By Frances McMichael
Dan was born in 1847, the second of ten children of Patrick McAleese and his wife Mary McAuley from Magherahoney. Nine of the ten children (and also their parents) would emigrate to America, most of them in the 1880s. Dan was the first to leave in 1865 and by 1877 he was living in Sidney, Nebraska, which had the dubious nicknames of “Sinful Sidney”, “Wicked Burgh” and “Toughest Town on the Tracks”. The Gold Rush (1876-1881) in the Blackhills of Dakota was at its height. Dan was to play a prominent role in the life of this town for the next 38 years.
It was the closest point from the Union Pacific Railroad to the gold fields. Clarke’s Pony Express was already established on its route to Deadwood in 1876. Sidney was only 10 years old; one of the new towns on the western frontier with a huge transient population but Dan came here to stay. There was plenty of work and money to be made and Dan excelled in that.
There was a lot of entertainment. There was the “world’s first all-night theatre”, many saloons and bars, gambling halls, vaudeville acts and much else.
Crime levels were very high. This was a dangerous place. It was the lynching capital of the state. Several of these took place on the pole in front of Moore’s Hotel, pictured above; (cityofsidney.org) and passengers on the railroad could see bodies dangling there for days. In 1876, just before Dan arrived, a man was lynched, rescued and lynched again and subsequently buried in Boot Hill Cemetery on the town’s outskirts. Wild Bill Hickock allegedly shot two brothers after a game of cards. Wild Bill would proceed to Deadwood where Jack McCall would kill him over another game of cards. Other famous people who allegedly spent time in Sidney were: Jane Cannery (aka Calamity Jane), Butch Cassidy, Buffalo Bill and at least one American president (Rutherford B. Hayes, whose son had property in the town). The largest gold robbery in American history, unsolved to this day, took place here in 1880.
In 1881 there was a clean-up when some of the worst of the criminals including the crooked sheriff, Con McCarty, were run out of town. The railroad executives had had enough of the trouble. At last the gold rush ended and things changed. Prospectors were replaced by cowboys, as cattle ranching became the main industry and crime rates decreased.
In 1884 Dan’s youngest sister, Ellen, left Loughguile and headed to Sidney, aged only 18. Six years later she married James McMullan who, it is believed, was also from Loughguile. He became an associate of Dan’s in business, but a political rival.
Dan started working as a clerk in a grocery store and a few years later he had enough money to buy up stock from fellow Irishman, Ed. McLernon.
He advertised his new business as “the cheapest grocery house in Western Nebraska”. The Sidney Telegraph 23 June 1888 stated that: “Dan McAleese has been clerking in the grocery business for a number of years, has purchased E. McLernon’s stock of goods, and will in future be a bloated proprietor.”
His enterprises eventually included: a restaurant and bake house, a laundry, a garage, a blacksmith’s shop, a warehouse and at least two saloons. He rented out space for offices and private rooms. He had business interests in Bridgeport, Omaha and Mitchell, all quite a distance away. As well as a business relationship with his brother-in-law he also a life-long partnership with his brother James in New York and his brother Patrick worked for him for years. He looked after his businesses well, decorating them and even painted his saloon green for St Patrick’s Day. Dan travelled back home to Loughguile several times on extended visits.
Dan was a successful businessman but things did not always go smoothly. In 1899 he was badly beaten in his bar (“Dan’s Inn”). There was a murder in his saloon in Bridgeport which his brother Patrick managed for him. “Ray Tarble shot and killed Ernst, alias Dutch Snelling, at Bridgeport, 40 miles north of here, last night. The shooting was in Dan McAleese’s saloon. The men had a slight difficulty and went to the saloon to settle the matter” Omaha World Herald, 5 Mar 1903. In 1904 “The Worst Conflagration in Sidney’s History” destroyed his property and much of the block while he was back in Loughguile visiting his family. The building, third from left below bore his name well into the 1930s. His brother-in-law James McMullan’s corner property suffered more severe losses. Dan had by now retired from active business and was living off his property and investments.
In 1912, Dan was mugged on the train station in a neighbouring town, when he had a lot of cash on his person and he was left with severe injuries. The would-be thief got nothing.
Dan was a member of the Democratic Party and attended the state conventions as a local representative. He was elected as Cheyenne County Clerk (Sidney was the county seat). “The people of Cheyenne County can depend on it that if Mr McAleese is elected… he will always be plain honest Dan McAleese, who will always be glad to shake the hands of the poor farmer as well as the rich cattle kings…” (Sidney Telegraph, 12 Oct 1889)
On the 9th Nov 1889, the same newspaper stated that Dan McAleese was a good businessman, though he was a “dyed-in-the-wool democrat “and was expected to make “a competent and obliging official”. He served as county clerk for four years and James McMullan served as his deputy for a time.
Later, in 1895 he was elected sheriff and served two terms. He tried unsuccessfully twice more: in 1903, when his brother-in-law was his rival and “pet candidate” on the Republican ticket and in 1909 when Dan was described as “a genial citizen of benevolent character”.
In 1896 as sheriff he was accused of not exercising “care and impartiality” in a jury murder case and the “indignant citizens” held a mass meeting when the verdict was not to their pleasing.
Dan died on 19th December 1915, aged 67. He is buried beside his beloved sister Ellen, who died in 1899, aged just 33.
“ANOTHER PIONEER CITIZEN GOES TO HIS REWARD
Daniel McAleese passes away at Denver Sanitarium
The larger part of the community was shocked to learn of the death of Daniel McAleese which occurred in a Denver sanitarium last Monday. His genial countenance had scarcely been missed from the streets for a day and few knew that he was vitally ill with stomach trouble… a familiar figure having lived here for 38 years and had amassed considerable property in that time. …..He has followed many lines of business in Sidney, being one of the earliest grocers here and was always free handed in extending credit and giving to charity…. He served two terms as sheriff. The deceased is survived by four sisters (Margaret Robinson, Bridget O’Raw, Lena McAleese and Catherine McShane and two brothers Patrick McAleese and the Rev. James McAleese of Brooklyn)…. His cheery greeting and pleasant face have faded from sight and places that knew him will know him no more”
Emigration was commonplace in the 1880s when people sought a better life elsewhere. All of Dan’s siblings and parents would leave for America, except for his sister Catherine, who stayed. Lena, Patrick and Bernard eventually returned to Loughguile but the rest of the family stayed in the US. Catherine married James McShane from Glenravel. They moved to Ballintoy in 1904 where McShanes live to this day.