Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.


Michael Sweeny

MICHAEL SWEENY. The first settlers and pioneers of Western Kansas are usually reckoned as those who went out to that country during the decade of the '70s, or about forty years ago. Occasionally one is found who knew the country in its wild and reckless condition some ten years previously. Such a one is Michael Sweeny, now living at Pawnee Rock in Pawnee County. Through his career there is a link between the present and that era when the Indians were still fighting the onset of civilization and when practically every man went about armed not only for protection against Indians but against white outlaws. Michael Sweeny has been as remarkable for his varied experiences as for the success and honor with which he has managed his business and civic relationships.

As his name indicates, he is an Irishman, and arrived in this county just in time to break into the ranks of the Union army as a soldier fighting the rebellion. He was born on a farm within four miles of the City of Limerick, Ireland. His birth occurred January 1, 1840, and he has lived for over three quarters of a century. He is a son of Bartholomew and Ann (McInarney) Sweeny. The Sweeny ancestry is traced back to the eighth century through a long line of Irish people in County Limerick. Throughout all the generations the Sweenys were typically farmers. Bartholomew Sweeny had seven children, and four of them came to the United States, Michael, James, William and John. Michael grew up on the home farm near Limerick, and in 1861 sailed from London for New York. He landed from the ship Liverpool at Castle Garden, where millions and millions of foreigners have first touched the land of freedom.

The date of his landing was the 20th of April, a week after Fort Sumter had been fired upon. The whole country was in a state of excitement and troops were rapidly being organized to put down the rebellion and restore the union. Michael Sweeny soon came into touch with some old friends in New York and with true Irish enthusiasm they urged him to join the army. Though only a few days over Michael Sweeny was not lacking in patriotism and he tried to join the famous Sixty-ninth New York Irish Regiment. Its quota was already full, and instead he became a private in the Forty-second New York Infantry, under Captain Robb and Colonel Mooney. The regiment was drilled and equipped and prepared for service at Great Neck. It was first ordered to Washington, and from there marched toward the first Bull Run battle, but on the way met the retreating Federals flying toward the capital after that disaster. The following winter and spring the command served along the Potomac, and Michael Sweeny's first fight was at Ball's Bluff, where Senator Baker, colonel of the First California Regiment, was killed. After Ball's Bluff the Forty-second New York formed a part of the army ordered to Fortress Monroe, and Mr. Sweeny took part in the Peninsular campaign, and the Seven Days fight ending with Malvern Hill. From there his command fell back to Newport News, and thence went around to Alexandria and formed a part of that expedition for invasion of Virginia which ended with the second Bull Run battle. Michael Sweeny was in the battle of Chantilly, where that noted frontiersman General Kearny was killed. When Lee invaded Maryland he met the Federals at Antietam and there on September 17, 1862, Mr. Sweeny was wounded. A piece of shell hit him in the shoulder and he was sent to the hospital at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. After recovering he was discharged from the service. For one month he worked on a railroad. When Lee's army invaded Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863 he joined the Nineteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry on the 9th of April. With that cavalry organization he went into Tennessee and Kentucky, participated in some raids and at one time was in pursuit of the Confederate General Forrest. However, his experiences in the West were by no means so arduous as in the East. He was in the Guntown raid in Mississippi, but soon afterward was placed on detached service, in which he continued until the war closed and he was discharged at New Orleans.

For nearly two years after the war, Mr. Sweeny was located at Holden, Missouri, where he was assisting in the contruction of the railroad from Holden to Kansas City. On the 17th of March, 1867, he made his first acquaintance with Kansas. At Junction City he began working an the grading of the Union Pacific Railroad. That work proceeded rapidly until summer, when the Indians became so hostile that the laborers had to suspend operations. Nearly all the men on the working force were armed, and in addition a body of soldiers was sent in by the Government. After a short lapse work was resumed. Mr. Sweeny had charge of a gang of men between Fort Hays and Fort Wallace after the track was laid to the latter point. About November 1, 1868, he left the service. During that year one or two Indian raids were made. In one of them the section house at Ellis, which was then only a side track, was burned, and the station pumper, an old German soldier, was killed and the boarding cars burned. Mr. Sweeny might have met his fate in the same raid, and escaped only because he obeyed an order of the roadmaster to look after some repair work on a bridge west of the station. He was a mile away when he saw the smoke of the fire and heard the yells of the Indians.

