Walking the Sun Prairie Land

      “Where I come from, the earth means everything.”
      --Georgia O’Keeffe
      Georgia’s journey to discover her “faraway, nearby” began shortly after her home birth on Tuesday, November 15, 1887 only three and one-half miles southeast of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.1
      The not-taken-for-granted Wisconsin landscape of broad, rolling expanses, striking to any one’s eye, was caused by the creeping tongues of Canada’s glacial ice as early as 700,000 years ago. Roughly 23,000 years ago the last glacial ice penetrated southward leaving various land features. The ice-scraped hilltops filled in valleys to form the flat plains in south central Wisconsin. As the ice melted and the glaciers wasted, thick deposits of earth materials caused the water’s drainage to stagnate, forming marshes and lakes. Escaping water turned into rivers which formed the original “roads” that moved people and goods. Chief among the life-giving river systems, the Wisconsin River rises on the northern Wisconsin border to flow four hundred thirty miles south through the heart of the rolling prairie, past Portage, then makes its westerly turn to join the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien.2
      In this southern Wisconsin area, formed by tremendous forces deep within the earth, rose the town known today as Sun Prairie, only one hundred miles east of the Illinois border and in the unbroken wilderness west of Milwaukee at an elevation of nine hundred fifty-one feet. Its gentle low ridges and smooth rounded hills harbored only a trace of the last glaciers and left groves of oak, hickory, and black walnut trees with occasional black cherry and chokecherry trees among the prairie. Scattered marshlands, meadows, and creeks leading into shallow lakes completed the terrain of the top layer of loam, then clay, then limestone--all part of the bottomland of the Wisconsin River.3
      Approximately 15,000 years ago the Mound Builders and Copper Age people lived there as evidenced by the mounds full of tools and weapons found at their sites. Later the Winnebagos, among several Wisconsin Native American tribes, claimed this land. In the 1660s the French brought in their missionaries, trappers and explorers, each looking for converts, furs, and a shorter route to the China Seas. For about three hundred years the Winnebagos made contact with the Euro-Americans for their fur trade. Other than the established forts, one at Fort Winnebago at Portage in 1828, Wisconsin remained a wilderness. The Winnebago’s game reserves depleted and a smallpox epidemic in 1834 killed one fourth of their tribe in Portage. With other diseases brought by the missionaries and fur traders, the Winnebagos, forced by the United States government between 1829 and 1848, gave up their lands to live on fixed reservations.4
      The Euro-Americans had little interest in the land until the Federal Land Survey of 1831-1835 that classified the land as first, second and third rate with its rolling prairies interlaced with marshes, creeks and groves of trees. Surveyors often further specified the features as “prairie,” “copse” (a sparse growth of briers, saplings, wild plum, sumac, dogwood, elderberry, scrub oaks, wild cherry, etc.), “oak opening,” “marsh,” “bottomland,” and “run.” The prairie established itself as the outstanding feature covered with grass and herbaceous plants. The Sun Prairie area qualified for a “first” rating, the outstanding feature being the large, thick crescent shaped prairie several miles long. The prairie separated by stretches of thickets and timberland lay under a giant umbrella of blue sky.5
      The revealed agricultural possibilities of the Sun Prairie area as surveyed for running boundary lines of Indian treaty lands, exterior township lands, and even sub-divisions, brought a rush of Euro-Americans in 1830s to settle this virgin prairie.6 With only one road through this newly surveyed land the first Wisconsin Territorial Legislature in December, 1836 acted to “locate a territorial road from the town of Milwaukee, via the town of Madison, to the Blue Mounds.”7
            The road passed near Sun Prairie and ended thirty to forty miles west of Sun Prairie at the “Blue Mounds,” so named because the mounds were the only evidence of ancient dwellers in the land. The earthwork could be seen as covered with fog that looked blue.8
      Today the State Historical Society acknowledges the presence of mounds in Sun Prairie on a hill overlooking what is now called Patrick Marsh.9
      The Legislature selected that Madison, at an elevation of eight hundred sixty-three feet, as the capitol. President Van Buren commissioned Augustus A. Bird to build the capitol.10
      On May 26, 1837, an expedition of forty-five men, mostly laborers led by Augustus Bird, left Milwaukee. Equipped with cooking utensils, provisions, and mechanical tools to begin the operations at the capitol, they made their own road as they traveled for days in the dismal rain. On June 9 the group emerged at the edge of the prairie about one and one-half miles east of the now Sun Prairie just as the sun erupted from the rain-filled clouds to showcase the expanse of prairie.11
      Stories handed down from persons who have a vested interest in the telling of the times to other persons are often surrounded by legends and myths. Sun Prairie, rightfully named out of history and topography, advantaged other towns by having more than one legend about its naming, all based on one fact--the sky opening and the sun emerging after days of rain.
