Thursday, February 20, 2020

Whatever Happened To Irene Moynahan?

I am writing this rather sensational "Moynahan" story fully prepared to delete it in its entirety within the next 48 hours if requested to do so by the descendants of this "Monahan" family. My motivation for writing it is not found in the sensationalism of what happened to Irene in her first eighteen years, but to celebrate the life that unfolded after the newspaper headlines were confined to the archives.

These three rules guide my storytelling on my blog. Telling the truth of course is at the very foundation. Playing nice with others means seeking their permission to share their information (photographs, oral history, etc) and giving them credit as well.

Most importantly, the third point is a reminder that not ALL stories are MINE to tell. That is why I am publishing this story for review with the Monahan family historian

Irene Moynahan

Over the years, in the course of my "Moynahan" newspaper research, I have discovered "Moynahan" stories that are so interesting that I have felt compelled to write about them even though the paper/DNA trail does not connect me to the subject. I add these stories to my "Moynahan Scrapbook" on this blog.

I had come across the 1913 story of Irene Moynahan many, many times over the years. It appears in over 202 newspapers, usually on the front pages (where the sensational taglines entice people to buy the paper), and involves a Moynahan family in the Cripple Creek, Colorado area where I have located Moynahan kin previously. My interest in the area and the spelling variant of "Moynahan" caught my attention.

San Francisco Chronicle
(San Francisco, California)
16 Feb 1913, Sun  •  Page 50
Could Irene's Story Be True?

This past week, I decided to see if there was any chance that the story was true by searching my genealogy databases for a father named Timothy and a daughter named Irene on the 1910 census and I found a family in Colorado! The spelling is "Monahan" and not "Moynahan" which is quite common for records of this period.

Source: Year: 1910; Census Place: Township 15, Teller, Colorado; Roll: T624_125; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0188; FHL microfilm: 1374138
Could this be the family in the story? News articles mentioned that Irene's father Tim (born in Cobh, Cork) was a miner and lessor of the Independence Mine in Cripple Creek and he is listed on the 1910 census as a miner.

Another news story stated that Mrs. Timothy Moynahan explained that "she had always passed him off as a girl because of her disappointment in having two sons. Not even her husband was aware of the boy's sex she said."

The Richmond Item
(Richmond, Indiana)
10 Jan 1913, Fri  •  Page 12
Two Monahan Sons?

Irene had only one older brother (Willie) on the 1910 census and there was a daughter (Ellen) born over a decade after the mother commenced dressing Irene as a girl.

I had to locate the family on the 1900 census to determine if Irene ever had two older brothers as indicated in the newspaper.

Source: Year: 1900; Census Place: Salt Lake City Ward 2, Salt Lake, Utah; Page: 9; Enumeration District: 0025; FHL microfilm: 1241684
In 1900, the Monahan family was living in Salt Lake City, Utah and there are two sons born before Irene (Daniel and William) and a brother born after (John).

Irene Moynahan Arrested in 1913

Irene was arrested in December/January of 1913 in La Junta on the train to Bisbee, Arizona by Marshall/Sheriff A.H. Weincke who suspected that Irene was a fugitive trying to get out of state disguised as a women.

Irene "professed the most utter amazement and indignation at his arrest and said he knew of nothing wrong he had done."

Bisbee Daily Review
Bisbee, Arizona
14 Jan 1913, Tue  •  Page 8 
The Fort Wayne Sentinel
Fort Wayne, Indiana
17 Jan 1913, Fri  •  Page 13

Evening Star
Washington, District of Columbia
09 Jan 1913, Thu  •  Page 12
The Fort Wayne Sentinel
Fort Wayne, Indiana
17 Jan 1913, Fri  •  Page 13
The Fort Wayne Sentinel
Fort Wayne, Indiana
17 Jan 1913, Fri  •  Page 13
I cannot even imagine what transpired in the Monahan family immediately following Irene's arrest. How did father Timothy and Irene's brothers and sister react ? How did Irene's mother Mary (Callahan) Monahan explain this to the whole family? We will never know.

I am even more curious about how Irene processed this new information and what emotions were felt and expressed. Try to imagine a similar story in today's context. There would have been some sort of psychological counseling provided and relentless news interviews and follow-ups. Not back then.

In the 1914 Bisbee Directory, Ira is listed as a miner
1914 Directory: Source: Ancestry U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989

Ira ("Jack") Monahan 
(1894 - 1947)

I searched for the Monahan family on the 1920, 1930 and 1940 censuses and what I discovered was that Irene, having apparently accepted the unusual circumstances, went on to live an interesting and fulfilling life as a man, son, brother and father and I find great comfort in knowing that.

