“The Hardest Task in Life:” Bridget Kennedy Fox

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Early Harvey County was a melting pot of people and cultures. From the Prussian Mennonites to freed slaves, many families came to build homes and community. Each has their own story.

Seventeen year old Bridget Kennedy stepped off the train in Newton, Kansas after a long exhausting journey that began in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland. No doubt the first thing she saw was the dusty, dry flatness of the town and prairie. Traveling alone, she later recalled that she did not speak to anyone until she arrived in Kansas and met her cousin, Mike Connell.

The life she left behind in Ireland had been difficult. Her father had recently died, leaving her mother alone with six children. Food was scarce due to potato crops which failed every couple of years throughout the 1800s. The desperate conditions were covered by the American press and perhaps influenced a cousin in far away Kansas to write and offer help.

Mike Connell, had left Ireland for the US at the age of thirteen, after the death of his father. Connell lived in Newton and worked for the AT&SF. He had heard that his mother’s brother had died, leaving a large family.

Michael P. Connell.

Michael P. Connell. in Smurr, Harvey County History, p. 148.

He wrote a letter asking; “Would one of his cousins be willing to come help his wife?” Bridget decided that she wanted to go.  She knew her mother would probably send one of her older siblings, so, she secretly contacted Connell, saying she would come. She arrived in Newton in 1879 and for the next several years helped Jennie Connell care for the children.

She married James Fox in 1886. James Fox, born in 1862 in New Jersey. The Fox family had come to Kansas and by 1880 were farming a homestead in Highland Township, Harvey County, Ks.  Soon, James joined his older brother, Edward, as a stone mason.

foxconstruction

James Fox, building contractor, Newton, Ks, ca. 1900

The couple was married in the basement of  the cathedral in Wichita, Ks that the Fox brothers were working on.

Church under construction in Wichita where James and Bridget Fox were married, 1886.

Church under construction in Wichita where James and Bridget Fox were married, 1886.

 

James and Bridget  Kennedy Fox wedding photo, 1886.

James and Bridget Kennedy Fox wedding photo, 1886.

James continued to work as a stone mason in Harvey County.  The couple had four children.

Hugh Fox

Hugh Fox  (1887-1935)

Nellie Fox and James Fox, Jr

Nellie Fox (1889-1974) & James Fox, Jr (1891-1971)

Leo Fox

Leo Fox (1896-1976)

In 1908, James died leaving Bridget, age 45,  a widow.  Leo, the youngest was only 12.  She also took in Mike Connell’s youngest son,  Charles, after Mike Connell died in 1909. Throughout her life, Bridget was active at St. Mary’s Church, serving on the Altar Society from 1887 to her death in 1950.

Despite all of the challenges and hardships Bridget faced, when asked later in life what was the hardest thing she had to do, she replied, “memorize her prayers in Gaelic in order to be confirmed.”

Bridget Fox, Harvey County pioneer, died May 22, 1950 at the age of 87.

Sources:

  • “Death of James Fox” Obituary Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 3 January 1908, p. 5 and 6 January 1908, p. 5.
  • “Mrs. Bridget Teresa Fox” Obituary, Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 22 May 1950, p. 5.
  • Newton City Directories 1885, 1887, 1902, 1905, 1911, 1913.
  • U.S. Census, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1930, 1940
  • Smurr, Linda C.  Harvey County History, Harvey County Historical Society, Newton, Ks, Curtis Media Corp., 1990.
  • http://www.maggieblanck.com/Mayopages/1880.html
  • http://www.proni.gov.uk/index/exhibitions_talks_and_events/19th_century_emigration_to_the_north_america_online/the-homeland.htm

Hail to Our Newton!

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Tiny, dainty notes make this piece of music a visual work of art in addition to a sheet of music.  HCHM Archives has two copies of a single sheet of music entitled, “Hail to our Newton.”  There are only two clues to the history of this piece of paper.

At the bottom of the page:

 “The notes and words are hand printed with a brush by Philip Launhart.”

and on the back – two halves of a campaign sticker from Dr. J.R. Brinkley for Kansas governor.

Based on the stickers on the back, the sheet music could be dated to the mid-1930s.  Dr. John R. Brinkley, also known as the goat gland doctor, ran unsuccessfully for Kansas governor in 1930, 1932 and 1934.

A search for information on the man who “hand painted” the music led to a story of  the difficulties of pioneer life  and starting over. According to his obituary,  Philip J. Launhart was born in Poland on 19 February 1891 to Philip J. and Mary Hoffman Launhart. He had four older sisters; Katherine (1880), Mary (1884), Laura (1886), and Elizabeth (1888). The young family lived with Philip, Sr’s widowed mother in Poland/Prussia until she died.  At that time, they decided to immigrate to the United States.  Mary’s brother, Carl Hoffman, encouraged them to come to Kansas and settle in Hodgeman County, near him and his family.

“So different than . . . Germany”

The family immigrated and settled in Hodgeman County, Ks, in May 1893. Philip was 2.  A second son, William, was born in Kansas.  Mary later wrote about the first months on the Kansas prairie.

