek at Lafayette Landing. The Irish immigrants camped near the French families while they cleared land, cut trees, and built their new homes in the Wexford area. The Irish owe a debt of gratitude to the French, who gave advice about how to prepare for Iowas winter months and shared farming methods learned from the Winnebagos on planting corn, squash, and melons. Father Hoare may have said his first mass in Allamakee County in the cabin at Cabin Hill.
Footnote: It is interesting to note that articles and references have more than one spelling of the priests last name including Hore, Hoar, and Hoare. For the Wexford Wanderings, I am going to use the spelling that is found emblazoned on the bottom of a stained glass window at the Wexford Church that reads:
IN MEMORY OF REV. THOMAS HOARE DONATED BY THE FIRST
In the last few weeks, the people of the world have been watching his Holiness Pope John Paul II suffering with illness, gradually weaken, and finally die. Before his death, millions of people from around the world took time off from their busy schedules to say a prayer and wish good tidings to this inspirational leader. After his death, many made a personal pilgrimage to Rome to have a last look at and say an individual farewell to this spiritual leader.
Even more impressive, the mighty and powerful of the world took time out from their busy schedules to attend the final mass for the Pope. Monarchs (Kings and Queens), political leaders (Presidents and Prime Ministers), and religious leaders from around the world were in attendance as the world said a final goodbye to Pope John Paul II. Even Prince Charles of England delayed his wedding to attend the funeral.
The Pope was known as a great communicator who reached out to a wide spectrum of people, from the very young to the elderly. He initiated a Vatican web site to broadcast his sermons and speeches and had his own e-mail account, where supporters and well-wishers took time out from their busy lives to send messages of comfort to him during his last weeks. During his many travels, people in massive crowds would take time out from their busy lives to listen to words of wisdom from the Pontiff.
This reminds me of what Mickey Madden and my dad said about the people of Wexford, who are always willing to make time in their busy schedules to Take care for their own. This is a tradition that dates back to the first burials in the Wexford Cemetery.
In 1853, four deaths occurred in the Wexford area, including: William Heatley, the first settler of Irish descent; a Chaneviere child of French descent; Mr. Brown of English descent; and James McGeogh another Irish immigrant. Relatives, friends, and neighbors came together to dig the grave, attend the farewell mass, give condolences to the grieving family, and cover the coffin with the rich black earth of the Wexford Cemetery.
The tradition is continued to this day, as Wexford is one of the few communities where the parishioners take time from their busy schedules to bury their own dead. When someone passes away in the parish, the family selects the undertaker and funeral home of their choice and then contacts one of the Trustees of the Cemetery, either Carl Mullarky or Leo Manning.
Carl or Leo will then call other parishioners giving a time and location to meet in the cemetery. A cascade of phone calls passes through the community that often included relatives, friends, and neighbors. In the olden days, it was by word of mouth, as a selected relative would travel by horseback passing the news of a death in the parish.
Carl Mullarky has been doing an excellent job of maintaining cemetery records and locating the position where the new grave is to be dug. Carl has constructed a wooden frame with a rectangular shape that is the correct size for a burial plot.
Neighbors and friends arrive at the cemetery with the needed tools to dig a grave such as shovels, spades, picks, crowbars, malls, and wheelbarrows. The wooden frame marking the location and size of the grave is placed in the correct alignment and shovels and spades are used to remove sod from the inside edge of the frame.
The relatives, friends, and neighbors take turns digging the grave, often handing off shovels and spades as they dig the earth and remove rocks from the gravesite. The grave must be dug deep enough - six feet - to allow the coffin to be well placed in the ground. The sides must be straight up and down to allow the coffin easy movement down to the bottom of the grave.
There have been some circumstances that required special work to dig a grave. In the midst of an extremely cold winter, Thomas Mohn had to bring an ice spud to break through the two feet of frozen crust before parishioners reached earth that could be worked with a shovel. In another case, Brennan Construction of Lansing allowed the parish to borrow a jackhammer to break up part of a solid formation of limestone that coved a section of the grave.
While the grave is being dug, relatives and friends of the deceased prepare a snack and refreshments for the workers who are digging the grave. When the workers finish, they can enjoy a fine meal in the company of friends and neighbors and often swap tales about the person who has died.
After the funeral mass is complete and the casket is placed in the ground, the mourners depart to the Wexford Hall, where food and beverages are waiting. Other parishioners cover the casket with the dark black earth of the Wexford Cemetery. After the casket is covered, the workers proceed to the hall to help comfort the relatives and friends of the deceased.
It is great to know that friends and neighbors are willing to take the time out of their busy schedule to Take care of their own.
page 2 - Articles: 6-10
page 3 - Articles: 11-15
page 4 - Articles: 16-21
page 5 - Articles: 22 & 23
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