Recently, my mom and I were given an astonishing and generous gift - three thick, stale-smelling binders bulging with yellowed paper, torn newspaper clippings, and old photographs.
“You can take them home and read them and copy whatever you want,” Rita Maxfield, my newly discovered, distant relative offered. “Nobody else in my family is interested in this stuff.”
Two summers ago, I wrote a column about visiting the Wounded Knee massacre site and burial ground in South Dakota. I made a pilgrimage there, hoping to learn more about my great, great grandfather, Colonel Hugh Daniel Gallagher.
Col. Gallagher was the Pine Ridge Indian agent, appointed by President Cleveland, from Sept. 29, 1886 to the fall of 1890.
This branch of my family tree has always intrigued me. Col. Gallagher and his wife, Mary Ellen, moved their five children westward in search of adventure. During his service on the reservation, Col. Gallagher became friends with Chief Red Cloud and many Oglala Sioux.
According to the Red Cloud Indian School website, “The local Indian agent, a well-loved man named Colonel Gallagher, permitted children of the government schools in the area to attend the Mission school instead if they chose.”
All of Gallagher’s children - Charles, Bernard, Adele, Albert, and Anna Agnes - went to the Red Cloud School with the Lakota.
In the fall of 1890, Col. Gallagher’s successor, Dr. Daniel F. Royer, arrived four months early. Since the political climate had just switched from Democrat to Republican, Gallagher didn’t want to stir up any trouble; he promptly turned over his post to Royer and moved his family 35 miles southwest to Chadron, Nebraska and opened a store.
Shortly after Gallagher left, trouble began. Royer was recognized as a man of indecision; the Sioux threatened him. Royer even locked himself in his house and refused to come out, leaving the running of the agency to fall on his staff. Eventually, government troops were ordered.
On December 29, 1890, this escalation of fear led to disaster. Army troops massacred 147 Lakota at Wounded Knee Creek.
After the massacre, Col. Gallagher moved his family back to Indiana. His eldest son, Charles, chose to stay on the reservation and lived the rest of his life in the area. I always wondered what happened to him.
Not long after I wrote the column about visiting Wounded Knee, I received an e-mail from Rita Maxfield.
“I live in Indianapolis, born and raised here,” Rita wrote. “Anna Agnes (Col. Gallagher’s daughter) was my grandmother. She used to tell me stories of the Sioux Indians, blizzards, the Ghost Dances, Red Cloud, and we had at one time a War Bonnet, Indian child's clothing, a beaded ball, and things like that. This was all sent to the museum on the reservation. Charles stayed in South Dakota and married a woman named Nellie Farnum who was half Indian. He is buried outside the town of Interior in a small cemetery just southeast of that town.”
One little e-mail opened up a whole new world.
Last week, my mom and I finally had the opportunity to visit with Rita in person. It was magical to leaf through the scrapbooks of a person I just met, yet see familiar faces and places.
“My mother really wanted to join the Daughters of the American Revolution,” Rita explained. “It was a quest for her, gathering all of this information from way back.”
Rita’s mother, Marie Margaret Russell, completed all of her family tree research before the days of the internet. She traveled to libraries, historical societies, state offices, cemeteries. She searched out newspaper articles, birth certificates, marriage licenses, death records. She typed up pages of original letters Col. Gallagher wrote on the Civil War battlefield and sent home to family in Indiana. She tracked down and photographed turned-over tombstones in overgrown cemeteries. I would have loved this lady.
Marie finally became a member of the DAR in 1983. She passed away in 1988.
Nowadays, many people take information for granted. We assume that everything we desire to know can be found on the internet. Just google it, right? But some history - the good stuff - is still found on foot. It is contained in old three-ring binders and literally handed from one person to another.
Today, Rita is continuing her mother’s research. And, once again, I’m on my way to Pine Ridge. Charles Gallagher’s cemetery stone can’t be that hard to find.