Historical Details

Panno, Joe

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 12/17/2020


by Dona Eddy as told by Mrs. Connie Panno

Joe applied for a homestead the latter part of 1904 some five miles southwest of Keeline. Later Congress passed the law that 160 acres were not enough, so homesteaders were allowed to apply on an additional 160 acres. A man of Swedish descent had applied on an adjoining 160 acres, but he had left allowing Joe to apply on it.

Joseph Panno was only a small lad when he became a stow-away on a boat in Polerrno, Sicily to America in hopes of finding his uncle. Having been found aboard the boat after three days the fear of being sent back home loomed large in his mind. On arriving in America he was left alone in his room.

He tied a bundle of clothes about his neck and silently slipped through the porthole into the dark New York Harbor night and swam ashore to disappear among the shadows. Cold and hunger drove him to seek food from bak­eries and warmth from peoples porches. After finally being caught by the police, his fear of having to return to Sicily was ended. It was found by the police that his uncle had died of yellow fever in New Orleans. Joe was then taken in under the wing of the Italians.

At the age of 13 Joe became a waterboy on a section gang. In time he was sent to Casper, Wyo. as foreman of an extra gang.

He was then appointed foreman at Casper and later to Keeline as foreman in 1904. Here at Keeline he was foreman over four other men.  A train passed through once a day and cattle and horses were the main livestock shipped in and out by the Richard and Com­ stock Company.

After Joe proved up on his homestead he quit the railroad. For extra money he worked for Richard and Comstock Livestock Company at which time Ad Spaugh was acting manager. As other homesteaders began to come Joe put all his time in farming.

In 1914 he left his homestead and went to Chicago for the winter. There he met and married Virginia  Tomasello.  They re­ turned to his homestead. Eighteen months later she and her baby died in childbirth. The bodies were taken back to Chicago for burial.

Joe had built a new frame house which was never lived in. It was struck by lightning and burned to the ground shortly after the death of his wife.

In 1920 Joe went back to Palermo, Sicily, to visit his father at Christmas. There he met and married Concattina Raia. Concattina, "Connie" was the youngest of her family. She grew up in the beautiful capitol city of Palermo, Sicily, and was educated in private Catholic schools.

Connie's father, Gatano Raia, owned an ammunition factory and their own fleet of ships. They shipped ammunition all over the world until World War II wiped them out.

During the active period of the factory one of her father's brothers was in New York City, as was her oldest brother, Joe Raia; they were taking care of the warehouses in New York City.  Joe Raia joined World War I from the United States in 1917 and lost his life in the service.

Gatano Raia died not long after his daughter came to America. Her mother was a doctor and died in a concentration camp in Italy during World War II because she refused to cooperate with the Nazi German Medical Program.

Always having had the desire to go to America, her wish came true. Sailing on the La Patrie, they arrived 12 days later in New York City. Due to the bad storms endured on the high seas, they stayed there for a few extra days. As they came west she noticed the country change as they passed Omaha. No trees, one or two room houses, an occasional sod house and the biggest amazement was NO PAINT!   They arrived in Keeline July 13, 1921 to be met by Mr. Vernon, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Runser took her to their home for three days. Although an uncle and cousins in New York had tried to tell her about Wyoming she couldn't believe it until she saw it with her own eyes.

The original log house on the homestead was finished on the inside with plaster walls and a linoleum floor. She discovered later that a neighbor, the Ben Johnsons, lived in a sod house.

Connie loved watermelons. Unable to read, she bought a package of seed by its picture. Her watermelon patch so carefully cared for turned out to be an enormous patch of citrons which were used to make preserves. On hearing they were citrons, the Henry Amends had Joe fill his wagon box with water­ melons which he stored among the wheat in its bin.

They had watermelons until amost Christmas time.

It was quite a struggle for Connie to learn to cook and many neighbors helped her. Mrs. Henry Amend showed her how to make bread and for a short time baked it for her. She also taught her how to wash clothes, but Connie soon got a washing machine. Others who helped her learn cooking techniques were Mrs. Fred Runser and Mrs. Ben Johnson. Emma Amend stayed for awhile to help her.

