Margaret (O'Connell) Hanley

(May 1, 1861 - February 12, 1937)


The Harrison Sun
June 11, 1970


Mrs. Margaret Hanley, Sioux Pioneer, Came to County from Verdon in 1909

Margaret O'Connell Hanley was born in Manitowoc, Wis., May 1, 1861, and reared in Verdon, Neb., Richardson County, where she married James Hanley from County Clair, Ireland, and lived on their farm near Verdon until about 1909. Mr. Hanley died in 1908 and she moved by train with all of her household wares to Sioux County, three miles from what was once Curly. Her daughters Margaret and Fred Shafer and Mary and Robert A. Murphy and their families were homesteading there when Mrs. Hanley and her five youngest children-Den, Edna, Jimmie, Dorothy and Gertrude-moved to Sioux County after selling the farm. Later her daughter, Winnie and Robert E. Murphy, moved from Eastern Nebraska to Sioux County, making up a move of her entire family. She was the grandmother 28, most of them born in Sioux County.

There was a sod schoolhouse at Curly where the three youngest attended, driving by horse and buggy three miles for about seven months of the year when weather permitted. Later Dorothy and Gertrude attended St. Agnes Academy at Alliance. The Henderson, Lovell, and Flaherty children and others I can't remember also attended at Curly. The only teacher I remember was Mr. Snowden.

There was a post office and general store at Curly owned by Chub Henderson in one large room of their home. Mail was delivered by a mailman from Hemingford, 40 miles away, twice a week by team and spring wagon. Ranchers took their cream in large cans and produce to Curly, and the mail carrier transported it to Hemingford on his return trip. We all marked time waiting for our cream checks like we do now waiting for our Social Security checks. This was three miles from our home, as was the sod schoolhouse.

Mother owned a 7-room frame house. We raised our own garden, potatoes, and other vegetables- when we had enough rain, and hauled supplies by team and wagon from Mitchell, 25 miles and a full days drive both ways. They bought flour, sugar, etc., by the hundred pounds, rock salt for the cattle and whatever supplies we needed.

Our first automobile was a Dodge touring car with oil lights on the sides, and we carried a couple shovels to get us over high-centers which we encountered frequently on the ranch trail roads.

We made our own entertainment. The Harris boys and Ada Harris from near Marsland and neighbors congregated at our home. We played the piano, sang, danced to music from phonograph records and piano music, had bob sled parties in the winter, played cards and the boys and buddies roped, rode calves and broncos in our corral a lot of time during the summer Sunday afternoons. And of course, mother had food for whoever was there. We had school plays and dances at the sod schoolhouse, with an organ and fiddle for music and dancing. The women brought cakes and sandwiches and at midnight we made coffee in a copper boiler, putting the coffee in a mans sock (clean one of course) and dropped it into the boiler of hot water and let it boil. We took time out to eat and danced on to dawn, since the roads were trails across the prairie and no lights to guide us. And, besides, we were never ready to sign off after a few cups of boiler coffee and lots of food. Everyone danced, Kids and all. There were a waltz, two-step, and square dance and a schottische and cake walk thrown in. Anyone who could saw out a tune on the fiddle and could chord on the organ made up the orchestra, taking turns. Later Jim Harris married Edna and Jimmie Hanley married Ada Harris.

There were no churches, but Mrs. Hanley and Mr. and Mrs. Tom Murphy had a Catholic Mass service in their homes, also catechism classes, baptisms and weddings. Later on the men hauled lumber and built a little frame Catholic Church at Curly. Families came to church by wagon and buggy, and Mrs. H. and Mrs. M. prepared food for everyone who came because of the distance and late hour when services were over. A Priest, Father Keyser and others, from Hemingford came once a month to the ranches on a week day by livery-a hired rig and driver. They came the day before, since it was a full day's drive, and returned home the third day during the summer months only.

The Niobrara boys from around the Marsland - all the Harrises and others and the Curly boys had baseball teams and the natives gathered at the baseball field at Curly (could hardly call it a diamond, just a flat bit of soddy ground) Sunday afternoons in summer. About game time there would be a cloud of dust and wagon load of Niobrara players, standing up in the wagon with the horses on a dead run and they lashing the horses and whooping and hollering their heads off, like a bunch of wild Indians, when they got in sight of the baseball field . Really made a lively afternoon.

There were the usual prairie fires and when we saw a red flame cloud in the sky the ranchers knew the answer and got into action. There were no trees and fire could be seen for miles. They drove or road to it enmass with barrels of water to wet their gunny sacks or whatever it took to fight the fire. Wherever it was they always made it. There was no telephone service, but the ranchers installed their own box telephones, nailed to 2x4's on fence posts bordering the ranches and strung telephone lines. When the telephone rung I guess everyone had his receiver down and listened with hands over the mouthpiece. But from noise and name calling most everyone knew who was listening. Guess you could compare the entertainment to T.V. today. They had a code ring when there was an emergency and everyone got on the line.

Everyone had a Sears and Montgomery Ward catalog and kept mail orders coming and going all times of the year. When the new catalog came out the old one was assigned to the outside john. We made a lot of our clothes and, with a large supply of flour sacks, made the girls droopy drawers with "Sunflower" and with "Gooch's Best" on each hip. Even lye wouldn't take the ink out.

There were always winter blizzards when cattle drifted with the storm and died, smothered in snow banks when they reached fences and could go no further - also epidemics of Black Leg-all very tragic and a terrible loss and part of the heart ache of the rancher. But there were enough good times and gains to compensate for the bad ones.

Mrs. Hanley died February 12, 1937, at the home of her daughter, Dorothy, and her husband, Stanley Watson at Ada, Oklahoma, and was interred at Shubert, Neb., in the family plot with her husband and other members of the family. The only surviving members of the immediate family are Mr. and Mrs. Watson of Tulsa, Okla., and Gertrude Williams, Conroe, Texas; son-in-law Jim Harris of Big Timber, Mont.; and daughter-in-law Ada Sopher (Harris) San Jacinto, Calif.




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