      A Bird family member offered a description of Augustus Bird’s journey at the dedication of Angell Park in Sun Prairie in 1903:
      “The journey from Milwaukee had been laborious and toilsome, with the skies constantly overcast, the rain continuously falling and the gloom of the darkening days pressing heavily upon us. But when we reached the prairie that skirts your village the sun suddenly appeared through a rift in the clouds and dispelled the gloom of the previous days, sending a thrill of joy to our hearts in view of the country spread out before us. The prairie from that circumstance was then and there, and with thanksgiving, appropriately named ‘Sun Prairie.’”12
      Another Bird family member orally accounted for the naming of Sun Prairie to Augustus Bird’s brother, Charles H. Bird, who carved “Sun Prairie” on a large burr oak tree.13
      The oldest written account by a German explorer in 1855 claimed:
      “Suffice to say that bad weather, rain, fog and the worst of trails plagued him on the trek.... At last, after days, the sun peeped out, exceptionally bright and most delightful. It illuminated beautifully the prairie... They decided to name the place after what happened. He recorded on a board the name, circumstances, and date. After his companions had signed the wooden document, he nailed it to a picket inside the trail. The name stuck. The place near Madison, to the east, is still called Sun Prairie.”14
      At this location Augustus’ brother Charles H. Bird returned in 1839 to become the first white settler surrounded by Winnebagos. At first he lived in a hunting cabin, later replaced by a peaked roof house painted yellow like New England homes. In 1844, Jerrimiah Brayton, Bird’s father-in-law sold five acres of land to Charles Bird and Colonel William Angell. In 1846, Bird and Angell decided to found a village. By 1850, merchandising with a general store was in full swing with the Native Americans. A dance hall and a hotel added to the community. The Chicago, Milwaukee and Saint Paul Railroad had its terminus in Sun Prairie in 1859. The railroad established Sun Prairie as the grain market center, thus the village expanded with new houses, streets, grain elevators and hotels. The village was incorporated in 1868. When the railroad continued on to Madison in 1869 and discontinued using Sun Prairie as a terminus, the depression of 1870 forced Sun Prairie into dairying and stock farming. But good times came by the 1880s. Sun Prairie’s cultural life grew as churches abounded, schools that had begun in 1842 continued, and municipal improvements improved daily living with the water works in 1899, the telephones in 1900 and electrical plant in 1900.15
      The naming of Sun Prairie lingered not just on the earth but intertwined with the sky pierced by the sun. The sky free of roads, pull-offs, scenic overlooks, or entrance gates since the beginning of history, shaped the destiny of all by its bounty of sunshine and moisture to form creeks, canyons, and even the routes of travel from city to city. The view in any direction offers nature’s changing colors, allowing the sky to rule the whole of the earth. The prairie became a complimentary, secondary color to the over-prevailing sky.
      The mere name, Sun Prairie, must have imbedded in Georgia a liking for prairie and sky. She would never tire of space as long as she could see far enough as phrased by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1836, “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon.”16 To Georgia, the view in any direction offered nature’s changing colors for the sky appeared loose from its earthly moorings and ruler of the whole of the earth. Her sky with its clouds shifting, dancing, fading and growing bigger easily symbolized the mysterious and spiritual. She could easily see more sky than prairie to establish a sense of place. Her sense of self and her sense of place became intertwined. At an early age Georgia must have sensed an unwavering regard for the sky as her never-ending “far.”
      Georgia’s seeing the earth’s colors saturated with textures must have given her a feeling of “discovery,” the same feeling anyone has when looking at art with its continuous, surprising beauty. Her intimate scrutiny of the earth’s crust as the land quietly breathed form through the ages became her everlasting “near.” She recalled many years later: “Where I come from, the earth means everything. Life depends on it.”17
      From these origins could have come Georgia's harboring forever a feeling and need for spaciousness intertwined with her need for freedom to concentrate on herself. After a successful career as an artist Georgia declared, “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”18 But in the land of her birth and where Georgia called home the prairie and sky never strayed from her consciousness as she was drawn to large, strong shapes and slashes of color
      Into this blend of prairie, sky, and legend came Georgia's Irish grandparents on her father's side, Pierce and Catherine Mary (Shortall) O'Keeffe, using different spellings of the O’Keeffe name.19
      Prosperity flourished in Ireland during the European wars between 1793-1815. The Irish farmers provided food for the wars and the expanding English population. The Irish depended on the potatoes for their crop yield. But potato crop failures began in 1822 and a fungus destroyed their crops which began the Great Famine of 1845. Discouraged farmers planted less potatoes and the yield didn’t even feed their families. Out of an Irish population of less than nine million, at least one million Irish died of malnutrition, scurvy or fever.
