Many thanks to Kate
Thomas Hancock for contributing her THOMAS Family History, written
in1948, by her
Great Aunt Sarah, which traces the family migration from Wales to Remsen, arriving there in 1838, where they remained untill 1844, when they again embarked on another journey to Wisconsin. Kate tells me that part of the original property
that her ancestors bought, when the family moved to Wisconsin, is still owned by the family.
Chapter I: Wales, Great Britain 1808 - 1838
J. Thomas spent most of his life as a farmer on Section 23, Delafield
Township, Waukesha County, Wisconsin, on the north side of the Highway
30, a half mile west of Zion Church.
His ancestors lived in Anglesea, North Wales. His paternal grandfather was John Thomas Davies, a woolen weaver and tailor in the city of Caernaervon on the Menia Straits. Of Davies' life, little is known to his descendants of today, since both he and his wife died young. Of their five children, the two older daughters married in the late 1820's and migrated with their husbands to the gold fields of Australia, where, probably, some of their descendants are living today.
The third child of this Davies family, also named John, born in 1808, became the father of Owen J. Thomas of this writing. A younger brother, Richard E., and a younger sister, Margaret, completed the family. Of the latter two, a small photograph remains in the family of Owen; it shows the young brother and his sister, about the ages of twenty and seventeen, standing in the photographer's shop in Thomas Street, Caernaervon, just as they might have appeared at home a day or two before Richard sailed away for America.
A knee injury in childhood left the young John lame for life. He helped in his father's shop and learned the woolen weaving and tailoring trades. In dull seasons, John also worked for a nearby doctor; driving, caring for the horse and helping with bone setting and bandaging. It is not known just when the young man changed his name from John Davies to John D. Thomas. On account of the large number of persons by the same name among the Welsh people, a son would sometimes take his father's middle name to be his own last name. Some of his descendants have suggested that the family name was changed by these children just after their father's death. There is no proof.
In 1828, John D. Thomas, aged twenty, married Harriet Jones, aged sixteen, of Bryngollen, Anglesea. Her father was a seaman of that place. His son Henry and younger Harriet were the children of their father's first wife. He had remarried. Since infancy, Harriet had lived with her mother's two maiden sisters, Anne and Margaret Jones, small farmers and village store keepers in comfortable circumstances at Bryngollen or Llanerchymedd. Shortly before Harriet's marriage, both her father and her brother were lost at sea.
The newly married couple lived in Caernaervon in John's home with his younger brother and his sister, and they continued their father's shop. Here three children were born: Margaret, in 1832; John, 1833; and David, 1834. Then the family moved to a farm known as "Ty Mawr" (Large House) near the home of Harriet's aunts. It was at the latter place, Bryngollen, Anglesea, that Owen, the fourth child, was born on July 22, 1837.
In 1894, Owen permitted the following brief facts of his origin to be published:
"Owen J. Thomas, as enterprising and
citizen of Section 23, Delafield, is a native of Angleseashire,
Wales, son of John and Harriet Jones Thomas, the former a
native of Caernaervon, and the latter of Anglesea."
Of the success
or failure of John and Harriet Thomas as farmers at "Ty Mawr", no information
has come down to their descendants. It is a matter of record, however,
that in August 1838, they embarked on a sailing vessel from Liverpool for
America. Their party included eight persons: four adults, namely
John and Harriet and the latter's aunts, Ann and Margaret Jones; four children:
Margaret, six; John, five; David, four; and Owen, one year of age.
The voyage consumed ten weeks.
Chapter II: New York State, 1838 - 1844
At last the Thomas' landed in New York Harbor. They sailed up the quiet waters of the Hudson River to Albany, and thence by Erie Canal to Utica, New York. Here the family was very happy meeting former friends from Wales who had migrated earlier, and becoming acquainted with new friends, some of whom they were to enjoy the rest of their lives. The Welsh settlement was large, including the Utica, Rome, and Remsen areas. The parents became members of the newly-founded Pen-y-Cerau Church of Remsen, one of the first Calvinistic Methodist Churches in America. In the Sunday School and in the Remsen public school, the older children were learning the English language, retaining their Welsh at home. Late in his life, Owen Thomas related to his children some of the happy times of his New York boyhood:
Around Remsen were then groves of maple trees, called
"Sugar Bushes", by the Yankees. One adventurous pleasure of the
mall boys was to spend the whole night out in these maple woods
with their elders at the sugar camp tending the fires beneath the huge
kettles of boiling maple sap and watching the sparks fly up into the
dark sky. At "sugaring off" the boys would crowd around the pouring
kettle to fill their pockets with the sugar chips as the spilled syrup
hardened on the frozen ground. Another exciting enjoyment for older
boys was helping to strip bark for the tannery trade from the oak trees.
The trees had been girdled some time before at the bottom. Seizing a
piece of bark, loosened at the girdle, the boy would lift the bark at the
same time that he pulled and ran away from it, until it broke off high up
and fell, without breaking, to the ground, and without striking the boy.
