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Kinney, Thomas P. / Irish settlers of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, 1840-1860
(1993)

Fox settlement,   pp. 42-47 PDF (2.6 MB)


Page 43

Fox Settlement
he first of the three core Irish communities to be estab-
lished in Fitchburg was the Fox Settlement. The Fox and
Keenan families arrived in the southeastern part of
Fitchburg in June, 1843, well before the Famine emigration
from Ireland. The Fox Settlement was important to the devel-
opment of Fitchburg and southern Dane County because it was
home to the first doctor in the region, and it provided a
number of early political leaders.
The Fox Settlement centered around the Fox farms on
County M, located south of the hilly Milton Moraine on the
gently rolling land that the Fox brothers had viewed the previ-
ous November. Irish families that set up farms nearby included
the Keenans, who lived on the southern end of Caine Road,
and other Irish homesteaders who lived on County MM in
Fitchburg. The McGlynns and the McWilliams were two of the
first families to join the Foxes and Keenans at this settlement.
Soon to follow were those escaping the Famine. On the 1860
census, some of the other area families listed were the Byrnes,
Flemings, Giellands, Kellys, Lallys, and Pierces.92 (See Appen-
dix G.) Together, the families of the Fox Settlement developed
a vibrant agricultural community.
Log cabins and bams were constructed, initially, and in
time a public grade school, Prairie View, and a Catholic church,
St. Mary's, were erected. Stores and hotels were not built, since
the stagecoach routes, only two miles away, were the sites of
villages-Oak Hall to the west, Lake View to the northeast, and
Oregon to the southeast.
The founders of the Fox Settlement, the Foxes and
Keenans, were from well-to-do families in Ireland. Eleanor
Loftus Lynn Fox, the matriarch of the Fox family, was said to
have been born in a castle in Ireland and to have died in a log
cabin in Fitchburg. A family story relates that the Foxes left
their Waterford home in 1832 when a member of the family
shot and killed an English officer who was confiscating a horse
from the estate stables.93
The Keenan family, which consisted of five siblings in
their twenties, emigrated from County Offaly in May, 1837, a
few years after the death of their mother. Their father remained
in Ireland. Another brother, Thomas, stayed in Ireland and was
a barrister in Dublin. He wrote in 1843 to his sister Fanny in
Fitchburg, "I often wished I was in some foreign country...
Make inquiry if the attorney business is good in America. Not
that I have a notion of going but I would like to know It is not
as good here now as it was but indeed I can't complain as I am
able to make £500 a year at it." Thomas Keenan did not move
to the United States, but this letter gives one a sense that those
who stayed behind were also weighing the option to emigrate.94
When the Irish arrived by covered wagon to the Fox Set-
tlement, they faced many challenges. An early legend unfolded
in 1844 about a Fitchburg heroine, Matilda Keenan. Matilda
was returning from her brother George Fox's cabin carrying an
infant in her arms when she met a full-grown bear. She fended
off the bear by throwing her baby's bonnet and cloak to him
and running home. Besides bear, an occasional panther was
seen in the vicinity of Fitchburg.95
Despite the dangers of the wilderness, the Fox Settlement
pioneers worked together to solve problems and better their
lives. The adults of the community often had additional profes-
sions besides farming. Among these pioneers were a doctor,
two preachers, and a grain-reaper salesman, all of whom spent
time working both in Fitchburg and in other communities
throughout south-central Wisconsin.96
Dr. William H. Fox was the first physician in the region
south of Madison. He was said to have ridden through rain-
storms until his boots were filled with water, as he went to see
patients deep in the country. The son of Dr. William Fox wrote


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