Grace wrote this history of her family in 1992.
This is the story of where we came from. Although probably more is forgotten than remembered—so many questions not asked!
We are the O’Rielly’s, although there is only one branch left with the name we all carry some of the look and the traits that we inherited. Sometimes we are dreamers like Dad and sometimes worriers like Mama — and we all enjoy a good story and lots of laughter.
They lived ordinary lives in what we can look back on as extraordinary times. Dad used to say he couldn’t believe all the changes that had occurred during his lifetime. The automobile, two world wars, a great depression, the airplane, a draught that lasted on the plains for almost twenty years , the exodus (which they joined) from the plains and mothers two sightings of Halley’s comet.
Dad was born in the Black Hills country of South Dakota in Spearfish on February 2, 1894. It was the real wild west then. Now there is talk of a giant complex to be devoted to the spirit of Dancing With Wolves, native Americans running bingo parlors and other trappings to make it seem like what it was but when he was being raised there– it really was.
Dad was the third of 8 children. In the photo we have they look like stairs step. Jim, Gertie, Joe, Lucille, Miles, Isabel and Pat. Their last child, Cleona, was born a little before mother and dad’s first daughter, Josephine, was born.
All of the children look very serious (did you ever notice that in old studio portraits? Maybe because they had to stand still for a long time.) Joe’s suit looks a tad big for him but he has a wonderful bright look about him and very clear, intelligent eyes.
Patrick O’Rielly was born about 1817 in County Kerry, Ireland. Mary Scanlon was born about 1812 in County Kerry. The O’Rielly’s sailed from County Cork in 1849 with three children. Possibly during the potato famine or maybe just because they were poor, they joined the exodus and came to the new world. Seems pretty brave to me but they were part of the million or more who made the journey. They settled first in Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada. In 1865, they went to Franklin, Pennsylvania, before moving to Jamestown, New York. In 1868, they migrated west to Akron, Iowa. In 1873, they settled in Union County, South Dakota, near Beresford, which is south of Sioux Falls. There had been a gold rush set off by Custer’s infamous announcement of a big strike, but they were probably twenty to thirty years too late to be part of that. Mary died in 1881 at age 69. Patrick died in 1893 at age 76.
Dad remembered that his grandparents lived with his family in Rapid City and were both small and dark, always wore black. Grandma Mary went off to the Catholic church every morning and Grandpa Patrick spent his time in the saloon. Their children were George, Robert, William and Leo. We don’t know what became of George and William but Robert was our grandfather and the youngest, Leo, was a druggist who had his pharmacy in Eagle Rock and Dad visited him regularly after we moved to California. He was a wonderful man for children to know — making strawberry sodas for us and letting us read all the magazines in his wonderful smelling store. He also loved to gamble and bought a house very close to Santa Anita Racetrack.
Robert married Nina Marie Armour (she was Scotch and French and reported to be very lovely to look at) and they began to have and raise the large brood named above. One thing about the O’Rielly’s you should remember is that they moved a lot. You’ll see that later on but this bunch had itchy feet or were always looking for something more. The times Dad liked best were the summers they homesteaded in Montana. If you could live on the land long enough the government would give it to you. They lived in tents and the boys were paid five cents for every rattlesnake they killed. They always returned to South Dakota but it must have made for some summertime trip.
The O’Rielly’s were the teamsters of their day in Rapid City. Dad called them draymen. With big wagons and huge draft horses they collected freight from the train station and delivered it thru the town and countryside. All the boys (I don’t know about Leo) seemed to like their drink maybe a little too much.
Dad was a bright student–he loved to read and continued to read and collect books, particularly on history and biographies all of his life. When he finished his obligatory 6 years of schooling he was asked to take over a one room schoolhouse . He went to meet the students and found that most of the boys were bigger than he was– he hadn’t reached his full growth–and he declined but thought he would have enjoyed it if he had been a bit bigger.
He would go into the Black Hills in the summers and sometimes went with an older fellow who was a horsethief and showed him small box canyons where he could hide his horses. At one point the KKK was trying to recruit in Rapid City and they rented a big hall for a dinner They were serving BBQ buffalo and all the trimmings.. A group of boys (including Dad) were watching through the windows as the speeches went on and on–America for Americans etc, etc. Finally the called on a Native American, dressed in buckskin and wearing a feathered headdress for his views. He rose to his fullest height and said “There are only two real Americans in this room — me and that buffalo.”
In those days Dad played the cornet in a band. The cornet is a near relative of the trumpet. I wonder what tunes they played.
My Mother, Hazel, was born 100 years ago on July 9, 1892 clear on the other side of the state in a farming community called Montrose. I’ve often thought of her time as being something akin to Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder was from DeSmit which is in the same area. South Dakota is divided by the 100th meridian which effectively divides the prairie into east and west; wet and dry (less than 20″ of rain per year) tall grass prairie and short grass prairie So Montrose was east, wet, tall grass and very good for farming.
Mama’s father, Joseph Quackenbush was a farmer. Joseph’s family came from England and Germany and he was born in Albany, New York. Mother didn’t know exactly how long the family had been in this country but it must have been for some time since on the one time we passed through Albany I saw a street near the capitol building called Quackenbush which made me think the family must have been somebody or done something, though I can’t say which. He had been married and come west with his wife, Sarah, and son, Bert. He had a sister — Lottie Warner, also living there with her husband Seymour and their family. Joseph’s wife, Sophia, died and his son was almost grown and he was lonely and only in his late thirties.
