Westward Migration

The American generation after the Civil War witnessed the most extensive movement of population in the country’s history; the settled area doubled; civilization moved from primitive to well-developed; and new economic models emerged to help the population adapt to the geography of the plains. In particular, the railroads came, and with them came people. [1]

Several children of John and Johanna Dwyer moved west. Edward seems to have been the first, moving to Webster County, Iowa around 1863.

John D. was more peripatetic: he lived in Michigan and Illinois before settling in Iowa near his brother in 1869 — then he left and returned with a wife in 1875 or 76. The families seem to have stayed in close contact but Edward’s family had difficulties: he and his wife both died relatively young, in 1889, and there appear to have been strained relations, including lawsuits, among their children.

Across the continent, "Westward the course of empire takes its way." J.M. Ives, del.; drawn by F.F. Palmer. Currier & Ives, New York, 1868 (Library of Congress)

Michael Dwyer moved west as well, but to Minnesota; he married and raised a family in the village of Minneota, about 160 miles west of Minneapolis.

David Dee Dwyer also went west, but briefly: he traveled to Leadville, Colorado and, after saving $1,000, returned home to Chateaugay, where he got married and bought a farm.

The eastern and western branches of the family stayed somewhat in touch; for example, for three weeks at the end of August and early September 1896, John D. returned to Chateaugay to visit his mother and brothers, going first to James’ home and then to David’s. [2] In August 1897, John and his niece Josie (Edward’s oldest daughter) made a trip to Chateaugay to visit their relatives. [3] In 1901, David traveled to Barnum, Iowa, to visit John. During the same trip he journeyed to South Dakota and Minnesota (presumably to see Michael) and other western states, returning home to Chateaugay on September 13.

The following provides more details about each of the “western-branch” families:

"The Covered Wagon of the Great Western Migration. 1886 in Loup Valley, Nebr." A family poses with the wagon in which they live and travel daily during their pursuit of a homestead. National Archives 69-N-13606C.

Edward Dwyer, born around 1836

Edward married Anna (called Annie) Moore in 1868; Anna had been born in 1852 in Ireland. They settled in Johnson Township, Webster County, Iowa, near Barnum, where he had a farm of about 245 acres. The nearest large settlement was Fort Dodge.

Edward and Anna had several children:

     - Johanna (Josie), born 1869. She became a school teacher and married Thomas J. Hyde on October 6, 1897.

     - Bridget, born 1874. She married Thomas H. Condon on February 19, 1905. She died in 1948.

     - John F., born 1873, died September 19, 1892.

     - James A., born 1875. He worked as a farmer in Barnum and married Rose Burgfried on October 12, 1910. He died on July19 , 1948 (of a "coronary thrombosis," according to the death certificate).

     - Catherine (Katie), born 1878. She lived in Fort Dodge and died on April 18, 1934. Katie is described as afflicted by "paralysis" in the 1880 Census.

- Edward, born 1879. He married Mae Lane, who had been born in 1884, and moved to Fort Dodge in 1909, where he became a policeman. In 1914, he was badly injured in a fall down a flight of stairs leading from the street into the police station, caused by slippery and snowy conditions. [4] In 1915, he was badly beaten by a suspect that he was trying to apprehend. [5] He apparently left the police force after that and died on January 1, 1916 of pneumonia, at the age of 36. [6] Mae lived many years longer before she died on January 17, 1981. The children of Edward and Mae were: Gladys C., 1906-2002 (married in 1923 to Floyd L. Estlund, 1901-1989; they lived in Fort Dodge where Floyd worked for the Illinois Central Railroad; their children were John F., Thomas E., James A., Kenneth F, William L., Paul D., and Nancy Howell); Vervil; Edward F., 1909-1969; Dorothy E., 1911-1977 (married William W. Bickford 1910-1971); and John.

- Alice, born 1883. She lived in Fort Dodge and died on July 7, 1967.

- Anna Marie, born 1886. She was married on April 16, 1915 to Martin J. Allen. Martin had been born in Ireland in 1885, the son of Martin Allen and Mary Murphy. He worked as a piano tuner and salesman in Fort Dodge. Their children were Anne M. (1916) and Robert (1921). Anna died on April 4, 1959 and Martin died on February 16, 1968.

