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By Thomas M and Colleen Donahue Witte
Colleen Donahue Witte was hired for a stenography position by the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis, MN after she graduated with a degree in Advanced Stenography from the at the North Dakota School of Science and Technology located in Wahpeton, ND in 1967. Colleen and particularly her father James Donahue were elated. James had spent much of his life in law enforcement and the FBI enjoyed a very favorable and prestigious reputation in the country at that time.
She was married to me after a little over a year of working at the FBI. The wedding, held just a few blocks from the FBI office, was attended by the majority of the agents and stenographers etc., who worked at her office. We were married on what should have been her lunch hour (she was kindly given the rest of the day and the day following off).
It was somewhat unusual in that neither of our parents nor any of our family were in attendance. The story of how this came about is long and complicated, so the following account only relates the bare bones of the story.
Colleen and I had been seeing each other prior to my entry into the Air Force in April of 1968. When I finished my schooling, I was given a 30 day leave prior to reporting to Sembach AB, Germany. We had no set plans of getting married at that time. However, the last two weeks of my leave I spent in Minneapolis visiting Colleen while staying with my friend and best man Ron Isley. Very quickly we decided to get married. Colleen was 18 years old and old enough to marry without parental consent in Minnesota. I was less than 21 years old, and therefore needed the consent of my parents. We hurriedly started the paperwork and sent the request for consent back to my folk’s ranch in South Dakota. We then waited! Colleen kept her wedding dress at the FBI office so as to be ready when we obtained the permission. We finally received the necessary papers on the 6th of September 1968 (which was a Friday). On Monday morning the 9th of September we arranged to be married later that day in the Hennepin County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis. Colleen got into her wedding dress at the FBI office and Special Agent Herbert Eckenroth drove her the few blocks to the courthouse in his convertible so that she could get in without wrinkling her wedding dress and regalia as much.
So, despite the last minute planning and delays, we were married that day more than 51 years ago. I remember that in addition to being very taken with the beauty of my new bride, I was also very impressed with all the special agents (with guns under there coats), telling me to make sure I took good care of her. I left two days later and went to Sembach. Colleen continued to work for the FBI until the end November and then flew to Germany.
So that is how the FBI ended up at a Donahue’s wedding.
An article July 21, 1903 San Francisco Call describe James Donohue, age 21, as working as a Prison Guard at Folsom Prison which he had begun in the spring. He worked for Warden Wilkinson.
On Saturday the 18th of July he had mysteriously disappeared after a dance in town and failed to report for his work shift at midnight. Three days later he was found dead. His body was located in a canal under the Railroad Bridge, between the rock quarry and the Prison. This would be the short-cut path from town to his job at the prison. It’s possible he accidentally fell from the bridge to his death, but the Sheriff believed he was murdered for his money. More details would later emerge and his money was found on him when his body was recovered.
A comprehensive newspaper article on 30 July transports him into one of the biggest stories of 1903. There was a major prison riot and escape that happened a week or so after his disappearance. Folsom history remembers it as the “Big Break” of 1903. Warden Wilkinson and some of his staff were taken hostage by 13 hardened criminals who escaped into the El Dorado hills. Two guards were killed in the melee. Many historians believe that this riot and escape was the beginning of the prison reform movement. Folsom prison built in 1880 was a very harsh place for hardened criminals. It was constructed of on-site rock and granite by the inmate’s hands. The stereotypical image of an inmate breaking rocks surely began here at the prison granite quarry. The actual penitentiary was considered state of the art but with no perimeter walls that exist today. It was comprised of only a cellblock and a courtyard. Outside it was manned with guard towers and a Gatling gun readied for those who dared getaway. The will to escape was strong and constant.
The July 31, 1903 article reported that prison authorities speculate that James was killed as he walked to work from the dance. His shortcut late at night was along the wooded Railroad tracks to the prison. He intended to start his midnight shift after leaving the dance about ten PM. Some speculated that he was followed by criminals who knew he had money on him. His robbery and murder would be an easy opportunity.
It may also be a classic case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He likely stumbled upon the group of ex-cons who were hiding and lying in wait to facilitate the pending prison getaway. They had stockpiled weapons and even dynamite for the escapees. The plan was set for the morning of July 27th. If they let him go all their strategies and planning would be lost. It seems they chose to kill him by throwing him off the Railroad bridge to the canal below. He was fatally injured and drowned. When the “big break” occurred, it was colossal news. The inside ring leader named “red shirt” Gordon and 12 others killed two guards and made it to freedom while holding the Warden and his staff hostage. The Warden and his group were eventually released. The subsequent man hunts even included the military. Seven of the group were either killed or captured (two were later hanged). Amazingly five of the inmates, including Gordon were never found. It is an amazing story, and because it was so visible, the Warden was fired. It seems the follow-up investigation into the death of James got lost in the background. I never found any more family information about James, so I assume it was not talked about because it was too painful. His parent Martin and Johanna Donohue must have been beyond sad at the loss of their rising star James J. Donohue. I understand why no one in the family knew the specifics of this unfortunate death as it was just easier to say he drowned at Lake Folsom than revisit the horror of his demise. There is a movie made in 1951 called “Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison.” It depicts prison life in the early 1920’s during the struggle to implement prison reform. It is an interesting view into both the prison and the times of my Great Uncle James J. Donohue (1882-1903) lived.