      The fallout extended to other facets of Irish life. Delayed marriage, celibacy and emigration became ways to handle the living conditions. The Irish Catholics who had vowed to always live in Ireland adjusted their thinking as a result of the famine and began thinking of emigrating. They joined the massive emigration from Europe to all parts of the world in the late 1840s and 1850s. In the 1840s, forty-five percent of all new arrivals in the United States were Irish but the ratio declined in the 1850s. In 1845, 77,000 people immigrated from Ireland; in 1846 106,000; and peaked at 250,000 in 1851. Often the poorest family moved in two stages by sending one family member with relatives or friends, then this one member remitted funds for the remainder of the family. As the family finances improved in Ireland, moving to the United States came not of desperation but for a concern for their family’s well-being. The most destitute Irish only migrated as far as Great Britain, but Canada and America became the destination of others.20
      In addition to the Great Famine of 1845, economic change came about as the factories in the northeast of Ireland could not keep pace with the successful English factories. The result was that many urban artisans, merchants and professionals could not make a living. These Irish immigrants possessed individualism similar to the values in the United States.21
      With the mass arrival of the Irish in the eastern urban areas of the United States, the Irish filed into their “ghettos” and started at the bottom of the economic ladder. By their sheer numbers the Irish immigrants advanced the urbanization and industrialization of America as they worked dangerous jobs and helped build roads and railroads. But there was a wave of selective, more resourceful Irish immigrants--those skilled and literate--who filtered westward through the Great Lakes for less gloomy inland conditions. They shed the Easterners concepts of the Irish being of “weak character” and of the Easterners considering themselves the only true Americans and all other to be just Irish-American or German-Americans.22
      Georgia’s great-grandfather, Edward Joseph O’Keeffe, born in 1770 in County Cork, Ireland had two sons: Pierce born in 1800 in County Cork and died in 1869; Henry O’Keeffe born in 1805 in County Cork and died June 18, 1871.23
      Edward Joseph’s oldest son Pierce became one of the massive Irish emigration. A Catholic, Pierce suffered in the fallout from the Great Famine of 1845 when his family woolen business floundered from too much taxation. Regardless of the importance of family, most emigrants in the early nineteenth century were unmarried. O’Keeffe arrived from Liverpool in New York on April 22, 1848, with his wife Mary Catherine (Shorthall) O’Keeffe. The O’Keeffe family migrated through the Great Lakes to the Township of Sun Prairie in the summer of 1848.24
      By now the Irish were experiencing upward gains in occupations, establishing themselves in neighborhood churches and paving the way for future generations. In the open prairie of Sun Prairie, the O’Keeffe immigrants probably encountered less of a barrier to social and economic position than they would have in the Eastern cities
      The original township of Sun Prairie included the towns of York, Medina and Bristol with a population of 1,553 in 1846. With its own post office and the creation of the town of Sun Prairie, the 1850 population included five hundred six people. Most of the land remained wooded with natural meadows. Farming consisted mainly of growing wheat and winter wheat.25
      North of the Sun Prairie township, Bristol, originally part of the Sun Prairie township, became an independent township on March 11, 1848. The exact dating of Pierce O’Keeffe’s first land purchase is problematic. With a backlog in the General Land Office in Washington, D. C., “it was not unusual for several years to pass between the time an individual purchased land from the local land office and the time a patent for the tract was finally signed by the General Land office.”26
      Pierce arrived in Sun Prairie with the family silver and china tea set to signify that his family had arrived with money.27 Patent land during this time sold for $1.25 an acre. There is speculation that Pierce bought land first in Bristol before he bought the land in Sun Prairie that is known as the Pierce O’Keeffe home. Bristol records that could have had delayed recording list Pierce O’Keeffe buying two hundred forty acres in Bristol on January 1, 1850 and a second purchase of forty acres the same day in Bristol. Bought as an investment, it is doubtful that Pierce ever lived on his Bristol property because he sold the parcel of land one year later.28
      As recording possibly became current on July 10, 1848, Pierce and Catherine purchased one hundred sixty acres of marshland in Section Eight along the Koshkonong Creek, near today’s Linnerud Drive and South Bird Street.29 See Sections 21, 27, 28 of the plat of O’Keeffe’s land, 1899.
      Land with standing water was called moorlands; called bottomland if the land bordered the small streams. Regardless of the terminology, Pierce’s land remained marsh land because water stood in all but the driest seasons. This land was originally far wetter than today. Pierce more than likely quickly found this wet land unsuitable for farming, but good for cattle raising.30
      A little over three and one half years later on October 20, 1853, Pierce bought an additional forty acres and another forty acres in another section where he built his house, the original O’Keeffe homestead south of the home Georgia knew as a child.31
      The oldest part of Pierce’s house featured a stained glass window. Later additions made the house larger. Past Pierce’s house, the land stretched into an openness to the Koshkonong Creek in the lowland marshes
      For Pierce to have an Irish wife to match his Irishness added to his standing among other Irish in the community. Plus for “social insurance,” Pierce and Catherine had four children:
      Boniface who died November 16, 1888 at age thirty-eight; Francis Calyxtus who died on November 5, 1918 at age sixty-five; Peter who died October 23, 1883 at age thirty; and Bernard who died on September 3, 1898 at age forty-two. Francis Calyxtus would be the only son to marry.32
