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A Donlin Family History by Dan Jensen
Delia Powers and Mike Donlin

Delia married Mike Donlin in Lancaster, Wisconsin on Christmas Eve, 1877. At age 18, Delia became a stepmother of six children, and she would contribute eleven more children to the household over the next quarter century. In total, Delia managed a household of seventeen children, though there were never more than ten under her care at once. Delia also managed many of Mike’s official affairs, because he was illiterate (then a matter of British policy for Irish Catholics).

Their first child, Elizabeth “Bessie” Agatha, was born in Grant County, Wisconsin. Soon after Bessie was born, the Donlins set out, without Mike’s oldest son James (nearly 17 at the time), for Plymouth County, Iowa. Mike and Delia would have ten more children in Plymouth County during the 27 years they lived there. Next, they moved to Hand County, South Dakota.

Understandably, none of Mike’s surviving children from his previous marriage came along to South Dakota. Frank, the youngest, was 33, and married with two children. Within six years, Frank would be the sole surviving child of Mike and Bridget Donlin, as James, Joseph, and William all died in the period 1907–1912. Aside from Frank, none of their seven children lived to age 45.

Mike and Delia were married 40 years. Delia survived Mike by 14 months. They were buried alongside each other and their first child Bessie in Kingsley, Iowa, in the same county where six more of his children (two of them Delia’s) had already passed away. Mike and Delia had found a measure of prosperity in South Dakota and lived out their lives there, but perhaps Iowa was still home.

Mike and Delia Donlin left for Iowa in autumn 1879 with their newborn daughter Bessie and Mike's surviving children from his previous marriage, except for Jim. Joseph, then age twelve, was the oldest child to come along. They settled first near Le Mars:

"In the fall of 1879 he came to Plymouth County, where he was employed by M. A. Moore and Mr. Lorring, on a ranch as foreman near this city, which they owned."[42]

Sometime in 1880 or possibly early 1881, Mike Donlin is reported to have thought his three sons, ages about 13, 8, and 6, must have been getting to a farm hand's age. Mike took his family over the Big Sioux River to farm in Elk Point in the Dakota Territory. They must not have lasted more than a year there, as they were washed out by the Missouri Floods of 1881:

"As his sons grew older and were able to help with the heavier work, he decided to start farming for himself, and bought a farm about a mile from Elk Point, S. D., and was caught in the great Missouri overflow of 1881. During this flood he lost practically all his property, and nearly lost his family. He was so disappointed with Dakota that he came back to Iowa in the fall of '81, …"[43]

On March 27, 1881, the Missouri River suddenly burst from its icy winter covering and overflowed its banks for 1,000 miles. The icy waters paused for nothing. Water up to six feet deep left citizens to watch helplessly from rooftops and hilltops as the mighty river ruthlessly washed away 350 miles of river bottom from Pierre to Vermillion, and whole villages were trapped and drowned in just two hours. But reaction was swift, and the surviving towns and individuals came quickly to the rescue in various manners. As one witness put it, "Each citizen has apparently vied with the other in devoting his energy to the relieving of the suffering of hundreds and in days in the far distant future it will be a proud recollection for all who took part in the rescue."[44]

Flood (Big Sioux River) -- Winter began in mid-October 1880. The total winter was very cold and an accumulation of two to four feet of snow covered the state. When the ice broke up in March, the Big Sioux River Basin was flooded. Sioux Falls was especially hit hard. The river was recorded as rising 16 feet in 24 hours on March 20, 1881. The rapid rise brought widespread destruction throughout the Sioux Falls Area. Approximately 100 buildings in north Sioux Falls were washed away. Three major bridges were also washed out in a 15 minute period. Estimated damage was $150,000 to the Sioux Falls area. Below the falls, farms along the river suffered heavy flood damage. Large amounts of grain, livestock and personal possessions lost to the flood. Many of the railroad bridges and wagon bridges were washed away. The only means of travel was by foot or horseback. No lives were reported lost.[45]

The Donlins returned to Plymouth County, Iowa, and returned to working on the land of other farmers. Mike would not venture back to homestead in Dakota until nearly 25 years had passed.

"… when an epidemic of diptheria broke out in the spring of 82, he lost three of his children."[46]

Months later in Iowa, Bridget's two remaining daughters and Delia's newborn daughter Ellen Theresa died of diphtheria. Bessie, age two at the time, survived to adulthood, though she only lived to age 38.

"For one year after this he farmed in Elkhorn township, and moved to Union township, and lived on the old Hart farm for two years."[47]

According to this account, the Donlins lived in Union Township from autumn 1883 to about the same time in 1885. The 1885 Iowa State Census corroborates the account, indicating that the Donlins lived in the SW quarter of the NW quarter of section 27. This is probably where Eugene and Rose were born.

By mid-1885, Joseph was age 17 and out on his own. William and Francis were still at home with their half-siblings Elizabeth and Eugene Michael. Eugene Michael was Mike and Delia's first of five sons to survive childhood. Another son named Eugene did not survive childhood.[48] Eugene Michael is said to have been born "Michael Eugene" and later changed his name to Eugene Michael, E. M. or Gene for short, to avoid any association with the Methodist Church (initials MED). However, the 1885 census indicates that he was already called "Eugene" just a year after his birth.

"He then returned to Elkhorn township and remained seven years."[49]

The Donlins lived in Elkhorn Township from 1885/6 to 1892/3. This is where George and Mike were probably born.

"Mr. Donlin purchased a farm in Garfield township. He found that his 160 acre farm was not enough for him and and he again settled on the old Lorring ranch, renting it, for five years."[50]

The Donlins lived near Le Mars for five years, from 1892/3 to spring 1897. Arthur was born during this period.

"Then he removed to his old farm in Garfield in spring of 1897. He stayed there improving the land and property."[51]

The Donlins lived in Garfield Township from spring 1897 to 1906. During this time, Glen Marie, Leo, and Helen were born.

"Finding that he required more land, he removed to Hand County, South Dakota, onto a two section farm."[52]

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Joseph and Frank Donlin