James Maurice Wolfe was born on July 26, 1851, in Monticello, Lewis County, Missouri. His parents were John Harnett Wolfe, an Irish Catholic farmer, and Louisa Durbin. Wolfe had four older sisters: Mary Ann (b. 1839), Lucretia Ann (b. 1843), Honora L. “Hannah” (b. ca. 1845), and Teresa Louisa (b. 1848).
Wolfe’s father had been born in County Limerick, Ireland, and had traveled with his brother Richard Wolfe to the United States in 1836 in search of their brother, James Harnett Wolfe. In a letter home dated December 26, 1836, John Wolfe writes that “Brother James Wolfe died in the state of Mississippi the first [of the] year he went to Natchez. The fine learned man. There is nothing grieves Richard [and me] more than to say that we cant see, hear or find our brother alive on his Estate after the bold stroke we made in going to him five thousand miles from home.” Family oral history—contained in a letter between Wolfe relatives dated August 1956 from Cratloe, County Clare, also known as the “Aunt Dollie” letter—speculates that James Wolfe had been murdered. Whatever the case, John Wolfe and Richard Wolfe remained in Missouri, settling next door to one another in Lewis County.
Virtually nothing is known of James Wolfe’s early life. At some point he moved from Lewis County, in northeastern Missouri, to Tarkio Township, Atchison County, in the northwestern part of the state. Perhaps around 1885, he married Mary Jane “Jennie” Swan (b. 1865), of nearby Peru, Nemaha County, Nebraska, and the couple had four children: Harvey Lewis (b. 1886), Ina W. (b. 1887), Lucretia Iona (b. 1889), and John (b. 1891).
The federal census of 1900 lists Wolfe as living in Tarkio and working as a brick manufacturer. By 1920, Wolfe had moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where he lived with his wife and son, Harvey. The census also indicates that he served as caretaker for David Cole.
Wolfe died at the Swedish Mission Hospital died at the Swedish Mission Hospital in Omaha on November 4, 1921, of apoplexy complicated by arterio sclerosis. Jenny Wolfe died on May 6, 1943, in Maryville, Nodaway County, Missouri. She and her husband are buried together at Tarkio Home Cemetery.
images: Wolfe gravestones, Tarkio Home Cemetery (Jeffrey C / Find a Grave)