October 18, 2011: The more I study the coincidence of Indians sharing my family name, the more I realize that over the years the Oglala and Lakota Sioux on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation have consistently fallen lower and lower on the socio-economic ladder. They don't have oil under their ground, and they are too far out in the middle of nowhere to make a go of the gambling business. A few reservation residents, mostly tribal officials, have fairly comfortable lives, but the majority of the people who live on what the residents and their neighbors call "the Rez" live what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation."

Why There Are Sioux Indians Named O'Rourke:
The Life and Times of Georgiana "Burnt Thigh" Terry O'Rourke
and John "Jack" O'Rourke

by
Warren F. O'Rourke
Birmingham, Alabama

To see more Indian O'Rourkes, click on:

I update this site whenever I find out something new to me. Last update: October 18, 2011. You may want to come back to this site from time to time.

My Grandfather O'Rourke once told me that all O'Rourke's and their descendants have a common ancestor somewhere in the ancient past of Ireland. Grandpa O'Rourke was not a learned man; however, if he was right, then this essay may well be about some of the O'Rourke Clan's distant cousins. I will leave it to professional genealogists to work out exactly what degrees of kinship and collateralism are involved.

However, something else that Grandpa O'Rourke told me -- when I was too young to appreciate it, but which I still remember -- was that in the 1840's his grandfather Owen O'Rourke was living in New Orleans, Louisiana, and that Owen had helped at least one brother named Michael to join him in America. If Grandpa O'Rourke was right, that makes it possible (but not proveable) that Georgiana's husband Jack could have been much more closely related to our branch of Clan O'Rourke than the records actually show. Possibly Old Jack was a son of Owen's brother, and that means our Sioux cousins would be more closely related to our Alabama/Nebraska/South Dakota branch of Clan O'Rourke than I ever dreamed of.

The 2010 telephone directory for the area where Jack and Georgiana made their home on the reservation shows that at least 6 O'Rourkes, 4 Shangreaus, 3 Helms, and 3 Pouriers still live in that neighborhood. These are all direct descendants of Jack and Georgiana and therefore members of Clan O'Rourke. They very well be our less or more distant cousins.

Grandpa O. also told me that Custer's command at Little Bighorn included at least one member of Clan O'Rourke. (Never doubt my long term memory.) I have not found any records yet to support that claim, but wouldn't it be cool if already distant cousins from each other were fighting on both sides during Custer's Last Stand?

But enough speculation! Here's what I have been able to piece together from the records. . .

In 1876, in the same year Custer had his unfortunate encounter with Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull -- in that year, way off in the southwest corner of South Dakota, on the southern border with Nebraska and near the western border with Wyoming, in the area often referred to as the Badlands, or the Black Hills -- in that year, an adventurous Irish-American from Louisiana named Jack O'Rourke met an Indian girl named Georgiana Terry. Judging from their reported birthdates in 1859, I guess the picture at the left shows them when they were about 18 or 19 years old. Old records show that they were married at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, about 1876 and that Jack was working for the Army as a storekeeper and ranch manager on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and that the newly-weds had established their first home on the reservation.

Jack O'Rourke had left his boyhood home in Cajun Louisiana (perhaps Shreveport or Baton Rouge) and wandered north up to the Indian Territory where he found work with the Army near a community called Kyle on the reservation where Georgiana lived with her mother's family.

I hope my O'Rourke first-cousin from Yankton and my Martin first-cousins and their offspring in Huron and elsewhere in South Dakota will not be offended by this paragraph, but. . .talk about in the middle of nowhere? Kyle, South Dakota, is very near the point of maximum inaccessibility in North America. No matter which direction you travel in from Kyle, it is 1,100 miles or more to the North American coastline. Everybody in the continental U.S. lives closer to the beach and the well-populated coastal cities than the people living in Kyle or almost anywhere else in southwestern South Dakota. I have heard that the high schools in that region are so small that they play 8-man football and that there are so few burglars there that people don't even bother to lock their doors. Can that possibly be true?

So, to get back on the subject, why's a girl named Georgiana Terry, who seems very comfortable in American-style clothes, living on the Pine Ridge Reservation?

Well, that's because her father was an earlier Irish-American adventurer from Connecticut named Samuel Terry. Samuel had left his boyhood home at about 11 years old in 1851 to become a sailor, probably a cabin boy or a powder monkey. That must not have worked out very well because by 1852 he was ashore again at Baltimore, where he soon enlisted in the Army and was sent to the South Dakota Indian Territory where he served as a boy soldier, probably a drummer or bandsman or officer's personal servant, until sometime before 1857 when he was about 16 or 17 years old.

So, in 1857, about 19 years before Georgiana married Jack O'Rourke, Samuel Terry married Georgiana's mother at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. (It seems that from the 1850's through the 1860's, Fort Laramie was the largest settlement anywhere north of Denver or Omaha. In any event, it seems to be where a lot of people from the South Dakota Indian Territory went to get married.)

