Edward Creighton: Leader of Men, Irish-American Hero

Creighton reached Salt Lake City with 25,000 
telegraph poles standing behind him


Castleisland man Peter Browne is the current owner of the Telegraph Field at Foilhomurrum, Valencia Island, Co Kerry, from where in 1866 was established the first wholly successful telegraph link across the Atlantic.[1]


The O’Donohoe Archive, Castleisland, has met with another link to this era of communications history in the acquisition of The Singing Wire, an Irish-American adventure based on fact.[2]  The book, published in 1953, relates how Edward Creighton of Omaha, ‘a determined and courageous builder,’ took 100 men with ‘shovels and wire in their hands and guns on their hips’ into the prairies and fought to ‘raise the poles and string the wire’ of the first transcontinental telegraph line which would connect east to west.


Edward Creighton, who had built several shorter lines for the Western Union prior to undertaking this one, was described as ‘a man of vision and tremendous courage – without his wise leadership the project might well have failed.’[3]


Mammoth Feat in Engineering: Two thousand miles of wire across mountain and prairie


Edward Creighton was born on 31 August 1820 near the town of Barnesville, Belmont County, Ohio, the fifth of nine children of Irish born James Creighton and his Irish born wife, Bridget Hughes.[4]  Edward began work at age 14 as a cart boy.  At the age of 18, his father provided him with a wagon and a team of horses and his career as a freighter began.


In about 1847, Edward observed two Irish Americans erecting telegraph lines for a company owned by Irish immigrant, Henry O’Reilly, which immediately aroused his interest.  He subsequently took a contract for the delivery of telegraph poles as far south as Evansville, Indiana.  From 1847 to 1853 he was connected with the work of telegraph construction in diverse capacities, from supplying poles by contract, to the superintendence of construction.[5]


In 1859, he conceived the idea of a line of telegraph from the Missouri to the Pacific Ocean:


The usefulness of the telegraph had been practically demonstrated.  Already there were short lines in nearly every state; and the principal cities east of the Missouri River were united by the electric chain.  But the Pacific Coast had no telegraphic connection with the east, the California State Telegraph Company having extended its line only as far east as Fort Churchill, Nevada.


Creighton consulted with Jeptha Homer Wade and corresponded with General Horace Walpole Carpentier, President of the California State Telegraph Co then operating between San Francisco and Sacramento.[6]  He subsequently received a commission to make a preliminary survey for a possible route between the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast:


The only known routes were those found in Fremont’s maps and learned from the Mormons. The settlements were few, the accommodations poor, the extremes of climate severe, and the mountains and plains vigilantly guarded by hostile Indians.  Without an escort, and a stranger to the road, he must indeed be imbued with the spirit which permeates the hero, who would undertake the journey unescorted, and stranger as he was to those rocky passes and sandy wastes.


He left Omaha on 18 November 1860 and travelled by stage-coach via Julesburg, Colorado to Salt Lake City, Utah.  From there, in mid-winter, he travelled on another 600 miles to California, arriving in Carson City, Nevada, snow-blind and barely alive.  He recouped and soon after continued to San Francisco, the purpose of his visit to encourage the Californian contingent to extend their line eastward.


Creighton’s inspection of the route along the way enabled the construction of the California division of the line.  An agreement was entered into with the California Telegraph Company to extend their line from Fort Churchill, Nevada to Salt Lake City, there to connect with the line from the east.


In July 1861, the Pacific Telegraph line was commenced.  Creighton supervised the work of construction for 900 miles west of Fort Kearney.[7]  He put his brother, John Andrew Creighton, in charge of the section from Julesburg, Colorado, to Salt Lake.[8]


On the 17th of October 1861, Edward Creighton sent the following dispatch to his wife from Fort Bridger, near Salt Lake City:


This being the first message over the new line since its completion to Salt Lake, allow me to greet you.  In a few days, two oceans will be united.


Into the unknown: Edward Creighton inspected the route east to west, a journey said to ‘beggar description’


Edward Creighton united the wires which completed the circuit between Omaha and Salt Lake City.  Just one week later the line from California to Salt Lake City was completed and interchange between the two extremes of the country became the newest marvel of the times.


The mayor of San Francisco messaged the mayor of New York:


The Pacific to the Atlantic sends greetings.  And may both oceans be dry before a foot of all the land that lies between them belongs to any other but our united country.[9]


Edward Creighton


Edward Creighton married Mary Lucretia, daughter of David A and Mary Emily Wareham, at Dayton, Ohio on 7 October 1856.  They had a son, Charles David, who died in childhood.[10]


Irish Roots: Edward Creighton (left) and his brother John (far right).  In the centre, their father James Creighton, who left Ireland in 1805


Edward Creighton collapsed in his office at the First National Bank on 3 November 1874 and died at home on 5 November.  His funeral was held in St Philomena’s Cathedral, Omaha; he was buried in the cemetery of the Holy Sepulchre.[11]


