Wife of town founder remembered

IMG_9147_ENNIS_002_During March, the Madison Valley History Association celebrates the birthday of William Ennis, who was born on March 17, 1828 in Ireland.

William claimed a homestead on Aug. 13,1863 and founded the town of Ennis.

As successful as William Ennis was, his wife Katherine Shriver Ennis was equally as successful, and it is appropriate that the MVHA acknowledge her in Ennis’ founding father’s celebration.

Katherine Ennis was born on April 2, 1835 in Columbiana County, Ohio, to John and Rachel Summer Shriver. She lived on the farm of her parents while attending public school in Oneida. In 1861, she and William Ennis were married in Oneida. William was at that time freighting into Pikes Peak Colorado. Katherine accompanied him on some of his trips.

In March 1863, Katherine returned to her father’s home while William prepared to go to Bannack, Idaho Territory, to the gold diggings with freight. He sold his ranch and small store in Colo., loaded up with about 80 tons of freight and came west, arriving about June 10, 1863. William filed on a homestead in the Madison Valley on Aug.13, 1863, the exact day that his wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Jeannie Winifred, in Ohio.

He built a one-room cabin on the homestead, and in 1865 brought his family to Alder Gulch. The first winter, Katherine taught school in Virginia City. In 1866, they moved to the cabin on the Madison, where a son, William John, was born on Jan. 29, 1867. In 1872, the couple took their children and accompanied by the family of William I. Marshall, went on horseback to see the wonders of Yellowstone National Park. The two Ennis children rode double. As far as it is known, they were the first white children to visit the park.

In 1868, a four-room log house was moved from Virginia City for a roomier home. This house had two stories, and a “lean-to” was added for a kitchen. Katherine often kept large amounts of money for William. She hollowed out a place in the log wall, put the money in, and pasted paper over the place, so it looked just like the rest of the wall.

In 1881 and 1882, the Ennises built a large home of 13 rooms, with 11-foot ceilings. Katherine designed the building, which had a large masonry cellar beneath the kitchen. A hand-driven well supplied water, with a pump in the kitchen. Materials for this home were hauled from Franklin, Idaho, as well as the fine furniture that furnished the five bedrooms, parlor, sitting room and dining room. The house burned in 1917, but some of the furniture downstairs was saved. (MVHA note: The Ennis house was located on the land now occupied by the Ennis Homestead house and cabins.)

Katherine was confirmed into the Episcopal Church, the church of her husband, and was a charter member of Trinity Guild. The ministers who came to hold services in the valley were most often her guests, but preachers or ministers of any denominations were welcome in her home. She was an excellent cook and a fine seamstress and needle-worker. Her dining room table was always covered with a hand-hemmed linen cloth, yet she could do most any of the ranch tasks and did if occasion required it. On many occasions she served as a midwife and helped nurse the sick.

Katherine was widowed in 1898. She continued to run the part of the ranch that William willed to her. She was a woman of true pioneer spirit and nothing daunted her. She loved to milk a cow and in spite of protests by her family, she kept a cow until she broke her hip on a visit to Wash. in 1919. The doctors were amazed that the hip began to knit. She was not put into a cast and was able to massage her hip, which she did regularly and when allowed to return home by train, she sat on a straight chair as was transferred from train to train, as necessary. In a few months, she was on crutches, which she used for about a year. She was able to use a cane around the house or on a level walk. Eventually, she walked with just a cane, but that leg was a trifle shorter.

She was a long time member of the Society of Montana Pioneers and attended the yearly meetings if at all possible. On her birthday, she held open house, assisted by her daughter, Chowning, and niece, Hattie Angle. She especially liked to meet the new schoolteachers. She donated land for the school, Methodist Church, Forest Service Buildings on Hugel Street and the V.F.W. buildings.

Katherine attended the Pioneer meeting in Aug. 1931. Her death followed on Nov. 4, 1931 at the age of 96.


*Written by granddaughter, Winifred C. Jeffers. Story taken from Pioneer Trails and Trials, Madison County, Montana (MVHA: Katherine donated to the city of Ennis the land on Main Street commonly referred to as the “Gazebo Park” but now named in her honor as “Grandma Ennis Park”.)

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