On Friday, August 23, 1889, Edward and one of his sons, accompanied by a neighbor, drove to the Duncombe Tara farm to obtain some lumber that had been used as a platform at the picnic held at that place the week before. On the way back, within a mile from home, the lumber on the forward wagon began to slide from its fastenings. The teams were stopped and Frank O’Haire, who was driving the second team, went forward to help secure the load in front. When O’Haire left his team, the horses took fright and started to run. Edward jumped forward to stop them in their mad career and was thrown under the wheels of the heavily laden wagon. The forward wheels passed over and crushed his head and the rear wheels passed over his neck, crushing the spinal column and killing him instantly. Edward was 53 when he died; he was buried on Sunday at Corpus Christi church. [7]

Later that year, on September 11, 1889, Edward’s wife Anna died; the cause of her death is unknown but she was only 37.

There appear to have been some strained relations in Edward’s family: in 1899, Josie and Bridget as “guardians” sued Katie — the basis for the suit is not known. [8] In 1905, Josie and Alice left town for Pueblo, Colorado; Josie later sold her two properties in 1918 on “account of leaving city.” [9] In 1915, Edward (Jr.) and James sued Alice and Mary, among others, for the partition of some land. [10]

John D. Dwyer, born February 14, 1841

John D. took up the trade of carpentry and then journeyed to Michigan, Illinois and Iowa, finally settling in Fort Dodge, Iowa in 1869. He may have followed his brother Edward to that area. He worked in Fort Dodge until 1871 when he went to Chicago to take advantage of the glut of carpentry work to be found there after the great fire. After two years, he went to New York City and stayed for about a year.

On September 28, 1875, he married Maria O’Neill in St. Patrick’s church in Chateaugay.

William M. Cary, Emigrants to the West. in A Popular history of the United States, William Cullen Bryant and Sydney Howard Gay. New York : Charles Scribner's Sons, 1881, oppos. p. 311 (Library of Congress)

Maria’s parents were Timothy O’Neill and Honora Ryan; she had been born in Troy, New York in March 1842. (John’s younger brother David was one of the witnesses to the ceremony.) [11]

Subsequently, John D. returned to Iowa with Maria. He purchased a farm, added to it, and eventually own 280 acres in Webster County. He was also the proprietor of a 160-acre farm in South Dakota. John and Maria had two daughters, Alice S., born February 1885, who attended St. Joseph’s Academy at Des Moines, and Mary Lucille, born October 1895, who attended Corpus Christi Academy in Fort Dodge. Alice was born when Maria was 43 and Mary was born when Maria was 53 — the census form in 1900 lists Maria as the mother of these two daughters, but the 1910 census states that Maria had had no children. Perhaps these girls were adopted.

John successfully pursued farming and raised livestock until 1891, when he retired and moved to Barnum, Iowa. There, he purchased 37 acres, built a home, and pursued new interests, becoming assessor of Johnson Township and a trustee and director of a school. He also reportedly set up as a merchant, carrying a general stock. [12] In 1909, John was elected mayor of Barnum on the Republican ticket. [13] Though this was certainly an achievement, Barnum at the time had a population of only about 154. [14] In 1912, John was sued by five men seeking to oust him from office on the charge that he “countenances gambling and has been present on occasions when cards were played for money.” He reportedly denied the charges and vowed to “defend himself strenuously.” [15]

Toward the end of 1913, John contracted bronchial pneumonia. Hoping to obtain some relief, he and his wife spent a portion of the winter at San Antonio, but without a favorable response. [16]  In April 1914, John was admitted to Mercy Hospital in Fort Dodge, where he died on April 27th. [17] He was buried in Corpus Christi Cemetery, north of Fort Dodge. [18]

Subsequently, John’s wife Maria sued Edward Dwyer (John’s brother’s son), who was executor of John’s will, for failure to accord her the proceeds of a real estate sale that had been held in trust by her husband.

Maria died on May 8, 1915. Her funeral, with a procession to Corpus Christi Cemetery, was described as “an automobile funeral.” [19] Their daughter Alice died in 1983; it is not known when Mary died.