Georgiana's mother was a reservation resident whose English name was Jesse Brule but who was usually called either White Rabbit or Crazy Woman. Indeed, when Georgiana was born in 1859, she was given the Oglala Sioux name, Burnt Thigh. (Indian names are wonderful, so here is a very partial list of some of Georgiana's maternal ancestors and relatives: Her Holy Robe, Eagle Louse, John Eagle Man, Runs Away with Horses, Mary Eagle Man, Long Nose, Elk Woman, Hawk Wing, White Cow Woman, Leon White Bird, Her Red Star, Good Medicine, Crooked Eyes, and Little Girl.)

There is a great deal more known about Jack and Georgiana. By 1880, for example, Georgiana (a.k.a. Burnt Thigh) was carried on the Bureau of Indian Afairs annual census rolls as Mrs. Georgiana O'Rourke and was listed as the head of an Oglala lodge at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Her husband Jack was still there with her, but he wasn't an Indian; so his name doesn't appear on the BIA census. He built their home on the land Georgiana acquired.

You don't need to be an expert on these matters to realize that Jack was taking advantage of his wife's Sioux heritage to get free reservation land near Kyle where he owned and ran the only store and where he still was being paid by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to supervise the cattle ranching and farming on the reservation. Apparently, he was a pretty good businessman because, when he died in 1890 -- the same year that the Battle of Wounded Knee took place less than 30 miles from Kyle -- he left behind a fortune large enough to establish all four of his sons in the horse and cattle ranching business. Eventually what old Jack and the boys were doing was to raise horses and beef cattle to supply the Army. Up until the years just before World War One that was a very good business to be in. . .until the big meat-packing plants in Chicago and elsewhere got the government contracts and the Army scrapped the horse-borne cavalry in favor of automiles and trucks.

It probably seems a bit odd to be talking about business success on the Pine Ridge Reservation since by most accounts that is one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the U.S. A recent article says that unemployment is about 40% in Shannon County where Kyle is located, that alcoholism there is rampant, and that many of the adult residents have never had a job in their lives. Nevertheless, many of the older photos in this essay show well-dressed people. Obviously at least some of the O'Rourkes were more or less successful during the earlier part of the reservation's history.)

Of course, things may be on the upswing in Kyle. In 1992 President Clinton spent the day in Kyle with a group of advisers who were there to discuss ways to bring jobs to that area which was at the time the poorest area in the country with an 80% unemployment rate.

The old records and photos also show that Jack was an accomplished fiddle player. Imagine what the influences on his playing were -- born to an Irish immigrant family in Cajun Louisiana country. . .Wow! Cajun-flavored jigs and reels!

There's also a lot more known about that rascal Samuel Terry, Georgiana's father. When the Civil War started in 1861, Samuel was forced back into the Army and sent back east to fight in Virginia with Company K of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry which was then a part of Union General George McClellan's Army of the Potomac. He left behind Jesse/Crazy Woman and his little daughter Georgiana/Burnt Thigh on the reservation, and apparently they never saw him again.

He got injured during the war by being blown off an artillery caisson and into a tree. He limped from this injury for the rest of his life and there are numerous references to him in old 19th Century records including the fact that he returned to South Dakota after the Civil War and fathered more children from at least two other Indian women who are referred to in the records as "common law" wives -- Annie Greenwood and Julia Good Voice Bear. (Samuel's three "wives" gave him a total of four daughters -- Georgiana, Susan, Josephine, and Lily. All these girls used Terry as their maiden name.)

Also available are many records of his efforts to get a military pension. From one of the affadavits in support of his pension application we learn that he romanticized his war injury by claiming he had been shot in the back by a Confederate sniper. And from the application itself we learn that he ended up blind and limping around the wards of Battle Mountain Sanitarium in South Dakota. He was 50 years old when he died in 1890. And I couldn't find out if he ever got his pension. (Also, if you like to research these matters, be advised that most of the references to that scoundrel Samuel are related to the Rosebud Reservation where he spent a lot of time after the Civil War. Remember? He never seems to have returned to Crazy Woman and Georgiana, who lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation.)

But it's time to turn to Jack and Georgiana's descendants...especially the beautiful Annie O'Rourke.

There is so much stuff available on Ancestry.com and other internet sources that I will probably end up writing another essay like this one to report my further researches into the Irish/Oglala Sioux connection of Clan O'Rourke. In the meantime, consider this -- the six children of Jack O'Rourke remained on Pine Ridge Reservation and married and begot their own descendants.

Here's some random stuff about the life and times of Georgiana "Burnt Thigh" Terry O'Rourke.

1. The photo above confirms that Annie O'Rourke was an extraordinary beauty.

2. The photo above shows that, after bearing six children between her 18th and 38th birthdays and being widowed at age 32, Georgiana still looked as youthful as she did when she was a bride about 1876.

3. There is one source that says there are more than 100 gravestones on and around the Pine Ridge Reservation with the name O'Rourke on them. Old Jack O'Rourke's grave near Kyle reportedly is engraved with only two words: "O'Rourke" and underneath that "O'Roarke." The engraver seems to have provided a pronunciation key.

4. In January of 2010 Patrick O'Rourke, age 27, of Kyle, South Dakota, was convicted of "sexual knowledge of an under-age girl." This is why some people hate genealogy. Who really wants to know that there is a horse thief or a registered sex offender lurking somewhere in the family tree? I do. Do you?

5. And, finally, just below this you can see a document and a photo that are relevant to Georgiana's story.


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