Mary Colling

Mary Colling, 1887 Wyoming Homesteader

Mary works as an historical interpreter and tour guide in the Cody, Wyoming region.  Her character represents the type of woman who came to Wyoming as an adult to make a difference.  Leaving her home in Wisconsin, Mary’s character would have gotten a teaching certificate after the 8th grade.  Married to the 3rd son of a farmer, there were few occupations a married woman could pursue that were socially acceptable.  Wisconsin was saturated with teachers and bookkeepers, and her husband, also a teacher, had better opportunities if he worked with the local university.  To do that, he needed more money.

So, when the US government offered 160 acres to any man, and another 160 acres to his wife if they would live on it for 3 years minimum, her husband had the idea to homestead in Wyoming, meet the requirements, sell the land for big money, and return “home” to Wisconsin to further his education so he could spend the rest of his days teaching higher education.

They ended up in Chugwater, about 1/2 day by railroad spur from the established east-west transcontinental railway station in Cheyenne.  What they didn’t know was how difficult it was going to be to prove up a claim.

Two Places; Two Lives

Mary’s story begins with her Irish ancestors who came with the first “wave” of Irish immigrants to the Midwestern United States in the 1840’s.  The Scots and English had come in the 1740’s due to political and religious persecutions.  Ireland, being small and tied to England in the 1840’s, came because of potatoes.

Known as “Coffin Ships” because so many people died on the 47 day journey from Ireland to America in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s.

The first potato famine in Ireland had to do with import/export, and the social and economic structures that existed then.  The farmers leased land from owners, and gave shares or paid rents to the owners.  They had single crop farms, so when that one crop failed, they had little to fall back on.  Starvation and disease had taken its toll.

Ads from various midwestern states and California were circulated in Ireland and Scotland promising a good and new life.
The huge and sudden influx of Irish immigrants to America took its toll on the ability to absorb and assimilate

It took 47 days to cross the ocean from Ireland to America, and most continued on through the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to disembark at what is now Chicago.  A few went through Ellis Island and stayed on the east coast, but the predominant migration started with Illinois and Wisconsin, and then spread south and west.  Ads like these were circulated in Ireland (Scotland, and Germany) promising bountiful harvests and a good life in the United States.

Unfortunately, there was discrimination and bias because of the huge influx of people.  The isolation by cultural, ethnic, and geographical background had the Irish locate in “Irish Only” communities.  While many of the men and a few of their women went on westward to follow the Gold Rush (’49) or to seek their fortunes working on the railroads and in western society, most families like the ones show below, established in certain neighborhoods.  A favorite “final destination” was St. Louis, Missouri.

St. Louis family of direct Irish immigration in the 1840’s was well established in an Irish neighborhood of St. Louis by this photo taken in about 1900
Before coming to America, many Scots had moved to Ireland when the famine hit. They came along in one bunch and continued to call themselves “Scots” even though in America they were known as “Scot-Irish” This 1850 song was somewhat serious and somewhat a spoof on how America had difficulty absorbing the huge influx of Irish, German, Scots.. and the Dutch, Swedes, and Danes who would follow shortly – and AGAIN in the 1880’s


… continued on Mary’s Historical Research Page.


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Continue below for Mary’s character and FINISHED PROJECT









Pantaloons!  (Drawers)






Pioneer 1 Piece Dress


Functional Work Apron

Bustled Drape



Antique Pendant Watch


Button Boots, Stockings, & Hair


Click to go to Mary’s Historical Research page of time & place

Click to go to Mary’s Fashion History & Real Women Research page

Click to go to Mary’s Design Development page

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