I came to understand that "Irene"'s name was changed to "Ira" and that he often went by the name "Jack" as well.

The family moved from Colorado to Arizona finally settling in Bisbee in the southeast of Arizona, 11 miles north of the Mexican border.

Postcard: Bisbee, Arizona circa1909 (Public Domain)

Panorama: Bisbee, Arizona circa 1916 (Public Domain)

Panorama: Bisbee, Arizona 2009 (Creative Commons)
Between 1916 and 1918, Jack Monahan served in the U.S. Navy making 11 trips across the seas to France and was hoping to be on the crew to escort President Wilson on his way to the Peace Conference (1918). His brothers were also in the military: William was in the army in France and brother John was in the Navy in Norfolk, Va..

Bisbee Daily Review
Bisbee, Arizona
01 Oct 1918, Tue  •  Page 4
Bisbee Daily Review (Bisbee, Arizona) 01 Dec 1918, Sun • Page 6
In 1919, Ira Monahan met and married his bride Louise J. Koerner in New Jersey after being discharged from the Navy

Bisbee Daily Review ( Bisbee, Arizona) 07 Aug 1919, Thu • Page 6

Ira (and his brothers) followed in their father's footsteps and found employment in the mining industry.
1920 Census
Year: 1920; Census Place: Lowell, Cochise, Arizona; Roll: T625_47; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 31
Between 1920 and 1930, Ira's parents passed away: 
father Timothy Monahan (a miner) died in 1923 and mother Mary died in 1929.

Photo credit: Find A Grave: Evergreen Cemetery Bisbee, Cochise County, Arizona, USA
 Ira and Louise had their first child John D (1920) followed by Shirley (1922 born in New Jersey) and Gerald (1927)

Bisbee Daily Review Bisbee, Arizona 18 Sep 1921, Sun • Page 8

It seems that Jack (Ira) was a gifted and natural athlete and in 1921, Ira ("Jack") and his brothers were playing some old timer football in Bisbee's Warren Park.

Bisbee Daily Review
Bisbee, Arizona
20 Sep 1921, Tue  •  Page 6

1930 Census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Bisbee, Cochise, Arizona; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0008; FHL microfilm: 2339790
 In 1940, Ira, Louise and children moved in with Ira's brother Dan J Monahan and his wife Pauline

1940 census
Year: 1940; Census Place: Superior, Pinal, Arizona; Roll: m-t0627-00113; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 11-11
1947: Ira ("Jack:) Monahan Dies in Mexico

In 1947, Ira Monahan was working as a mine superintendent in Mexico when he died at 52 years of age. He is buried in Mexico in Grave 666:

This past week, researching the life of Irene (aka Ira (Jack) Monahan), has forced me to reflect on a number of complex issues like gender, identity, and family secrets. This story has drawn me in and I felt compelled to write about it even though it was not my story to tell.

How I wish that Jack would have written a book about his life and those first eighteen years, his experiences, and the transition to life in the Navy and later in the mining industry. I hope he had a good life. I don't think I will ever forget his story. I know that I will never forget him.

May he rest in peace.

More Clippings

The Daily News
(WaKeeney, Kansas)
04 Feb 1913, Tue  •  Page 2
The Day Book
Chicago, Illinois
08 Jan 1913, Wed  •  Page 8
The Fort Wayne Sentinel
Fort Wayne, Indiana
17 Jan 1913, Fri  •  Page 13

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Telling My Ancestor's "Settler Stories"

I believe in the power of story and the importance of telling family stories for future generations. Family narratives can aid in building resilience in children especially the stories about the hard stuff endured by our ancestors (like "we came here with nothing"). Hearing about our ancestor's setbacks and losses (and how they got through them) can be a "secret super power" for our children when they have to overcome some inevitable obstacle in their life.

I have been struggling to find a way to write the story about our settler ancestors in the context of the first nations people. Our present day awareness and important ongoing dialogues flowing from the 2009 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. make this an important and necessary part to include with our family history narratives. I want to show how the first nations existed and interacted with our ancestors ..... But how to do that with pure intentions, honor and respect?

To start, I have collected settler stories from various Essex and Kent county pioneers during the same time period of our ancestor's first arrival in Ontario.

Note on Terminology: Terminology, particularly as it relates to Indigenous peoples, is tricky to navigate. In some articles and quotes in this blog post, the term"Indian" is used. Aside from this specific legal context, the term “Indian” in Canada is considered outdated and offensive and is used here only in its original historical context. In every other case, I have used “First Nation” which is a term used to describe Aboriginal peoples of Canada who are ethnically neither Métis nor Inuit.

