WIGGANS

DECEMBER 10, 1875

Fallacies About Wiggans

There are many false reports and fallacies that have been spread through the years about exactly what happened at Wiggans Patch during those early morning hours of December 10th, 1875.  Some news stores give the wrong date as December 9th, probably because the murders occurred after midnight, at about 3 am.  Other areas of misreporting include identifying the victims as Ellen O'Donnell McAllister and her husband, Charles instead of her brother, Charles O'Donnell, and including the McAlisters young child in the ranks of the murdered.  Obviously, the baby that 21 year old Ellen was carrying at the time died. However, the older child - a son named John - lived and went on to move into the Kehoe household in Girardville for a time.  Along with him was his grandmother, the matriach Margaret O'Donnell and her son-in-law and John's father, Charles McAllister, who survived the attack.

Some of the confusion may have arisen from the 1969 Hollywood movie, The Mollie Maguires, starring Sean Connery and Richard Harris.  In the movie, a scene depicting what most people think are the O'Donnell murders shows a man and women being torn from their beds by intruders and the man shot.  This is not how the Wiggans Patch murders occurred. The movie has many inconsistencies, outright fabrications, and chronologically inaccurate time tables of events.  It is to be remembered that the movie was based on actual events that happened in the coal region but that was as far as the similarities went.  It was not a documentary. Much theatrical liberty was taken with the entire script.  It cannot, like any work of creative expression, be taken at face value.

 

Left: Margaret O'Donnell in Girardville not long after the Wiggans Patch murders with her young grandson, John McAllister, son of Ellen O'Donnell McAllister and Charles McAllister 

The 1880 census, five years after the horrific murders and two years after the execution of Jack Kehoe, finds members of the Kehoe, O'Donnell, and McAllister families living at the Hibernian House in Girardville and listed as such:

Kehoe, Maryann, W, F, 31, widow, hotel keeper, born in Penn, Father born in Ireland, Mother born in Ireland.
Kehoe, Joseph, W, M. 12, son, single at school, attended school, born in Penn, Father born in Ireland, Mother born in Penn.
Kehoe, Margret, W, F, 11, daughter, single, at school, attended school, born in Penn,
Father born in Ireland, Mother born in Penn.
Kehoe, Bridget, W, F, 10, daughter, single, at home, attended school, born in Penn, Father born in Ireland, Mother born in Penn.
Kehoe, Ellen, W, F, 9 daughter, single, attended school, born in Penn, Father born in Ireland, Mother born in Penn.
Kehoe, Maryann, W, F, 7, daughter, single, attended school, born in Penn, Father born in Ireland, Mother born in Penn.
O Donnal, Margret, W, F, 57, Mother, widow, house keeper, cannot read, cannot write, born in Ireland, Father born in Ireland, Mother born in Ireland.
McAllistor, Charles, W, M. 27, boarder, widower, coal miner, 3 months unemployed, born in Ireland,
Father born in Ireland, Mother born in Ireland.
McAllistor, John, W, M. 5,son boarder, single, born in Penn, Father born in Ireland, Mother born in Penn.

(**spellings of names are noted as taken directly from the census record)

It is likely much of the confusion regarding the actual victims comes from the duplicate first names of the men.  Living in the home at the time were the O'Donnell brothers, Charles and James - who went by the nickname "Friday", and the McAllister brothers, also named Charles and James.

Another frequently heard fallacy is the ridiculous accusation that Jack Kehoe killed his own in-laws because Charles O'Donnell was a liability. Kehoe's critics are fond of branding him as a cool and calculating assassin. Nothing was further from the truth. Jack Kehoe was an intelligent, hard working man who loved his family, fought for what he believed in, and refused to bow down to any man.  He came to America to be free and fought for that freedom.  It is very likely that because Jack Kehoe was clearly the leader of the men fighting for a miners' union, that which was dearest to him was attacked to try to goad him into doing something that would give the local coal and iron police the opportunity to throw him behind bars.                                               

                                                      Above: Maryann O'Donnell Kehoe, wife of Jack Kehoe

James McKenna/McParlan, the infiltrator, said many times that he could find nothing to use against the union organizers.  In his quest to overthrow the "secret" organization of Mollie Maguires, it must be wondered why it took him so long to build a case when, according to Franklin Gowen, Benjamen Bannon, and Captain Linden, violence perpetrated by the Irish miners was a reign of terror.

No one will ever really know what exactly occurred that night in Wiggans. The attack was efficiently executed.  There were few witnesses. None were able to categorically identify the masked and long oil coated band of 30 or more men who terrorized the sleeping O'Donnell clan, their extended family, and several boarders.  Many theories have been offered, but none can be documented or proven. It is suspected, however, that there were many who knew who perpetrated the crime but would not come forward.  In 1877, the Catholic priest Father Daniel McDermott commented that "Who counselled, abetted, and committed the Wiggans massacre has long been an open secret." Yet, he never broke his silence nor did any other.

Was it fear that held their tongues?

Margaret O'Donnell, full of grief at the loss of her two children, eventually named the local butcher as one of the terrorists.  He was a fellow named Weinrich who also was squadron leader of the Silliman Guards in Mahanoy City.  One newspaper report stated that during questioning, Mrs. O'Donnell said Weinrich was not wearing any covering on his face.  The family of Margaret O'Donnell said that she saw Weinrich's face when she pulled off his mask during the attack. Nothing came of this accusation.  The news reports from The Shenandoah Herald describe a series of events that rendered that testimony null. 

Somehow, the idea was introduced that her son-in-law Constable Jack Kehoe told her to positively identify Weinrich.  It is difficult to know what exactly transpired but the papers made it sound as though Mrs. O'Donnell was making the story up on Kehoe's order.  It seems highly more likely that the grief striken matriarch's words were taken out of context. In the newspaper accounts of the Coroner's Inquest and later, following Weinrich's arrest - Margaret O'Donnell was the recipient of repeated and incessent questioning. At one point she simply could not take anymore, stating "I won't answer anymore questions."

Weinrich was questioned, held for a brief period of time - most likely until the enraged Irish community calmed down - and released. It was rumored a few other individuals were brought in for questioning but no others were publicly named.  The newspapers ran slanderous in their treatment of the victims at times, minimizing the tragedy and blaming the murders on the Irish themselves, using the excuse that the vigilante activity sprang from a community angered over the acts of the Mollie Maguires. The Pottsville Standard, December 11, 1875 labeled the O'Donnell house "a place of resort for desperate characters" in which "all the parties implicated are doubtless of the very worse class ... ".

And yet, because of the heinous nature of the crime and its significance in the saga of the Mollie Maguire story, there are those historians who continue to puzzle over it.  On this site, you will find the story Blood Lust, an article from CRIME LIBRARY.  It includes an oral history from the family of the victims, provided by Joe Wayne, a descendant of the O'Donnells through Jack Kehoe and his wife, Mary Anne O'Donnell Kehoe. Other family stories for the most part support this version of what happened on December 10th, 1875.

Note, however, that there are inconsistencies (for example, in one paragraph, it states Charles O'Donnell and his pregant wife were murdered, then later, "Jamie" McAllister is mentioned as Ellen's husband - he was her brother-in-law) in the Crime Library's writer's documentation of what exactly happened.

These are examples of the type of erronous reports that created historical inaccuracies and public confusion in understanding the events of December 10th, 1875.