Rhoda M Donegan, daughter of Margery Roberts and John Donegan, was born in Henry County, Iowa, in March 1840. When the 1840 census was taken beginning in June of that year, her family of 6 was living in Henry County, Iowa.
The family name was originally spelled Doonigam. Most records before 1850 use this spelling.
Rhoda had 5 brothers:
Patrick b. 1833 in Ohio — ?
Wesley b. 1842 in Iowa — d. 1933 in California
Alvin b. 1846 — 1927
Stephen b. 1848 — ?
John Jr. b. 1848 — 1848 in Iowa
Rhoda had 3 sisters:
Miriam (Fonder) b. 1838 in Ohio — d. 1927 Colorado.
Martha (Baker) b. 1838 in Iowa — d. 1879 Colorado
Malinda b. 1844 in Iowa — d. 1844 in Iowa
Her father purchase land in Jefferson County, Iowa in Lockridge Township along the Skunk River. Her Aunt Charlotte Roberts Vorhies, Uncle John Roberts, Jr, and fathers cousin Isaac Vorhies lived on neighboring farms.
Rhoda’s family lived in a small log cabin on land that was near wilderness. There were few improvements; the family lived on what they could grow, catch, gather or make. Their meals were cooked over an open fireplace; their clothes and linens were all home made. The girls helped their mother as best they could with the cooking, cleaning, sewing, soap and candle making.
Rhoda's mother Margery was a strong believer in education. Rhoda, her siblings and her cousins attended a local school 2 miles away.
In her Life’s story, Rhoda's sister Miriam wrote:
“I was eight years old when I first went to school… our schools were nearly all in the winter. Three months was a term. Our school house was two miles away and the winters were very cold. We had to cross the river on the ice in winter. One time, my sister Martha fell through the ice and into the water. My Cousin, Aurelius (later Colonel Roberts) beat my brother to the rescue, got her out and rushed her home.”
Rhoda was only 8 years old when her mother died. She had few memories of her mother to carry her through the hard years to come.
Her mother, Johnny and Malinda are all buried in the Vorhies cemetery in Iowa.
In the 1850 census, John and his children were living in Lockridge, Jefferson County, Iowa.
After struggling to survive without his wife, Rhoda's father subcomb to "Gold Fever."
After "Binding Out" his young children into indentured servitude, John and his eldest son Patrick headed out to Califonia in an ox-drawn wagon.
Rhoda and her siblings were rescued from their abusive foster homes by their maternal uncles.
The Donegan children were worked hard to the point of physical abuse in their new homes. Wesley would later write: “She was a slender and delicate girl of thirteen years and the abuse and hardship put upon her were almost enough to end her life.”
Martha was so fearful of Rhoda’s treatment that she wrote to Miriam who was living in Eddyville with her Uncle Joe Roberts telling her of Rhoda’s trials.
Joe Roberts, a cousin raised on a neighboring farm in Henry County was dispatched to rescue Rhoda and Martha. Upon securing their release, he took the girls to the Eddyville where they were given loving homes with their Uncles Lorenzo, Stephen and Joe Roberts.
The Roberts brothers were fairly affluent; owning not just a farm, but a saw mill, a grist mill and perhaps a mercantile as well.
The girls were treated as members of the Roberts family; they were fed and clothed well.
Rhoda probably wore her first dress that was not “home spun.”
In 1860 20-year-old Rhoda was living with her Uncle Lorenzo in Pleasant Township, Monroe County, Iowa. Her occupation was listed as domestic.
While living in Eddyville, Rhoda attended school and enjoyed social activities including Church. Along the way she caught the eye of a local young man named Vincent McDowell.
On October 29, 1863, Rhoda married Vincent probably in Monroe County, Iowa at the home of her uncle Lorenzo.
The couple settled in Iowa perhaps on the McDowell family farm in Mahaska County where Vincent’s widowed mother Nancy was farming.
Vincent was a teamster and often on the road. In the early 1864, Vincent drove a team of oxen across the plains to Virginia City, Montana taking a load of flour and bacon. He sold the flour at $32 a hundred and bacon at fifty cents a pound. He then spent some time in Idaho Springs, Colorado working in the mines before returning to his wife in 1865.
