Emmetsburg Democrat, Thursday, August 20, 1931

Fine Address Made By Daughter of Member of Irish Colony
Mrs. Alice Libert Gives a Fine Address

The old settlers picnic held at the Assumption church grounds Saturday attracted a large crowd and was considered a success. Serving began at 11 o'clock and all were served at about 1:30.

Mrs. Alice Libert, daughter of Charles Nolan and granddaughter of John, both members of the original Irish Colony, spoke on the "Early Settlers of Emmetsburg." She had her subject well in hand as she knew the early history of the county by hearing it often rehearsed in her home during her childhood years, as well as reading it after a history was written. Mrs. Libert  ...(print faded rest of line).

In April 1856 a band of sturdy Irish adventurers from Kane county near Elgin, Ill., packed their belongings into covered wagons, hitched their oxen to the wagons, rounded up their few cattle, waved farewell to their friends and started west to "grow up" with the country. This colony consisted of the following families-seven in all: James Nolan, his wife, Anastasia, his daughter Maria and his sons James and John; John Nolan, his wife Bridget and son Charles; John Neary, his wife Ellen, his son John F. and daughter Mary (Mrs. Mary Murphy), Edward Mahan, his wife Margaret, his daughters, Ann and Ellen and his sons, John and Myles; Martin Laughlin, his wife Mary, sons Lott, John T and Patrick, and daughter, Ellen; Thomas Downey, his wife, Ellen; Orrin Sylvester and wife Ellen. Patrick Jackman and Thomas Laughlin also came with the colony.

In those days the roads were not paved, in fact, in a great many places there wasn't even a trail to guide the lead team of oxen. They had six yoke of  oxen, one horse, and a few cattle. For protection they had a single-barrel gun and a double-barrel pistol. They had neither a clock or a watch to tell the time. It was their intention to settle in the vicinity of Sioux City or some where along the Missouri river.

After much hardship and tirbulation, the little band arrived in Fort Dodge. There they met a surveyor, Lynch, who advised them to go up on the west fork of the Des Moines river. With this advice and plenty of provisions, they started east to locate their future homes.

On July 6, 1856, they arrived at the "Patch", as the Irish settlement was known. This is located about two miles northwest of Emmetsburg. This was the nucleus around which this wonderful country has developed. They cut logs and built their cabins. Later in the fall the cabins were chinked with mud. These cabins had clay floors and sod roofs. The men put up some hay for their cattle that fall, and built sheds to shelter the cattle.

During the early fall James Hickey and his wife, Margaret arrived in Fort Dodge from Pennsylvania and hearing of the Irish settlement decided to join them. Their daughter, Margaret (Mrs. Pat McNally) born October 14, 1856, was the first white child born in this part of the county.

Pat Nolan and Mike Maher walked from Fort Dodge in February 1857 and joined the colony.

Jerry Crowley and family, consisting of Jerry, Michael, Kate, Ellen and John, came in the fall of 1856 from St. Louis, and settled on the west side of the river in Walnut township about five miles north of the Irish Settlement.

Of the original Settlement that came in 1856, seventy-five years ago, there are four survivors-John Mahan of Graettinger, Iowa, Ellen Mahan (Mrs. Steve Guerdet of Crookston, Minn.), Mary Neary (Mrs. Mary Murphy) and Charles Nolan of Emmetsburg, Iowa.

There was very little of importance occurred in the winter of 1856 and 1857. The men did some hunting and thus supplied meat for the colony. They were making ready for the spring work at the time of the Indian Massacre at Spirit Lake, March 8, 1857. At this time the settlers went to Fort Dodge for protection. A band of fourteen Indians camped along the river near the Crowley home during the winter and were very peaceful until they joined the other bands of Indians in the spring. Most of the settlers returned that summer and fall.

Myles Mahan and family came in 1857; Tom Tobin, his father and mother and sister Alice and Joe and Kerin Mulroney came in 1857. Mrs. Mulroney and Maggie came in 1858; the Sheas, Coonans, Pengergasts and Mile Nolan came in 1858. Tom Tobin and Ellen Laughlin was the first couple married in the county.

Palo Alto got its first mail service in 1858. The first stage route from Algona to Spirit Lake, started July 1st that year. The first postoffice was at Jack Nolan's, Mr. Nolan being the postmaster. The postoffice was named Emmetsburg, after Robert Emmet the fearless Irish Patriot. When the post office was first established at Nolans the mail was put in a big milk pan and the settlers would gather on Sunday afternoons and pick out their mail. Later the post office was moved over on the river and Martin Coonan made postmaster.

In the summer of 1861, James P. White taught the first school in the county, in a cabin in Walnut township on the Patsy Jackman claim. Mr. White also published the first newspaper in the county October 8, 1870.