At the time of his death, Edward had established himself as Omaha’s leading entrepreneur and philanthropist.  In his honour and memory, his widow used part of his estate to endow an institution that bears his name, Creighton University.[12]


Wareham sisters: Mary Lucretia (left), wife of Edward, and Sarah Emily, wife of John


Edward Creighton was a remarkable man – remarkable for strength of mind and character, and the most ennobling moral qualities which ever dignified manhood.  He lacked the advantages of an early education but was, nevertheless, a ripe scholar in practical business affairs … A devoted Catholic, he lived the religion he professed in every act of his daily life … His assistance to charitable institutions and the poor was of the most substantial kind and few, even among his intimates, knew of the steady streams which flowed from his abundance … beginning as a laborer, he died a millionaire, a leader of men.[13]


[1] Further reference , http://www.odonohoearchive.com/glory-to-god-castleislands-link-to-the-atlantic-telegraph/   http://www.odonohoearchive.com/foilhomurrum-its-position-in-history/  http://www.odonohoearchive.com/fifty-two-degrees-north-calculating-castleislands-place-in-longitude-history/

[2] IE MOD/C91.  The Singing Wire (1953) by Mark Miller, one of the [John Clark] Winston Adventure Books, a series of tales based on lives of unsung heroes who helped to shape history.  Illustrated by Henry Steele Savage (whose works include Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible); edited by Cecile Hulse Matschat (whose works include Suwannee River Strange Green Land (1938) and Seven Grass Huts: An Engineer's Wife in Central and South America (1939)); consulting editor Carl Carmer (whose works include Stars Fell on Alabama (1934)).

Mark Miller (1896-?) author of White Captive of the Sioux (1953) and Fight for your Life (1955), worked as reporter and editor on Midwestern newspapers before becoming a publisher.  His pastime was investigation of Indian lore and legends.  The Singing Wire was dedicated to his daughter, Mary Jo.

‘Those were colorful years, in the 1860's. History books tell us much about the War between the States, secession, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, the blues and the grays but the Western Hemisphere was not limited to expansions north and south.  The exploits of the Yankees and Rebels were so daring, so exciting, so impressive, that historians often forget about what was going on in the west.  The stringing of a thin wire across Indian country over mountains and prairies was about to connect the east and west, so that the two coasts would never again be isolated islands in a huge unexplored continent.  And this, in 1861, is a setting for the story, "The Singing Wire."  Teenage Matt Wainwright, who fled from Missouri because he was innocently framed into a case of murder, found that the wire crew was situated far enough from justice to be comfortable.  He also found his knowledge of Indian life and sign language useful, in helping keep the good will of the savages.  He distinguished himself for bravery, loyalty and good judgment, as a man among men during Indian raids, raging prairie fires and other ordeals of a primitive land.  And amid all of these episodes, Matt takes the leading role in capturing the real murderer from his home town a robber, during the winter months, in the west and forcing him to admit his crime.  The singing wire is strung from east to west, Matt's innocence is established, and everything is normal again.  All is the same, except for one big change: Matt has grown up.  He is now a man.  He can rightfully claim that he is no longer a "kid."  "The Singing Wire" is one of the Winston Adventure Books teenage stories of "blazing adventure, action, and suspense."  The story is dramatically portrayed, and the distinctive red-black-white illustrations, by Steele Savage, make the story more convincing, more realistic, more exciting’ (Review, News-Chronicle, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, 26 February 1954).

[3] ‘Historians of the time were so engrossed in the war between North and South that they paid scant attention to the telegraph with the result that today less than a dozen current histories give this daring job as much as one small chapter’ (The Singing Wire).

[4] James Creighton (otherwise McCrarin, McCrearen), who emigrated to America in his youth (sailing from Newry in 1805), was a native of Clontibret, Co Monaghan.  His siblings Frank, Andrew, Christopher, John, Mary and Michael – and his mother Bridget – followed him to America.  Family legend had it that Bridget was evicted from her Monaghan farm possibly after the death of her husband.  It has been suggested that James had, like his brother Christopher (who had married a Methodist), changed his surname to the Scottish form, Creighton. 

James Creighton was employed for a time in a Pittsburgh foundry but in 1813, he moved to Ohio, where he became a farmer.  James married Bridget, a native of Co Armagh (who emigrated to America in 1808) in St Mary’s Church, Philadelphia in 1811.  Their nine children were Alice (married Thomas McShane, and had issue); Henry (invalided due to an accident at work in Louisville, Kentucky c1837; died 1851); Francis (married and had issue; died 1873); James (died in 1866); Joseph (married and had issue; he died 1893); Edward (1820-1874); Mary (married John McCreary and had issue; died 1898); Catherine (died in 1847, buried Somerset, Perry County); Count John Andrew Creighton (1831-1907).  The remains of James and Bridget, who died in 1842 and 1854 respectively, repose in Holy Trinity Cemetery, Somerset, Ohio.

