Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Original Bachelor Pad

My gr. grandmother's brothers were an adventurous lot.

I have mentioned  her brother, Owen Jerome, who, at the turn of the last century, packed up his family and sought his fortune mining for gold in Crook City, South Dakota.   My double cousin, Mary Margaret, even wrote a guest blog post for me about him.  But she had two other brothers, Dennis and Simon, who were also miners.  I just don't know where they were mining or what they were mining for . . . got any ideas?

Simon (left) and Dennis (right) McDonnell in mining cabin
The photos in this post came from an album belonging to my mother's cousin, Mary Farley who generously shared them with my brother and I.  My visit to Mary Farley, and she was always referred to by both names, was a highlight of my early family history experiences.  The names were on the back, but the all important location was missing.  Mary Farley told us they were mining in South Dakota, and that would make sense because their brother, Owen Jerome was mining in the Spearfish area of South Dakota.  Then last winter, during a conversation with a cousin who grew up on the family property in South Dakota, I pulled out these photos, which he had never seen.  His opinion was that it didn't look like the mining he was familiar with in South Dakota . . . maybe it was Montana he suggested.  And it didn't look like gold either. Do you have expertise in the history of mining?  What does it look like to you?  All opinions are welcome and encouraged.

Simon McDonnell outside his mining cabin

Blurry cropped and enlarged photo from inside cabin
His opinion was based on the photo above which shows the outside of the cabin.  At first glance the land looks very flat and the cabin has a sod base with a tarpaper (?) covering.  It seemed that the sod base was a big part of his reasoning.  It doesn't show any mining equipment in the background, but if I use my imagination, I think the cabin might be located up high and there is a faint background image that might be some houses/shacks/cabins way off in the distance on the left.  Of course, what else would be seen if we stood farther back from their cabin?  I looked at the photos on the wall of the cabin and several were familiar, but one made me run to my photo software to crop and enlarge.  Could the photo on the right be the same cabin only from farther out with mining equipment? Actually,  they almost look like tombstones? 

To date the photo I used some of the family pictures hanging on the wall of the cabin.  I have a copy of the top three photos, and the one on the far right is their brother, Michael who died when he fell from a bridge during construction in Oct. 1896.  I know that Dennis is listed in the 1900 census as living with his sister, Mary McDonnell Kennelly in Chicago but with his parents in Clinton in the 1905 Iowa state census.  He died in 1907. I have not seen a news article or record that confirms this, but family information is that he was injured when he fell from a bridge being built over the Mississippi when he was working on it's construction.  Also, his brother, Owen Jerome's wedding photo is on the cabin wall in the bottom row. He married in 1900 and in the top row is a photo of their father, brother Owen Jerome, and Owen's son so this must be between 1901-1904  I think an analysis of this setting now puts in question whether the baby in the photo really is Owen James, born in 1905, or, more likely, his older brother Ambrose born in 1901.  I have never seen any of the center row of photos. So, if any family member can identify any of these, I would be most appreciative.

The canned goods on the shelves are to be expected, and the pin up calendar on the wall is a total lonely bachelor item, but the fresh baked bread sitting on the table is unexpected. This homey photo looks like it was intended to be shown to their mother. . . so she wouldn't worry about them.

By the way. . . who took the photo?


  1. I have absolutely nothing to contribute beyond admiration for your analysis and envy of the fabulous photographs you've acquired. There is something endearing about these men in their shack with family photographs pinned to the wall.

  2. I'm amazed at the family pictures hanging in an environment that had to be dangerous to their survival. I love everything about this post.

  3. Not to mention the cloth on the shelves, the loaves of bread on the table. They look like they were living pretty good, being without women and all.

  4. This photo is rich in detail. Looks like pretty cozy digs to me -- especially for a bachelor pad - quite neat, I might add! Maybe they spruced it up for the folks back home, as you suggest. It's amazing how little we can really live with, if necessity demands. A treasure. (P.S. thanks for dropping by my blog and for your comment).

  5. I know nothing of mining, even though I had a far flung relative who was a 49er, and died of disease while trying to strike it rich.

    But man, I love these photos.

  6. You are so right, the photos are the real treasure.

  7. I think that I've seen at least two of the photos (of the ones hanging on the wall) before. One of the babies is my grandma Florence Cragan. Thanks again for sharing.