Rod: This prison was immortalised by Johnny Cash in his Folsom Prison Blues in 1955
By Thomas M Witte (his son-in-law)
(Born in Winona, MN on April 24, 1912, Died in Valley City, ND on January 22, 1993)
James Donahue was the father of my wife, Colleen Donahue Witte. His g-grandfather and mother were Philip Donahue and Mary Hays Donahue, both from Ireland.
After WWII and a stint in the US Navy, “Jim” and wife Marjorie moved from his home state of Minnesota to Hannaford, North Dakota (Marjorie’s home). Hannaford was a small-town with a population of about 200 people in Griggs County which is in east-central North Dakota.
As the above political advertisement shows, he spent several years as a deputy sheriff of Griggs County, headquartered in Cooperstown, ND which was about 15 miles from his home. He also served as town policeman for Hannaford at various times.
The photo left from the late 1950 shows Deputy Sheriff Donahue on the far left.
He was a well-liked and respected law enforcement official of his County. A man of integrity who served honorably, and who justly upheld the law, putting no difference between neighbor and stranger. He told many stories of the various problems and situations that he faced in his work in that sparsely populated area of the US. The events that troubled him the most were the accidents that he responded to where someone was either hurt or killed. Then there were the situations where a neighbor would want to be shown special favor in an incident. His daughter Colleen tells of the time when he picked up the parents of a boy she was dating for speeding. They expected leniency but did not get it, which led to some unpleasant feelings between Colleen and her boy-friend’s parents. Colleen also tells of the time he came to the aid of a woman and her child who had hit deer in the middle of the night. They were strangers travelling through that area. Their car was damaged so they could not continue and having no place to stay, Deputy Sheriff Donahue took them to his home where Marjorie (a registered nurse) cleaned them up and tended their minor injuries. They were then given a bed to sleep in for the night. Someone came for them the following day. For many years the woman stayed in touch with Jim and Marjorie by letter.
Deputy Sheriff Jim Donahue at his home in Hannaford, overlooking Bald Hill Creek.
He did not become Sheriff of Griggs County. Unhappy circumstances led him to resign as candidate for Sheriff before the election. He continued serving as Deputy.
Elopement Frustrated by Sheriff Donahue
This interesting little account of long ago was in the Winona Minnesota Republican-Herald on Saturday August 10, 1907 in which a certain Sheriff Donohue of Mankato, MN played a part.
Research on Ancestry.com and Find-a-Grave.com provided the following information on the above mentioned Sheriff Donahue.
His full name was John William Donahue (spelled with an “a” in the obituary). He was born in Illinois of Thomas Donahue and wife Margaret (Hartnett) Donahue who came from Ireland to the USA during the civil war and settled on a farm in Kinsman, Illinois. John W. was born on this farm in 1866. He received a splendid education in Illinois and in 1893 he accepted a position as a traveling farm machinery salesman headquartered in Mankato, MN. In 1901 Mr. Donahue retired from the road and engaged in the retail farm implement business in Mankato.
He served as Chief of Police of Mankato in 1903, 1911 and 1912. At the expiration of his first term of chief of police, in the fall of 1906, He was elected to the office of sheriff and proved a most efficient and painstaking official. He was a man possessed of a kindly and charitable nature and was a friend to all. As a public official he was very successful, attentive, obliging, conservative and judicious in the fulfillment of his duties and anxious to serve the county and city to the very best of his ability. He cherished no animosity and was always willing and wanted to help mankind when in need. He too, was a kind and devoted husband and father. Mr. Donahue was married to Martha Reynolds Bohan, in this city June 20th 1907. They had five children. He died on July 7, 1919.
Extracted From Mankato Free Press clipping 1-28-1919
Finally, it is interesting to note that that the frustrated elopers, Samuel Tillotson and Edith Stockdill never married each other.
In Worcester Mass, the first large group of Irish arrived in 1820 to build the Worcester to Providence canal. They were prohibited from living in the village proper and were relegated to the swamp land along the Blackstone river where the canal was being built. Many of them stayed to build the Worcester to Boston RR, which competed with the canal. Other Irish followed, especially in the wake of the 1840 famines, throughout the 1800s. By the end of the century Worcester had more Irish per capita than Boston, with many Kerry O'Donoghues. They moved up from the lowland on the east side of the village to the surrounding hills. Many emigrants from Italy, Russia, Poland, etc. followed, creating the polyglot East Side. Also living on the East Side in those early years were freed African Americans. I'm the 1950s, the polyglot whites and the African American kids played basket ball in the school yard. The African Americans on one team, calling themselves "boots", naming the mixed nationality white team as "paddys". Boots refers to boot black, an early occupation, during a time when most of their white neighbors were Irish.