Our grandmother was another adventurous soul. Her name was Sophia Peterson (or Pederson) and she was born in Norway in a village named Christiana and must have left from Bergen along with her sister Johanna (Hana) arriving in Sioux Falls in 1883. She worked “in service” until Joseph came along in probably 1888 or ’89 and they married and began life together in and around Montrose. There were four children: Ruth, Hazel Marie, Henry and Fred. They lived on at least one farm. They didn’t appear to care much about moving around the countryside.
Mother didn’t have as many stories as Dad and only began to tell them as she got older. She remembered her job as a child was to keep the wicks on the kerosene lamps trimmed and tidy and to wash the glass chimneys when they became blackened with soot. She remembered her father going to town with the horse and wagon, sometimes being gone for a day or even two days. Her mother didn’t like those times because she had to collect water from a creek some distance from the house. She didn’t mind that but they owned a bull that ranged free and was put into an absolute fury at the sight of her skirts moving in the breeze. So leaving the children in the house with them all on the watch for the bull she would try to go forth slowly so as not to draw attention to herself and if he did see her she would move as fast as she could while trying not to spill the water. ostly Mother remembered Sophia for being sick for a long time. It was thought that she was suffering from TB. But the doctor finally came to Joseph and said they had been treating her for the wrong disease, she actually had stomach cancer and she died from it at age 42. Mother was 12.
Mama expressed great admiration and love for her father. Although he was advised to give all the children to others to raise he said, “No, I’ll keep them all together” and he did. Mother was born with a large port wine stain birthmark. It went from the right side of her head, down her forehead and covered her right eyelid. We always saw it and so didn’t think much of it but I’m sure it made her a shy child, unsure of herself.
I don’t know that mother thought she would marry. So at an age when others were marrying she took herself off to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mitchell to go into training to become a nurse. Her father only had $20 to give her and she went to Mitchell with that and one pair of black shoes that she polished and polished and wore until there were holes in the soles She used folded newspaper to fill the space in order to save money. It was 1910. Nursing school was very, very hard work — classes and patients 24 hours a day. And when the classes and shifts were finished it was up to the third floor for studying and sleep. It turned out she really liked this rigorous life.
She kept working during a scarlet fever epidemic, nursing patients and nursing nurses. She was one of the last to get sick. Her fever was so high that she lost her hair and had to wait a while til it came back. She particularly liked surgical nursing which she studied under “the noted surgeon Dr. B. A. Bobb. After graduation she went to work with Dr. Bobb at a clinic he opened. He had a surgery on the first floor and she was in charge of the medical section on the second floor. Mother always said to us girls that we should have some career so that we could always take care of ourselves. She was able to use her skills many times during the years to keep the family going.
Now its time for Joe and Hazel to meet. She knew Daisy O’Rielly, who was married to dad’s brother Miles and that girl loved to dance. And that’s how they met, a blind date at a dance. My sister Nina asked me if I had every seen Mother and Dad being affectionate with one another and I had to say no but they must have felt something once because they married when she was 24 and he was 22.
There was a great World War going on while they are setting up housekeeping. They ignored it long enough to have their first child who they named Josephine. But Americans boys were being called on to enlist and save Europe from the dreadful Huns. Dad enlisted and mother stayed with her father and the baby in Draper. Her father was sick with heart disease and died in October of 1918. The secret she kept all of her life she whispered just two months before she died was this: her father had a small amount of money to leave and he told her to keep it all and not give any to her sister Ruth because she was not his daughter. Sophia had come to him with the baby. I asked Mama what she had done and she said “I gave her half of the money.” And did you tell her? “No. She was my sister.”
Dad was trained as a machine gunner in World War I but he would never talk about the fighting. Just stories about how scared all these midwestern types were out in the middle of the oceaφn. As many as possibly could do it slept on the deck. No matter what the weather, it was better than the tight, airless space below decks.
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That’s as far as Grace got with writing her family history .
In her oral tradition, she told of how their departure for California was prompted in part by her Dad’s run in with the Church. He dared to check out a book on the life of Martin Luther. The librarian snitched to the priest and Joe suddenly started getting bills for a family pew he’d never requested. He refused them, of course, and soon found trade was falling off in his dairy.
With World War II creating demand for workers in Southern California, Joe and a reluctant Hazel decided to move their family to East Los Angeles. In the barrio Grace found herself adopted by the gang in her hood, who warned all other gangs that they had her back. Perhaps this explains how on their first date Grace sang Me Voy Pal Pueblo, a song by the Trio los Panchos.
Our friend Colleen Foye Bollen talked with Gracie about her family’s move from South Dakota to California and sent these notes:
Her dad got gassed during WW1 with mustard gas. It hurt his lungs, so he could not tolerate the South Dakota winters. His three brothers had all moved west to Oregon.
Grace was about seven when she and her family moved from South Dakota to LA. Her mom had a large family and it was difficult for her to leave them and move out west. They moved to East LA. Most of the neighborhood was Hispanic. She would stay with the neighbor kids after school, even though she was supposed to stay home alone. Her dad had a whistle she could hear from blocks away. When he got home and whistled, she’d run home.
Her mom was a nurse – worked 3 pm to 11 pm. Grace spent a lot of time with her dad.
The Mexican gang from her street told all the other gangs that Grace was one of theirs & off limits. They watched out for her and kept her safe.
When Grace’s family arrived in LA (about 1943) the Zootsuit riots were happening. Grace told me about Mexican gangs – pachucos – that fought Navy guys. She said the pachuco gang members put razor blades in the toes of their shoes to do more damage to the sailors. She could hear the gangs running in the streets with the metal toed shoes when she was in bed.
Grace went to the prom with a Mexican boy, but had to meet him down the block so her father wouldn’t know. She could hang out with the Mexican girls, but not the boys.