The greatest fun of all for Owen came in the very severe winters when deep snow covered roads, fences, and shrubs; then would follow sub-zero cold until the snow was frozen so hard that horse-drawn loads of logs and grain could pass easily anywhere over it. The small boys, especially, enjoyed these days. They would dig tunnels under the snow from the house to the barn or to the street; through these hollow winding openings, dimly lighted, the daring young adventurers would run and collide with one another with shouts and echoing laughter.
According to his son Owen, John D. Thomas, soon after his arrival "purchased a farm of about one hundred acres under a fair state of cultivation" . He also applied for citizenship papers at Utica, the county-seat. New York settlers from Wales had expected to grow rich from raising wheat. John D. Thomas soon discovered, as earlier neighbors already knew, that the Rome-Utica-Remsen soil was too rough and gravelly for more than a few crops of wheat: hopes of immense crops would never reach fulfillment. The wood crop-both bark and timber-was then too plentiful to bring good prices; the outlook was not encouraging.
A matter of more immediate concern to John D. Thomas was the impaired health of his young wife. She suffered from severe asthma, the causes of which, local doctors declared, were the lack of sunshine and the dampness arising from the heavy tree growths in the locality. They advised a change of climate without delay.
At first, the thought of leaving their New York home after six happy years in pleasant association at church and school for themselves and their children was almost more than John and Harriet could bear. Two small daughters-Jane in 1839 and Catherine in 1842, had been born on the Remsen farm; Aunt Ann Jones had died and lay in the Albany cemetery.
However, some of the Thomas' neighbors, after a few wheat failures, had already gone to the wheat lands of the Middle West. Their letters reported splendid crops of wheat and a fine market at Milwaukee. The nearby Erie Canal offered a prospect of cheap and quick passage through the Great Lakes. John and Harriet decided to go to Wisconsin Territory.
The final hours of their departure were described by their son Owen, years later, as follows:
Aunt Margaret and Owen, and seven, had been assigned to
remain behind the others to close the house. As soon as the pair,
loaded with bundles, reached the road, a freighter came by. Stopping,
he offered them a ride. The boy immediately tossed up his bundles
and was climbing into the wagon. His aunt severely called him back.
But the boy showed his true pioneer spirit for not losing the main
chance. Standing on the hub of the wagon wheel, he argued with his
aunt in Welsh and explained to the freighter in English until the lady
was convinced that it was safe to ride the eight-mile trip with a stranger.
When they reached the canal at Rome, another difficulty arose:
they could not find their family; so great was the crowding of livestock,
household goods, and families of new settlers coming and of others
leaving. After dodging and darting about, the two were finally united
with the rest. The Thomas party consisted of three adults, seven children,
ranging from two to fourteen years of age, household goods, food
supplies for the trip, and two animals: a young Morgan mare and her
Of the voyage on the Erie Canal, no account has come down to the present. It may have been slow and uneventful, similar to canal travel described by Walter Edmunds in Erie Water and Mostly Canallers.
At Buffalo, the travellers were met by Mrs. Thomas' cousin, Captain William Brown, also formerly of Bryngollen, Wales. He had preceded them to America in 1836 and settled in the Welsh Colony at Racine, Wisconsin Territory.
A seaman by calling, he had risen to the captaincy of a sailing freighter on the Great Lakes. It was he who brought the Thomas' from Buffalo to the West. The older children were never to forget the four weeks on the lakes. The boat was crowded with passengers, their goods, and a large cargo--mostly dried salt fish. At first, the mixture of bad odors almost nauseated the children to starvation. Soon measles broke out--fortunately a mild form from which there were no deaths. The coastwise stops to load and unload passengers and goods, and the lack of room on board severely tried their patience. More fortunate than some, the Thomas children had one near-relief: their daily goings below with their father to care for the horses. They would wash, brush, and curry every inch of their beloved mare Fly, and her frisky little Fanny, gentle and intelligent animals, themselves also suffering from the confinement of the ship.
Chapter III: Wisconsin Territory, 1844 - 1848
It was a misty October morning in 1844 when the John D. Thomas family disembarked
in the Milwaukee River. Some of their descendants have regretted
that they were not able to point out the exact spot where the landing was
made. Mr. John Evans, a former friend of New York, was waiting to
welcome them to his home where they were to be guests until John Thomas
could notify his brother Richard of Genesee, Waukesha County of their arrival.
Brother Richard had come to the territory in 1842; a year later, he had married Miss Winifred Morgan, who had come to the Welsh Settlement in Waukesha County in 1843 in the "King" Jones party. This young couple was now living in their new log house on their farm near the present village of Wales, adjoining Salem Cemetery, originally a part of their farm, near the present Chicago and Northwestern Railway overhead bridge on Highway 18.
After a few days of rest and pleasant entertainment at the Evans' home in Milwaukee, the John D. Thomas family was carried by his brother Richard, in his lumber wagon to his home. With a hearty welcome, the new log house somewhere found room for the ten new relatives and their goods, and the barn made shelter for the mare and colt.
Some of the John D. Thomas' descendants have maintained that the change in the family surname from Davies to Thomas had not been made by John, but by the younger Richard on his arrival in America and that John merely adopted the new surname of his brother. The facts of the matter can not be established.
