James Shields was born in Atmore, Co. Tryone, Ireland, on December 12, 1810, to Charles and Katherine McConnel Shields. He came to the United States in 1826 and studied law and after a colorful career in politics in Illinois he served in the Mexican War, attaining the rank of major general. He settled in Faribault, Minn., in 1855 serving as attorney for the Townsite company and was subsequently elected as a senator to the U.S. Congress in 1858-59.
General Shields induced many Irish colonists to homestead farms in what was to become Shields – ille and Erin Townships, a short distance from Faribault. Although he only spent a few years in Minnesota, Shields was a persistent organizer and colonizer and targeted the Irish to move to this area. He advertised in eastern newspapers and distributed fliers on the availability of homesteads that persuaded many to come west.
Shieldsville consisted of 36 sections of land that could be homesteaded. There are records of Timothy Shields having a store/hotel/saloon in1854, but the birth of the township began in 1856 in the cabins of Bernard Hunt. John Nagle and Michael Gavin, all natives of Ireland who emigrated in 1856. They were followed by James Murphy, James Carpenter, J. and Thomas Roach, Mr. Gillespie, Michael Delaney, Roger Madden, Thomas Menlon, Patrick Hagerty, William Mahoney, Thomas O’Donnell, Patrick Smith, Patrick Murphy, John Fitzgerald, Daniel Savage, John Buckley, Thomas Coleman, James Finley and Patrick McKenna. These were the families that settled on sections of good farmland that contained large amounts of tim ber and eight lakes. When the township was actually formed on May 11, 1858, the officers elected were Joseph Hagerty, Patrick Conniff and Patrick Smith. Constables were Michael Hanley, Patrick McKenna, Tim Doyle and James Roach. The Justice of the Peace was John Finley. The population of Shieldsville in 1880 was 118 persons. I guess you would say it was an “Irish Settlement.”
The town of Shieldsville was platted June 12, 1856, which included a Post Office (1856-1905). The first school district (No. 3) was set up in 1855 with a cost of $2 per pupil, with James Bently the first teacher. St. Patrick’s Church, established in 1856, is one of the oldest churches in Rice County and was build for $1,200. The pastor was Rev. John J. Malloy, and the first born were John H. Hunt and D. F. Hagerty; the first marriages were in 1857 between Michael Gavin and Mary Ann Rogers and James Carpenter and Ellen McCoherty.
Michael M. McMahon, born in Co. Clare, Ireland, was a very interesting resident, having a business in the 1880’s as a wagon maker. McMahon invented a flying machine and claimed that his flew before the Wright Brothers became famous. He had a few of these machines in his barn and claimed a couple of them flew. Later, old timers said that he had a “machine in the air with a dog as passenger” and should have had the honor of being the first with a practical idea for flying.
In 1931 the first gas station was opened by James K. McFadden and in 1935 he was issued a license to sell 3.2 beer. This became the resort on Shields Lake, called Camp Winona. His son, James V., opened an ice house and had a route, where he delivered ice to individuals through the 1930’s.
Shieldsville is a unique. intriguing community and doesn’t take a back seat to anywhere, not even Scotland. Shieldsville has its own “monster” and there are many residents who swear to a Lake Mazaska monster. In an article in the Faribault Republican, dated August 4, 1875, it was reported that “Shieldsville has a sensation in the shape of an aquatic monster that inhabits the lake, whether it is a sea serpent, devil fish, alligator or some monster yet new to naturalists, is yet to be determined.” The monster was reportedly sighted by Dennis McEvoy and Michael McMahon.” On January 25, 1976, area snowmobilers staged a big “Monster Vigil” on the lake, attracting a crowd of more than 4,000 curious people who saw the “monster emerge from the lake. The legend lives on.
Right next to Shieldsville, Erin Township was formed approximately 10 miles out of Faribault on Dodd Road (a military road between Fort Snelling and Fort Ridgley) which consisted of about 282.42 acres. This is where it all started when Dodd Road was hardly more than an Indian path. The Erin Irish came around 1855, all natives of Ireland. Those first pioneers were Jeremiah Healy, Sylvester Smith, John Burke, John and James Cummings, and Owen Farley by oxcart team. In 1856 James and Charles McBride, Andrew Kelly, D. and John Callahan, J. O’Reilly, Thomas and Peter Ash, T. Flanagan, Peter Sheehan, Edward Carroll and Patrick, Timothy, Daniel and Dennis Mucahy arrived.
John McManus married Elizabeth Kelly and generations were established. One woman, Mrs. Thomas Clarken (Mary Hickey) lived to be 100 years old. She was born in 1848. One of the earliest settlers, Sylvester Smith, became a well founded businessman. Although from Ireland, he came overland from Iowa and brought with him a grindstone. Everyone for miles around would come to him to sharpen their axes, plows, knives and saws, as this was the only one in the territory.
At the unveiling of Shields statue in the Minnesota capitol on October 20, 1914, an address was given by Archbishop John Ireland, which, with the portrait of Shields and a biographic paper by Captain Henry A. Castle, was published in the Minnesota Historical Society Collections.
This military hero certainly
made an “Irish” impact on Minnesota.
This article was written by Ida Troye, who wrote many columns for the Irish Gazette. They were titled “The Greening of Minnesota.” They told about how Minnesota’s various communities were settled by Irish Immigrants. We will be reprinting a few of them in our future issues. If you enjoy this history please write to The Irish Gazette editorial board and let us know and if you have a story of your ancestors arrival in Minnesota please also tell us and we can report of that in upcoming issues.