“Philip worked hard plowing and sewing the feed that spring, but due to the lack of rain, nothing grew.  They hadn’t been in the country long enough to get firmly settled, so Philip hadn’t invested in cattle like most farmers in the area, so their livelihood was getting scarce. Philip and Mary had both begun to regret their move to America.”**

The family struggled through their first winter on the Kansas prairie. With the coming of spring and a new growing season, perhaps the elder Launhart’s felt a sense of optimism.  However, one year after they arrived, tragedy struck the Launhart family.  Mary later wrote;

“On May 9, 1894, in the afternoon, the two older children had gone to the neighbors to play, and about 4:00 in the afternoon a dark cloud was making its appearance from the Northwest.  Philip was in the field when he saw the dark clouds coming so unusually fast, which was so different from the weather in Germany, he hurried home. “**

Once home, Philip gathered the family in the house.  Three of the children were told to sit on the trunk in the bedroom, while Mary held  baby William on her lap on the bed.  Philip stood nearby. “All at once everything went black”  and after a bit Mary realized something had happened.  Her husband was laying on the floor, all of the windows were broken out, and the south wall of the bedroom was completely gone.  She “couldn’t make out what had happened.  She tried to revive Philip, but to no avail, he had died.”

Mary was left in a strange country with six small children and only 75 cents.  She knew very few people since the focus of the family had been on establishing the farm.   Even though he was not well known, Philip Launhart’s funeral was well attended.   Mary described the funeral and her feelings.

“When the casket was in place to be lowered into the ground, the minister continued talking and later as it was being lowered, Mary seemed to be going down with it.  She gave way and if it hadn’t been for a couple of neighbor men standing on each side of her, she would have fallen to the ground.”

Philip Launhart, Sr was buried in the Hanston Mennonite Cemetery, Hanston, Hodgeman County, Ks.

To support her family, Mary went to work as a housekeeper in the home of a widowed man by the name of Lewis Horn. Mary’s four older daughters went to work and board with other local families. Eventually, Mary married Horn.   By the late 1890s, the blended family consisted of Horn’s son, William;  Mary’s two sons; Philip and William; and Edward, their son together.

Lewis Horn was a man with a violent, unpredictable temper.  In approximately 1900, his abuse of his eldest son William (13) became so violent that the young man ran away eventually coming to Halstead, Ks.   Mary continued to live with Horn for approximately a year. Finally, in fear for her life, Mary left with her two sons, Philip and William, and moved to Newton, Ks. She later wrote of the abuse suffered at the hands of Lewis Horn and the threats made to her life.

Establishing a business in Newton, Kansas

After arriving in Newton, Philip, William, and their mother, Mary, lived at 226 SW 5th.  As a teenager, Philip  worked as a painter for the Santa Fe.  Over the next several years, he was able to establish himself as a self employed sign painter.

Philip J. Launhart.  Note advertisement on bicycle for sign painting business.  Photo courtesy Lynda Gregory Friesen.

Philip J. Launhart, Newton, Ks n.d.
Note advertisement on bicycle for sign painting business.
Photo courtesy Lynda Gregory Friesen.

 

William married Daisy Koppes and  moved to a rural residence near Halstead. The couple raised four girls.  Mary Hoffman Launhart died on 18 June 1943.  Three years later Philip  married  Grace M. Brady.  They continued living at the house at 226 SW 5th.

Philip died 5 February 1966 after a three week illness that required hospitalization at Bethel Deaconess Hospital, Newton. His wife, Grace, survived him.  Other surviving family members included a brother, William of Newton, a sister, Mary Schmidt [Schmitt] of Hutchinson, and a half brother, Edward Horn of Hanston, Ks.

The initial question of the significance of the sheet music was not answered.  However, the story of a pioneer mother’s courage and the resilience of her two sons was revealed.

Special thanks to Lynda Gregory Friesen for sharing the family history written by Mary Hoffman Launhart as well as the photo of Philip Launhart, Jr.

**Launhart, Mary Hoffman personal documents translated from German by Mary Launhart Schmitt edited by Lynda Gregory Friesen.

If you have information about the music, “Hail to our Newton,” please contact HCHM.  An additional original copy of this music is  located at the Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College, N. Newton, Ks.

Sources:

  •  Newton Kansan, 7 February 1966 obituary for Philip J. Launhart.
  • Evening Kansan Republican, 18 June 1943, p. 4. Obituary for Mrs. Mary Launhart.
  • Newton City Directories, 1905-1965.
  • United States Census, 1900, 1930, 1940.
  • United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 Index.
  •  Find A Grave John Philip Launhart, Sr. (1854-1894)
  • Launhart, Mary Hoffman personal documents translated by Mary Launhart Schmitt edited by Lynda Gregory Friesen on Find A Grave Memorial for Lewis C. Horn (1858-1941)
  • Friesen, Lynda Gregory to Kristine Schmucker, e-mail correspondence dated April 11, April 12, April 14, April 15, 2014.