It was now October, and John Thomas lost no time in looking about to buy a farm for a permanent home before winter should set in. Fortunately the weather had been mild and pleasant. He sought out a former New York acquaintance, Mr. David W. Roberts who had come to Waukesha County earlier in the same year, 1844.
He had been well known in New York circles as a well educated, honorable man of shrewd judgment. He had just become the owner of three quarter sections of the former "Milwaukee-Watertown Canal land" in Section 27 of the town of Delafield, one section including shore frontage on the southwest end of Snail Lake, the whole plat today being intersected by Highway 30 and County Trunk EE. In the open places of the south east part of this land, a squatter of a large nursery project, and later abandoned the work.
Northeast of this Roberts' property, including the frontage of Snail Lake along to the east, were about ninety acres of land adjoining the Roberts' farm, also a part of the nursery development recently abandoned, showing young fruit trees in flourishing condition, and a substantial log house of the prospector, near a spring of good water. The advantage of good neighbors and the improved condition of this land prompted John D. Thomas to buy it at once. Two months after their arrival in Wisconsin, the Thomas' were settled in their home at Snail Lake.
The record of this purchase states that "on February 24, 1845,
John Thomas applied for a patent to buy from the United States gov-
ernment in the North West corner of Section 23, Township 7, Range
18, in the Territory of Wisconsin"
"On August 1, 1847, the patent sale was granted to John D.
Thomas to the N. W. Quarter of Section 23, Township 7, North of
Range 18 East, containing 151+60/100 acres."
"It appears that full payment has been made by John Thomas
of Milwaukee County in said Territory".
Owen J. Thomas said that his father John D. Thomas, received his final naturalization papers in Wisconsin, applied for at Utica, New York. Recent inquiries at the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk in both Waukesha and Milwaukee Counties have failed to produce any record of John D. Thomas' naturalization. Waukesha County had not been separated from Milwaukee County until 1848. However, Mr. Samuel Connell, present (1947) clerk of the Waukesha County Circuit Court, states that territorial records were often not kept by the court; instead, the papers were handed to their owners for safe keeping; that cases still occur in which the descendants of an early citizen bring proof of his naturalization by his well-kept papers. Many settlers preferred to keep all their legal papers in their homes. John D. Thomas; citizenship papers may have been lost.
The deed, however, is still in the possession of one of John D. Thomas' grandsons, Mr. Edward Francis Thomas of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. It is said to be recorded to John and Harriet Thomas, original owners of a grant of land, and to bear the facsimile of the signature of President James K. Polk.
Owen Thomas told his children of the first Sunday in the new home at Snail Lake:
"Father and we children were standing in the front door or the
log house looking south east over the tree-covered acres. We noticed
that there was one tree much taller and larger around than all the rest.
'Let's go to look at it,' said Father. We walked through the trees until
we came to the large burr oak , very high at the center and very evenly
wide all around, in perfect condition."
As Owen continued to look out across the corn field at this tree, seventy years later, he said, "It looks no larger to me now than it did then to Father and us children."
The Snail Lake home was far from the dreary, lonely habitation which some of the earlier Welsh settlers foretold it would be: too far from the Welsh Churches and Welsh neighbors: no frontage on the public road, the farm lying behind another eighty acres next to the public road; and worst of all the lake - dangerous and deep!
To the new owners, however, when spring came many attractions and advantages were revealed. The house stood on the south side of a gentle slope of land, high enough so that by standing outside of the door, one could overlook the entire farm. Near at hand, all about the house stood blossoming cherry, plum, apple, and pear trees, half as tall as the house itself; facing about to the north, one could not fail to be fascinated by the changing beauty of color and light on Snail Lake below. As for neighbors, John and Harriet would often exclaim, "Where could we find better neighbors than the David W. Roberts and the Audleys?"
Finally, the lake and its dampness proved no menace at all. Harriet's health was soon greatly improved so that here for many years she was entirely free from the dreaded asthma.
The objective of every settler was to pay for his land as soon as possible. For the few years following, the Thomas family faced hard labor cutting down trees, pulling up stumps and rocks deeply imbedded in the ground, and planting and harvesting crops almost entirely by hand, interrupted by fence building to enclose crops and livestock. Even women and children worked in the fields at harvest.
Marketing over rough roads to Milwaukee, twenty-four miles away, was equally difficult. Nevertheless, after the second year, the Thomas family marketed loads of wheat, barley, butter, wool, and hogs; their farming succeeded well.
On these trips to Milwaukee, the father usually would take along one of his sons to mind the horses, help with the load, and with the accounts; often it was Owen, the smallest of the three boys and the least valuable for the farm work. The lad soon gained a familiarity with the English language and with the markets and streets of the city--advantage which the older sons sometimes complained they were missing.
Encouraged by this early success, John D. Thomas decided to buy more land. He drove his team to Neenah, Wisconsin, and started to buy a quarter section of the heavily wooded land a few miles from that city. Later, after longer experience in the difficulties of land clearing, he abandoned the Neenah land.
