|A Letter to My Children by Thomas S. Hogan|
|Thomas S. Hogan, Montana state senator and youngest child of John and Bridget Hogan. Click photo to read "The National Crisis", or here to see Tom and his son Fred listed in the Petroleum Hall of Fame..|
This letter was written by Thomas S. Hogan, a son of John and Bridget Hogan and a Montana state senator.
November 8th, 1946
To Mary, Ruth, Fred, Maureen, and Helen:
I trust that nothing hereinafter written will cause you any sadness and there is no reason why it should; but as I grew older myself and when it was too late for me to inquire of anyone still living, I regretted very much that I knew nothing of my mother as a child or young woman, have only the haziest knowledge of that period of her life and can only guess what kind of person she was in her youth.
She lived to be 93 years old and was born in the County Waterford, Ireland, some 125 years ago. She sailed from Ireland for New York when she was about 19 years old but the old sailing ship encountered a most phenomenal series of storms at sea and was forced off its course and finally after 11 weeks, landed at New Orleans instead of New York. It goes without saying that she was a steerage passenger and you can imagine the terror and deathly loneliness of such a voyage and what, if any, assurance she had of employment or friends in New York can now only be a matter of surmise, but it is certain that her landing in New Orleans left her without friend or acquaintance in a new and, to her, terrifying World.
I never heard a word from her about how she got from New Orleans to New York and later to Columbus, Ohio, where she and my father married. Nor have I any idea what later induced them to leave Columbus for Wisconsin where they had to walk 96 miles and carry Mary, their 18 month old child, to what is now Chippewa Falls but which then only contained four white families.
There were two other men on this 96 mile trek and I probably never would have heard of the trip were it not for the fact that once when I was a small boy I heard those men tell how mother was, as they put it after a couple of drinks, the best damn man of the bunch and the one that kept them from turning back the first day and who on the last day carried the baby the whole way because none of the men had enough steam left to carry her. They made the 96 mile walk in four days because mother would not agree to the long rest periods the men wanted to take. Where or how they slept on that meager trail through the Indian infested forest no one now living knows, nor how they built a home in that wilderness.
I do know that mother was one of a large family and that she had a twin sister. I was probably 4 years old when I learned of this sister and the circumstances were that my parents went to town from the farm one day and returned late at night when I had almost given up hope that mother would ever get back. They sent the twin sister in from the wagon first and I rushed to her believing her to be mother and perhaps the reason I remember it so well was the utter bewilderment I experienced when mother came in and I saw the two together.
It would seem that her family - the Aherns - were less austere than many of the Irish neighbors and no doubt mother was a happy, jolly girl who laughed easily and often before she left for America. The only evidence to support this appraisal of the Aherns is based on the fact that I heard some old Irish neighbors say that her brother Jim was the best dancer in all of Ireland. Incidentally and unfortunately, my father thought it was a great disgrace. It would seem that Jim toured Ireland dancing professionally as I heard of him competing with dancers of Northern Ireland.
This is a tragically brief record, especially in view of the fact that the 125 years from her birth to the present was the greatest era in the history of mankind and she contributed more than her share to it.
But this is not written as a story of her [his mother, Bridget Ahern's] life but as a preliminary to an attempt to give you a word picture of your mother's [his wife, Kittie Donovan's] youth and surroundings. It is difficult for me to compress within the limits of this letter a description of the environments and times in which her young life was spent. Of necessity I must, in order to give you a true picture, refer to my own youth and surroundings but I hope that I can do that objectively for the reason that more than half a century of time and the intervening events of a long and strenuous life now make it difficult for me to identify myself as one of the two youths referred to herein.
You may think that you do, but it would be utterly impossible for you to fully comprehend the circumscribed existence of farm youths at that time [late 19th century]and in this particular area [Chippewa County, Wisconsin]. Your mother was born on a homestead located 12 miles from Town [Chippewa Falls] in what was locally called the Irish World because within its three square mile limit lived the Mannings, Donovans, O'Neil's, Murrays and Meighers.
Each family had filed on a 160 acre homestead and the Donovan homestead had a larger percentage of rough and untillable land than the others, probably because John Donovan was the last to file and the others had chosen the best tracts. A factor which undoubtedly greatly influenced his selection of this 160 acres was the fact that your grandmother, Mary Donovan, was Tom "Papa" Manning's sister. The houses were less than a quarter of a mile apart. The Donovan house was on a small uprise of ground near a good spring.
Strange as it may seem I can not clearly recall the details of this house, only that it was crudely built and small with four rough steps leading up to the front door.
