From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
Did you ever observe an old man, more than three score and ten, driving a mule about the same age hitched to a cart, moving at a snail's pace, through the avenues of the garrison?
If you did, then you may pride yourself in having seen "Old Honey." When he came to the United States and registered himself at Castle Garden, he gave his name as Michael O'Mara.
O'Mara has been in the employ of the government almost since he landed in 1855. He differed from most of his countrymen who came before him, in that he was not "forninst the guvernment." In appreciation of this patriotic feeling the "guvernment" has never been against O'Mara.
With a single exception, "Old Honey" is the oldest employe in years and service, at Fort Leavenworth. He is a typical Irishman. There are but few of his kind left, either in this or any other country.
While he can neither read nor write, he can "figger" sufficient to look after the dollars and cents. It is said he saved a good many of them, to assist him on in a rainy day. At any rate, the old man owns a nice home in the city and deserves never to have any rainy days. If he has his way about it, there won't be any, for he intends to die in the harness.
O'Mara first saw the light on September 1, 1828, within four miles of the celebrated town of Limerick, County Clare, Ireland, of course. There he grew to young manhood and finally emigrated to Devonshire, Eng., the famine of that period making it a necessity. The great struggle for existence in the "ould dart" led him to try his luck in the land where "milk and honey" was said to be flowing in the streets. He wanted to seek the blessings of the land where every Irishman could be his own king without calling on the House of Hanover to do the king business for him. Managing to scrape enough together to pay the passage for himself and wife, O'Mara arrived in New York in the fall of 1855. There he remained but a short time going to Baltimore, thence, on foot, to Washington, a distance he covered in one night. He arrived in the capital city without a "red cent."
The same day he was employed under Captain Meigs, in charge of capitol construction. He continued on the same job for two years, when he and his wife came west. The Meigs referred to, later became quartermaster general. O'Mara takes pride in relating not only this fact, but also that he was employed on the National "Cave o' the Winds."
In 1887 he went by rail to Jefferson City, then the western railway terminus. To Leavenworth he came by way of the Missouri river.
The Ordnance department was at that time engaged in the construction of two large warehouses at the post. The work was superintended by Mr. E. T. Carr, still a resident of Leavenworth.
O'Mara was employed to carry the hod and assisted in finishing the buildings. One of these store house is now Sherman Hall. He was retained by the Ordnance Department until 1874, when he was employed by the quartermaster. While employed by the department, O'Mara, engaged in digging a cistern just south of what is now Sherman Hall, met with a cave-in, remaining under a heavy weight of earth for thirty minutes. He was rescued more dead than alive. He suffers from the effects to this day.
For thirty years "Old Honey" has been driving the mule and cart. Not perhaps always the came cart, but the mule looks to be the same. At any rate, the gait has not changed a bit. All three look just as they did thirty years ago.
In 1883, Capt. L. E. Campbell came here as depot quartermaster. The captain was a hustler. He made quite a cleaning up of "old timers" and "time servers," but O'Mara was retained. He afterwards dubbed him "Old Honey," and the designation has stuck to him. Every old soldier, every officer and every old timer knows of "Old Honey." His fame extends between the two oceans.
O'Mara's wife died a few years ago having lost her eyesight some years previous.
O'Mara is a kind hearted old Irishman. He is as true as steel. Always ready to do a kindly act. Thoroughly honest and reliable. His seventy-six years have been filled with hard work. No complaint was ever lodged against him that he failed to do his duty as he was told.
May he continue to enjoy the blessings of Uncle Sam and have his wish, to die in the harness, fulfilled, at a much later date.