Died on the prairie and buried in Boot Hill ...

Claremorris family in Dakota Territory at the time of Chief Sitting Bull

The story of a Claremorris family who homesteaded in the Dakota Territory at the time of Sitting Bull, rode the cowboy trails and branded steers at the famous J Diamond J Ranch, owned an 1880’s Saloon and Dry Goods store and later moved west and invested in a plywood mill that produced high grade plywood for PT boats in World War II has surely all the ingredients for a Louis L’Amour classic.

This is a little of the background to some interesting correspondence which come my way during the week from Darwin Gearey in Seattle and his sister Patricia Wilson who resides in Winchester, VA. They are seeking the help of readers of the “Western” in trying to trace members of the Garry family of Claremorris.

Darwin is a TV journalist and Television News videographer. And the family story takes us from Claremorris to the cowboy trails of Dakota and the heart of the pioneering folklore of the ‘Old West’
“My family left Claremorris about 1851, my Great-Great- Grandfather was Thomas Garry and his wife was Bridget Berry Garry.

“The Garrys were cowboys in the old west, raised horses, owned a saloon and a store in the wild Dakota Territory and the family eventually ended up on the Pacific Northwest Coast.”

His sister Patricia fills in more of the family background information “Patrick Gary/ Garry (born 1780) married Bridget Berry ( born 1788) of Castlebar, County Mayo. Patrick and Bridget had a son named John born in Claremorris in 1813, a daughter named Ann, and probably others.

“John married Catherine Kean (born 1818 Ireland) and we think the marriage took place in 1836. Catherine had a brother named Patrick J. Kean born around 1830 in Ireland. John and Catherine sailed to America in 1850. By 1860 his parents, Patrick and Bridget were in America. Patrick J. Kean also was living in America.

“The family settled in St. Clair county, Michigan. John died in 1872 and his son, John moved with the elderly Catherine to the Dakota Territory at the time of Sitting Bull and the Ghost Dances. Her homestead application was on file with the National Archives here and in it she states she remembers coming to America in November of 1850.

“Catherine died on the prairie in 1893 and was buried on Boot Hill. Later, when the cemetery was established, she was moved there. The Garry family raised horses in the old west at the J Diamond J Ranch, owned an 1880’s Saloon and Dry Good store and later moved west and invested in a plywood mill that produced high grade plywood for PT boats in World War II.

“When we were small children in the early 1950’s , my brother, Darwin, and I would look at an old blue velvet photo album in my grandfather’s attic. I eventually inherited that album and began tracing the family back to its origins. An old deed led me to St. Clair County, Michigan. We found at the courthouse the 13 page handwritten will of my g-g-grandfather John Garry of Claremorris. We also found his grave. The tombstone was broken and sunken into the ground.

“Knowing that we had to preserve this precious stone, and not having much time left in our visit, we stole the tombstone. We then had to make an urgent trip to Canada that night, in a thunderstorm.
“Luckily the border guards did not look in the trunk of the car. A muddy 125 year old tombstone would have been hard to explain. Crossing the border twice with it is quite a memory. We got the stone home, could not have it repaired, had a bronze plaque made, returned to Michigan, and set the some and plaque in cement.

“ Eventually two American cousins descended from Ann Garry found the stone and plaque and found us on the internet. The lazy cemetery caretakers had taken credit for the grave repair, and our cousins did not known of us until finding us on the internet.”

Catherine Kean, widow of John Garry of Claremorris, was eligible to homestead 160 acres under the Homestead Act of 1862 it she improved the land and lived on it for five years.

Says Patricia; “ The first thing she did, according to the National Archive papers I found relating to her; was to clear the land around the house and plant acres and acres of potatoes. She would never go hungry again.

“We went back to North Dakota a few years ago and found her grave. I left a nice big potato there in her honour; It was the first time in over 70 years that any family has visited her final resting place.
The family homestead was not far from Fort Toten, to this day a well preserved fort. The Garry’s lived at Minnewauken, Dakota Territory, on the shores of Devil’s Lake. There was no dock there and the first settlers had to wade ashores. The 16 original settlers lived in tents on the lakeshore. John, the son of Catherine and John of Claremorris, bought an empty building and dragged it over the frozen lake to B Street,one of the two buffalo trails leading to the lake.

Buffalo bones were piled high and early settlers, unable to get their first crops in the ground, gathered them and sold them to bone traders. Catherine’s nearest neighbours arrived in a covered wagon pulled by a team of oxen.

In her application for homestead one of her witnesses was a young man who farmed her land for her. He stated she baked him bread every day and he had seen her lantern in the window that morning My father; Catherine’s great-grandson, remembered the ranch and its kerosene lanterns. The Ottertail Power Company strung lines in the 1920s or 30s and the lights were switched bringing an era to an end. Catherine never lived to see the invention of her old St. Clair County neighbour; Thomas Edison. To me she had lived an amazing life”.

The Little Gem Saloon burned down in later years leaving a low spot in the ground where it once stood on the former buffalo trail. The only thing left now is Catherine’s tombstone marked with her date of death, April 18th, 1893, aged 75 years and her epitaph:

“Kind friends beware as years pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you must be
Prepare, therefor to follow me.”

“All of us feel we must have cousins living in County Mayo. Our Irish roots are very dear to us. We can be reached at patv@tenforward.com . Thank you for your time and consideration,” says Patricia Wilson.

This is a lovely story and we hope we will be able to assist Patricia and Darwin in their search for relatives in the area. I knew the late Richard (Dick) Garry of Knockgraffy, Taugheen, Claremorris who was a regular visitors to the home of my relations, the Trench family in Gowel, Mayo Abbey over the years. Around 20 years ago or more , Dick gave me some wonderful road-maps of America so obviously he had some strong associations with that country.

Anyone who can help out with this query can contact me at 094-81531 and I will arrange to make contact with Patricia and Darwin in America.

Courtesy of Michael Commins Western People