The Overlooked

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I am working on a rewrite of Gathering Leaves with the working title of “Gathering More Leaves.” Since I started my retirement in August, I have made considerable progress on the book. I have completed about half of what I estimate will be two dozen chapters, and I am now up to the part of the story where the nation is nearly destroyed by a terrible Civil War. Before I started working on a couple of Civil War chapters, I wanted to take a moment to do a round-robin review of the status of my families living in the United States on the eve of the Civil War. As I was doing my review, I realized that for one family, one living in Minnesota at the time, I had little more than basic birth/marriage/death information for them. This was the O’Malley family of my paternal grandmother. Her father’s family lived in Minnesota during the most trying and terrifying time of the state’s history.

My father had told me that his mother’s family came over from Ireland because of the Potato Famine in 1848. But based on the information I have gotten, that does not seem correct. They came to North America several years before the famine, probably arriving in Canada sometime around 1842. My great, great-grandparents, Martin O’Malley (1820-1873) and Anna Kirby (1820-1894), were married on 10 November 1841 in Islandeady, Mayo, Ireland. I found this precise date and place in my database, and it pains me to say that I do not have a source for this information. There is however DNA evidence that supports their coming from this region of Ireland. More on that later.

According to Canadian records, the couple’s eldest son, Peter, was born in Ontario in September 1842. All their children, including the youngest, my great-grandfather Patrick O’Malley (1851-1925), were born in Ontario. Patrick was born in 1851. I do not know when they moved from Canada to Minnesota, but the family appears on the Minnesota US Territorial Census conducted in 1857. Minnesota became a state on 11 May 1858.

The O’Malley family, consisting of four boys and one girl, all born in Canada, lived in Mower County, Minnesota. Martin’s occupation was shown as “farmer”, and the family was listed in the first census as living in Township #103 in that county. The location was later renamed Wyndham Township, and in the 1860 census, the family was shown as living in the town of Austin, the Mower County seat. From this review, I realized I also need to learn more about their life. I have always imagined it as being like the 70s TV show, Little House on the Prairie. Today, Hormel Foods Corporation is Austin’s largest employer, and the town is sometimes called “SPAM Town USA.” It is home to Hormel’s corporate headquarters, a factory that makes most of North America’s SPAM tinned meat, and the Spam Museum. According to Wikipedia, Austin is also “home to the Hormel Institute, a leading cancer research institution run by the University of Minnesota with significant support from the Mayo Clinic.”

The town is named after Austin Nichols, a trapper who built the first log cabin in 1853. At that time, “about twenty families were in the area.” More settlers began to arrive by wagon train in 1855; by 1856, enough people were present to organize Mower County.

I am not sure exactly when Patrick O’Malley began working for the railroad. He and Mary “Molly” Hooks were married in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1876. They were both 25 years old at the time. The Hooks were an Irish family that did come over from Ireland around 1849 because of the Irish famine. They first settled in upstate New York before moving to Minnesota after the Civil War.

According to the U.S. Census of 1880, the family of Patrick and Molly were then living in Iowa. By 1892, Patrick O’Malley and his family were living in Kansas. This is where my grandmother, Geraldine, the fourth of six daughters, was born in April of that year.

Martin O’Malley was 41 years old on the eve of the Civil War, and he was a farmer with a wife and children. His eldest sons, Peter, and Michael were old enough that they may have volunteered or were drafted, yet, so far, I have not found any evidence of their service during the conflict. There was a major event that occurred in Minnesota during the Civil War that is many times overlooked. This was the Sioux Uprising of 1862.

There were several causes for what is also known as the Dakota War of 1862. Within the bigger picture it involved broken treaties, corrupt government officials, and a crop failure that left many of the bands of Dakotan people on the verge of starvation and in severe hardship. The spark that set things spiraling occurred on August 17, 1862, following an argument over stolen chicken eggs in which five white settlers were murdered by a band of four young native men.

The uprising lasted less than a month, ending with the surrender of nearly 2000 Dakota Sioux. It is estimated that between 300 to 500 white settlers had been killed during the uprising. The number of Dakota casualties is unknown. In a trial that lasted no more than six weeks, 303 Dakota men were found guilty by a military court and sentenced to death. President Lincoln reviewed the proceedings and approved the death sentences for 39 of the men. On December 26, 1862, 38 Dakotans were hanged en-masse at Mankato, Minnesota. This was the largest single day mass execution in American history.

Most of the action of the uprising occurred about 100 miles northwest of where the O’Malley family lived. During the uprising there was a general panic among the citizens of Minnesota. Before the US Army began to get things under control, many white settlers and non-hostile Indians abandoned their homes and hid for days in the tall prairie grasses. I am curious to know what impact the uprising had on my O’Malley family.

Here is an iconic photo that showing a group of refugees having their dinner deep in the grass at the height of the uprising.

Title: “People escaping from the Indian massacre of 1862 in Minnesota, at dinner on a prairie”. Photo shows the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Right half of stereograph published by Whitney’s Gallery, St. Paul, Minn. This photo is actually Mixed Bloods who were rescued by non-hostile Indians. The girl in the foreground wrapped in the striped blanket is Elise Robertson, the sister of Thomas Robertson a mixed blood who acted as an intermediary between the hostile and non-hostile Indians and the whites.

Regarding DNA, there is evidence of some of my ancestors coming from a specific region of the Emerald Isle. The results of the ethnicity estimate says that 41% of my ethnicity is connected to Ireland but then also narrows this to a specific “ethnicity region” within Ireland – the traditional province of Connacht.

Map from ethnicity estimate explains how they arrived at these estimated “ethnicity regions”, saying that they compare each DNA sample to a reference panel made up of DNA from groups of people who have deep roots in a particular region. They look at 1,001 sections of DNA samples and assign each section to the ethnicity region it looks most like. They Then turn those results into the percentages that I see in the estimate. says that the genetic links to these ethnicities can go back hundreds of years or even more.

I guess the very next thing I need to do is to figure out where I came up with that marriage record that links to in Islandeady, South Mayo, Connacht, Ireland.

Here is a PBS documentary on the Sioux uprising of 1862 narrated by Garrison Keillor.


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