Contributed by Tim Donohue
Butte, Montana: Ireland's Fifth Province
My earliest memory as a child was watching a St. Patrick’s Day parade on my Father’s shoulders. My Dad was posted to Butte, Montana, USA with a busy post WW2 Army reserve unit. It was a hard scrabble rural mining town far away from the larger metropolises we associate with the Irish like Boston or San Francisco.
Years later when I became interested in my Irish family, I realized that Butte is regarded as one of the most Irish influenced small cities in America. It was town of many immigrants, but no other cultural group flocked to Butte quite like the Irish.
So, how did this heritage start? The story goes, in the late 1800s following the discovery of gold, silver, copper and other rich minerals in this area Butte became the center of high paying jobs and opportunities. Butte was known as the richest hill on earth. Hundreds of Irish men and women emigrated here chasing this new prosperity. An oft-told story is of emigrants being told, “don’t stop in America, go straight to Butte!”
Marcus Daly, one of the three “Copper Kings,” was born in Cavan and spoke Gaelic. When he saw the potential for demand in copper, he surrounded himself with fellow Irishmen. The Irish culture prevailed and was assimilated throughout the community.
At the height of Butte’s prosperity in 1900 one-fourth of the Butte population was Irish, a bigger percentage than any city in the United States including Boston. The Butte Irish, came from Cork, Mayo, Donegal, Kerry, Cavan and Wexford.
By the early twentieth century, there were 1200 Sullivan’s in the Butte City directory. (Irish Genealogical Society International).
The 2019 city of Butte is 30-odd thousand people, down from nearly 100,000 during WWI and is no longer the Richest Hill on Earth. Changes in technology and society, the depletion of immense orebodies, and the discovery of even more incredible deposits elsewhere have stolen that crown. What remains in Butte is a unique and storied city with a core group of people who still celebrate much of their Irish heritage. It is never more evident than on St. Patricks Day.
Sydney had its area with a high concentration of Irish families in the 1920s. The area was borderline "Ghetto". Historians might challenge this observation because Irish had arrived since 1788 and they were also sprinkled around Sydney generally, many families having integrated with the Anglo Communities. These Inner Sydney suburbs were Surry Hills, Wooloomooloo and Paddington, My Irish Donohoe family lived there 1880 to 1900.
Author Ruth Park wrote at least two novels on the subject. These are great stories. Movies have been made based on these books. The DVDs are available on the Internet. The books are titled "The Harp in the South" and "Poor Man's Orange".
The books focuses on a family living in the area amid a low class social environment. These areas embraced the Sydney red light district and the family interacts with the Madam, sly grog (moonshine?) business, cheap gangsters and stand-over men whilst on the positive side abides with the local Clergy amidst the Church society.
A biography of one of the Irish Madams, insinuated in these books, Kate Leigh nee Beahan, is sited on the Internet, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Leigh
I actually met Kate just before she died. It was a very unpleasant experience.
I also lived near the country town of Boorowa about ten years ago. That was an Irish town. The population is less than 2,000 people. It has a beautiful Catholic Church with the most stunning Altar and Sanctuary made of Italian marble. There is a local quote about a Nun travelling through the United States who was asked if she had been to Rome. She answered "No, but I have been to Boorowa". My Donohoe prospected for gold there in the 1880s. My great-grandfather fashioned his bride's wedding ring from Boorowa gold. I have it.
Contributed by Helen Frazier
In Portland Maine there was a very large community in Portland's West End. St. Dominic's church was at the center of the community and although it isn't a church but now the Maine Irish Heritage Center, there still remains a large number of Irish families in and around that area. Most, but not all, of the Irish who came to Portland came from the Galway /Connemara/Aran Islands region.
Philadelphia has one of the largest populations of Americans of Irish descent - it was at 14% last figures I read in a reliable documented article. There are still "ghettos" of Irish-descent in South Philadelphia, Kensington and Southwest Phila along with a lot of areas of Delaware County (one of the 5 counties in this corner of the state and contiguous with the city on that side of the city.
Going back 70-80 years, the irish settled in West Philadelphia and many of those folks, when they made enough to move out, moved to Delaware County. There were also communities in South Phila (a lot of whom upped and moved to South Jersey in the 60's and 70's. And those in Kensinglon and Port Richmond (towns that go absorbed into Phila and became neighborhoods) moved further north or northeast into the undeveloped northeast of the city during the same times frame.
There's a huge article on Wikipedia about the Irish in philadelphia which is much more detailed if you or anyone else is interested.. Here is the link.
Carol Hurley Law, responding to ‘How the Famine affected my family’ tells us the story of her Kerry/Cork families settled on Irish Mountain in West Virginia.
This was so extensive I felt it should be given the length of a journal article and with full picture content.