James Buckley Wolfe was born on April 13, 1844, probably in Listowel, County Kerry, Ireland. He was the eldest child of John Richard Wolfe, an Irish Catholic farmer, and Honora “Nora” Buckley Wolfe. He had seven siblings who survived to maturity: Patrick Bernard (b. 1848), Johanna (b. 1849), John Buckley (b. 1851), Maurice Buckley (b. 1855), Margaret I. (b. 1857), Catherine “Kate” (b. 1860), and Richard B. (b. 1862). Two sisters, Margaret and Catherine, died in infancy.
In 1847, he accompanied his parents and other Wolfe family members to Liverpool and then to New York City. From there the family traveled to Chicago and then to Ottawa, in LaSalle County, Illinois. By 1856 they had arrived in Clinton County, Iowa.
In Wolfe’s History of Clinton County, published in 1911, Wolfe’s brother Patrick wrote that James Wolfe “was reared on a farm and educated in the common schools. He was put to work in the fields when old enough, and early in life became acquainted with general farm work.”
Many years later, Wolfe’s obituary described the Clinton County of his youth:
At that time, where there are now prosperous well tilled farms, there was a vast unbroken prairie over which the deer roamed at will and through which surged the all devouring prairie fire sweeping everything before it. Here, [Wolfe] experienced the struggles and privations of pioneer life. Through the sides of the rude hut of a home, the wind and the weather blew. Often did he tell of how he shook the snow from the bed covers on awakening and brushed it aside on the floor to make a bare place upon which to stand while dressing.
In 1886, Wolfe owned 360 acres of farmland in section 12 of Liberty Township. In 1911, he owned 280 acres, having transferred 160 acres to one of his sons. He owned Wolfe and Company, a hardware business in Lost Nation, from 1880 until 1884, when the firm was purchased by William Meves of Wheatland. John Wolfe (possibly James Wolfe’s brother) bought a minority interest and the store became Wolfe and Meves.
According to his brother Patrick, James Wolfe bred shorthorn cattle and raised both cattle and hogs. “Politically, Mr. Wolfe is a Democrat,” P. B. Wolfe wrote, “and while he has never taken a very prominent part in public affairs, he has been more or less active in local matters, and has been school director for twenty years.”
In 1870, Wolfe and his father were among the first members of the Saint James Catholic Parish, founded by Father James Scallon. A church was erected in 1883 and the first mass celebrated in December 1885.
On February 8, 1872, Wolfe married Anne (also Anna) Ignatius O’Connor, the daughter of an Irish immigrant and a native of Jackson County, Iowa. They had seven children: John O. C. (b. 1873), Jeremiah “Jerry” (b. 1876), May R. (b. 1878), Honora “Nora” L. (b. 1880), James Leonard (b. 1881), Walter Ignatius (b. 1886), and Anna (b. 1887).
Wolfe died on January 27, 1916. At the time of his death, he was president of the Lost Nation Savings Bank. He is buried at Saint James Cemetery in Toronto, Iowa.
image: gravestone for James B. Wolfe, Saint James Cemetery, Toronto, Iowa (J. Bader / Find a Grave)