Timothy Canty and Margaret O’Keefe (1851)

By David Schleper

Timothy Canty came to Shakopee as an employee of Thomas A. Holmes. Some said that Timothy came on the flat boat Wild Paddy in the fall of 1851, though others think he arrived a short time later. He came to file on a tract of 80 acres granted him by the government because of his involvement in the Mexican-American War, also known as the Invasion of Mexico.

The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) marked the first U.S. armed conflict chiefly fought on foreign soil. It pitted a politically divided and militarily unprepared Mexico against the expansionist-minded administration of U.S. President James K. Polk. Polk believed the United States had a manifest destiny to spread across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. A border skirmish along the Rio Grande started off the fighting. It was followed by a series of U.S. victories. When the dust cleared, Mexico had lost about one-third of its territory, including nearly all of present-day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.

Timothy was born in Lower Canada, and came to the eastern part of the United States at an early age. He was in the Mexican-American War, and was in many of the battles, including Cerro Gordo, Buena Vista, and Vera Cruz. After working with Thomas A. Holmes in Shakopee, he worked on the steamboats, including Greek Slave and Pocahontas.

Tim married Margaret O’Keefe in St. Paul in 1851. When the Civil War arrived, he wanted to go, but Tim couldn’t leave his wife. His wife lost her sight, and was blind at that time, so Tim stayed to be near his wife.

Timothy was dressed in keeping with his manner of living, and his ways and his philosophy was simple, direct, unassuming, and not given to boasting. He did reminisce occasionally about his experience in the Mexican American War, and when General William Tecumseh Sherman became prominent in the Civil War, Canty recalled that he had served under Sherman when Sherman was in the American forces in Mexico.

Tim, as he was called, even went so far one day as to assert that he knew Sherman well. “He’s a fine officer and a real man,” he observed to a group of settlers in Guyermann’s store in downtown Shakopee. Tim had been there to purchase his weekly supply of groceries. Many of the settlers felt that Timothy was exaggerated a bit, and that he didn’t know the great Sherman as well as he claimed. They often asked again and again, but Tim made little comment.

One day the news brought up the Minnesota River from St. Paul said that Sherman was making a tour of the west, and would pass through Shakopee. It happened in the late 1860s. When the news of the impending visit was announced, there was great excitement.

“Where’s Canty?” some of the settlers asked. “He ought to be here, since he claims Sherman knows him so well.” When Timothy was told, he didn’t say much. A few of the townspeople hinted that Tim couldn’t make good with his claim.

Finally, the day of the general’s visit arrived. Homesteaders and city residents formed quite a sizable crowd. Along noon a cloud of dust was seen down the trail. “Here they come!” someone shouted.

Presently the stage came into view, drawn by four large horses. The driver swung around the corner at Strunk’s Drug Store and stopped with a flourish. A cheer arose and General William Tecumseh Sherman put his head out of a window to acknowledge the greeting. His eyes roved over the crowd as he spoke. Suddenly, he stopped and the watchers saw his attention was riveted on a man in the rear of the crowd. Timothy Canty was there, having come to Shakopee to get his scythe sharpened. He was still carrying the scythe.

“Hello Tim!” Sherman called. “Don’t you remember me?” Tim came forward and shook hands. For some time their hands were clasped and the embarrassed settlers who had doubted Tim’s claim saw tears welling in the eyes of the two veterans – the general of all the armies and the humble homesteader.

“I want to congratulate you on your success in the later war, General,” Tim faltered.

“Thank you, Tim,” said Sherman. “Say, do you remember that big black horse I had in Mexico? Wasn’t he a dandy?” Then the general grew serious. “How is the world treating you, Tim, my boy?”

“Fine, General, fine,” said Timothy. “I have a good maple homestead and a wife and boy out here a ways.”

“That’s good. Take care of yourself,” Sherman called as he resumed his seat to continue the journey. After short remarks to the crowd, General Sherman’s coach was again on its way.

The crowd melted slowly and silently, and several went to find Tim, who had disappeared. But when Tim arrived back to Shakopee later, the reception was wholly different. The settlers were inclined to look with awe on the man who had been so intimate with Sherman. It was reported that this feeling never did wear off entirely, and persisted even until Timothy’s death in 1885.

(Some information from Timothy Canty Typical Pioneer: Father of Local Man was Personally Acquainted with General Sherman. Shakopee Tribune, 1925. In Recollections of Early Pioneers 1925 compiled by Betty A. Dols, 2000, Shakopee Heritage Society.)

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