This is a look at the Johnson / Heffley Family history. I hope that this web page can become a collection of information and a resource for family and friends. I plan to update, and/or, correct this page as new information is discovered. Thanks for your help.

Web site manager:Eugene (Gene) D. Johnson, son of Ellsworth and Rowena Heffly Johnson. Grandson of Adam LeRoy (Roy) and Wilhelmien (Minnie) Blum Heffley, g.grandson of George and Elizabeth Gillespie Heffley, g.g.grandson of Patrick and Margaret Clancy Gillespie, g.g.g.grandson of William and Mary Thomas Gillespie, g.g.g.g.grandson of John Thomas Sr. and Mary Gillespie Thomas.
This page was last updated March 23, 2005

In the late 1980's Tom Noland compiled information on the Langdon and Thomas families in a book he called THE HISTORY OF THE LANGDON AND THOMAS FAMILIES. He later visited Ireland and that prompted an addendum with more information about Ireland and these families. I have started a web page dedicated to this information and will, as time permits, continue to add his work to this web page. Here is the link to this web page:

Here are the links to the Gillespie and Heffley pages:

Family history for the Patrick Gillespie family

Family history for the George Heffley family


Descendants of the Langdon and Thomas families may wonder as to what factors led to the decision that their ancestors leave Ireland---the land of their birth. The immigrants left behind parents, brothers, sisters and sometimes children. It was said that when an Irish family decided to leave Ireland a wake was held by the relatives and neighbors for it was almost as if the persons had died---they would never be seen again! Perhaps the following synopsis of Irish history will point out the many causes for the exodus.

In Ireland by the year 1653 Cromwellian forces had subjugated all of the country. Certain acts of the British parliament decreed the transportation of landowners to the inhospitable terrain of Connaugh which included the counties of Mayo, Galway, Sligo, Leitrim and Roscomraon. Their lands were sequestered for adventurers and demobilized parliamentary soldiers. Over eleven million acres were confiscated and any Irish landowners found east of the River Shannon after May 1, 1654 faced the death penalty or slavery in the West Indies. By 1865 only twenty-two percent of the land of Ireland was owned by Catholic Irishmen. What had been established over most of the island was in fact a landed ruling class mainly of English and Scottish origin, professing some form of Protestantism and dominating a native Roman Catholic and still Gaelic speaking peasantry. This was the Protestant Ascendancy which lasted into the last quarter of the nineteeth century.

Following the defeat of Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne the Catholic population was both crushed and hated by its masters. Then commenced a series of anti-Catholic statutes: The Penal Laws. Under these laws Irish Catholics could not sit in parliament or vote in elections; they were excluded from the bar, the bench, the university, the navy, to own a horse worth more than five pounds, pocess arms or receive a formal education.

On August 22, 1798 French General Humbert landed 1,000 troops at Killala, County Mayo to aid in the uprising by the Society of United Irishmen. The French were joined by 1,000 Irish from the Killala-Ballina area and drove the English from Castlebar on August 28th. The expedition ended September 8th at Ballinamuck, County Longford where it encountered the English under Lord Cornwallis. (The same Cornwallis who surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781). The uprising and the French participation were instigated by Thelbald Wolfe Tone who was captured on October 15th and executed. Following the rebellion hundreds of Irishmen were transported to the penal colony in Australia as convicts. Left behind them was a gutted country devasted by fire, bayonet and the portable wheeled gallows.

The middle of the 19th Century brought an unparalled human disaster to Ireland---the potato famine. The staple food of 8.5 million Irish people was struck by a blight that destroyed the crops of 1845, 1846 and 1848. The hardest hit area was the west and southwest which included the counties of Mayo, Clare, Galway, Kerry, and Limerick. Fever followed famine and between 1841 and 1851 the population fell by nearly twenty percent. Total deaths were estimated at 1,383,350. It was estimated that another 1,445,587 emigrated, mostly to America. In County Mayo in 1841, there were 475 people for every acre of land and 64 percent of the farms were smaller than five acres. The famine lasted from 1845 to 1849.

The Irish Catholics of Ireland having undergone Cromwell's punishments, religious persecution, rebellion, poverty, war, penal laws, famine and disease it is no wonder that emigration ensued. The wonder is that any people remained in Ireland.

The following is an 1837 map of County Mayo:

The following map shows Killala Bay:

For more information about Killala go to the following page:

Killala, Ireland history


The Thomas and Langdon families are united together for two brothers, Patrick and William Langdon, married two sisters, Catherine and Margaret Thomas.