      Dr. Charles G. Crosse arrived in Sun Prairie ten years after Pierce’s arrival. A native New Yorker, Crosse received his medical degree from Cincinnati Medical College. After setting up his practice in various towns, Crosse moved to Newport, Sauk County, Wisconsin where he invested in a land speculation deal anticipating the arrival of the railroad to Newport. When the railroad bypassed Newport, Crosse lost considerable money forcing him to reestablished his medical practice in Sun Prairie in 1860. Crosse soon earned respect in Sun Prairie for his concern for his patients and his tireless efforts to better the community.33 In December, 1877, Crosse, living at 133 West Main Street in a Gothic revival frame residence with barge board trim, and his son, Charles S., published Sun Prairie’s first edition of The Countryman.34 Crosse’s use of his newspaper included recording the daily activity of the area, presenting his firm ideas and beliefs, and reporting the rural news by categorizing the news according to the rural school or the settlement at the crossroads.35
      In time Pierce’s land and liking for the area became the focal point for what became known as the O’Keeffe Neighborhood near the intersection of Town Hall Road and County Highway T. Pierce’s interest in his community and the rural news from O’Keeffe Neighborhood captured the attention of The Countryman.36 From all indications, Pierce and Catherine liked the farming life that Sun Prairie offered. Forward-looking Pierce seeing the need for good roads for the dairy farmers to deliver milk products supported improvements for roads. Pierce, aware of tuberculosis, would have destroyed his dairy herd if contaminated milk existed in his herd.37
      Churches were an important part of Sun Prairie. Pierce, a Roman Catholic, became one of the founders and a trustee of the 1863 wooden Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church at 227 Columbus Street. Its wooden 22 x 32 ft. structure became the first Catholic parochial school where the O’Keeffe family worshiped weekly, seated in their designated family pew.38
      With only three donations larger, Catherine continued her church participation by donating $350.00 toward the completion of a new church in 1886 and 1887. The completed church cost $14,933.48.39
      Farmers endured a scarcity of money and they often paid for services by trading or bartering. Patrick Doyle, Sun Prairie’s first blacksmith, knew the community could not exist without his craft. For non-payment of his services for repairing the farmer’s tools, Doyle often sued the farmers. An early document stated that Doyle brought a lawsuit against Pierce for non-payment in 1852. This case with court cost amounted to $2.29.40
      Pierce died on August 11, 1869, at age sixty with interment in the Sacred Hearts Cemetery.41
      Catherine’s presence provided a role model for Georgia. Catherine’s sweet disposition did not deter her orderliness and discipline. As expected for the times, Catherine painted still lifes of fruit and flowers which indicated some natural talent for Georgia to follow. Catherine lived much longer than Pierce. On February 27, 1896 The Countryman reported, “Mrs. Catherine O’Keeffe suffered a colles fracture of the radius of her left arm Thursday afternoon. This was the result of a fall sustained while about her duties at her home in the township. She was walking across the room when she slipped and fell.” Not quite two years later Catherine died at eighty-three years of age in 1897 at her home from the infirmities of old age. The Countryman reported November 4, 1897, “The deceased was a woman of high intelligence and commanded the respect of all who knew her.”42 With Catherine’s death, Georgia at age ten, lost one of her role models, but her influence remained for Georgia’s lifetime.43
      When Pierce died, Francis stopped his schooling in his adolescent years and placed himself in the family farm fields with his brothers Peter and Boniface. Francis became “land rich” and not especially well-educated.44 Peter had left home in 1874, lived in Florida, then Saint Louis and contacted tuberculosis before returning to the Sun Prairie farm. Peter returned to the family farm in 1883 to spend his last days.45 Francis, seeing his first brother die, must have become aware of life passing by in a hurry because about this time he started courting Ida Totto, a woman of education and aristocratic presence.46
      Georgia's grandparents on her mother's side, George Victor Totto and Isabella Wyckoff Totto, arrived in Sun Prairie in the mid 1850s.47
      George Victor Totto, a Hungarian count was born in 1820. According to legend his arrival in America resulted from his Hungarian political beliefs.48
      The Danube River bisects a land-locked Hungary in central Europe. The Magyars who came from Asia settled Hungary in the ninth century and absorbed the tribes in the area. They accepted Roman Catholic Christianity in 1001. Because of their location in the Carpathian Basin, a crossroad between East and West, their history is filled with war, invasions, and occupations. Through their suffering they became a bulwark of Western Christianity and civilization. In the thirteenth century Genghis Khan overran the country, but Hungary survived, then held off the Turks and thrived until neighboring Austria’s House of Hapsburgs gained control of Hungary in the mid-nineteenth century.49
      At that time in 1848, Louis Kossuth declared the country independent of the Hapsburg rule. He envisioned a Hungary participating in a vibrant democratic system based on equality and parliamentary representation. Russia joined the Hapsburg rule and defeated the rebellion led by Kossuth.50
      George Victor Totto’s participation in the 1848 Hungarian revolt against Austria for self-rule, placed him in a treacherous predicament as he owned considerable land.51
      After his defeat Kossuth fled the country in August, 1849. With four thousand refugees Kossuth came two years later to the United States as the first foreign statesman officially invited to the United States since the Marquis de Lafayette. He met with President Millard Fillmore, Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson. A speech before the pre-civil war United States Congress caused nervousness because of his democratic views on the equality of all men.52