The Manning house was a little larger and had an attic in which part of the family lived. The Manning homestead was nearly all level, tillable land. Perhaps there is no other fact which I could call to your attention which would more thoroughly emphasize the primitive life of the times than the fact that the future life of at least the next generation of a family was profoundly affected by the number of acres of poor land contained in its homestead. At least half of the Donovan homestead was worthless.
There was a well beaten footpath between the Donovan and Manning houses and no day passed in which it was not used more than once and a lantern was always available in each house for its use at night. Papa Manning had been a widower for all the years following shortly the birth of his youngest child -- Jackson Manning -- and long before homesteads were taken up, Mary Donovan had helped her brother raise the three children, Mollie, Theresa and Jackson. No other traveled this footpath as often as Kittie and Johnnie Donovan and none were as welcome at the Manning home.
Occasionally, especially on long winter evenings, the three old folks would gather in either house and Mary Donovan would read a story from one of the cheap, poorly printed and rare papers or magazines that Papa Manning had brought from town on a recent trip. The story would be of the thriller type, possibly about Diamond Dick or the Mollie McQuires. Such an evening would be a big event in their lives, for you must remember that there were no newspapers, no movies, no automobiles, no telephones, nor any sports events or other gatherings to break the monotony and boredom of existence.
Before you tell yourself that the type of story indicates the level of their intellectual status you might remind yourself that even today, with all the diverse opportunities there are for miscellaneous reading and entertainment, the typical Western movie is still just about the most popular entertainment for the mass of the people.
South of this little community was what the Irish people called the Yankee settlement and beyond this was the Norwegian settlement. In another direction was the Dutch settlement in which there were no Dutch but all Germans, and 5 miles from the center of the Irish World lived the Hogans, three O'Brien families, and the Powers family. Intercourse between these settlements was restricted by rather rough terrain covered with dense oak forests and oak brush and in which wild animals abounded, including bears, wolves, panthers, wildcats, and deer. Children were forbidden to enter these woods and the young fellows of 12 and 14 years old who had learned to load and fire the muzzleloading long barreled family rifle figured they were great adventurers when they were first permitted to go hunting in these wild areas.
You must multiply by ten each mileage herein given and in the case of distances to the towns by twenty in order to make proper comparison with present conditions. For instance, to haul a wagon load of oats from the Irish World to Chippewa Falls, a distance of twelve miles, required a start at about midnight in order to be at the grain market at seven o'clock in the morning. Then there was the marketing to be done for all household items from thread to tea and including yarn, denim cloth for overalls and gingham for dresses. The return trip usually started after dark and consumed most of the night. The roads were just rough wagon trails and in places dangerous to anyone but the best teamsters. But despite all this it was a thrill to be cherished for months for a youngster to be taken along on such a trip.
The only thing we ever heard about the Yankee settlement (which incidentally was not a Yankee group at all) was a report brought back by some fellow who went there, possibly to buy an ox, horse, or cow, and who told of finding them gathered at the largest house in the middle of the day and having what he described as a wild party and he actually saw one of the women take a drink of hard liquor with the men. From that time on they were catalogued in our thinking as a shiftless, dissolute bunch who wasted their time when they should be in the fields working. It never occurred to anyone that it was probably a birthday party or some other occasion that called for celebration.
This and the Norwegian settlement marketed at Eau Claire, so there was no travel between them and the groups which marketed at Bloomer or Chippewa Falls. There was a flour mill and wheat market at Bloomer, in the Dutch settlement, some six miles from the Irish World but no stores at which to buy supplies. At first glance this geographical description may seem irrelevant to the subject of this letter but I can think of no more effective way to tell you of the isolations and limitations of the lives of those who were born and raised in these environments.
There were, however, many small things which tended to smooth the rough edges of this general bleakness. In the Spring the birds came and the flowers bloomed and presently the tardy oak trees were in leaf again. In the summer the wild strawberries ripened and the youngsters occasionally got together to pick them. Later the wild blueberries ripened in the rough hill lands which bordered the settlements and the fortunate ones were able to go on kind of a picnic to gather the berries.
In the early Spring the blue wild pigeons came by the tens of thousands and lingered a week or so and when they lit on the oak and elm trees on the borders of the plowed fields there was scarcely a leaf visible and the branches were bent with the weight of the pigeons. They brought us a strange and nebulous feeling of a far off southland from which they came and when they went we tried to follow them in our imagination beyond the far horizon to a land of perpetual sunshine and beauty.
And in the Fall before the heavy snows and frosts the wild geese came with their message from the mysterious North which in some indescribable way stirred a spirit of drama and adventure in old and young alike. In those days they came in great V shaped squads which followed each other at brief intervals and continued through the night so the last thing heard before sleep and first on wakening was the eerie call of the wild geese.