Around 1866 Rhoda gave birth to their first child who they named Fanny. Fanny was born in Iowa, and died in Kansas before 1875.
In 1866 the family moved to Jefferson County, Kansas near Oskaloosa.
Their second daughter Etta, was born in Oskaloosa in 1868.
She was followed in quick succession by twin girls Eva and Effie born in ’70.
When the 1870 census was taken, the McDowell family was living in Osawkee Township, Jefferson County, Kansas.
31 year old Vincent owned a farm valued at $1600 and personal estate of $600. Vincent owned 80 acres, 55 of which were still unimproved. He owned $150 worth of farm equipment. His livestock included 3 horses, 1 milk cow, 2 non-milk cows, and 9 hogs. His produce yields for the previous year were 100 bushels of Indian corn and 300 bushels of oats.
30 year old Rhoda was home taking care of her 4 daughters, Fanny 3, Etta 2 and 3 month old twins Effie and Eva. Living in the next farm was the James Estes family who may have been related to Vincent by his mother Nancy Estes McDowell.
During the next decade, the family continued to grow. Mary Mae "Doll" born was born in ’72 and Alice "Allie" was born in ’74.
In 1875 the family was living in Fairview Township, Jefferson County, Kansas as documented on the 1875 Kansas State Census.
Finally in 1877 Rhoda gave birth to a boy who they named Frank Wilber. According to family lore, the first son born after a string of girls was spoiled.
In 1878, the McDowell family packed up and moved to Colorado. Crossing the plains in a covered wagon was Vincent, Rhoda and their 6 children.
After settling in Douglas County, Vincent engaged in freighting between Colorado Springs and Leadville.
Rhoda was lucky to have her siblings near while Vincent was traveling. In the late 1870's, Miriam, Wesley, Martha and Stephen were all living in Douglas County with their families. Her father John was there as well.
In 1879 Vincent homesteaded in Spring Valley. Rhoda’s early years living in near wilderness helped prepare her for the Colorado farm life. The population of Douglas County in 1890 was 3006 people. Vincent raised cattle and farmed the land. In 1885, he hauled potatoes to Monument where they were sold for $1 per 100 lbs.
In the 1880 Federal census the family is living in Douglas County. Rhoda’s cousin John Roberts, (son of Lorenzo) is living on the next farm.
The 1880 Census Mortality schedule for Douglas County documented the death of a Willie McDowel, 8 months who died in April 1880 of Scarlet Fever. This was probably the son of Rhoda and Vincent.
(The 1900 census stated that Rhoda had given birth to 10 children and only 7 were still living.)
In July 1881, Rhoda gave birth to another son, James Clarence. James was the youngest child of Rhoda and Vincent to reach adulthood.
Beyond the known children, the 1900 census indicates that Rhoda also gave birth to another child to whom we have no record of.
Education was very important to Rhoda. On the 1885 Colorado state census, all of the children except James who was only 4 were attending school. The Castle Rock Journal reported that in the fall of 1893, Rhoda took a house in town to enable the children to attend school.
In 1888, the Castle Rock Journal reported the Castle Rock Literary Society was holding a program at the school house on the evening of Feb. 17th which included a recitation of by Eva McDowell. The main event was a debate: Should the state of Colorado compel all children between the ages of six and fifteen to attend school at least six months during the year.
The 1900 census finds the McDowell family living in Spring Valley, Douglas County, Colorado. The older girls had left home.
Etta was a widow with a small son named Darrell who was living with his grandparents in Spring Valley.
Eva and Effie had married Colorado boys and were living in Grand Junction and Larkspur.
Mary and Etta were out of state.
Alice and the boys were still living with their folks helping their dad with the farm.
Around after 1906, the McDowells sold the farm and retired to Cañon City.
Vincent’s retirement was short on Dec. 11, 1907 Vincent passed away. Rhoda and Vincent were married over 44 years.
Rhoda continued living in the house in Cañon City. At times she would travel to visit her children who had moved away.
When the 1910 census was taken, Rhoda was in Ocean Park, California with Alice age 35 who was still single.