When he left the road he had several months of pay due him and he quit work in order to get his money. He was paid off at Lawrence, and while there he cast his first United States vote for General Grant.

A little later he went back to Fort Hays and joined Colonel Forsythe's Scouts on their return from the battle of the Arickaree. The little band was placed under the command of Lieutenant Pappoon. The Scouts and the Seventh United States Cavalry Regiment left Fort Hays under Sheridan and Custer on an expedition against the hostile Indians then in Southern Kansas and Indian Territory. They marched across the prairie to Fort Dodge, and while en route experienced one of the worst blizzards Mr. Sweeny ever saw. Arriving at Fort Dodge they waited until the wagon train caught up and then broke the ice and crossed the Arkansas River about seven miles below town. Starting toward Camp Supply, they marched along through a continuance of the blizzard. The snow had reached a depth of about two feet and was drifting badly when they arrived at the camp. Here they awaited the coming of the Nineteenth Kansas, which had started under Colonel Crawford, who had resigned the governorship of Kansas in order to make the campaign. The Seventh United States Cavalry was to meet the troops from Fort Hays somewhere near Camp Supply. Mr. Sweeny and other scouts were detailed to beat back toward Wichita and intercept Crawford's command. After traveling some hours horsemen were discovered in the distance and they proved to be the advance guard of Crawford's troops. These troops likewise had suffered badly from frost, had lost many of their horses, and the men were strung along over the prairie for miles.

The two commands having been united at Camp Supply the army was ready for its conflict with the Indians. Some days later a few scouts while out hunting turkey came across a fresh Indian trail which proved to be that of Black Kettle's band of Cheyennes. The trail was followed up by Custer and his Seventh Cavalry, who overtook the Indians on the Washita, engaged in a pitched battle and practically destroyed the band. After the battle of the Washita the entire expedition continued to Fort Sill, which they established near the Washita River. While nearing that place the whites were approached by the Kiowa Chief, Satanta, Satank and other chieftains, accompanied by the scout Johnny Malone, who was detailed it is believed from the command of General Hazen, which was to join the Seventh Cavalry and Nineteenth Kansas regiments and take part in the reduction of the wild tribes. The chiefs were arrested when it was seen they intended to leave the camp clandestinely. General Sheridan ordered Satanta to bring his tribe to camp within a certain time or else be hanged. After two attempts at reaching them with Indian riders they reported at Fort Sill and there Satanta made one of the great oration's of his life in broken English. He told his followers of the way the red men had been chased from the Atlantic to the Pacific, had been murdered and scattered by the civilized white men, and now no longer had any place to go. After his speech a peace pact was made and signed, two white women captured and carried off in Kansas were returned, and the Indians were placed upon reservations. Thus the main object of the mission having been acomplished[sic] the army of Fort Sill waited further orders and supplies.

While in camp at Fort Sill Mr. Sweeny was detailed to guard the tent of General Sheridan. While on duty a courier came from Fort Gibson or Fort Smith with dispatches from Washington. These dispatches contained the news of General Grant's inauguration and notice of the appointment of General Sheridan as a major general, among other things of importance to the little army. Toward the end of March the independent company of scouts accompanied General Sheridan back to Fort Hays, passing through Fort Dodge, and this forced march was made and completed without special incident. On arriving at Fort Hays Mr. Sweeny left the military service and since then has been a civilian. Thus in addition to nearly four years of active service in the Union army he put in nearly a year in the frontier and plains service.

The life of the civilian in Western Kansas at that time was hardly less dangerous and exciting than that of the soldier. For a year or so Mr. Sweeny lived in Ellis County. In the fall of 1869 he was elected county clerk, being the first official so elected in the county. He was chosen on the republican ticket. C. B. McIntosh was elected representative, while a candidate for sheriff on the same ticket was "Wild Bill," J. B. Hickock. Hickock was defeated. Fort Hays was then the center of much of the wild and reckless life which characterized Western Kansas when it was the domain of the cattle man, the Indian and the buffalo. Mr. Sweeny witnessed the depredations, the feuds and the dissipation caused by the presence in Fort Hays and other centers of many characters who had no regard for law and order and were willing to impose their own contempt of life as a menace to peaceable and law abiding folks. He is one of the few Kansans still living who have more than one personal recollection of that noted character, Wild Bill, then city marshal at Fort Hays.