Chapter IV: The New Land, 1848 - 1854
Wisconsin Territory was admitted into the Union. Crowds of new settlers
poured into secure homes in the new land. The Welsh settlement of
Waukesha County received many new members, most of them relatives of the
established families. Into the Thomas family came their youngest
sister Margaret from Caernaervon, North Wales. For a short time,
she lived in her brother Richard's home until she took a position as seamstress
in the home of Mr. William A. Barstow of Waukesha. During the short
period in 1854 when he was Governor Barstow, Margaret lived with the family
in the Governor's Mansion at Madison. Later she was married to a
Mr. Williams, a retired lake captain living on his farm near Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Here a son Hugh was born to Caption and Mrs. Williams.
A newcomer into the John D. Thomas family was Mr. Owen from Wales, but recently from Ohio. He was a shoe maker by trade, and cobbler, much in demand among settlers. In a short time he married Mrs. Thomas' aunt, Miss Margaret Jones, and built a log house on the Thomas farm, but after a few years, he moved his family to Minnesota.
In spite of hard farm labor, life among the Welsh settlers was generally enjoyable. Most of them were not you of middle age, in good health and ambitious. Financially, most of them had brought little to their new homes, but they were prospering from the abundant crops of grain. Families, generally, were large; everyone helped, even the children. Neighbors joined together into work "bees", thus promoting enthusiasm and encouragement as well as social life. Church activity was directed mainly to the building of places of worship and the religious teaching in the Sunday Schools of Jerusalem and Tabernacle, the former Calvinistic Methodist, and the latter Congregationalist. Frequent church meetings singing conventions, Bible Society gatherings, and church oyster suppers attracted families even from afar.
Unfortunately, educational opportunities were not so ample. the Brandy Brook log school, on the site of the present building on Highway 18, offered the only education in the settlement. During the winter of 1851, Owen Thomas, aged thirteen, was send to live at his Uncle Richard's home within two miles of this school. He attended daily for eleven weeks--his entire school education. His study was principally arithmetic and geography, reinforced at evenings by reading from the school books of New York State brought West by his family.
Brandy Brook School was a typical early country school overcrowded in Winter by pupils of many ages and grades of learning. Fortunately, Owen's teacher was a well educated honest, able young man, a lawyer of Waukesha, Mr. Thomas Spence. His educational theory was a sound one--to teach the pupil to learn to teach himself and to retain the habit for the rest of his life. All his life, Owen never ceased to praise the character of Mr. Spence and the education at Brandy Brook.
To John and Harriet Thomas at Snail Lake, five children were born: Harriet, 1846; Elizabeth, ?; Richard, 1849; Thomas, 1851; and Robert, 1853. Elizabeth died in infancy and was buried in the Tabernacle Cemetery. A few months later, when her parents attempted to move her remains to the family plot in the New Salem Cemetery, to their great sorrow, they were not able to identify her grave.
A recently copied record of the Tabernacle Cemetery contains the following entry of graves unmarked:
"Elizabeth, inf. dau. of John D. and Harriet (Jones) Thomas,The first marriage in the John D. and Harriet Thomas family occurred in 1852. Margaret, oldest child, was married to Aaron W. Gilbert, son of a well known magistrate and hotel owner of Pewaukee Village. The couple took a farm on the present Highway 18, until Aaron, who had not been reared as a farmer, went to work on the new Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway, placing his wife temporarily in her father's home. Here a daughter, Frances Gertrude Gilbert, was born in 1852.
Snail Lake, d. about 1848 (thought to be first burial)"
Chapter V: The New Land *Continued*, 1854 - 1862
In spite of much sympathetic, kindly, advice, Mrs. Harriet Thomas, forty-two
years old, decided to continue with the Snail Lake farm. The oldest
son, John, had quit farming and started a blacksmith shop on the new Grade
Road. David, the second son, had for some time been clerking i a
Milwaukee clothing store. Kind friends and relatives advised these
older young men of the duty of giving up their chosen callings, at least
temporarily, to help their mother on the farm. But their mother would
not hear of there sacrifices. She declared that she and the younger
children could carry on alone. Owen was now seventeen
and had been with his father more than the older ones. She would
continue with Owen and the three little sisters, and three little brothers.
Farm help was cheap and plentiful; young men with packs on their backs
came often along the roads asking for work on the farms, especially in
the harvest seasons.
So "Mrs. Thomas, Snail Lake," as she was now called, and the children kept on pulling stumps with oxen, planting more grain, raising more stock, and hauling more loads to Milwaukee over the new Grade Road now, which was later to become part of highway 30. Busy children they were; even little Robert - nine years old, used to help with the Milwaukee load. Two teams, an old one ahead, would be hitched to start the load on its trip. As soon as they reached the top of the hill at Bowers' corner, the wagon would stop to unhitch the old team, which little Robert would drive back home, while Owen and the young team, now adjusted to its load, would continue to Milwaukee. The money to finish paying for the new land was coming in fast!