      On February 16, 1852, a decade before Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, Kossuth spoke to the Ohio State Legislature, “All for the People and All by the People; Nothing About the People Without the People--That is Democracy!”53
      In May of the same year Ralph Waldo Emerson said on meeting Kossuth in Concord, Massachusetts, “[we] have been hungry to see the man whose extraordinary eloquence is seconded by the splendor of the solidity of his actions.”54
      Democratic America turned him away and he returned to Europe. The Compromise of 1867 led Austria and Hungary into equal partnership in an Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled by the Hapsburgs. More recently, the fight for Hungarian democracy was fought for in 1956 and gained in 1989.55
      Hungarians have arrived in the New World soil since America’s discovery. One Hungarian is alleged to have sailed with Leif Ericson and others fought in the American Revolution. Hungarians flooded into the United States where wages were higher, performed hard work, and lived cheaply in America. Becoming “sojourners,” they then returned to Hungary to improve their land and satisfy any ambitions in the homeland. Some simply revised their plans and remained in America.56
      The first wave of Kossuth followers arrived in America in December, 1849. One Hungarian immigrant was Agoston Haraszthy (1821-1869) who preceded George Victor Totto’s arrival in the mid 1850s.57
      Haraszthy, born in 1812 at Futak in Bacska, County, Hungary, was from one of the oldest most influential noble families with the name appearing frequently in Hungarian history over a period of seven hundred sixty years. As the custom prevailed, Haraszthy received an education in law. At eighteen years of age he received his commission as a member of the bodyguard for Emperor Ferdinand. Later his position and education offered him positions as chief executive office of his state and private secretary for the viceroy of Hungary. During this time he developed a close friendship with the future Hungarian 1848 Revolutionary hero, Louis Kossuth. Haraszthy’s leading of his party in the Hungarian Liberal movement of 1839 and 1840, his feeling the heat of the Austrian Empire, the arrest of Kossuth for treason, and subsequent failure of the movement compelled him to leave Hungary.58
      Harazsthy arrival in New York and his travels over the United States resulted in his writing a book praising America’s resources and inviting emigration from Hungary. It was the first published book in the Hungarian language on such a subject.59 He was invited by President John Tyler (1790-1862) to discuss commercial relations of his country and the United States. In his full dress Hungarian uniform he added sparkle to the Washington social season. His American tour included visits to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.60
      Harazsthy possessed important Hungarian State papers and was given permission to return to Hungary for a year. Although his Hungarian estate did not escape confiscation, Harazsthy saved $150,000.00 and convinced his family to immigrate to America. Coupled with his wife’s substantial dowry, he returned to America with his family’s paintings.61
      His land purchase near a lake a few miles from Madison ended with his being swindled of the title to the land. Furious at such a maneuver, he relocated on 6,000 acres on the Wisconsin River three miles south of Prairie de Sauk. He named his colony Haraszthy.62
      These colonists set out to build the town of Szdptzj (Beautiful View) which was later changed by the residents to Sauk City. As a Wisconsin writer in 1874 declared:
      “In 1842 a wealthy Hungarian nobleman named [Agoston] Haraszthy, with a company of attendants and servants, numbering about twenty, came to the United States, intending to settle in the territory of Wisconsin and form a colony. Upon his arrival in Milwaukee, at that time a frontier village of not less than 3,000 inhabitants, was hailed as an important event. Of course, a gentleman traveling all the way from Europe with such a large retinue, and paying promptly in gold for everything he purchased, was notably presumed to be possessed of fabulous wealth, and his coming to that far-off territory was hailed as a harbinger of great prosperity.”63
      In Wisconsin, Haraszthy’s successes included mercantile endeavors, building and owning steamships, supplying Fort Winnebago with wood, and his becoming the first to plant hop in Wisconsin. As head of the Emigration Association of Wisconsin, he was responsible for settling large colonies of English, German and Swiss emigrants in Wisconsin.64
      When Harazsthy learned of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, he led and funded a group who gathered arms and ammunition to send to their Hungarian countrymen.65 But by 1849, Haraszthy had left Wisconsin for California where he later became known as the “Father of the California Wine Industry.”66
      Georgia’s grandmother, Isabella Wyckoff, born of Dutch ancestry and with the distinction of having one ancestor arriving on the Mayflower, lived in New York with her father Charles, her mother Alletta, and sister Jane Eliza (Jennie). Following in his father’s footsteps, Charles became an innkeeper. In bustling New York, George Victor Totto met Isabella Wyckoff, who would become his wife.67
      After Alletta’s death, Charles married Elizabeth, a widow from New Jersey. With Totto’s knowledge of Sauk City, it is possible that Totto influenced Charles’ restlessness to move to Sauk City where he managed a small hotel. Shortly afterward, Charles died of cholera in 1854, leaving his two daughters with their stepmother Elizabeth. The two daughters chose matrimony: Jennie to Ezra L Varney, Isabella to George Victor Totto.68