After two years as county clerk Mr. Sweeny came out to Pawnee County. There was probably not more than a half dozen real homesteaders and farmers in the entire county. It was a region of cattlemen entirely. He was made the first agent of the Santa Fe Railroad at Pawnee Rock, and in that vicinity he entered the homestead upon which he is still living. For six years he remained as railroad agent, and went back and forth to his work upon his claim. He attempted little farming until after proving up his land. His office and station was just about such a one as the company now provides at Pawnee Rock. Much of his business was a result of the large migration of Mennonites who were coming into this part of Western Kansas and who took up most of the Government land around Pawnee Rock. Mr. Sweeny finally left the station agency to become an extra track foreman for the company. He was engaged in laying steel and putting in new sidings and passing tracks between Newton and Dodge City and for about twenty years was employed on construction work of that kind for the Santa Fe. Finally giving up his work with the railroad Mr. Sweeny returned to his farm, where many years before he had established his family home. His family lived on the farm practically throughout his service with the Santa Fe.

At first his home was a three-room frame house with a basement. That structure has since disappeared and in its place now stands one of the conspicuous two-story form homes of the locality. As a farmer Mr. Sweeny has found it most profitable to grow wheat and cattle, and as time passed he invested his profits largely in Hodgeman County land. Five of the ten quarter sections he owns there are under cultivation and improved. Near Pawnee Rock the family owns three quarters and an eighty.

People have a high respect for the name of Michael Sweeny not only for his keen business judgment and the success he has won, but for the public spirit and integrity which have characterized his work as a citizen. Near Pawnee Rock he helped form a pioneer school district and was its treasurer for thirty-two years. As a result of his army service during the war he acquired citizenship in the United States without the lapse of the regular routine of naturalization. As already stated, he voted for General Grant in 1868 and was a republican until Horace Greeley was a candidate for President in 1872.

In later years Mr. Sweeny has been recognized as one of the efficient legislators of Kansas. in the fall of 1900 he was elected to the Lower House, and during his term George Baker of Lawrence was speaker of the House. In that session he was a member of the committee on railroads and fees and salaries and other minor committees. He was one of some thirty-five democrats in the House. Their candidate for United States Senator was David Overmyer against J. R. Burton. After an interval Mr. Sweeny was again elected to the House, in 1906. During the following session he supported the Stubbs administration measures, including the primary law, the two-cent fare law, and the guarantee bank deposit law. He was especially interested in the last and spoke and voted for it. He nominated Judge Benson as a candidate for the United States Senate. He did so because they were comrades in the war and because the judge was already in the Senate and a man of experience and ability. While always interested in politics Mr. Sweeny was never ambitious to hold office himself. It was only the urgings of his many friends that caused him to become a candidate. Among varied interests he is a stockholder of the Pawnee Rock State Bank and in the Elevator Company at Gray, Kansas. Mr. Sweeny and wife were reared Catholics and they brought up their children in the same faith.

At Leavenworth, Kansas, September 16, 1872, about the time he took up his homestead in Pawnee County, Mr. Sweeny married Miss Delia Smith. She was born in County Galway, Ireland, and came to America with her father, Edward Smith. Mr. and Mrs. Sweeny have reared in their Pawnee County home a large family of children, and they are all young people of promise and ability and several of them now occupy homes of their own. Annie, the oldest, is the wife of William Crumpacker, of Walla Walla, Washington. Maria died in Pawnee County when quite young and a popular school teacher. James is a farmer in Pawnee County. Lizzie is the wife of James Fleming, of Larned. Ellen married John Mooney, of Hanson, Kansas. The other children, all still in the family circle are, Alice, Lillian, John and Edward.


Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.

Volume 4 - Table of Contents

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