The farm prospered so well that Mrs. Thomas even thought of buying more land. Owen had for some time expressed a wish that they might someday own the property just south of their farm, and extending along the Grade Road, some two hundred and thirty acres in all. Mrs. Louisa Delafield of Milwaukee was the owner and known to be in financial difficulties, at that time, due to the recent death of her husband. Mrs. Thomas spoke no English; Mrs. Delafield know no Welsh, but Owen persuaded his mother to allow him and his sister Jane to call upon Mrs. Delafield at her home to ask her to sell the land to his mother. At first the owner refused to sell; but she had no money to pay taxes. Finally, she and Owen agreed to a plan: he bought the land for his mother, on condition that when Mrs. Delafield had the money, she was to buy it back again. She often afterward spoke of buying, but she never had the money. Mrs. Thomas paid in cash $2,300.00 for the land. It is recorded in the Waukesha County Register of Deeds:
"On January 12, 1867, for $2,300.00 paid in hand, Mrs. LouisaYears later, Thomas J. Thomas laughingly related his memory of the transaction. When his Uncle Richard and his Aunt Winifred Thomas at Salem heard that their widow sister-in-law was buying land, they immediately came to try to dissuade her from such folly.
Delafield sold to Mrs. Harriet Thomas two hundred and thirty acres of
land as follows:
The West half of the Southeast Quarter of Section 23;
also the Southwest Quarter of Section 23, Township 7,
North of Range 18, East
On December 12, 1860, for the sum of $500.00 in hand,Together, Mrs. Thomas and her son Owen were now the owners of more than half a section of land, a larger tract than the belongings of most of their neighbors. Its value, too, was increasing through their diligent careful farm methods. It was not their good fortune to be situated on the fine new stretch of road recently completed by the State from Milwaukee to Madison, call the "Grade Road" a great improvement over the old "Territory Road" which had gone farther south along the ridge known as "Bunker Hill".
Edmund B. and Elijah C. Kellogg sold to Owen J. Thomas, Lot 2,
Section 23, Township 7, North of Range 18 East, fifty-four and 70/100
acres of land.
Chapter VI: New Homes for New Families, 1862 - 1880
of Mrs. Thomas' sons served in the Civil War. The three youngest;
Richard, Thomas, and Robert were only twelve, ten, and eight years of age.
Owen's name was called in the first draft. Because his mother was
a widow, he was excused on furnishing a substitute and paying seven hundred
dollars. Later, he was again called, and again excused because
he had just been elected treasurer of the town of Delafield.
In 1862, great grief again overtook the Thomas family: they mourned the death of the third daughter of the family, Catherine, aged twenty. She passed away in Chicago, where she had been employed and had lived in the home of her sister Mrs. Gilbert. She was laid to rest near her father in Salem Cemetery. Fifty years later, an elderly man, Own and Catherine's cousin, Mr. Hugh Williams of Oshkosh, on a visit to Owen's grown children, recalled the passing of Catherine, "She was a fine girl, and beautiful! beautiful! the beauty of the family!"
The decades of 1860 and 1870 were the years when Mrs. Harriet Thomas was to see her children leaving her home to found homes and families of their own. the Gilberts lived a few years in Chicago. Aaron, however, never liked the large city. Moving his family to Waukegan, Illinois, he engaged in the dray business. But his old longing for "railroading" again overcame him. He moved again to Milwaukee to work for the Milwaukee Road in the land office department.
Margaret, his wife, regretted leaving Chicago, because she had earned considerable money by piece work in her home on men's quilted satin vests; she was an expert needle woman, trained by her tailoring father to help him on her brother's clothes. There was none of this vest work in Milwaukee; accordingly, she bought with her money, a large men's boarding house on the present site of the Milwaukee Railroad freight offices. Here again she was successful in her business; in a few years the railroad bought her boarding house site.
Margaret then bought a large house on Greenbush Street, now South Fifth; she bought other houses to rent them, and she, Mrs. Gilbert, was the first woman member of the Milwaukee Real Estate Organization.
In the same year that Margaret found her permanent home, 1862, David, Mrs. Thomas' second son, left the LaCrosse Lumber Company where he had worked, to homestead a claim of one hundred and sixty acres in Blue Earth County, Minnesota, in the Welsh settlement of Cambria, then called "Butternut Valley".
The former inhabitants of this land, a Sioux Indian tribe, were hostile to the newcomers; fires had been set, persons had been killed from ambush, and others had been wounded and left to die. In the spring of 1862, settlers prepared for defense.
"Twenty-two Welshmen of Cambria (then called ButternutOne day as David Thomas was ploughing near his log house, one of the Guards dashed by shouting the alarm, "Indians! Indians!" Unhitching his team, David hurried to his house to warn his sister Margaret and her small daughter Fanny, who were visiting him, to run for life to the creek and hide in the willows until Guards would come for them. Hitching his team to his wagon, David galloped to the Big Barn. Here a dreadful scene presented itself: families were being brought in, some wounded and left half dead by the savages, others bringing in food and clothing for a siege. After a night in the willows, Margaret and her child were found by Guards and brought in. But the Indians gradually increased in number until the Regulars were called from Fort Snelling.