      Totto envisioned that Sauk City, Wisconsin would be a safe place for his beliefs only to discover the community was German. Unsettled by the German element, Totto and his wife moved to Waunakee north of Lake Mendota, then to Westport in 1864. By 1872, they had settled in Sun Prairie. Here they bought acreage southeast of the Pierce O’Keeffe land. Town Hall School records indicate that George Totto constructed a fence for the school earning him $1.12. George Totto eventually left for Hungary, never to return. Speculation is that he was obviously involved in the internal politics happening in his homeland.69
      When George Totto left Sun Prairie, his wife Isabella, being strong of character, moved to Madison with their six children: Alleta (“Ollie”), Josephine, Charles, Ida, Leonore (“Lola”) and George. Isabella’s authoritarian voice provided Georgia with another female role model as Isabella went about the business of raising her children in a university community, managing the family’s finances and thinking little of making her own decisions as a way to control impending disaster. Isabella would live in Madison until she died on Friday, April 13, 1894, in her home on Spaight Street. Of her six children, only Ida would marry.70
      Ida, of half-Dutch and half-Hungarian ancestry, who had continued living with her mother Isabella in Madison, displayed the same capabilities as her mother with a strong sense of self. Isabella stressed the importance of studying and Ida considered a medical career. Francis Calyxtus O’Keeffe from the neighboring Sun Prairie farm his family had leased from the Totto’s, came calling on Ida. She weighed the proposal deliberately and did not fall into the usual practice of the times that matrimony provided the only happy ending for her life. From Isabella’s spirit, Ida had accepted that her life demonstrated value as a woman not merely as a wife.71
      On February 19, 1884, in Grace Episcopal Church at 116 West Washington Street on the square in Madison, the third son of Pierce and Mary Catherine O’Keeffe, Francis Calyxtus O’Keeffe, married, Ida Totto, the second daughter of George and Isabella Wyckoff Totto.72
      Ida returned with Francis to Sun Prairie. Francis, the last of the brothers, had inherited everything. Money may have been scarce but Francis owned land. They settled on Totto land and Francis built their home on the Totto home site by possibly adding an addition to the existing home complete with a barn. The immigrants skillfully built their barns which provided a heritage. Their life was simple and Georgia would always remember the barn on their land holdings of about six hundred acres which included the Totto holdings.73
      Francis and Ida would have seven children in ten years from 1885-1895, all born in Sun Prairie: Francis Calyxtus, Jr. (1885-1959), Georgia Totto (1887-1986), Ida Ten Eyck (1889-1961), Anita Natalie (1891-1985), Alexius Wyckoff (1892-1930), Catherine Blanche (1895-1987) and Claudia Ruth (1899-1984).74 Ida, as a stern disciplinarian, would show her children her love not with physical hugs but with high standards and her constant approval. A role model before her times, she raised her children to be individuals. Georgia’s role model mother left Georgia with a lifelong feeling of distance between her and her mother.75
      To demonstrate Ida’s integrity, two days after Ida birthed Georgia, The Countryman reported, “William Woerpel against Mrs. O’Keefe for $5,000 damages. Woerpel and son driving on highway and a dog rushed out and frightened horse. The boy was thrown out of the wagon and sustained a broken arm. Ruled in favor of the defendant.”76
      Sun Prairie responded to the Civil War demands at the same time the railroad was extended to Madison in the late 1860s. By now, Horace Greeley, publisher and supporter of the New York Governor William H. Seward, had popularized the Terre Haute, Indiana Express journalist, John Soule’s 1851 advice, “Go west, young man.” By the 1870s, a movement of settlers opened frontier, western lands, particularly the Dakotas. So many Sun Prairians left for the Dakotas that The Countryman editorialized for the last one to leave, please close the village.77 Finally, by the 1880s, farming had become more diversified, farm land prices were stabilized, and all of Sun Prairie benefitted from the farmer’s better financial status.78
      Even before Georgia’s birth in 1887, Francis’ business dealings did not rate as successful as his father’s. Francis’ instability in the business world took on a more wandering aspect. According to the August 16, 1882 The Countryman, “Francis O’Keeffe started for Dakota. He had 12 horses for sale and took along enough timber to construct a large barn.” The Countryman reported September 3, 1885, “Francis O’Keeffe went to Dakota about a month ago and sold a carload of horses. He returned with a carload of cattle. O’Keeffe did not like Dakota.”79 With no more newspaper notices of Francis’ trips to Dakota, an assumption can be made that after several years he didn’t find the Dakotas profitable
      In 1882, Francis added to his list of business dealings by becoming an assessor for the Township of Sun Prairie.80
      Francis not only displayed restlessness but questionable actions. The Countryman reported on March 18, 1886, “Francis O’Keeffe in Municipal Court in Madison. Trial postponed to May 28.” Again, The Countryman reported on June 10, 1886, “Francis O’Keeffe used a swindling device in Cottage Grove [a town just a few miles south of Sun Prairie on County Highway N]. Stock sale moved to July 8 for trial.”81
      The July 15, 1886 The Countryman reported, “Francis O’Keeffe convicted and fined $10.00 for stock swindle. The stock scales were at Cottage Grove. Dane County court convicted him and fined him the $10.00.”82
      Francis O’Keeffe adopted a son, Aaron Flickinger, born in 1886 of wealthy parents in Monroe. Aaron lived with Francis until 1891, when the boy was caught stealing a fine revolver, a few articles of clothing and disappeared to Saint Louis. With no substantial proof on the youth, Francis accepted advice to not bring Aaron back for trial.83
      In March, 1893, with Grover Cleveland’s inauguration as President, the country hovered on the brink of financial panic. The complex causes focused on the gold reserve. When the reserve fell to an abnormal amount, the psychological effects rippled to Sun Prairie.84 By the end of 1894 the depression had ended.85