When the last of the geese had passed it was time to rush the preparations for a bitter, cold winter. Three or four times a year there would be a dance in the Irish World, the number being limited to the rare occasions when a fiddler could be brought in from the outside to play for a dance. Maybe once a year the boys and girls of the settlement would go to a dance at Bloomer or some other remote area - even as much as eight miles away. Due to some ancient and senseless quarrel between my folks and the O'Briens, no dance was ever held in our settlement. My older brothers occasionally went to the Irish World dances but never with the approval of my father. From the time I was ten years old I always wanted to go to the Irish World for a visit because I had heard they were a kindly jolly people but I knew it was useless to ask for such a privilege. There was never a day without the work to be done and no time for such foolishness as any kind of entertainment.
I never got to go until I reached the ripe old age of sixteen years and the purpose of my trip was to see the school board and apply for the job of teaching school there. I got the job and at the unusual salary of $40 a month instead of the prevailing $30 a month. The reason, as I found later, was that a member of the board had asked the County Superintendent of Schools to recommend a teacher who could teach arithmetic and some of the High School subjects as there were several older pupils who needed instruction in these subjects in order to later qualify as teachers. My board at the Mannings was $8 per month. There were five of these pupils, including your mother, and after four o'clock when the younger pupils went home I taught higher arithmetic, algebra, geology, and a smattering of other High School subjects to these five.
Looking back on it years afterwards I realized that they expected to be embarrassed on account of some of them being past grade school age and bigger and older than the teacher; but they soon found that the one who was really timid and embarrassed was the teacher.It was my first outside contact except for one year just passed in which I went to the Chippewa Falls High School and as I took the four year courses in one year I had no time for anything but long hours of study. Had never been even in a hotel or bank in my life and my shyness almost amounted to a disease. Have always been thankful that I happened to been thrown in contact with the free and easy and kindly people of that community in my first teaching job.
I must have had some natural aptitude for teaching as all of the pupils worked well with me, especially the five older ones, and I was willing and anxious to work any number of hours to help them with their studies. All of them knew that they had but that one term to finish this school work as the increasing number of children of new settlers would force those beyond grade school age out. We made good headway and through our joint efforts all of the five who took the teacher's examination at the end of the term passed that examination. These older pupils were the last of the children of the original homesteaders, so I did not apply for the school the next term and the district went back to the $30 per month basis.
Needless to say, I hated to leave but there was work to do on the home farm and when the next school term began I got a school located four miles from Chippewa Falls where there was another group of older pupils needing the same kind of instruction. On the rare occasions it was possible I went back to visit my friends in the Irish World and if it involved a twelve mile walk it was well worth it.
Your mother loved to dance and was always one of the first on the floor and she never lacked partners nor sat out a dance. She was as fresh and lively at the last dance as the first one and her vivacious spirit added much to the general enjoyment. A dance in that neighborhood without her would be unthinkable and with her it was bound to be a success.
There is no exaggeration in this statement. Mostly when I was present it was as a spectator as I never had an opportunity to learn to dance well.
It is impossible to maintain a chronological order of events in this letter so I will pass over a couple of years and tell of an incident which happened when I was nineteen years old. My brother Mike was invited to bring his violin and play for a small dance at the Manning home. I went with him. The dance lasted until about three o'clock in the morning when the Meaghers and other went home and Jackson got the lantern ready to take Kittie home over the footpath heretofore mentioned.
Even now I can not figure out how I mustered the courage to suggest that I take her home. It was an agreeable surprise to me that neither she nor the Mannings objected. It was a very dark night and Mike and I had to wait for the beginning of daylight before hitching up his team and driving back over a dim wagon trail which was impossible to follow in the darkness. The Mannings went to bed. Have always remembered with deep gratitude how Mike suggested in an apparently offhand way that he would play a waltz for us. That waltz lasted three quarters of an hour and he pretended that he did not notice its length. No one was present except the three of us.
In order to complete the picture of the conditions at that time I must relate another incident which happened in the same year but at a later date. Long Lake was forty miles north of these settlements and people from all towns within sixty miles occasionally went there to camp and fish and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The young people of Irish World and a few from outside organized a party for a picnic trip to the lake. The transportation was by four horse team and wagon and they took bedding, cooking utensils and food for a leisurely trip. Those of us who heard of the trip and were not invited or were unable to go were envious of the fortunate ones who could go. The outing was a complete success and the members of the party very naturally told their friends what a wonderful time they had.