Valley) enlisted as a militia company for thirty days and built a fort
two or three rods west of David E. Bowen's barn (which barn was then
in existence and known as the "Big Barn") in the center of Section 28
of Cambria. The state furnished the company arms, ammunition and
rations, and they rendered service in protecting the frontier, caring for
the stock left at the deserted homes, and cutting hay for the winter."
"On September 23, 1862, Colonel Sibley with 1500 men metOn the official list of the officers and privates of the Butternut Valley Guards, stands today the name Private Davd Thomas. (He is the only member of his generation of his family whose name has appeared on the pages of history.)
Little Crow with 800 braves at Wood Lake, three miles east of the
Ford of Yellow Medicine. The Indians fled, leaving thirty of their
dead on the field, the whites lost only four killed. The battle proved
quite decisive and made Sibley a Brigadier General.
Soon after the encounter, about 2,000 Sioux Indians surrendered--
the rest fled to Dakota and kept up a predatory war for three years. In all,
about 1,000 whites perished in the massacre."
Chapter VII: New Homes For New Families *Continued*, 1862 - 1880
The Civil War
era was a time of high prices to farmers; grain was needed at any cost
for infantry and cavalry, to carry on the war. Money became so plentiful
that farms were paid for and the owners were planning new buildings; building
became the major community interest, with the result that most of the buildings
were very similar in style. New England architecture, familiar to
many Welsh settlers in their earlier years in New York State, prevailed:
long two storied wooden barns upon a ten or twelve foot basement;
frame clapboarded houses, two stories in the main part, a story and half
wing at the side, a lean-to kitchen at the rear. Barns were generally
left unpainted, but houses were painted white, some few with green shutters.
Examples of these Civil War homes are still standing in the Turville and
George Williams' homes on Highway 18.
In front of the house was a formal lawn with cedars, lombardy poplars, lilacs, a drooping mulberry, and a mountain ash tree, planted at proper intervals, - and the site enclosed by a white picket fence. Mrs. Thomas' new buildings were of the prevailing architecture.
Fortunately the interest in building did not neglect churches and schools. The new District No. 2 Grade School opened in its new stone building on the present Highway 30; and in 1868 Zion Church was built near the school; both Mrs. Thomas and daughter Harriet were charter members of this church which had been organized in Snail Lake. Both school and church were built of stone from a nearby quarry. Fifty odd years later, when a national convention of American architects met in Milwaukee, a trip by bus was planned for the members, to inspect the fine stone masonry on Zion Church and School, the work of a local Scottish farmer, Mr. Kerr, and his boy of Hartland.
Meanwhile Mrs. Thomas was busily planning for the future of the younger children--especially the three boys. They attended the new Grade School, and were free to choose their own careers. In 1867, they attended Carroll College Academy at Waukesha. According to pioneer custom, only one son would remain at home to become the owner, generally the youngest son. Owen was the oldest son at home. He had already bought the Kellogg land along the lake and adjacent to his mother's acres. But he found his land too small for large crops. Often he expressed a wish to leave home for a larger piece of land, but his mother had prevailed upon him to stay with her until the little brothers were older.
Accordingly, on December 10, 1862, Mrs. Harriet Thomas sold to her son Owen J. Thomas "in consideration of the sum of five hundred dollars, to her paid in hand."
All those parts of East half of the South West Quarter, and of the WestOwen was now the owner of one hundred and forty-seven acres, adjoining his mother's home. His purchase was partly covered with oak woods. With the help of his brothers, he had soon enclosed his land with rail fences, and had built a barn and a small frame house near the Grade Road. He also remained at home and carried on for his mother. She decided to send the little brothers to school as far as they were willing to attend. After a term at Carroll Academy, Waukesha, they were to be able to choose their own careers. Richard and Robert soon decided definitely they were not to be farmers, but business men. Thomas attended a business school in Milwaukee, but he soon decided to become a farmer. Robert took a position in a grocery at Racine. Richard remained at Carroll. Now Owen asked his mother to decide whether Thomas or he was to remain at Snail Lake. She chose Thomas, as she said, because he was the younger.
half of the South East Quarter of Section Number twenty three in
Township Number seven, North of Range Number eighteen East in
the County of Waukesha in the State of Wisconsin, situate lying and
being north of the center of the Road running East and West across
the South half of said Section twenty-three and leading from the village
of Waukesha, to the village of Delafield and containing about ninety
acres of land by the sum more or less.
Chapter VIII: New Homes For New Families *Continued*, 1868 - 1871
the example of the three oldest children of his family, Owen Thomas was
now to leave Snail Lake to seek his fortune in the great world. In
1868, he decided to try a business career; he hired Mr. Edward Martin to
operate his farm adjoining Snail Lake.
Owen then entered into a partnership at Portage, Wisconsin, in a grocery store of a boyhood friend, Mr. James Rice, of Waukesha County. Owen's brother Richard accompanied him to Portage to attend high school.