It took Connie awhile to get used to Wyoming, but as time passed she came to know the many people of that area; the Dickmans, Fred Heins, Jake Salaks,Roy Elkjns , Ben Johnsons, Frank Kellys, David Suttons, Frosheisers, Jake Amends, Henry Amends and the Ben Browns of whom she greatly enjoyed Ellen Brown and her childrens' visits.  In Connie's words, "I loved them all. If some­ thing happened they helped one another. If one had trouble, it was all the neighbors' troubles. They had doings for Christmas and the 4th of July and other times. Everyone came with their children. People associated and that's why you felt so close to your neighbors."

1924 was a bad year for blizzards and that spring was especially bad. People lost a lot of cattle. Some people went broke.

That was the year  Jake Amends sold out and went back to Lincoln, Nebr.   At their sale, Connie had Ben Johnson bid for her. She bought nine cows and many other items. This was when she learned to milk.

The spring of 1927 was another year of bad storms. A new storm was coming. Joe was trying to finish his planting. The baby chickens were hatching in the incubator.

Connie being low on groceries hitched up the horse to a two-wheel cart and went to Kee­line. On the way home the storm started, the horse stumbled, throwing the cart in the air, catching Connie's foot in a triangle on the cart and dragged her with the wheel of the cart running on her left side for about a quarter of a mile. Roy Elkin, rounding up his livestock in the storm, heard her screaming and came to her rescue. Mr. and Mrs. Roy Elkin took her to their home on the back of their pickup. They called Dr. Story of Douglas and she was taken by ambu­ lance to Douglas where she spent 21 days in the hospital. Her unborn baby died.

During her stay in the hospital, Joe had a farm sale the 10th of June. They never knew what the sale brought as the bank closed. Between them they had a little over $1.19.  Connie came home just in time to place her annual bank draft from her mother in the bank. This share of the profit from the factory was also gone.

Joe was able to find a job at 50¢ an hour through Salvatore "Sam" Canale who was in Riverton helping build a dam. Connie went to Riverton as soon as she was able and cooked for her husband and Sam in Sam's little shack.

There was an accident at the dam injuring several men. There wasn't a doctor available immediately.  The closest one was 65 miles away. Joe told the superintendent that his wife had been in nurses training when she married him. The superintendent came and got her to care for the men until a doctor could come. After the doctor ar­rived he had her stay on at the hospital as a nurse for $5 a day.

Connie had seen Indians go past their Keeline homestead the first year headed west with horses and wagons. She was scared of them, but the day a group of Indians descend­ed on her home in Riverton seeking the Medicine Woman, she knew the meaning of fear in another sense. An Indian mother with an infant in her out-stretched arms was seeking help for her sick child. Realizing the infant needed help, Connie took the infant, bathed it, and doctored its infected ear. She was closely followed by the Indians. She wanted to keep the infant overnight but she could not communicate with the Indians. Connie was very scared, but George Braskole, the Indian Superintendent, a well educated engineer, who was part Indian came to her aid. He explained her wishes and the Indians left only to go down the street and return early the next morning for the infant. Because of this incident her husband felt it best she return to Kee­line.

Joe returned to the railroad that fall and was soon transferred to Manville where they bought a new home from the Building and Loan Company.

During the depression and hard years Connie took in boarders and worked at the X-L Cafe in Lusk. She drove back and forth from Manville. She later bought a restau­rant of her own.

In 1934 a daughter, Jean, was born, A surprise and delight to her parents because of the horse and cart accident in 1927, they had come to believe they would never have any children. Jean is now Mrs. Stanley Moore and lives in La Junta, Calif.

The Joe Panno family moved to Lusk in about 1941. Joe worked for the railroad until he retired. He passed away in 1958.

Connie bought the Flower Nook from Mrs. Bessie Pfiefer. She went to Denver to the Colorado School of Floral design and re­ceived her diploma July 13, 1951. She has run Connie's Flower Shop since. She still owns the homestead.

Images & Attachments

There are no attachments for this record.

Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Panno, Concettina (07/21/1903 - 10/21/1979) View Record
Obituary Panno, Joseph (01/21/1882 - 03/02/1958) View Record