      By 1893, Francis had business dealings of unknown origin in Stevens Point, a town about one hundred miles north on the Wisconsin River.86
      By 1897, the Roach and Seeber Creamery of Waterloo which had opened in 1881, had created a company town atmosphere in Sun Prairie which aggravated the community.87
      Whether to compete with the Waterloo Creamery or for the fear of tuberculosis, Francis and other farmers in 1896 bought a plot of land at Seminary Springs for erecting a creamery. A creamery quite a distance from Francis’s home already existed at Seminary Springs. The distance from the O’Keeffe home created a likely fear of impending tuberculosis. Any hint of catching tuberculosis from animals meant the killing of an entire herd of milk cows. Naturally, this caused great emotional and financial stress for the creamery and the consumers.88
      Later on August 20, 1896, The Countryman reported that Francis spent a week looking after business interests in Chicago and Elgin, Illinois. Over three years later The Countryman reported on December 21, 1899, that Francis rented his farm and in a few days would auction all of his stock on Saturday, December 23 at 10:00 a.m.89
      Ida dealt with Francis’ inconsistency and instability by always performing her fair share of the domestic workload and farm work. She avoided the depression common in women of this time, caused by isolation, by taking part in the community life at Town Hall and working steadily for the enrichment of her children. Her concern revolved around the children, not as objects of play, but as living minds. She obviously thought of her children as most personal investments that validated her as a parent. Additionally, through her motions, posture and voice, Ida strove for all her children to better themselves on the social ladder rather than just to be farm children and disappear as individuals
      Ida intended for her daughters to move through their childhood as women with an independent purpose in life with patterns beyond wife and mother. She surrounded them with a community of women where they gained strength from role models
      One such role model, Sarah Haner Mann, the daughter of J. M. Haner and Sarah Ann (Stroup) was born in 1856. Her parents had come to Wisconsin in 1851 from New York to settle in Bristol, Wisconsin. Sarah, one of seven children, married William T. Mann. After several moves they arrived in Sun Prairie in 1895.90
      Sarah Haner Mann in Sun Prairie provided a prominent voice in the women’s movement in their striving for equality with men. In 1890, the women formed an auxilary to the Grand Army of the Republic. Its importance resided in what the women said:
      “The endless duration of this government depends largely upon the patriotism of her women. They are the educators of the new generations. It is far more important that we should have sensible patriotic mothers than that we should have gifted statesmen. Mothers train masses, statesmen lead the few. As a society we have scarcely touched with our finger tip the rim of the womanhood of this country....”91
      As the twentieth century opened, women felt a new sense of their individuality and began to reach for more freedom by organizing improvement and advancing clubs. As one club formed in the Midwest, others followed. Up until 1901, the only club in Sun Prairie had a limited membership. Women in Sun Prairie, hearing of these clubs, joined forces to ask, “When are we to have a club?” As women gained their voice in government, social concerns, and the arts, Sarah Mann was in the forefront in Sun Prairie. On January 25, 1901, Sarah Mann led eight Sun Prairie women, including Mrs. C. A. Lewis who was active in the temperance movement, to form the Twentieth Century Club, developing their membership from the wisdom of an older woman, “Let this club be democratic. Do not limit the membership.”92
      The lack of a Sun Prairie public library came not from the lack of interest in reading. Libraries in Sun Prairie had been formulating for years. As early as 1880, Colonel Angell had placed a bookshelf in the village hall. Businesses maintained private libraries for their customers such as the Crosse and Crosse Pharmacy, and all social clubs had libraries. Before 1901, Sun Prairie women had formed a small library in the private home of C. L. Long at 145 Church Street.93
      As one of the new projects of the Twentieth Century Club, a new library began in the Council Room of the City Hall. all aided by the support of the Village Council and a $20.00 gold piece given by Colonel Angell.94
      Not content with only library endeavors, in 1903, forty-seven year old Sarah Mann, president of the Twentieth Century Club and other club members petitioned the village trustees for waste paper containers to be placed on each street. The trustees responded by placing the petition on file.95
      The club motivated civic improvements by paying for a membership for a man to serve on the Dane County Humane Society, by contacting the governor and legislature for suffrage and in 1903, to establish a chair of Domestic Science at the University of Wisconsin.96
      In addition to the Twentieth Century Club, Ida belonged to the Entre Nous (Among Us) Club as noted in The Countryman, on February 5, 1903, “The Entre Nous Club, of South Sun Prairie, consisting of Madams O’Keefe, McIlwain, Persons and Horstmeier gave their annual supper at the home of Mrs. Beaver, Friday evening, thirty-five guests were present. A short literary program was first enjoyed, then games, and the fun of the evening was the auction, at which various unknown articles were sold; being paid for in beans, which had been given each guest in little bags, fifty in a bag, and each bean valued at a dollar. The privilege of borrowing was allowed and the sales ran as high as $300 (or beans). Supper was served and all did justice to the good things.”97
      Ida, at thirty-seven years of age, evidently had reached an individualism where she could choose her own relationships. She seemed partially free from society’s expectations to do as she pleased. Ida, without the advantage of a formal advanced education prepared, Georgia for the lessons in life by being a role model
