Ellen Kavanaugh was born March 14, 1863, Packenham, Canada, the second of 12 children of Edward Kavanaugh and Ann Devine. March 9, 1883, she and her sister, Mary, traveled to Odessa Township, Ramsey County, Dakota Territory joining their father Edward Kavanaugh, who left his family in 1881 for Dakota Territory. James J Hill’s railroad went as for west as Larimore, Dakota Territory. Ellen was 20. Mary was 21. Memories by Edward James Mullen states, “Mr Kavanaugh found work for Mary and Ellen with a Major at Fort Totten. Mary and Ellen came to Devils Lake, ND, which was a new town on the Great Northern. They took a boat from Devils Lake across the lake to Fort Totten. That is where father met Ellen Kavanaugh who later became his wife and my mother. As a girl, mother was carefree, happy, and quite pretty but the years on the prairie soon took their toll.”
Ellen Kavanaugh married John Mullen on November 26, 1884 in a Catholic church at Fort Totten. They had four children: Mary, Micheal J, Edward James and Ann. According to Memories by Edward James Mullen, “father had built a little house, a little straw covered barn and dug a well, so there he brought his bride. He had broken up quite a few acres with oxen. In 1885, father built on to the house so we children had a sleeping room. We were a happy family and real close although we didn’t have much we never went hungry.” John Mullen homestead was a 1/4 mile from Edward Kavanaugh’s. In 1890, all 12 Kavanaugh children were in Ramsey County.
Who was Ellen Kavanaugh? In Memories Edward James Mullen writes the following stories about his mother. “A bad storm was coming up and mother was deathly afraid of storms. She took the dish pan, tied a rope to the handle and put Mary, who was six months old, pulling her to the Orchards two miles north-west of our farm. Mother was deathly afraid of Indians and they weren’t very friendly to the whites in those days. I can remember one day when father was gone a big drunken Indian came to our door yelling and chanting an Indian war hoop. Mother grabbed us children taking us out the back door running all the way to grandpa Kavanaugh’s. We would hurry home from school and mother always had a slice of fresh bread for us. We said the rosary every night and on Sundays Mother would read from the Life of the Saints or from the big red catechism. Once in a while, we would drive to Devils Lake to mass with the horses and wagon. Father would have hay and oats for the horses and Mother would have lunch. Father and Mother would have to fast from midnight, not even a drink of water. Mother would always have a headache after the long fast.
Mary finished eight grade taking the teachers exam and she taught in the home school. In 1905, Mary decided to become a Dominican Sister. We were all pretty lonesome. Mother took it pretty hard as she had been in rather poor health for a few years. Micheal decided to take up law. He went to Michigan City to high school and in 1917 Law School at University of North Dakota. In 1912, Aunt Kate Kavanaugh, Mrs Will Lamb, died in childbirth and mother offered to take the baby to raise. His name was Pat. Mother lost many nights sleep caring for him as he was a sickly baby. We raised him until he was six years old. We became very attached to him. When Pat was six, his father, Will Lamb, took Pat and we were not to see him for two months. His heartless way of weaning him away from us. Mother took this very hard. She became very depressed and nervous. In August 1921, mother took real sick. We had two doctors, but it just seemed they couldn’t save her. In the afternoon of August 26th she passed away. After that it seemed their home was broken. That Fall, Father, Anne and I moved to Crary and Laurence Brown, mother’s brother-in-law, took care of the stock.
A glimpse into one families life on the prairie in the Dakota Territory, as North Dakota became a state in 1889 and into the early 1900’s. Could we have survived the brutal and lonely life. What choice did they have.