But there was an aftermath to it of serious consequences. It was a choice item for evil minded gossip mongers in Chippewa Falls and elsewhere and each telling of the story added to the alleged facts until it was exaggerated into a wild, dissolute orgy. The gossips did their evil best to ruin the reputation of every girl who was a member of the party and they were especially vicious in their attacks on Kittie Donovan because she had so many friends among the young folks.
It is impossible for me to avoid the difficult task of describing the influence of the Catholic Church on the lives of all the people who lived in these Irish settlements. The description must be brief and sketchy for otherwise it would require a lengthy volume. These homesteaders at first had neither churches nor schools closer than Chippewa Falls but some ten years later a church was built which happened to be about seven miles from Mannings and six miles from Hogans by different roads.
The people of the Irish World were not as austere and desperate about their religion as the Hogans but in view of the fact that it was a mortal sin punishable by eternal damnation to miss mass on Sunday unless you were working in the fields, everyone drove or walked to church if possible. This church was in a new German settlement and the first priest whom I recall was German. He was a young man and when I and others were walking six miles once a week to the church for instructions in catechism I made the, to me, astonishing discovery that he rather liked us and that when we played and laughed during recess he enjoyed it. When he preached he preached of the kindness of Christ and how he loved little children. But, as we later learned from the parents, he was not a good money raiser, so the Bishop moved him to a still leaner parish.
In his place was sent a big, fat German priest of whom I can not even at this late date think or write in moderation. He had all the necessary qualifications for operating a Nazi concentration camp. Every Sunday he preached for one and a half hours about hell's fire and damnation and when he got warmed up his great thunderous voice would shake the rafters of the church as he bellowed like a berserk bull about how God would burn us in a hell that was hotter than any furnace built by man. Lest we miss any of the horror he went into great details to explain that eternity was so long that the span of the longest human life was less than a single tick of the clock in comparison. If this happened to be on a Sunday when we went to communion we had been up from five o'clock in the morning and had made the hard six mile trip without breakfast and had to make the return trip also without food.
I can not truthfully report that he was just an isolated case of a frustrated and sadistic individual who chanced to be a priest. Unfortunately, he was one of the majority of the priesthood who hoped to terrorize the people into what they thought to be salvation.
I never attended parochial school but have many times seen the textbooks used therein. In the textbook used in the catechism class was a picture of a group of six or seven year olds on a forest trail with big bears tearing off their arms and the text pointed out that this was God punishing the children for disobeying the sisters and their parents. In a real civilization the authors of that book would not escape a firing squad. It would be impossible to estimate the permanent injury done to the minds and spirits of sensitive children of such savage and sadistic preaching and teaching.
In this connection I should state that when I taught that first school herein mentioned I did not dare show anyone in the district the very good text book on Physical Geography which I had studied in High School and, of course, did not attempt to teach it to the after hours pupils. Among other things it cited as one of the possible explanations of the evolution of the universe the nebulous theory of its origin. It also gave some of the rudimentary facts of geology. All such things were rank heresy against the Catholic faith, and most if the other religious faiths as well, and if I had presumed to teach that the world was not made in six days I would not only be fired from school but probably be excommunicated.
We now have high placed Catholic clerics who are experts in paleontology, geology, and other sciences which are all thoroughly predicated on the acceptance of the fact that the earth has existed for millions of years during all which time it was undergoing fundamental changes, but to this day no Catholic theologian has ever admitted that the Church was very wrong or that the Pope was not infallible. One would have to live through these times to realize how this attitude of the Church handicapped the young men and women of faith who had to live and earn their livelihood in a mixed population.
Now the Church boasts that it has always been a principal defender and promoter of the sciences. Perhaps fifty years hence it will be the great champion of Communism. In this later claim it can at least truthfully state that for more than two centuries after the death of Jesus Christ it was a communist organization in which all worldly goods were owned in common by its members.
Father Goldsmith was the pastor of the Chippewa Falls church. He was a brilliant intellectual and aristocrat who would have gone far in any occupation or profession outside the church. He had the capacity, learning, ambition, and diplomatic finesse to have been a Cardinal Richelieu had he lived in a proper historical era. Once a month he preached in excellent Parisian French to the mostly illiterate French Canadian members of his congregation. But the sermon was way over their heads; however, it sounded beautiful and they loved it.
All of the foregoing has been written in an attempt to draw for you a truthful picture of the background and the factors which affected your mother's early life.
I feel I have only partially succeeded.The Donovans lost or sold their farm when she was twenty-two years old and thereafter they lived in the rented upstairs of a small frame house on the outskirts of Chippewa Falls. She managed to get a school in a German settlement some seven miles from where they lived.