The Rice and Thomas grocery occupied a wooden building on the east side of DeWitt Street, between East Cook Street and the Canal. Owen, on his arrival, introduced an improvement in the business--free delivery. This innovation popularized the store among the housewives. He also was able to attract business from farmers by shipping to Milwaukee and selling for them their dressed hogs, poultry, and butter in carload lots for higher prices than farmers could get from Portage grocers, when they would buy at all. The Rice and Thomas, Grocers, certainly prospered. Besides, the social life was very pleasant at Portage. Mr. and Mrs. Rice and the Thomas brothers were Presbyterians and were well received by the best Portage families.
But before long, the two young former farmers had discovered separately that never liked the messy housekeeping details nor the long close hours indoors of the grocery man. Also, Owen felt restricted by the business ways of the small town, accustomed as he had been to larger methods in Milwaukee. By the end of the second year, he was walking the streets late at night wishing he had never come to Portage.
On his latest return from his annual helping with the Snail Lake harvest, to his great surprise, Owen found that Mr. Rice had sold the grocery, and left for a farm in Nebraska. The new owner, Mr. Benjamin Williams of Lime Springs, Iowa had not known that Mr. Rice was not the only owner, as had been represented. Finally, Owen and Mr. Williams made a friendly settlement in which the latter deeded his Iowa farm to Owen in order to retain his newly-bought grocery business.
Chapter IX: New Home For New Families * Continued*, 1871 - 1873
venture ended, Owen bought a fine team of Norman horses from Mr. Stephen
Hext on the old Territory Road near Waukesha for a top price of $400.00.
He then drove a wagon load of oats and seed winter wheat a distance of
about one hundred and fifty miles from Snail Lake to Lime Springs, Iowa.
Here he found farmers hurriedly breaking the ground with ox teams and horses
for fall planting of winter wheat.
On the first visit to the former Williams farm, the new owner saw at once that it was a bargain. Most of the acres were prairie, with a wooded ravine at the east end, through which flowed a large clear creek of spring water. At the top of the ravine among the trees was the new log house; nearby was the large shed-barn for the stock. In the near distance were buildings of neighbor homes.
The new settler immediately sought the home of a relative of his mother, a Mrs. William Hughes, half sister of Mrs. Thomas, Snail Lake, near Harmony, Minnesota. The Hughes couple with their two young sons, John and Owen, had come from North Wales in the sixties to homestead a farm in southeastern Minnesota, near the Iowa boundary. They welcomed their relative, and helped him to settle on his new farm.
The old zest for farm labor possessed Owen again. He bought oxen to join his neighbors in preparing the prairie soil as soon as possible, so that the winter wheat plants should be well started before snowfall. The planting season finished, Owen made secure his house and farm buildings, drove his teams and cow to the care of the Hughes family, and returned to Portage, Wisconsin for New Year's.
It was in Portage that Owen had met his future wife. Once he laughingly told his grown children that the first time he saw their mother she was splitting kindling wood very early one morning in his back yard adjacent to that of his store. She was an English-born girl, Elizabeth Arthur, sister of Miss Sarah Arthur with whom she lived in the latter's millinery store building on East Cook Street, a few doors from DeWitt Street. Owen and Elizabeth were married on February 2, 1871, by the Reverend Ritchie of the Presbyterian Church of Portage. Following a brief visit at Snail Lake and Milwaukee, Mrs. and Mrs. Owen J. Thomas were at home on their Lime Springs, Iowa farm.
The log house, newly furnished for the new family, was cozy and warm. From its window Elizabeth saw for the first time the prairie: miles of level land glistening white in the bright sunshine, broken only by smoke from the few neighboring chimneys. She had expected to be lonely; she was mistaken. Nearly every afternoon she would hurry to the door to welcome stranger neighbors, who stopped to call on their way to town, etc. They were very friendly young people, in bright scarfs and shawls, with jingling sleigh bells on their teams. Friends in Portage sent long letters followed by packages of garden seeds. At night, however, as she listened to the howling of the prairie wolves in the ravine, Elizabeth wondered about the future in Iowa.
In spring of 1871 came early and warm; almost overnight the snow had left the prairie. Flocks of wild fowl called as they passed overhead. The pale green winter wheat blades grew dark green and thick. The gray-pink leaf buds of the oaks in the ravine interspersed with the pure white of wild plum and cherry filled the warm still sunshine with spicy fragrance. She has always loved the country ever since she walked the English lanes to school as a child. The prairie too, was beautiful.
Another young couple came to live nearby Mrs. and Mrs. Hugh Rowlands. The bride was Owen's first cousin, Honor Thomas of Salem. She was the daughter of Uncle Richard Thomas, whose home had received the John D. Thomas family in 1844. The Rowlands bought a farm near to Lime Springs village. Young Rowlands had no experience of farming; his wife Honor was a farm girl; by combining their efforts under Owen's guidance, the two new families promised well.
The summer of 1871 came with a rush. Blue morning-glories of Portage seeds crowded purple and white petunias beside the log house door. On the sides of the ravine, purple violets gave way to ripening wild strawberries. Daily, Elizabeth gathered the sweet fruit along the edge of the tall wheat.