      She instilled in Georgia a yearning for her full potential and individualism that would conquer any of society’s restrictions. Belonging to a study club became Ida’s way to follow through on the early nineteenth century movements to provide an advanced education for women. Although colonial schools generally excluded girls from town schools, by the eighteenth century some form of schooling was provided. Then efforts were made to establish women colleges. Emma Hart Willard’s Troy Female Seminary began in 1821 in New York City. Mount Holyoke College, the oldest women’s college in the United States, opened its doors in 1837. After the Civil War, the new land-grant colleges encouraged women. Simultaneously the founding of women’s colleges such as Smith, Wellesley, Vassar and Bryn Mawr furthered women’s educational rights.98
      Along with the educational reforms, the major event of women’s rights occurred before the Civil War at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Stanton plus three hundred men and women gathered to conclude with a Declaration of Principles paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.” With the emphasis on obtaining the right to vote, among others Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in their superb organization, struggled to bring their vision into reality. The drafting of the United States Constitution, not the first to allow women the vote, had prompted Abigail Adams to remind John Adams of the oversight. The nineteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States stated of the injustice, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”99
      So Ida, nineteen years before women were given their rights to vote, joined a community of women determined to be democratic. These groups empowered women by providing alternative patterns of behavior outside the roles of wife, mother and daughter. Ida did not wait for history because she entered into the making of history as she displayed boldness, courage, freedom, and self-acceptance to the degree that she spoke out on issues and did not abdicate her responsibilities to male authorities. She provided Georgia with a way to think her way out of subordination and to use her talents.100
      Ida, as a role model, provided Georgia with an acute awareness that women belong to a subordinate group which is unnatural; that sisterhood aids this awareness; that autonomy is needed in defining goals and how to achieve them; and that awareness leads to developing an appropriate vision of future days. Simply, Ida’s role model proclaimed that although the gender differences are eternal, Geogia could be an individual.101
      Ida was not a 1901 charter member of the Twentieth Century Club in Sun Prairie, but she was sponsored by Sarah Mann and welcomed as a member in 1901. The club’s issues reigned important to Ida and her social acceptance related to membership in “The Club.”102 Ida demonstrated her interest in all subjects. As soon as the club began its meetings, Ida read a paper on December 2, “The Public Life of William Henry Seward.”103
      Seward served as Governor of New York in 1848, to later become a United States Senator and then Secretary of State under presidents Lincoln and Johnson. Seward, one of the earliest opponents of slavery due to his humane policies, proposed admitting Roman Catholics and foreign teachers into public schools. His demeanor placed him in a position where others thinking Lincoln not qualified to manage national affairs, considered Seward the one to direct Lincoln’s policies. Negotiating the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7,200,000.00 or two cents per acre ranked as Seward’s greatest accomplishment. The purchase was tagged as “Seward’s Folly.”104
      In 1902, Ida followed her inaugural paper with a December 1 paper titled, “Whittier As a Reformer.” John Greenleaf Whittier of Quaker ancestry had a limited formal education, but his household loved learning as much as they loved learning of their religion. His father discouraged Whittier from making a living as a poet, so he became a journalist. Unsatisfied with his poetry career he wrote pamphlets on the Abolition Movement as its most fiery writer.105
      With these two known papers for the Twentieth Century Club, Ida became involved in civic affairs. However, one elderly woman, whose reputation of never speaking harshly of other people commented about Ida, “...putting on airs. They were better than their neighbors.”106 Regardless of the comment, Ida found acceptance for herself and her children.
      Ida’s children were shaped by the environment and their readiness to be shaped. The children’s reactions fostered Ida’s sense of responsibility as the primary educator of her children. She made a difference because she valued each child’s uniqueness. Her American “can do” attitude of hard work and responsibility translated into pride and joy in accomplishing.
      The times finally caught up with Francis as the March 12, 1903 The Countryman reported, “Auction sale next Saturday at Francis O’Keefe’s home. He is selling household furniture and machinery.”107
      All the O’Keeffes found it traumatic to leave Sun Prairie which had been their American roots.
      As a farewell gift the Twentieth Century Club presented Ida with an engraved dish which the family still possesses.108
      As customary, thirteen or fourteen year old farm girls worked as maids with their earned money going to their parents. To ease the departure, the O’Keeffe’s maid, Lizzie Schuster, was asked to move to Williamsburg with the family. She refused the move. Francis, whether he felt uncomfortable in Williamsburg, is not known, but it is known that in 1904, shortly after they moved, he returned to Sun Prairie for a visit.109
      Diseases often ravaged a community so that the dead were buried before their memorial service. With this dread always on the surface, the O’Keeffe’s departure from Sun Prairie could be explained as the fear of tuberculosis or the poor health of Francis O’Keeffe
      In addition, an explanation could have been that Francis didn’t like working the land and dairy herds like his father Pierce. Francis more than likely incurred debts. The difficulties exhausted him and he hoped a change would reverse his fortunes.110