In the meantime the community life of the Irish World - so far as the older members of the family children were concerned - began to disintegrate through the young men going West and the girls getting married. I had turned from teaching to better paying jobs in the lumber woods and was saving every dollar I could in preparation for going to the Pacific Coast as I knew that I could never establish a home in Wisconsin.
There are some things which one can write which he can not trust himself to attempt to say and still other things which can not even write. At the services the other day I recalled vividly one stormy Friday night when I went to the Donovan house to see Kittie. Her mother told me that when she got in from the seven mile trip from her school her feet and ankles were swollen and she was on the verge of collapse, so her mother bathed her feet in hot water and put her to bed. Her mother, her father, and myself always urged her not to start for home in bad weather but each of us knew that she would come anyway.
From that day until winter was over I managed to hire a livery horse and sleigh and take her to school in time for Monday morning classes and to meet her a short ways from school every Friday night. Yet I never saw or was in the school house as I left her walk the last half miles on Monday and on Fridays and timed my coming so that she would have walked about that distance before I met her.
In really bad weather the trips were hazardous even with a horse and I was afraid to make them; but I was more afraid that she might perish in a snow storm if I did not come. She had the stamina and the courage to tackle anything and her love for her mother was so great that she could not endure a weekend without seeing her. Her father had a violent temper and was often cross and unreasonable with her mother and that was another reason why she was determined to come home. We often wondered why she was the only person who could make him snap out of it when he was in a rage but I later learned it was because he liked her.
That Spring I left for Aberdeen, Washington, and did not return for three years. On the $30 a month your mother earned teaching the family had to live the whole year but they were never out of food as every time any of the Mannings came to town they brought meat and vegetables.
I wish you could have known her mother [Mary Manning Donovan]. She was rather tall and dark and had poise and dignity coupled with a kindly, friendly way. When she was a young girl she worked near Galena, Illinois, for the Gen. U.S. Grant family and from what little I know of it, it would seem that she was a kind of companion for Mrs. Grant and the young children. She had a better education than any of the other older folks. She was always just and reasonable with anyone. Have always been proud of the fact that, for some strange reason, she liked me.
Among her grandchildren Donal seems to come closest to having her disposition.
During the writing of this letter a hundred things have flashed across my memory, but perhaps I have already written more than I should. This seems to be the place to end it. Perhaps from what has been written you can understand why your mother could never quite accept as her permanent home any place except the Irish World. Have often thought that I could fully understand the poignant sorrow of the man who wrote the song "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen"; for he knew that home existed only in the fantasy of a dream.
Let me repeat what I said in the beginning, that nothing herein should cause you sadness. It should please you to know that in her youth she had her full share of happiness and that her natural disposition was to enjoy life. A wise philosopher once wrote, "That which is beyond recall should be beyond remorse."
No good purpose can be served by refusing to accept the wisdom of that statement; in fact we MUST accept it if we are to retain the equilibrium and courage necessary to meet the many vicissitudes of life. You can be justly proud of your two grandmothers, each of whom was one in ten thousand and you, and your children and your children's children will profit through the inheritance of some of the greatness of their characters.
This letter was written shortly after the death of T.S. Hogan's wife Katherine Donovan Hogan. She had suffered from what was then called hardening of the arteries and he did not want the family to remember her as she was at the end of her life, but as the child, girl, and woman that he remembered. We were very fortunate to have such a loving, caring man as our grandfather and I hope this letter gives you the sense of comfort and joy that it gives me.
Sharon Adele Dayton,
daughter of Maureen Hogan Dayton.
Mar 1, 2002
Early Family History
Fiftieth Anniversary Photo
|"One point, for Saint Patrick's Day, about Irish music; only the Irish can bear it for long. That is, true Irish music, of course."
-- May Kenny, journalist, 'The Real Sound of Ireland', in The Guardian, 17 March 1965
|"The time has long since gone when Irishmen and Irish women could be kept from thinking by hurling priestly thunder at their heads."
-- James Connolley, socialist and patriot, 1914
"Among the best traitors Ireland has ever had, Mother Church ranks at the very top, a massive obstacle in the path to equality and freedom."
Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, politician, The Price of My Soul 1969
"Religion dies hard in the Irish."
-- Katharine Tynan, poet and novelist, The Middle Years 1917
|"Mr. Speaker, I said the honourable member was a liar it is true and I am sorry for it. The honourable member may place the punctuation where he pleases."
-- Richard Brinsley Sheridan, when asked to apologize for calling a fellow member of parliament a liar