Several attempts were made to locate a county seat but did not succeed. Martin Coonan's home on the east bank of the Des Moines River near the Riverdale farm was a sort of a tavern and this hospitable home was the stopping place for weary travelers for several years. In the fall of 1868 Thos. Davis came to the county, bringing with him an old sawmill outfit. He formed a partnership with E.G. Pond. Together they built a brush dam across the Des Moines river a short distance from Coonan's and set up a saw-mill. This new industry was the final step in the locating of the real town. The first store was built by N.D.Bears in 1869. This store was 10x12 and 7 feet high on one side and about 6 feet high on the other side. In the store there was about a wheel barrow full of goods; some pipes, tobacco, candy,etc. The town soon grew until it was quite a little place. When the C.M. & St. Paul, R.R. was surveyed through here it was decided to move the town to its present site. On September 2, 1874, the T.W. Harrison law office was moved over and located on the present site of the Waverly hotel. A few weeks later Geo. B. McCarty's office and Tobin's store. After this the others followed and Emmetsburg has been growing ever since.

This far I have given you what you might say was a historical review of the early settlement of this county., but in giving that I am also giving the early history of the Assumption parish, for, as you well know, the Irish settlers were Catholics who had brought the religion of their forefathers from Ireland to the bounteous prairies of Iowa.

In 1859 or 1860, Father Marsh held the first religious service in the county. Father Marsh was stationed at Fort Dodge and drove up with a team. He stayed over night at James Hickey's and the following day read mass at Martin Laughlin's. The entire colony was there. Many having children to be baptized and glad to avail themselves of the opportunity and also to once again attend the holy sacrifice of the mass.

Father Marsh made a few trips to Emmetsburg and he became ill and died. He was suceeded by Father DeLainey and Father Butler. Either one of these priests would drive to Emmetsburg, about once a month, and usually came up on Saturday and sould have mass on Sunday at one of the settler's homes and on Monday at some other home, thus giving all the settlers an opportunity to hear mass.

About 1868 or 1869 Fathers DeLainey and Butler were succeeded by Father Thos. Linehan and Father Minan. The Catholic church was the first church in the old town. It was built in 1871 through the efforts of Father Linehan. Father John Smith was the first pastor. He arrived at Emmetsburg in December, 1871, when the new church was only partially completed. There were thirty-nine Catholic families in the county then. Father Smith also had charge of northwest Iowa, southwest Minnesota and eastern Dakota. Prior to this the settlers had hoped to have a church and had gathered the logs at the present site where A. Scott Ormsby's home stands. The structure was several logs high when it was destroyed by a prairie fire.and then the building of a church was abandoned for a few years. The church was built of pine which was hauled from Algona and Fort Dodge. It was quite a building for those times and the building is still standing and in good condition on the W.E.G. Saunders place in the north part of town.

Father Smith built his home in the new town in 1883. The corner stone for the present Assumption church was laid in 1884. The brick for the church was made and burned right in front of the church, the clay being taken from the front yard. The church was completed and services were held the following year. Rev. Father Smith labored earnestly through all the pioneer years and his memory will be revered by not only the Assumption parish but all of northwest Iowa. The religious educations of his people was always uppermost in the heart and mind of Father Smith and it was indeed a great satisfaction to him to realize his ambition in the founding of St. Mary's academy in 1889. The academy was established and has been under the care of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Father Smith passed away January 1912 and was succeeded by Mgr. P. F. Farrelly who carried on the work so well begun by Father Smith. Mgr. Farrelly supervised the building of our fine parish house and also the beautiful new home for the Sisters. Mgr. Farrelly died Sept 1924 and was succeeded by our present pastor Very Rev. J.G. Murtagh, who is, you all know, nobly endeavoring to out do his predecessors.

Comments were made by others present.

Sports of various kinds were enjoyed during the afternoon. Supper was served and there was dancing in the evening. Over $800 was netted.


Interesting Early History

In addition to the above particulars the public will be interested in learning that county judge, the position held by Mr. Hickey, when Palo Alto was first organized, had executive, legislative, and judicial powers combined. He did the work that was later allotted to several county officers and also the duties now performed by county supervisors. He hhad special court powers. The present labors of the county auditor had to be given his close attention and also those of county attorney. He levied and collected taxes and expended county funds. He had to submit certain matters to the voters and call elections. He was almost absolute dictator in public affairs. These duties were placed on his shoulders by the code of 1851. This law lasted until 1860, when certain changes were made. Mr. Hickey was re-elected and served until 1861. Cyrus Carpenter of Fort Dodge, who was later elected governor of Iowa, and Chas. Aldrich, who was one of our first state historians, had occasion to stop at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hickey during the summer of 1858. They reported officially that Mr. Hickey was a bright, intelligent Irishman and that he was handling his official duties with more than ordinary skill.

Late in December, 1858, he advertised for the survey of the swamp lands of our county and ordered the books for other county officers. January 3, 1859, the county seat was located at Paoli which was on the old John Dooley farm something over a mile southeast of our city limits. It was during his term of office that the contract was made with Wm. B. Clark of Baltimore to build the first court house and erect the first school house. The statute permitted these improvements and the payment of them out of the sale of swamp lands. John M. Stockdale was really the contractor but his name did not appear in the record. Mr. Hickey appointed Mike Mahan assessor of Palo Alto township in May, 1859.

The first state election was held in the fall of 1859. All of the successful candidates were democrats. Old settlers tell us that in the Douglas Lincoln presidential campaign, Douglas received 29 votes and Lincoln 4. We mention the above details as Mrs. McNally being the oldest of the family and her father had a great deal to do in the organization of our county.