Land of Opportunity: Immigrant Travels to Win Sweetheart’s Hand

After making the Atlantic Ocean crossing once, lad makes his way back to Ireland to marry his sweetheart; immigrant couple soon settles on plains of Nebraska.

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The story of my immigrant grandparents, Robert and Mary Anne McClean, was really a tale of love, romance and success in the land of opportunity. Robert journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean twice to win his sweetheart and find his destiny.

Grandpa Robert lived at Moys of Castleshane in County Monaghan, North Ireland. On their small farm they raised flax and potatoes and grazed sheep. His was a family of seven boys and two girls. He was the second oldest son.

In Ireland, only the oldest son would inherit the land. So the younger boys worked in the peat bogs down south. Robert loved the land and wanted to own his own farm someday, but in Ireland there was no land available to buy. He would have to leave Ireland. On April 10, 1869, he and his younger brother, John, did just that. They set sail from Liverpool on the good ship Idaho, with hopes of high adventure and a very distant dream of someday owning a farm in far-off America.

They went to the newly formed village of Wahoo, Nebraska, where they had cousins. Robert got a job running the ferry owned by James Lee, his cousin. Brother John worked for another cousin, H.J. Lee, who owned a hardware store in Wahoo.

Robert enjoyed running the ferry across the Platte River between Saunders and Dodge counties. He could see the possibility of homesteading when he could earn some money. But what would a homestead be without a wife and family? He remembered an Irish lass with dancing blue eyes back home. He saved every penny carefully, and in 1871, with a stroke of very good luck, he had the means to go back across the sea to win his Irish sweetheart, Mary Anne Carson. On March 26, 1872, they were married at her home in Harrymount by her uncle, the Rev. James Carson.

In a short time they set sail for America, bringing with them Robert's brother James, and sister Eliza McClean Birnie, her husband, John, and Eliza’s four young children.

Grandpa and Grandma homesteaded about a mile and a half northwest of Wahoo. Grandpa Robert's dream had come true: a wife and a home on land he could call his own!

Dorothy (McClean) Boettner
Fremont, Nebraska

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.