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knocker

A question of identity

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Something that crops up frequently on here. Whilst doing some research I came across this amusing story (well I thought it was) in the Montana Standard of July, 1963. For historical background there was always a fair bit of enmity between the Cornish and the Irish in the hard rock mining regions of the U.S.

 

‘Cousin Jack’ in Wisconsin

 

The news wire services are indebted to the Montana Standard of Butte, Montana, for a lesson in proper nomenclature. The newspaper notes that Mrs. Mary Ryan, a third cousin of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, planned to greet her distinguished relative "in a manner which would raise Gaelic eyebrows in Butte." She planned to welcome him as "Cousin Jack." That would not only raise Gaelic eyebrows in Butte, Montana, but also Mineral Point and Platteville, Wisconsin.

 

Wherever there are mines there are Cornish, they are the "Cousin Jacks." Kinfolk or not, the Irish simply cannot preempt the label. Today's youth may not know or care much about such things, but the old timers in south western Wisconsin will appreciate this fine point.

 

Here's how the Montana Standard explains it:

 

"All, even the Irish, will understand that the Widow Ryan and the other good folk of the Ould Sod mean well. But there are elements of incongruity in the spectacle of any Irishman being greeted anywhere as Cousin Jack.

"Even after generations of the melting pot, the phrase 'Cousin Jack' does not mean 'My Cousin John,'

 

"In the latter years of the Nineteenth century, Cornish miners came to Butte, found the going good and wrote to their relatives in distant places, advising them to give it a try.

 

It was not uncommon for two Cornishmen to approach the boss at a Butte mine and for one to say: 'This 'ere's my Cousin Jack from 'ome. Can thee give 'im a job? Thus the term Cousin Jack became pinned upon the Cornish, and in time even the women were set apart in slang as 'Cousin Jennie.' They brought the art of concocting that epicurean masterpiece of pie crust, beef and onions, which was respectfully designated the "Cousin Jennie Pasty'."

 

Note from the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal to the editor of the Montana Standard: We bet you a Cousin Jennie Pasty there were Cornish, called "Cousin Jacks," digging lead out of the hills at Mineral Point long before they found gold and silver and copper in the World's Richest Hill at Butte, Montana.

 

Reply

 

We accept the wager, and if we lose we will ask a Butte Cousin Jennie to make the Pasty. The Butte Pasty is unexcelled—quite superior to the variety with that name in Wisconsin. So, the bet is not a fair one. Anyway, the proper name is Cousin Jack Pasty.

 

As for the Cousin Jack name: Our historian-archivist, Frank Quinn, contends our account of the origin is authenticated by old time Butte Cousin Jacks.

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