Monday, December 31, 2012

Amanuensis Monday: McKenney (Part 1)


The following is from a small booklet written by J. Wilson McKenny in March, 1959. Two hundred copies were printed and bound. The one in my possession is number 18. This will be a three part series: the introductory part, the who-married-who-and-had-which-kids part, and the corrections (which came out three years later).


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This little booklet, written and produced by the grandson of a Missouri farmer, is simply the partial record of a family. The real story is told in deeds and not in printed pages.


McKenney is a name with the sound of the Irish. I have no evidence that it came to America from the Emerald Isle but the family, without benefit of geneologist, has assumed that its origin was either Irish or Scotch-Irish.

A map of the Irish Free State shows the McKenna clan centered at the mouth of the Ulster River in County Monaghan. The principal town is Carricknacross, not far from the River Glyde. Across the river and to the south in Leinster, Louth County, is the clan McKenny. My research does not reveal the home grounds of a clan McKenney. Did the two clans of similar name have a feud which separated them by the river forming the boundary of Ulstermen?

Since I have made no search of geneological records, I do not know when the first McKenney reached America. There is a village in central Virgina named McKenney; could an early ancestor have left his name as he passed westward?

It is probable that the first McKenney came from Ireland during the "Great Irish Migration" of 1827-38, caused by economic distress in the north and increasing factionalism in the south. The Irish began to stream to this country immediately after the War of 1812 and were second only to the Germans in migration during the 19th century. The majority were laborers and mechanics, attracted by the westward movement of the railroads.

In the record available to me I find no evidence of professional status ~ no doctors, lawyers, or senators ~ but neither is there record of insanity or crime. Writer Ruth (My sister Eileeen) McKenney doesn't count; we do not know her.

My grandfather, Jonathan Wilson McKenney, was born October 5, 1843, in Jasper County, Missouri. His parents were Jonathan McKenney and Louisa Butts, both of whom were raised in Kentucky. Louisa had a brother, Wilson, owner of a big Montana cattle ranch, who visited his nephew's family in Buena Park in 1898. Jonathan's parents are said to have had 17 children; he, the eldest, bore the nickname "Bud" throughout his life.

Aunt Emma says there were two sets of twins among brothers and sisters of my grandfather. She recalls the names of Louvenia, Emma, Martha, Albert, Howell, Frank and Galen. She says the family was raised in Dutch Corners, Cass County, Missouri, and that most of the sons went to the Colorado mines in the 1870's. Louvenia married Frank Stetson and lived in Bisbee, Arizona. Uncle Ralph says that Lou's daughter, Mattie Stetson Atkinson, still lives in Bisbee but that her memory is inaccurate.

J.W. joined the 22nd Missouri Infantry in 1857 at 14 years, serving as a drummer boy for 18 months. When he returned home he found his parents had been killed. Escaping bushwackers, the boy reached the Missouri river, crossed by grasping the tail of a swimming cow.

He enlisted in Company K of the 9th Kansas Cavalry, served in the Union cause 3 years, received an honorable discharge in 1865 with the rank of corporal.

Returning to Confederate Missouri and Arkansas, he worked as a truck-gardener near Little Rock. He met and married Louvenia Frances Arnett in Missouri in January, 1872; he was 28 and his bride was not yet 17.

Louvenia Arnett was born in Benton County, Missouri, February 28, 1855. Her parents died when she was an infant and she was raised by her grandfather, Andrew Youree, a Welsh Farmer. Her grandfather and step grandmother also raised 2 other children, Ida and Charlie Barrett, and an adopted daughter, Elizabeth Ann. Louvenia's sister, Sally, married her step grandmother's son Jasper James. Jasper, who might have been related to the notorious outlaw Jessie James, was in the Oklahoma land rush, claimed a homestead, but lost it in exchange for liquor. Louvenia's brother, Edward Joseph Arnett, born in 1860, married Allie Hickox, had four daughters and a son, and died in 1908.

Jonathan and Louvenia left Missouri in a covered wagon, making their first home in Colorado Territory. Uncle Ralph remembers his mother's stories of Indians stampeding buffalo and how the wagon train narrowly escaped destruction by savage or beast.

They remained 5 years in Colorado, where their first three children were born. Jonathan operated a truck farm near Denver, had men selling produce in the city. There is no family recollection that he engaged in mining with his brother's, who were said to have arrived in the Colorado gold fields about the same time.

In 1877 they returned to Cass County, Missouri, where the next 5 children were born on a farm near Archie, Lawrence dying at 18 months. Jonathan operated a threshing machine and he prospered. Having seen some of the opportunities of the west, he saved his money until he could move his growing family to California.

On April 1, 1887, with his wife and seven children ~ aged 2 to 14 years ~ he started the tedious railroad trip to fabulous Southern California, clutching in his hand the glowing promotional brochure of one J.A. Whitaker. They arrived at a railroad station named Buena Park (a promoter's euphemism from Spanish and English) a few miles west of Fullerton. Jonathan bought 18 acres of black adobe soil a mile northwest of the depot. Whitaker wanted the site for town lots and traded Jonathan 23.6 acres of sandy loam. On the new land Jonathan built a large frame house, the second residence in the district, and in this place the family lived and worked for 17 years. To the original acreage Jonathan added the neighboring plots until he had 73 acres at the time he sold out in 1905.

Jonathan was a good farmer and a hard worker. He believed his sons should be equally industrious and the growing family labored early and late on the dairy farm. My fahter has told me little about his father, except that he was taciturn, a 'good provider,' thrifty, and a member of the Methodist Church. He suffered for many years from the effects of disease contracted during the War.

When the McKenney family reached California, the state was just approaching its first million in population. (This year it will reach 15 million). Much of the rich flat land in the vast alluvial fan had not been settled and there was an abundance of sweet artesian water. The year after the house was built the state legislature created Orange County by carving off a piece of Los Angeles County and drawing the boundary line a mile west of the farm.

Six more children were born on the Buena Park farm, two dying in infancy. Most of them attended the Centralia school. The head of the family was not a "joiner" nor did he believe in wasting time in idle amusement. He did not encourage his children to seek education beyond the elementary grades. My father did not have parental blessing when he went to USC. As Jonathan prosered with the dairy, he bought stock in a pioneer Fullerton bank, later the Security First National.

After most of the children had grown and left the farm, Jonathan sold the Buena Park property and moved in February 1905 to a house on West Seventh Street in Riverside. Nearly two years later he sold this house, bought a small farm at 549 Magnolia Avenue, 5 miles south of Riverside. In the big two-story house across the tree shaded avenue from famous Sherman Institute, my grandfather died July 3, 1908, three months after my birth. Cause of death was believed to be a service-caused kidney disease, combined with pneumonia. He was 65 years old.

Some years later grandmother ~ "Mommie" to all her children ~ sold the bank stock and the Arlington (Magnolia Ave.) property and my father built her a comfortable bungalow on the heights above Laguna Beach. Here she died April 9, 1927.

Of the 14 children born of Jonathan and Louvenia, two died in infancy, two in adulthood. The remaining 10, with 57 of their wives, husbands, sons, and daughters, attended a family reunion at Bixbee Park, Long Beach, September 5, 1938. On the 20th anniversary of that meeting I dug out my notes and with the aid of Aunt Emma's memory and her "Pa's" diary, assembled the data for this booklet.

Unfortunately, I am unable to guarantee the accuracy of my information and I regret the absence of names and dates on the fourth generation, now fast growing.

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