The family is stated to have originated in County Roscommon, Ireland. In a contemporary newspaper article however, Margaret Thomas Langdon's obituary indicates that she was born in Rathlackan, County Mayo. In addition, Catherine Thomas Langdon told her grand-daughter, Emma J. Davis, that she was from County Mayo. Perhaps at one time the family moved from County Roscommon to County Mayo.

JOHN THOMAS,SR: was born in 1781 and his spouse Mary Gillispie in 1793. It should be noted that Mary Gillespie spelled her name with an I rather than the more common form with an E as Gillespie. Six children were born in Ireland:
Mary (1813-1889),
Bridget (1818-1900),
Catherine (1821-1904),
John Jr, (1827-1911),
Margaret (1823-1912),
and Anthony (1826-1870).

From records, it appears that the Thomas family emigrated to America as follows: Bridget(1840), Mary (1843), Catherine (1846), John Jr, (1847) and Margaret (1850). No record has been found to show the emigration date of John Thomas, Sr, or Anthony however they are both of record in the 1860 Nebraska Census.

The first record of the family in America is August 1, 1850 where John Thomas is a witness at the wedding of William Langdon and Margaret Thomas in Joliet, Will County, Illinois. It is not known if the witness was John Thomas Senior or Junior. The family left Illinois by covered wagon train and crossed the Mississippi River, Iowa and the Missouri River and settled by the Elkhorn River in Sarpy County, Territory of Nebraska in August of 1856. They lived in a dugout for the first year and then a log house was built.

In December, 1858 Mary Gillispie died and John Thomas, Sr. donated land for the Thomas Calvary Cemetery. John Thomas, Sr, died in 1862 at the age of 81 and was buried in the Thomas Cemetery next to his wife.

MARY THOMAS: was born May 10, 1813 in County Mayo, Ireland. She married William Gillespie and a son Patrick was born March 10, 1833. In 1843 the family emigrated to America and first settled in Indiana. Five children were born:
and Catherine.

The family moved from Indiana to Joliet, Will County, Illinois and in 1856 joined "The Colony" moving westward by wagon train to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Here William Gillespie died of pneumonia and Mary took the family to Omaha and later to Forest City in Sarpy County, Nebraska. Late in 1857 they removed to Nebraska City, Otoe County, Nebraska. In 1862 they removed to Forest City, Sarpy County and commenced farming.

Mary died on February 24, 1889 at the age of 76 and is buried in Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, Gretna, Sarpy County, Nebraska.

BRIDGET THOMAS: was born July 9, 1818 in County Mayo, Ireland and in 1831 married Michael John Melia who was born on September 29, 1798 in Killala, County Mayo, Ireland. Four children were born in Ireland:
Michael,Jr, (1838),
Ellen (1843),
Patrick (1845),
and Mary Ann (1849).

Michael, Sr. emigrated to America in 1837 to work on the Erie Canal. He returned to Ireland for his family in 1840 or 1841. The family left Ireland in 1846 and landed in New York after six weeks on the ocean. They went west and settled in Morris, Grundy County, Illinois. Four children were born in Illinois:
John (1850),
Kate (1852),
Elizabeth (1855),
and James (1857).

In 1857 the family removed to Forest City, Sarpy County, Nebraska where two more children were born:
Hannah (1857),
and Martin.

Bridget was the midwife and "doctor" for Forest City as medical aid was scarce. Michael John Melia died on September 29, 1871 at the age of 73. Bridget Thomas Melia died July 1, 1900 at the age of 82. Both are buried in the Thomas Calvary Cemetery, Gretna, Nebraska.


CATHERINE THOMAS: See Biography of Patrick Langdon.

MARGARET THOMAS: See Biography of William Langdon.

JOHN THOMAS, JR.: was born in June, 1827 in Ireland and emigrated in 1847 to America. He married Catherine Connor in 1852 and they settled in Joliet, Will County, Illinois. Catherine Connor was born in August, 1833 in Ireland and emigrated to America in 1848. Three children were born in Illinois:
Francis (1853-1868),
Mary Ann (1857-1890),
and Andrew (1855-1908).

About 1858 the family removed to Forest City, Sarpy County, Nebraska by covered wagon. Here five children were born:
Ellen (1859-),
Sarah (1862-1911),
George (1863- 1911),
Teresa (1868-1891),
and Katie (1871-1897).

John Thomas was Justice of the Peace for over forty years and as such performed marriages in Sarpy County. John Thomas died in 1911 at the age of 84 and is buried in the Thomas Calvary Cemetery, Gretna, Sarpy County, Nebraska.

