After reading my post, From Sheepshead to Casper, a reader told me a story about her brush with a soon-to-be Casper, Wyoming sheep rancher.
In 1949, Katie Tierney was one of a new breed of Irish immigrant. Unlike the millions of Irish who came to the United States before her, Katie traveled by air, not water. An airplane trip back in 1949 was exciting enough, but factor in that this was a 3,000-mile journey from home to a new life in a foreign country, and you can imagine how Katie felt.
Katie was anxious as she stepped on the plane, but was soon distracted by a handsome man seated next to her. Richard Thornton was on his way to Casper, Wyoming to work on his uncle’s sheep ranch. Katie and Richard got to talking and hit it off, sharing their life stories and dreams for the future. When the plane landed, Katie and Richard exchanged addresses and went their separate ways.
Quickly, Katie settled into her new American life, and after about a month she received a letter from Richard. It wasn’t just any letter, it was a proposal. Richard laid it all out for Katie, telling her they would live on the ranch, but she wouldn’t be too isolated since they would go to town once a month. Richard assured Katie that he could not be drafted since he was engaged in the vital service of food production.
Although Katie was flattered, she turned Richard down. She didn’t see herself as a rancher’s wife. Richard was disappointed, but he soon recovered, married, and had a family. Katie went to work in Boston, met and married an Irish American man, raised three children, and had a happy life. Katie never forgot Richard Thornton, and from time to time thought about how different her life would have turned out had she accepted his proposal. Katie had something else in mind for her American life, and she worked to achieve her dreams.
Katie may have arrived in 1949 America in an airplane, but she was part of the tradition of single Irish women who left home in search of a future, since Ireland had so little to offer them, economically or socially. I admire these women so much.
If you are interested in learning more about the lives of Irish women immigrants, you must read Hasia Diner’s Erin’s Daughters in America. It focuses on the nineteenth century female immigrant experience, but is important to understanding the larger theme of Irish immigration. Excellent book.