Pioneer Courage of Omaha

One of the highlights of my visits to Omaha to see my son, who attends college there, is visiting the extraordinary bronze sculptures in Pioneer Courage Park in the central business district. The park, in conjunction with the adjacent Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park is a sprawling art display that honors the over 600,000 pioneers who ventured westward, shaping this nation with their bravery, courage, and entrepreneurial spirit. 

Walking through the larger-than-life (1.25 times) sculptures offers a window into their journey with incredible detail: a wagon caught in mud, settler women and children walking alongside, a Native American Sentinel horseback, and, of course, the wagon master—hat and all! It gives one a true sense of the pioneer movement through what is now Nebraska.

image: Wagon Master
Wagon Master 2021

Many, including Irish immigrants, came to Omaha to construct the Union Pacific Railroad beginning in 1864 and remained in the city. In fact, the first church of any denomination in Nebraska was a Catholic church, St. Mary on Eighth Street, built in Omaha by Irish immigrants in 1856. John Creighton, the son of Irish immigrants, settled in Omaha after mining gold in Montana and developing1 a reputation for battling desperadoes. He and his brother went on to have long careers as local businessmen and were involved in educational causes that served as the foundation of what is today, Creighton University. 

Most came to Omaha via New York City or Boston, as did Pioneer Capitalist Owen McCaffrey. Born near Omagh, County Tyrone, Ireland, Owen’s early life was spent in a white farmhouse with a thatched roof.2 Records suggest that in 1874, Owen, age 20, arrived in Omaha via Boston and joined his older brother Hugh during the city’s formative “untamed years.” This marked the beginning of a significant chapter for the McCaffrey family in Omaha, as four brothers eventually made the city their home.Initially, Owen boarded at Donovan House on Harney Street and worked as a clerk, with Hugh as a porter. Just four years later, they embarked on their own venture with their brother John: McCaffrey Brothers Wine, Liquor, & Cigars, located on Douglas Street.3 The establishment catered to the social needs of Omaha’s residents but also signified the entrepreneurial spirit of the McCaffrey men. 

image: mother and child walking with wagon
walking along wagon 2024

Hugh soon diversified into real estate and mining. Owen’s acumen for business is evident as he navigated the challenges and opportunities of this time. Perhaps anticipating the implications of prohibition, he invested in land on Harney Street and developed St. Claire apartments. His venture into the automotive industry through an authorized Ford Dealership reflects his ability to adapt to the changing times. McCaffrey Motor Co. was managed by his son Sherman, a graduate of Creighton University (NCAA Sweet 16 shoutout).4

Owen’s personal life was equally fulfilling. He married Theresa Kennedy at Saint Philomena’s Cathedral, and they welcomed nine children into their family.5 After Theresa’s death in 1925, Owen embarked on a series of trips with daughter Eileen, a music teacher. Their travels included a cruise to the West Indies and South America; they motored along the Atlantic Coast and spent time in Hot Springs, Arkansas.6 Owen’s journey ended in Chicago in September 1927 while visiting his daughter, Helen. His obituary stated he was “intensely loyal and proud” of the Omaha he helped build and mentioned he had hoped to see his eldest sister, Ann, in Ireland.7


For those intrigued by the tales of Omaha’s pioneers and inspired to trace their own family roots, there are invaluable resources. FamilySearch Wiki offers county maps and information regarding the migration routes, especially railroads, that played a pivotal role in the settlement of Omaha. The Greater Omaha Genealogical Society website provides guidance on how to get started uncovering the stories of your ancestors, found here: ( For the more seasoned genealogist, The Nebraska State Genealogical Society’s Annual Conference in Columbus looks to have a robust event schedule this year ( 

Discovering these stories deepens our admiration for the park’s representation of pioneer resilience and their contributions to the growth of Omaha and the development of this country.

image: Owen McCaffrey
Owen McCaffrey (1854-1927)8
  1. D.R. Hickey, S.A. Wunder, J.R. Wunder, Nebraska Moments, (Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press), p. 160. ↩︎
  2. “Owen McCaffrey, Pioneer, Dies,” Our Sunday Visitor (Omaha), 30 Sep 1927, p. 5. Also, Washington, D.C., Passport Applications, vol. #2203, cert. 259316, Hugh McCaffrey, 1923; “U.S., Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” Ancestry, 706104, image 818. ↩︎
  3. Omaha, Nebraska, Wolfe’s City Directory for 1872-3, (Omaha, Nebraska: J. M. Wofle, 1872-3), p. 90, entry for Hugh McCaffrey, subsequent years, Hugh and Owen McCaffrey, specifically: (1874-5) p. 94, (1876-7) p. 192, (1879-8), p. 227, (1881) p. 279;  “U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995,” Ancestry. ↩︎
  4. “Ford Cars to Be Sold In Jobbing Section,” Omaha Daily Bee, 15 Oct 1916, p. 8. ↩︎
  5. 1910 U.S. Census, Douglas, Nebraska, pop. sch., ED 0048, sheet 6-A, dwell. 116, fam. no.121, Owen McCaffrey household; image, Ancestry, collection 7884, image 11. ↩︎
  6. “In and Out of Town,” Omaha Daily News, 31 Aug 1926, p. 9. ↩︎
  7. “Owen McCaffrey, Pioneer, Dies,” Our Sunday Visitor, 1927, p. 5. ↩︎
  8. Ibid. ↩︎

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