For the past few months, I have been surfing the internet and canvassing the family for images of Ferriter faces. My motivation has in part been a desire to put together a “Face Board” collage or poster for everyone’s enjoyment during FFG2009. Also in part has been a life-long fascination with what people in our family look like.
Haven’t you ever wondered what Piarais Feiritear looked like? Or Sybil Lynch? How that original “le Furetur” warrior soldier who traveled in the van of Strongbow’s army might have appeared? Or what our immigrant forebears looked like? Somehow, looking at our individual and collective faces from the past as well as the present seems to go some distance in answering those questions.
Chances are that issues of fashion and diet aside, these men and women probably looked a lot like us.
I am privileged to know that some families who came over have wonderful photographs from the migration years and from the era of settlement within the States. I am equally privileged to know that some who remained in the Mother Country have wonderful photographs of life in Ballyferriter one hundred years ago.
A week or so ago, a photograph of my father Charles Arthur Ferriter as a young man appeared here. Now, taking a step back yet another generation, we see a photograph of my grandfather, John Patrick Ferriter as a young man, also in military uniform.
Now, let it be known, there is a great deal of military service in my line, with over 100 years of combined service under arms by five men across three generations, during the 20th Century alone.
My Great grandfather, John Joseph Ferriter, born in Ireland c1850, served in the U.S. Army, and was dispatched to Alaska when the U.S. took ownership of that place in 1867. His son, my Grandfather, John Patrick Ferriter, b.1875, in Streator, IL, served as an Army Signal Corps officer in WWI and later, having made the Army his career following WWI. He also served earlier, (possibly under a different spelling of his last name, possibly "Feritor" or “Feriter”), as a Private in the U.S. Army on the high plains during the 1890s. Family tradition has it that John Patrick ran away from home, (at that time his grandparents’ farm in Iowa), at 16, lied about his age, and joined the Army. Tradition also maintains he left the service abruptly due to his witnessing the mal-treatment of the Sioux. (There is a strong oral tradition of pro-Sioux sentiment in our line, and I have always suspected that it came directly from him). Quite possibly, he simply didn’t like the Army at that age, and ran away again. Needless to say, we all prefer the former story, and as everything else is lost in time, that is now our history.
The image provided shows young Private John P. Ferriter standing with a group of his fellow troopers. He is the small soldier in the back row, third from the left. As John Patrick was born in 1875, and by tradition joined the Army at 16, the date on this photo would be 1891 – 1892, depending on when he enlisted.
A telling feature of this picture is where it was taken. As seen in the inset below, the photographer was located in Fort Keogh, Montana. This fort was named after Major Myles Keogh, an Irish officer killed with Col. George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. Ft. Keogh became a principal forward operating base for the U.S. Army on the high plains, and was the location from which U.S. forces made their sortie in the maneuvers culminating in the massacre of Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek in late 1890.
One can easily imagine the lonely and dissatisfied young trooper at Fort Keogh, perhaps regretting his enlistment, and disillusioned with the realities of containing the dying tribes by military force. No glory there.
My memories of Grandfather Ferriter are a child’s memories of an elderly man. I recall a quiet, slow moving gentleman. Family accounts describe him as a quiet thoughtful man of great intelligence. With very little formal education, he became an expert in codes, signals, and the electronics of radio and telegraph transmission. As noted above, during his second stint in the United States Army, he rose to the rank of Major, in the Signal Corps.
That being said, there is also evidence that he spent some time in his young manhood playing in a band, and by account may have been a pretty fair musician.
Herein you may see another link in the chain of experiences that comprise our collective family story across time. I have another tale about my Grandfather Ferriter pertaining to certain events that occurred much, much later than his adventure on the high plains of Montana, but I will save that for some future posting.