[5] In this way, he worked on the lines built between Dayton and Cincinnati, Toledo and Cleveland and the Michigan Southern Railroad between Toledo and Chicago.  He superintended the construction of telegraph lines between the Appalachian Mountains and the Missouri River, the work introducing him to the people who eventually organised the Western Union Company. 

[6] Horace Walpole Carpentier (1824-1918), native of New York, was a benefactor of Columbia University.  He married Harriet Ford, and had issue five children.

[7] The line from San Francisco to Fort Churchill, Nevada, which had been built by the California State Telegraph Company, was pushed forward over the intervening 450 miles to Salt Lake City, so that the two parts were connected and the whole completed in less than four months after the commencement of the work.

[8] John Andrew Creighton was born in Licking County Ohio in 1831, the youngest of nine children all of whom he outlived.  He worked at home on the farm until he was twenty one years of age when he entered St Joseph’s College at Somerset, Perry County, Ohio which had been recently opened by the Dominican Fathers.  Creighton spent but two years at college.  For the next two years he was engaged with his brother Edward in building the Toledo-Cleveland telegraph line … later his brother Edward Creighton secured the contract for building the first transcontinental telegraph line.  John A Creighton was sent out to superintend the construction westward from Fort Laramie, Wyoming. 

[9] Less impressed with the technology were the native Indians who sabotaged the line.  A patrol of thirty men travelled back and forth along the line to repair it.  See account Creighton: Biographical Sketches of Edward Creighton, John A Creighton, Mary Lucretia Creighton, Sarah Emily Creighton (1901) by Patrick Aloysius Mullens, SJ, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, pp20-22.

[10] An altar in memory of Charles David Creighton, born on 4 April 1859 and who died on 24 February 1863, was erected by Mrs Creighton in St Philomena’s Cathedral, Omaha (cathedral rebuilt 1908; renamed St Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in 1958) ‘before which she knelt almost every day.’  Mrs Creighton was described as ‘an angel of mercy and kindness to the poor of Omaha.’ 

Edward’s brother, John Andrew Creighton, married in 1868 Sarah Emily Wareham (1840-1888) younger sister of Mary Lucretia.  They had one child, Lulu, who died on 9 April 1870 at the age of about one.  John Andrew Creighton was noted for his business connections, his philanthropy, his marked devotion to his church, and his political enthusiasms.

[11] His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world, This was a man!

His widow, Mary Lucretia, born in Dayton, Ohio on 3 February 1834, died at the Continental Hotel, Philadelphia, where she had been undergoing treatment for her health, on 23 January 1876.  She was buried beside her husband in the cemetery of Holy Sepulchre.

[12] References: Creighton: Biographical Sketches of Edward Creighton, John A Creighton, Mary Lucretia Creighton, Sarah Emily Creighton (1901) by Patrick Aloysius Mullens, SJ, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska; Historical Records and Studies (1914) vol VII edited by Charles George Herbermann; ‘From Coast to Coast’ by Ben Hur Wilson, The Palimpsest, (1926) Vol VII, No 8, pp233-242; ‘Pioneer Who Linked Two Oceans’ by Robert T Reilly, Catholic Digest, December 1959, reproduced in Congressional Record Vol 106 – Part 6 (1960) pp7201-7203; ‘The Creighton or McCraren Family Catholic Pioneers in Ohio and Omaha’ by Donald M Schlegel, Barquilla de la Santa Maria Bulletin of the Catholic Record Society Diocese of Columbus, Vol XIX No 10 October 1994, pp77-83; ‘World of the Creightons: From Ireland to Omaha’ by Bob Reilly, Window, Creighton University magazine, Winter 1996-7, pp4-11; Ireland and the Americas A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia (2008) Vol I Edited by James P Byrne, Philip Coleman, Jason King.

‘Honours well bestowed are those that Leo XIII has conferred on Mr John Andrew Creighton of Omaha whom the Pope has named a count of the Holy Roman Empire.  Mr Creighton, who is an Ohioan by birth, went to Nebraska about forty years ago with his deceased brother Edward and both amassed wealth and achieved a prominence there.  It was Edward Creighton’s widow who endowed the one free Catholic college this country possesses, Creighton College, Omaha, presided over by the Jesuits; but it was John A Creighton who enabled that institution to attain its present status as a university and who built its medical school.  Mr Creighton, who is well advanced in years now, is the son of an Irish emigrant who located first at Philadelphia and afterwards settled and reared a large family on an Ohio farm in the Columbus diocese.  He married an Irish girl in Philadelphia before going to the Buckeye commonwealth.  Edward Creighton died in 1874, and his death was publicly mourned at Omaha by all classes of citizens.  He was the man who made the first survey for the telegraph between St Louis and San Francisco and starting in life at nineteen, with practically no capital, he died, in his fifty-fourth year, the owner of millions, amassed by his own shrewdness and abilities’ (Flag of Ireland, 2 February 1895).

[13] History of the State of Nebraska Douglas County (1882) Western Historical Company, Alfred T Andreas, Proprietor.