The "Colonized" Become the "Colonizers"?

My ancestors arrived (c. 1825-1830) in Essex county, Ontario from Ireland which was a country that had been colonized by Protestant settlers from Great Britain.

The history of Ireland preceding my ancestor's departure was one best summarized as:
".. cruel despotism and intolerable religious persecution! In the devising of laws for its government, the most depraved ingenuity would seem to have been exhausted, while in their administration every means calculated to render exceptional and heartless legislation more odious, more oppressive and more humiliating, was employed with lavish prodigality. The laws as enacted were a disgrace - as administered , a public scandal! The religion of the people was prohibited. Its open profession was proclaimed - the solemnization of its rites was by law, punishable. No nuns, no Christian Brothers, no monks were tolerated. To teach a Catholic to read or write was a felony. The son of a Catholic was rewarded for abjuring his creed by the conferring of legal right to rob his father. The Catholic trader could not legally acquire fixed property. Parliamentary, judicial, magisterial and municipal distinctions were, by law, forbidden to the Catholic no matter how eminent his qualifications. Thus, the Catholics of Ireland were, in fact, "aliens in the land of their birth"."
(Quote: Orator-Priest Father Cronin (7 Aug 1875; Detroit Michigan)
The "Oppressed" Become the "Oppressors"?!

Given the historic oppression and circumstances of Irish Catholics, it would be reasonable to expect that when our Irish settler ancestors arrived in Ontario, the persecuted and oppressed would not then become oppressors themselves?

Spoiler Alert: It was Irishman Nicholas Flood Davin (1840-1901 born at Kilfinane, Ireland) who wrote the 1879 Davin Report that called for the establishment of a residential school system in Canada to remove Aboriginal children from “the influence of the wigwam".

Whether or not our ancestors were participants or the architects of something as cruel as the residential school system, we, the descendants of Ontario settlers, have benefited from systems that provided opportunities for our ancestors while robbing first nation people and their descendants of the same. This is an important truth that must form the basis for the stories that follow.

 The McKee Treaty No. 2 (1790)

The province of Ontario is covered by 46 treaties and other agreements, such as land purchases by the Crown, that were signed between 1781 and 1930. (See:


In May 1790 Alexander McKee, Deputy Agent of the British Indian Department, and the principal chiefs of the Ottawa, Potawatomi, Chippewa and Wyandot negotiated a treaty whereby the British Crown acquired title to what is now southwestern Ontario. This treaty completed the process begun with Niagara treaties of 1781 and 1784, with the result that most of the Ontario peninsula was soon opened to British and Loyalist settlement.

The Windsor Star
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
16 Sep 1922, Sat  •  Page 17

McKee Purchase / Treaty 2 (1790)
Archives Search - Library and Archives Canada
The treaty text can be read here:
The original document (4 Pages) can be viewed here: 
Archives Search - Library and Archives Canada

Collecting Our Collective Stories

In all my research on Essex and Kent counties in Ontario, I have searched for instances where my ancestor's stories intersect with the stories of the first nation people. I know that when my ancestors arrived between 1820 and 1830, the very trails that brought them to Col. Thomas Talbot in London, Ontario and then to Essex county were trails created by first nation people.

Aspects of Land Acquisition in Essex County, Ontario, 1790-1900

Later, as a young girl visiting Windsor, I noticed the "Indian names", Wyandotte, Tecumseh and Ottawa, that were used widely (and curiously almost invariably for east-west streets).

Here are a few of the Essex and Kent county stories that I have collected.

My great-great-grandfather Jeremiah Moynahan was born in Essex county in the year of the Rebellion 1837. In the years following the rebellion, Sir Richard Henry Bonnycastle, a lieutenant-colonel in both the Royal Engineers and the militia of Upper Canada, left a vivid description of Southwestern Ontario These descriptions are found in two books, "The Canadas in 1841" and "Canada and the Canadians in 1846"

Here is a description of what Sir Richard Henry Bonnycastle, wrote about what he saw on the banks of the Detroit River:

The Windsor Star
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
15 Feb 1947, Sat  •  Page 23
 In 1900, Timothy Moynahan told his life story to the Detroit Free Press and this account included comments about the "Chippewa Indians"

"I settled in Sandwich township, eleven miles from Windsor, engaging in the occupation of farmer. The hunting was fine, there being plenty of deer, bear, rabbits, squirrel and raccoons. I counted twenty-nine black squirrels in a tree one day. There were fine shots in our neighborhood, and the decapitation of a squirrel in the tallest tree was not reckoned an extraordinary feat of marksmanship. The Chippewa Indians roamed the country at the time, but they never gave us any trouble."
Pictured here is a band of First Nations on Wapole Island after participating in a Sandwich Town celebration and river pageant in August 6,1909.

