Saint Patrick’s Day in Wyoming

St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in Wyoming for many years, and there were undoubtedly many celebrations held in the isolated forts and frontier towns that were not reported on in the papers.

The Irish played their part on the Western Frontier. There were many immigrants in the plains army regiments in Wyoming and many were Irish. The Irish fought in the Civil War as well, but after the war the army was scaled back, and the soldiers were out of work.

But, men were needed on the frontier to fight Indians, man the forts and police the frontier, so many came West. The Irish immigrants were attracted to the soldier’s life. Even though the Army conditions were not ideal, that job was better than some of the opportunities offered in the East. Soldiers were poorly paid, but they did receive food and a place to sleep.

Between the Civil War and the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, the Irish provided 38, 649 soldiers or about 21% of the soldiers on the frontier. ‘

A frontier soldier, (display at Little Big Horn Battlefield Museum)

The 7th Cavalry, lead by General George A. Custer, had a large proportion of Irish soldiers. Two of the highest-ranking soldiers in the 7th were Sergeants Michael Kenney from Galway and Michael Martin from Dublin. Fifteen sergeants and three corporals from Ireland rode into battle with Custer on that fateful day in 1876.

The only Irish officer in the 7th Cavalry was Myles Walter Keogh, whose horse Comanche gained fame as the only survivor of the battle.

Although fiction and movies are filled with battles and glory on the frontier, most of the soldiers’ life was hard and monotonous. It would not have been unusual for them to take any opportunity to celebrate.

Irish songs are a part of Wyoming’s heritage as well. The song, Garryowen is a Limerick drinking song, with a catchy tune. Custer’s band played the song on their way to the Little Bighorn Battle. In the Cheyenne Daily Leader, August 31, 1879 – At the unveiling of The Custer Monument – Unveiled at West Point. – West Point, N. Y- Aug. 30. 1879 …. Mr. William McDonald, sculptor, then unveiled the statue amid applause, then the band played Custer’s charging tune, “Garryowen,” after which Major-General Schofleld made an address of acceptance. Today, Sheridan’s American Legion 7th Cavalry Drum and Bugle Corps often play the tune.

After many of the forts were abandoned, many of the Irish went to work helping to build the railroads across Wyoming.

In the Medicine Bow Times, March 6, 1913 it gives some suggestions on how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. – Our next special day celebration will be the 17th of March, and we shall sorely see that the memory of good St. Patrick is kept green. Did you ever see such an array of emerald green and such variety of novelties as the shops are displaying? The best of all is that it is not necessary to lay claim to Irish ancestry to participate in the festivities, for St Patrick belongs to us all, so we’ll all be “a’wearin’ o’ the green and wish ye the top o’ the mornin’,” or, as it will be for most of us, “St Patrick’s day in the avenlng.” Here are some suggestions to be carried out at either day or evening affair: Make place doilies of green cardboard shamrocks and sprinkle smaller ones over the table. For centerpiece have, plant (oxalis) that is good imitation of the real shamrock, and at this season some florists make specialty of the real plants, also of coloring roses and carnations for the occasion. Artificial frogs and snakes of vivid green may be used as favors, or pipes and black hats with green bands and even cunning little piggies. As novelty make it?

The writer suggested some Irish songs such as, “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls,” “Wearln’ o’ the Green,” “Kathleen Mavourneen,” “Killarney’ and “Come Back to Erin.”

He added, I must break the rules and give this fine recipe for “Grane Tay” puncti, which Is just the thing to serve at card party: One pint of strong Infusion of green tea, one cup of orange juice, one cup of sugar, one-half cup of rum, and one-half cup of sugar syrup combined with two tablespoons of chartreuse. Mix all the ingredients and chill. Place In freezer and freeze to the mushy stage. Serve in orange cups set in punch glasses.

The Lander Eagle and Riverton News – March 17, 1911 – Today is the day of the blessed Saint Patrick, reverenced by the sons of Erin’s Isle the world over. So if you are a son of Killamey and chuck full of blarney, get out your dear little shamrock and pin it on the lapel of your coat. If you haven’t got any coat, pin it on your vest. If you haven’t got any vest, pin it on your shirt. If you haven’t got any shirt, pin It on your red flannel undershirt. If you haven’t got any red flannel undershirt, you’re no Irishman.

For years, since the rebellion of 1789, the British forbade “the wearin’ of the green” because it symbolized Irish dissidence. However, in the Cheyenne State Leader on March 4, 1920 there is this brief item 1900—Queen Victoria ordained that Irish regiments, in recognition of their gallantry in South Africa, (the Boer War) should in the future wear shamrocks on St. Patrick’s day.

In the Riverton Chronicle March 15. 1917, there is an article about the shamrock as a food source.

Few who put a sprig of shamrock in their buttonhole on the 17th of March realize that these little green leaves more than once kept the Irish from death in dire famine times. In 1506 the poet Spenser declares that the war had brought the miserable Inhabitants of Munster to a point where they “flock to a plot of watercresses or shamrocks as to a feast.” In his “View of Ireland” he describes this as the depth of ruin to which a land formerly having abundant corn and cattle had been plunged. The troubled times continued and the shamrock is mentioned as an article of food again and again. Nathaniel Colgan, member of the Royal Irish academy, says the earliest record of the “wearing o’ the green” is contained in the diary of Thomas Dinely, who wrote in 1687: “17th day of March yearly is St. Patrick, an immovable feast, when the Irish of all stations and conditions wear crosses In their hats, some of some of green ribbon, and the vulgar superstitiously wear shamrocks, three-leaved grass, which they likewise eat (they say to cause a sweet breath).

A later reference to the wearing of the shamrock appears In the works of Dr. Caleb Threlkeld, a botanist of the early eighteenth century. He says: “The people wear the plant in their hats in commemoration of St. Patrick, believing that St. Patrick used the three-lobed leaf to explain the Christian Trinity.

In the Rock Springs Miner March 16, 1907 –Yes, everybody knows that the shamrock grows In Ireland, but not everybody knows just what the shamrock really is. Even in Ireland, there is a difference of opinion as to the identity of the native emblem. Some hold that the shamrock is one plant, while others argue that it is another. Half a dozen plants contend for the honor. In America there are some patriotic Irishmen who will declare that they know exactly what the shamrock is and can distinguish it on sight, but in Ireland several varieties of trefoils or three leaved plants have entered the lists for recognition as the real shamrock, and no man really knows which Is which. As a matter of fact, any trefoil that comes from Ireland is the shamrock when It gets to the United States. It is a three leaved bit of green from the old sod and therefore eminently lit for use in the wearing of the green. The white clover is laid to be tho most popular candidate for shamrock distinction, though there la also the red clover, while the yellow clover, the wood sorrel, the bird’s foot trefoil and a few others present their claims.

So, on St. Patrick’s day, wear a shamrock or lift a glass of Irish beer, or green beer, and celebrate the Irish in America.

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