"Turning over first sod on homestead." Sun River Mont. By Lubken, November 5, 1908. National Archives 115-JA~D-176.

Michael Henry Dwyer, born September 20, 1846 (according to the Irish parish records, or 1847 according to the census records and death certificate)

Michael married Catherine Ellen Broderick on August 28, 1875. Catherine had been born on January 21, 1857 in Canada, the daughter of Michael Broderick (from Ireland) and Mary Barry (from Canada).

Michael and Catherine had three children in New York and one, apparently, in Texas: Johanna, born February 1876 in New York; John Edward, born 1878 in Texas; Catherine, born June 6, 1880 in New York; and Michael George, born September 1883 in New York. John E. may have died at a young age. They then moved to Minneota, in Lyon County, Minnesota, where Michael worked as a farmer, [20] and had three more children: Mary Irene, born September 1885; James Andrew, born November 2, 1887; and Leo Joseph, born February 15, 1895.

Johanna (“Josie”) apparently married a man named Hovland and had two children in North Dakota: Henry, born December 1896, and Catherine, born January 1899. When the census was taken in June 1900, they were living with Josie’s parents in Minnesota; Josie died later that same year.

By 1910, daughter Catherine (“Kate”), then 29, was working as a dressmaker; son Mike, then 26, was a farmer; daughter Mary, 24, was a milliner; James, 22, worked on the farm; and Leo, 15, was still in school. The two grandchildren were also still living with Michael and Catherine. Kate later married William J. Moughan and moved to Minneapolis. James later married a woman named Edith and, for awhile, ran a recreation parlor. Leo married a woman named Inga Erickson. By 1920, only Mike and the two grandchildren were still living at home.

Michael Henry Dwyer died on September 7, 1924, at the age of 76; the cause was attributed to diabetes. He is buried in St. Edwards Cemetery, Westerheim. His wife Catherine died on April 14, 1927; she had suffered a fractured hip and subsequently declined.

Kate died on December 24, 1938. Leo, who worked as a drycleaner, died on October 3, 1939, as a result of an auto accident. Mike died in 1943. James was a World War I veteran; he was being treated for pneumonia in a VA hospital and died on June 5, 1962 after suffering burns when a cigarette ignited a gown. We are not sure when Mary Irene died. [21]

Next chapter: The Sheehan Family.


[1] Morison S.E., H.S. Commager, W.E. Leuchtenburg; A Concise History of the American Republic. Oxford Univ. Press, New York (2d Ed., 1983), p. 391.

[2] Chateaugay Journal, Sept. 3, 1896.

[3] Chateaugay Record, Aug. 21, 1897.

[4] Ft Dodge Messenger, Jan. 19, 1914.

[5] Ft Dodge Messenger, May 8, 1915.

[6] Ft Dodge Messenger, Jan. 3 and 4, 1916.

[7] Northwest Chronicle, Ft. Dodge, IA, Aug. 28, 1889; Ft. Dodge Messenger, Aug. 29, 1889.

[8] Ft Dodge Messenger, March 14, 1899.

[9] Ft Dodge Messenger, Oct. 5, 1918.

[10] The Callender News, Callender, IA, Aug. 19, 1915.

[11] St. Patrick’s Parish records, Chateaugay, NY.

[12] Ft Dodge Messenger, Feb. 11, 1892.

[13] H.W. Pratt, History of Fort Dodge and Webster County, Iowa, Pioneer Publishing Co., Chicago (1913).

[14] Wikipedia, Barnum, Iowa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnum,_Iowa) (visited May 2, 2013).

[15] The Carroll (Iowa) Herald, July 17, 1912.

[16] Chateaugay Record, May 15, 1914.

[17] Chateaugay Record, April 29, 1964.

[18] Fort Dodge Messenger, April 28, 1914.

[19] Fort Dodge Messenger, May 10, 1915.

[20] Minnesota Census, 1885.

[21] U.S. Census, 1900, 1910, 1920; death certificates for Michael, Catherine, Kate, James, Leo; Michael Dwyer naturalization application (1918).

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