Rhoda was literate. She wrote to her adult daughters who were living out of the local area.
One of her descendants has a copy of a letter she wrote in 1917 to her daughter Eva.
When the 1920 census was taken on Jan. 26, 1920, Rhoda was staying with her daughter Effie McInroy in Larkspur, Colorado.
In March 1820, the McDowell Family celebrated Rhoda’s 80th birthday at Effie’s house in Larkspur, Colorado.
Per the inheritance tax record in Fremont County, Rhoda M. McDowell died Nov. 12, 1920 intestate. Her estate was valued at $10,070.27 ($2,000 property, $5820.27 bank account and $2,250 notes). Her heir were Frank W McDowell, James C McDowell, Etta West, Alice Zerboni, Mary Thomas and Effie McInroy.
Rhoda and Vincent were buried in Lakeside Cemetery, Cañon City, Colorado.
A biography of her husband Vincent was printed in the Portrait and Biographical Record of Denver and Vicinity, Colorado published in 1898 by the Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago.
"VINCENT McDOWELL, a farmer and stockraiser living in the southeastern part of Douglas County, owns valuable property on section 21, township 10, range 66 west, four miles from Greenland. When he came to Colorado in 1879 he settled in Douglas County, about eight miles from his present place of residence. After a year he sold the property and for two years operated as a renter, after which he bought two hundred and forty acres. By a subsequent purchase he has become the owner, altogether, of nine hundred and sixty acres, the whole forming a valuable ranch.
Born in Dallas County, Mo., January 12, 1839, our subject is a son of Garrett and Nancy (Estes) McDowell. His father, who was born in Kentucky of Scotch ancestry, removed to Illinois with his parents in boyhood and settled in St. Clair County, where he married. Later he removed to Fountain County, Ind., and from there, in 1837, to Dallas County, Mo. In 1846 he went to Mahaska County, Iowa, and thence to Jasper County, the same state, where he died in 1855. He left four children, of whom Vincent, the third, was about sixteen years of age. At the time of his death he was operating a hotel in Monroe and was also the owner of forty acres near that town and two hundred and forty acres in Mahaska County. To the latter place the widowed mother, with our subject and a sister, returned soon after his death, and there the mother remained until 1866.
In 1860 our subject came to Colorado for the first time, driving across the plains with an oxteam and spending fifty-eight days on the way. He arrived in Denver June 2 and from there proceeded to the mines at Central City, where he remained until March, 1863. Then, returning to Iowa, he remained until 1864, when he drove an ox-team to Virginia City, Mont., taking a load of flour and bacon. He sold the flour at $32 a hundred and bacon at fifty cents a pound. Selling his team and buying a team of mules, he drove to Salt Lake; where he sold the mules and bought horses. With the latter he came through to Denver in the same year, 1864. Going to the mines at Idaho Springs, he remained there until July 4, 1865. He then returned to Iowa, and in 1866 moved the family to Jefferson County, Kan., where he engaged in farm pursuits for twelve years.
The marriage of Mr. McDowell in Monroe County, Iowa, October 29, 1863, united him with Miss Rhoda M. Donegan, of Monroe County, but a native of Jefferson County, Iowa. Her parents, John and Maria (Roberts) Donegan, were natives respectively of Ohio and Maine, and were married in Ohio, removing thence to Iowa in 1844. From Kansas our subject came to Colorado and has since made his home in Douglas County, where he is known as an experienced and enterprising cattle-dealer and raiser. His attention is given closely to farm work, and he has little leisure and less inclination to mingle in official matters. However, he is a firm adherent of Democratic principles, having voted that ticket at every election since 1864, when he supported George B. McClellan. He and his wife became the parents of seven children. Etta, who was born in Kansas, married Edgar Chambers and has one child, Darrell, now six years old. Mrs. Chambers is a widow and lives with her parents. Eva and Effie (twins) were born in Kansas. The former is the wife of Richard Peake, of Grand Junction, and has one daughter, Frances L.; Effie married James Mclnroy, of Douglas County, and has a son, Harold Vincent. The other children are: Mary, Alice, Frank and James."