ANTHONY THOMAS: was born in 1826 in Ireland. He emigrated to America and married Mary McCoy in 1854. Mary McCoy (1838-1911) was from Ohio. Anthony operated a general store in Forest City, Sarpy County, Nebraska. He died in 1870 at the age of 44 and is buried in the Thomas Calvary Cemetery.

When the Union Pacific Railroad was built as far as Elkhorn, A Mr. Crawford sold his store to Anthony Thomas. Anthony moved into Forest City and in addition to his grocery department he put in a stock of liquor, cider and drugs. He did a big business and was well liked by all the people.

There was one fellow who lived adjoining him on the south named Jack Nolan. He was a bachelor and blind in one eye, he was a blacksmith and had his shop set up in the woods and his house was on the bank of the Elkhorn River. He was a bad hombre and he and Anthony never could get along together.

He came down to Anthony's store one day and he got some of that "forty-rod" whiskey under his belt and he proceeded to clean up the joint—which he did in short order. He ordered all the people in the store to skedaddle and when he pull- ed out a six-shooter, cap and ball cavalry revolver, and started to shoot, they didn't need any further instructions.

When the smoke cleared away, Anthony was shot in the arm, the ball entering near the wrist and coming out at the elbow. John Thomas was shot in the side. After Jack went home some of the people came and gave first aid to the wounded. They put John on his horse and Mrs. Joe Cleburne gave him her father's sword to protect himself with and he started for home but when he got as far as the Welch house he became weak from loss of blood and fell off of his horse. Mrs. Welch and Mrs. Dolan lifted him up and put him on the horse again and while one of them led the horse the other held on until they came to Mrs. Dolan's dugout. They sent word to his family and Old Fitzgerald the schoolmaster came down and in trying to dig out the ball with the handle of a spoon he pushed ball, spoon handle and all plumb through into his internal cavity where it remain- ed as long as he lived and always caused him a lot of trouble.

A short time after that, Jack Nolan went up to Elk City and got into a dispute about a bet and shot a fellow and thought he had killed him so he skipped town. That was the last seen of him in Forest City but P.J. Melia met him in Wyoming 20 years afterward. (It should be noted that the Jack Nolan mentioned in the above story is no relation of the compiler of this history).


After leaving Ireland it is not known if the Langdons landed in Boston, Philadelphia, New York or Canada. Many of the Irish families headed for Illinois as work was plentiful on the Illinois & Michigan Canal. Word of this must have somehow filtered back to Ireland so that many of the Irish immigrants had a specific destination in America.

Patrick and Catherine Thomas Langdon first settled in Springfield, Sangamon County where Anthony was born in 1847. Mary was born in 1850 but it is not known in what county. John was born near Chicago in 1851 in what must have been Will or Cook County. Bridget was born in Joliet, Will County in 1853. William Langdon married Margaret Thomas at Joliet, Will County in 1850. A son, Patrick J. was born in Morris, Grundy County. The only other record is of Michael Langan who is listed in his military record as being a resid- ent of Danville, Vermillion County in 1861 which is located some 100 miles south of Will and Grundy Counties.

One wonders how the families came to be in this or that part of Illinois. The Illinois & Michigan Canal went from Ottawa, La Salle County, east through Grundy and Will Counties to Chicago. This would seem to account for Patrick and William settling in Will and Grundy Counties but why Michael settled in Danville is a mystery. Work on the canal was completed by 1848 and many of the Irish workers had bought land and went to farming. Patrick and William Langdon bought land in 1856 but later, the next year, sold out and headed west in a covered wagon train to the Nebraska Territory. It is not known why the Langdons decided to pull up stakes in Illinois and go west. It is not known if Nebraska was their destination or when they reached the Platte Valley in Sarpy County they stayed because they liked what they saw—water, timber, game and a chance to obtain virgin land. In Ireland land had been at a pre- mium and most of them were tenants but here in Nebraska they had the opport- unity to accumulate land that was their own. What they stood on would be- long to them and they would not have to answer to any landlord .


The western part of Sarpy County, Nebraska was mainly settled by Irish families from various counties in Ireland. One of the earliest towns was located near the confluence of the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers. This part of the country was covered with native timber and abounded in wild game and fish which caused it to be settled earlier than the prairies further west and north. In 1854, Wesley Knight took out a pre-emption and surveyed streets for the town of Forest City which was located in Section 3, Town- ship 13, Range 10, East. It was incorporated as a town on April 18, 1858 and by 1860 it had a population of 137 souls.

