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.
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.
The couple was married in the basement of the cathedral in Wichita, Ks that the Fox brothers were working on.
James continued to work as a stone mason in Harvey County. The couple had four children.
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.
- “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.