Aunt Mary’s back story
Today’s post is the second part of the Mary Fitzpatrick Roach story and the events that culminated in her death in Montana. If you missed the first part of her story you will find it here
She was born Mary Maher in January 1857 in the small village of Gortnahoe, County Tipperary. She was the daughter of Jeremiah Maher and his wife Mary Gleeson. Her mother died shortly after she was born and Jeremiah remarried in 1858 and had two further children, Margaret, and Patrick, my great-grandfather.
Mary was my great-grand aunt on my paternal side and we knew very little about her other than the story of her tragic death.
Mary Maher emigrated to the U.S. around the 1880’s and her first husband was Fitzpatrick. No record has been found so far, to confirm his name or their marriage date. As far as we know, she had no children, or at least any that survived her.
As we know from the first blog post about Mary, she married for the second time to Porter Roach, in Glasgow, in 1907.
it was only when I started researching my family history that her life in Montana came to light and made me realize that she was not just an ancestor with a paper trail – she was a pioneer in a era when women didn’t usually set up in business alone in dangerous territory, or become successful in their own right. She was a female entrepreneur before her time!
A brief history of Glasgow Montana
Just to set the scene and understand the times Mary lived in, I need to give you a bit of history. Glasgow was founded in 1887 as a railroad town by James Hill, who was responsible for creating many communities along the Hi-Line railway in the North West of the United States. He and a local railroader named the town when they spun a globe and their finger landed on Glasgow, Scotland.
Native Americans inhabited the region for centuries, and extensive buffalo and antelope herds provided ample food for the nomadic tribes. The Nakoda, Lakota, and Dakota peoples alternately inhabited and claimed the region from the 16th to the late 19th centuries. In 1851, the US government formed the first treaty with the Native American tribes, in 1885 the tribes engaged in the last known buffalo hunt in the region, and in 1887, a treaty was signed where the tribes surrendered 17.5 million acres, which led from 1888 to the formation of the Fort Peck Reservation and the removal of the tribes from the Glasgow area. Mary arrived just as the town was being established.
Mary Arrives in Glasgow
As I mentioned in the first blog, I was lucky to obtain a number of copies of newspaper cuttings from the Montana Historical Society that referred to Mary and enabled me to piece her story together.
According to the articles, many of them written in the 1930’s and 1960’s as part of the celebrations for the founding of the City of Glasgow, Mary Fitzpatrick Roach featured as one of the first businesswomen in the town.
In the 75th anniversary souvenir history ‘From Buffalo Bones to Sonic Boom‘ published by the Glasgow Jubilee Committee in 1962, Mary features on page 13.
“Mary Fitzpatrick, the squarely built Irishwoman who came to Glasgow in 1890, was unquestionably the town’s best known early restaurateur and, indeed by dint of hard work, its first successful businesswoman”
Mary arrived in Glasgow Montana in 1890 and initially worked in the Waldo House before opening her own restaurant. She rented a log building and called her place the ‘Elite Restaurant’. Later, around 1904, she move to another that she called the ‘Cottage Restaurant’.
‘It said in the papers’
The Glasgow Courier dated 1937 reports that her restaurant was always a refuge for the homeless, and no one left her place hungry. She served meals on the ‘American Plan’ (3 meals a day often included with lodgings) on tables spread with old fashioned red-checked tablecloths and in the summer she served ‘delicious iced tea in big old style soup bowls’. Wonderful detail recorded!
The same article described Mary as ‘squarely built and brawny’. Yet when someone made a ‘nuisance of themselves’ she was known to grab them by both arms behind their back, place her head in the small of their back and push them out the front door! I can just picture her. What a feisty woman, acting as her own bouncer!
Another great story was how she celebrated getting out of debt – by buying a big beaver hat. She wore it to a concert one night in the Old Guild Hall and the town lawyer ‘Poke’ Evans (don’t you just love the name) asked her to remove it as it was blocking his view. She is believed to have answered: ‘I’ve just got this hat paid for and I’ll not take it off’! She bought a beaver coat to match and this was her winter wear for several years.
According to the souvenir publication, Mary Fitzpatrick featured frequently in the Glasgow newspapers of the 1890’s and early 1900’s with references to her many business interests.
This publication states that by 1899 Mary was advertising her City Meat Market and went into the cattle business (her Tipperary farming roots coming out) buying the stock of a local rancher for ‘$10,000 in cold cash’. At one stage she ran into trouble coming before the court on a charge of ‘allowing her pigs to run at large within the city limits’ but some locals seemed to have taken the law into their own hands as ten of Mary’s pigs were found dead four days later in their pens, apparently poisoned.
Mary liked to see her name in the papers it seems. She placed regular adverts for her restaurant describing it as ‘a famous resort with neatly furnished rooms in connection’ and her meat market ‘all kinds of fresh and salt meats, fish and game in season, and fresh vegetables’ for those who would rather cook at home. Being an astute businesswoman, she was covering both the eat-out/eat-at-home market!
Showing the buying power she held, one time the Glasgow Record in 1896 forgot to mention Miss Fitzpatrick’s supper in connection with a recent dance. Mary stopped her subscription. ‘Mary Fitzpatrick is going to break us up in business’ said the editor ‘She stopped her subscription last week. However, we feel confident in announcing that we will get out another paper next week’.
I also found a photo of her grave on Findagrave_Highland Cemetery and it is very imposing, inscribed with the words ‘Mother of Glasgow’. The Glasgow Courier in 1962 stated:
“From her years of extending a helping hand to many down-and-outers in Glasgow’s early days, Mary Fitzpatrick Roach is memorialized in Glasgow’s cemetery by one of its most imposing monuments calling her ‘Mother of Glasgow'”
I feel so proud of Mary. The true story of why she died may never be known.
She was a woman ahead of her time. What I loved about researching her life story was how she brought a smile to my face from the anecdotes, was kind-hearted to those less fortunate but was at the same time a determined businesswoman. I was so lucky to find out so much about her. A real ‘character’! Its the kind of story every genealogist wants to find.
Maybe my research will inspire you to start researching your family – you never know what you might find! If you need my help contact me through the links below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bye for now,
Website: Hibernia Roots