In 1859 a log church was built---the first Catholic church in Sarpy County. The heads of the Catholic families living around Forest City were: John Connor, Thomas Connor, James Daily, John Fogarty, William Fogarty, Patrick Langdon, Michael Melia, Bernard Monahan, Anthony Thomas, John Thomas, Andrew Weeth and Thomas Welch. In 1863, the founder of Forest City, Wesley Knight donated an acre of land in the townsite for a more permanent church. Actual construction of the church was done by John Thomas, Bernard Monahan, Anthony Thomas and William Morrison. The church was dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland --- St. Patrick.

Forest City was on the main traveled road between Omaha and Ashland. Before a bridge was built across the Platte River, a ferry boat was used and the stage coach ran from Omaha to Lincoln. The homesteaders going to take up claims after the Civil War (1865) made lots of travel. It was said that over a hundred prairie schooners (covered wagons) were waiting their turn at the ferry in one day.

In 1868 John Thomas donated five acres for the use of a cemetery which now is known as the Thomas Calvary Cemetery. It contains the resting place of many of the early pioneers as Patrick and Catherine Thomas Langdon, William and Margaret Thomas Langdon and the Thomas family. The Forest City cemetery now known as Holy Sepulcher also is the resting place for many of the early settlers.

At one time Forest City had a post office, two stores, saloons, a blacksmith shop, shoemaker shop, two boarding houses and a log church. School was held in Mrs. Knight's granary or Shield's kitchen and in the William Langdon up- stairs. The first term of school was taught in the John Thomas log house located on the east bank of the Elkhorn River, northwest of Gretna and near the old Thomas cemetery. William Cleburne who lived at that time in an old dugout northeast of the Thomas cemetery was the first teacher. Some of the early students were: A.J. Langdon, Martin Langdon, Sarah Gillespie and P.J. Langdon.

Afterwards, Clerburne moved to Forest City and helped survey the Union Pacific Railroad from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Ogdon, Utah. His brother Joseph was an engineer for the railroad and brother Patrick who lived in Arkansas became a Confederate general during the Civil War. The Cleburnes came from County Cork, Ireland.

Around 1885, the Burlington Railroad, built a short line between Omaha and Ashland bypassing the town of Forest City. In 1886, the town of Gretna began and people gradually moved from Forest City to Gretna. The only vestige of Forest City (1989) is a pump located in the backyard of a farm house and the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery.


The town of Gretna came into being when the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad built a new cut-off from Omaha to Ashland. The Lincoln Land Company filed a deed for land on August 9, 1886. The name Gretna must have originated with some Scotch immigrants who named it for Gretna Green in Dumfrieshire, Scotland.

The articles of incorporation where drawn up and the acting Trustees to hold office until an election could be held, were appointed by the county commissioners. They were Peter N. Deerson, James Wilson, William Lewon, Patrick J. Langdon and John Grabow. The town was incorporated in 1889 and the following businesses had started up: two grain elevators, a general store operated by the Langdon brothers, Patrick J. and John H., in a large building they had erected on the corner of McKenna and Angus, that also housed a millinery and dressmaking shop and two banks. The Bank of Gretna was organized on August 6, 1910 with P.J. Langdon as president. Langdon Avenue in Gretna was named for Patrick J. and John H. Langdon who platted and developed that part of town.

The first means of travel in the early days were by horse and buggy or wagons. On week days main street would be lined with horses tied to the hitching racks that lined both sides of the street. They were made with steel pipes between posts, so as to allow tying of horses to them. Buggies and wagons were of many descriptions and sizes. Horses were used to haul all the merchandise from the depot to the numerous business houses and this was a real days job for several teams and wagons. At the livery stable rates were as follows: a rig with a driver to Springfield, Ashland bridge and South Bend was $1.50 for a single and $2.00 for a double. To South Omaha $3.00 and a team for a day was $2.50. To board a horse was $0.45 per day.

The rail service was excellent. At one time Gretna had three daily trains going into Omaha and three coming back. This compiler's mother, Hazel Davis Nolan, daughter of Bridget Langdon Davis, told that when living in the house on Angus Street, adjacent to the Catholic church, her chore was to meet the evening train from Omaha at the depot and bring the newspaper to her uncle, Thomas W. Langdon.

The house adjacent to the Catholic church on Angus Street was built by Thomas W. Langdon prior to the turn of the century. His mother, Catherine Thomas Langdon, lived in this house as well as his sister Bridget Langdon Davis. P.J. Langdon, son of William Langdon, admired the above house so much that he had built a duplicate of it adjacent to the original one.

Three Langdon descendants, of the third generation, reside in Gretna as of 1989: Margaret Langdon Patterson, daughter of P.J. Langdon; Regina Langdon Sherry, daughter of P.J. Langdon; and Frances Langdon Koke, daughter of John H. Langdon.