Indigenous man and his horse on Wapole Island, 1910.

University of Windsor: SWODA:

University of Windsor: SWODA:

In the late 1600s and early 1700s, what is now known as Walpole Island and the surrounding area was settled by people from the Ojibwe and Odawa nations. Today it is still considered a reserve.

The Windsor Star
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
18 Jul 1925, Sat  •  Page 17

Source: The Windsor Star; 1929

Robert John Herdman (born the 12th of August 1834 on Huron Line in Sandwich South), on the occasion of his 94th birthday, shared memories of the early pioneer days "when wolves howled and prowled about, when oxen furnished motive and hauling power, and when Indians still roamed about in bands hunting game for a living."

The Windsor Star
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
19 Jul 1929, Fri  •  Page 8
Oldcastle pioneer Henry Dumouchelle (1860-1962) recalled the pioneer days when, in the winter, "Indians" would be welcomed into his fathers home to get warm and they would make his bows and arrows for him as a boy.

The Windsor Star
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
09 Dec 1960, Fri  •  Page 3
Source: Sandwich South Archives:
 Russell Phillips of Olinda, Ontario wanted to dispel the illusions of most city-bred boys in 1936:

The Windsor Star
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
08 Aug 1936, Sat  •  Page 15
I have written previously about Eliza (Fortier) Moynahan's sister Angelique Fortier (1816-1895) who married Chief Joseph White Sr. - Chief of the Wyandotttes (who died in 1885).

Descendants like 12-year-old Ken Moynahan (of Tilbury, Ontario) found native artifacts in his grandfathers farm field in St Joachim, Ontario.( In a future post, I hope to write in more detail about "Indian artifacts"in southwestern Ontario.)

 Clipped from The Windsor Star Windsor, Ontario, Canada 04 Aug 1993, Wed  •  Page 5
The Conclusions of a "Not-Knower"

"Settler stories as counter-narratives that create decolonizing space are both interior and relational. As such, they require us to risk revealing ourselves as vulnerable “not-knowers” who are willing to examine our dual positions as colonizer-perpetrators and colonizer-allies."
This collection of stories is just a beginning as I try to figure out a way to become part of the massive truth telling about Canada’s past and present relationship with the original inhabitants of this land and how to include a critical Indigenous counter-narrative that is urgent and important for genealogists and family historians to include in their stories. Below are ten suggestions for continued work:

Ten things that genealogists and family historians can do:
  1. PLACES: Learn what places were and are important to Indigenous people by finding a book about Indigenous local histories. Learn the original names of places.
  2. LAND OWNERSHIP: When researching your ancestor's land holdings, pay attention to who signed the papers, how did they get authority to grant land and is it ceded or unceded territory
  3. LOCAL MUSEUMS: When visiting a museum, do so critically. What stories are being told and by who? What artifacts are on display, how did they get there, and what processes are in place around repatriation. If there isn't an indigenous section, ask the staff why not.
  4. WATCH YOUR WORDS: Learn the difference between Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit. Don't not call your group of friends a “tribe,” describe a meeting as a “pow-wow,” call a non-Indigenous leader “Chief.” or describe your pet as your "spirit animal"
  5. TEACH YOURSELF: Learn what they neveer taught you in scool about indigenous history by reading ("The Inconvenient Indian: a curious account of native people in North America" by Thomas King)  or listening to podcasts (CBC Massey Lectures "The Truth About Stories" or )
  6. RESEARCH: Consider using Indigenous research methodologies in your work. Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies (1999) is the singular most important book for this. (Video lecture:
  7. FIND OUT if there was a residential school where you live. Memorize its name and visit its former site.
  8. GOOGLE: "One Dish One Spoon", (the law used by indigenous peoples of the Americas since at least 1142 CE to describe an agreement for sharing hunting territory among two or more nations)
  9. CONSIDER your own position as a settler Canadian. Do you uphold practices that contribute to the marginalization of Indigenous peoples? Dispel common misunderstandings and myths.
  10. Look for and share the positive stories about Indigenous people, not just the negative ones.

Max FineDay's Lecture "Promised Land: quote:
”The Promised Land", as this lecture is titled, is an homage to the question that we have yet to answer. It's a reminder of what my ancestors and yours agreed to.
It's the ending of the story that we're writing right now,' “


Miscellaneous: Detroit Native 
Was Well-Known "Indian" Interpreter 
Clipped from
Detroit Free Press
Detroit, Michigan
15 Nov 1860, Thu  •  Page 1