Palo Alto Co, Iowa USGenWeb Project
Emmetsburg Democrat, Palo Alto, Iowa, Aug 24, 1927
Came to Palo Alto in '56 at Age of 3
John J Mahan of Graettinger.
He Knows History of County Like a Book
A few days ago, by hard effort, our reporter managed to secure a photograph
of our worthy, highly honored fellow-citizen, John J Mahan, of Graettinger,
one of the seven surviving younger members, who came from Kane county,
Illinois, with the original Irish colony in July, 1856. Mr Mahan was three
years old at the time his parents, the late Mr. and Mrs. Edward Mahan,
driving an ox team, headed the historic covered wagon caravan on the long
journey which has so often furnished subjects for sketches during the
eventful history of our county. The other surviving members of the party,
practically all of whom were mere children at the time are James F Nolan of
Ruthven, Chas T Nolan, P.R. Jackman and Mrs. Mary A (Neary) Murphy of
Emmetsburg. Mrs. Ann (Mahan) Graettinger of Graettinger and Mrs. Ellen
(Mahan) Guerdet of Crookston, Minnesota. The first few months, including the
winter of 1856-1857, were spent on what was first named "The Patch",
situated northwest of this city, now known as Riverdale. John J Mahan's
parents, in 1862, bought land on section 27, Walnut township, for $1.25 per
acre, which was the government price before the homestead bill became a law.
John became the successive owner of the place after the death of his father
who passed away in 1895. He lived 60 years on the farm and still owns it. He
moved to Graettinger 11 years ago. He was married in Emmetsburg January 14,
1890, to Miss Julia Doran. They have a neat comfortable home at Graettinger.
They enjoy the confidence and the hearty good will of their fellow citizens
and many others throughout the county and other parts of northwest Iowa. Mr.
Mahan is one of the best posted gentlemen in our county on details of
pioneer events. He attended the first school taught in the county in 1861 by
the late James P. White. This was in a log house in P.R. Jackman's grove. He
says as near as he can recollect the other pupils were James F Nolan, John
Nolan, his sister, Miss Marie Nolan, J.P. Crowley, H.M. Crowley, Mrs. Kate
(Martin) Crowley, Patrick Laughlin, J.T. Laughlin, P.R. Jackman, M.P. Mahan,
Ann (Mahan) Graettinger and M.E. Mahan. The log house was, as he recalls,
occupied for some time by a Mr. Cahill before it was fixed up for a school
One morning Mrs. James Nolan noticed an elk in the yard close to her home.
She had a long rope and managed to throw it about the animal's head tying it
to a post. All of the pupils attending the newly opened school were given
permission to leave school and come in a body to look at the strange animal.
The elk remained about the Nolan place for a long time but an Illinois buyer
of furs or live stock, who was traveling through the country, paid a nice
sum for it one day and took it away with him.
Mr. Mahan says he remembers riding a horse to Fort Defiance on the present
location of Estherville when several soldiers from this county-J.P. Crowley,
Lott Laughlin, Joseph and Kern Mulroney and P.R. Jackman - were stationed at
that place. He remembers driving cattle to Fort Dodge in 1873 that had been
sold by his father to Mr. Blackshire, a buyer. There was in 1873 only a sort
of a trail from Emmetsburg to Fort Dodge. He occasionally accompanied his
father to Spirit Lake where there was a grist mill. It was built on a mill
race between the south end of Spirit Lake and the north end of East Okoboji.
The channel was as he recalls, dug by the Fort Defiance soldiers. A state
fish hatchery now occupies the old location. The fall of the water thru the
mill race was about eight feet. In early days a mill was also built at
Estherville. Some of the rock used in the dam can yet be seen along the
river bank. Some time after the mill was built at Spirit Lake two other
mills were opened near the present town of Milford. They were about a mile
apart. The Palo Alto pioneers often secured their flour and cornmeal at the
Dickinson County mills.
Mr. Mahan says that Indians used to come to his parents place in Walnut
township during early days. The local settlers bought furs from them.
However, the Redmen were never troublesome. They seemed to like the Irish.
During the winter of 1873-1874 they remained during the greater part of the
winter. Many of them had tents near the home of Ned Mulroney at Mud Lake.
Mr. Mahan hauled the lumber from Algona in 1872 that was used in building
his father's new house. He borrowed Martin Laughlin's team in making some of
July 4, 1872, a large celebration was held at the Edward Mahan grove.
Perhaps 75 families from different parts of the county were in attendance.
It was a stirring affair. Frank Davey, who some time ago served as speaker
of the Oregon house of representatives, managed the dance and sold the
tickets. He came from Ireland a few years before. He was a bright, jolly,
lively young fellow and became a great favorite with all present. Wm.
O'Connell, father of the late Jack O'Connell, was the fiddler for the dance.
He was a snappy player. Mr. Mahan's eyes brightened up and his features put
on a broad smile when he told our reporter how artistically the boys and
girls of 1872 could step to the right kind of quick music. "Talk about your
present day old time fiddlers." said Mr. Mahan, "but Bill O'Connell was the
fellow who could warm the hearts of the lads and the lassies when he struck
up "Turkey in the Straw," "Mrs. McCleod's Reel' or "The Fisher's Horn
During the celebration Mrs. James Hickey gave $5 to parties in charge of the
refreshment stand to treat all of the little children at the celebration to
lemonade and stick candy. The little folks were faithful customers during
the entire day and evening.
The Mahan celebration was not, however, the first held in the old Irish
settlement. One took place at the Martin Laughlin home in 1870. Mr. Mahan
says that his parents and most of the other older settlers attended the
first mass celebrated in the county at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Martin
Laughlin by Father Marsh of Fort Dodge in 1858 or 1859. Some years later
other priests visited the colony. Finally a church was built in the old town
and the late Father Smith was named as the first pastor.
The names of Mr. Mahan's father and those of John Nolan and James Hickey can
be found on the Spirit Lake monument. They were members of the rescuing
party following the great massacre in March, 1857.
The members of the colony were always ready to do their part when danger
confronted the early settlers.
Accounts of the trip of the members of the Irish colony from Illinois to
Emmetsburg in 1856 have often appeared in our county publications. There
were seven families consisting of 31 persons. They came in six covered
wagons drawn by ox teams. Mr. Mahan's father drove the head team. The
Mississippi river was crossed in a ferry at Davenport. While the journey was
long and wearisome, they did not have any serious difficulty. The group
Mr. and Mrs. Edward Mahan and two sons John and Myles and their two
daughters Ann and Ellen.
Mr. and Mrs. Martin Laughlin their three sons Lott Patrick and John and
their daughter Ellen.
Mr and Mrs. James Nolan, their two sons James F and John F and their
Mr. and Mrs. John Nolan and their son Charles.
Mr and Mrs. Orrin Sylvester.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Downey and their daughter Ellen.
Mr and Mrs. John Neary and their son John and their daughter Mary A.
Patrick Jackman and Thos. Laughlin, both single.
There were nine boys and three girls in the party besides the grown members.
Mrs. Downey was a sister of the father of M.M. Maher, well known in this
vicinity, now of Geneva, Nebraska.
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