Soon the air was humming with the sound of reapers. Only by combining machines and teams could the farmers harvest the great crop of 1871. threshing followed until the new winter wheat was planted. After snow fell, processions of sleighs, filled high with rows of white grain sacks slowly moved along the roads to the grain elevators and freight cars. Financially, indeed, the new Iowa farmers had started well.
Lime Springs community was not the lonely prairie of the cowboy ballads. A Welsh district at the north of the area adjoined a Southern Missouri group, both made up largely of young families. Socially, the groups had much lively intercourse, often combining farm machinery and labor. The Forreston Church of the Welsh was called
"Calvinistic Methodist." The Lime Springs church of the Missourians, "Methodist Episcopal." No rivalry existed. The two groups merged at suppers, parties, meetings, even at political gatherings.
The second spring, May 5, 1872, a daughter, Harriet Ann, was born to the Thomas'. Miss Sarah Arthur of Portage, present to welcome the new niece, declared herself favorably impressed by the clear air and the great vistas of the prairie country. A second splendid wheat crop followed. Again, the hum of reapers and the whirr of threshing filled the air. Again the horses and ox teams ploughed the soil for winter wheat planting. Again, the sleighs of white grain sacks filed to the elevators.
Perhaps Owen and Elizabeth Thomas might have spent the remainder of their lives on their Iowa farm had it not been for the blizzard of the winter of 1872-1873 in which their neighbors, Reverend John Evans, with his wife and infant daughter perished on the prairie as going the short distance from the Thomas' house to their own home.
The newspapers carried far and wide the accounts of the great Iowa blizzard. Elizabeth's family wrote urging the Thomas' to return at once to Portage. The oldest Iowa settlers, however, assured the recent comers that no such storm had occurred in Iowa before since their memory, and that the chance were that no such blizzard would ever strike Iowa again. The remainder of the winter was calm and mild.
Accordingly, Owen rented the Evan's farm, moved into the Evans' larger house, and received the four Evans' children, three boys in age eight to fourteen years, and the little girl of four, to remain as members of the Thomas family.
By the end of June 1873, another great wheat crop stood ready for reaping - so tall that little your-old Annie Thomas ventured into the tall grain. When her mother went to the door to call the child to dinner, Annie was nowhere to be found! Instantly everyone rushed from the table to the outdoors, calling "Annie! Annie!" But the Hughes' boys, wiser than their elders, called the Evans' boys and hurried to the edge of the wheat. Here the boys stood in a row, far apart, yet holding hands and walked slowly abreast into the grain. In a few moments they had "combed out" little Annie and restored her to her parents.
On September 4, 1873, a second daughter, Sarah Jane, was born. Both children were baptized in the Foreston Welsh Church. By the first of October, Owen and Elizabeth had decided to leave Iowa permanently. the grain, the stock, and the machinery were sold, and the farm rented to a neighbor. The final departure caused them much sorrow.
The Evans' relatives had chosen to place each of the orphaned children in separate families related to their parents. The boys, fortunately were taken into the farm homes of their father's people in the Lime Springs community. Little four-year old Lizzie, whom Mrs. Thomas had grown to love ever since Owen had carried her, nearly frozen, to his home the day after the blizzard, had also grown to love her "Mama."
One day a strange, worried looking woman, Lizzie's aunt from Colorado, called. The child had never seen her aunt and clung to Elizabeth; her aunt made no effort to win Lizzie.
"I've come for Lizzie, my sister's girl--to take her back to my home. I want her things, too. I am sorry, I'm in an awful hurry. I've come so far," said the stranger.
As soon as Elizabeth could collect the child's things, the stranger carried the bundle and the frightened little Lizzie away. No news of the little girl cam from her aunt to Mrs. Thomas.
Late in November, 1873, the Thomas couple with two tiny daughters arrived at Miss Arthur's home in Portage. Their return was heralded by Portage as a proof of the superiority of Portage as a place of residence. Miss Arthur's home was at that time crowded with the Samuel Brown children from Milwaukee; Owen insisted on relieving Miss Arthur of the wood, grocery, and milk bills of the establishment. He had brought $3,000.00 from Iowa; Elizabeth's brothers urged him to become a partner in their wool and hide business; Owen's former commission customers, also, urged him to resume commission work, which he did for a time. But Owen and Elizabeth were only waiting until the time when Edward Martin's own house was finished and they could move to Owen's farm on the Grade Road, adjoining Snail Lake.
Chapter X: New Homes For New Families *Continued*, 1873 - 1880
the marriage of Owen, Mrs. Harriet Thomas saw the marriages of four others
of her children, also within the decade of 1870-1880:
Richard, who had studied at the Portage High School during his brother's time of business, returned to Carroll Academy at Waukesha, after a year's apprenticeship in a Brass and Iron Foundry in Chicago. In 1873, he married Miss Florence Wentworth, daughter of a Portage editor and banker. Milwaukee became their home since Richard had started The Thomas Brass and Iron Company of West Water Street on a part of the present sit of Gimbel's Store. the new firm was successful; Richard and Florence built a fine home on Nineteenth Street; both were active in Calvary Presbyterian Church, and socially popular among West Side young married people. One year, Richard's name was among the candidates for Mayor, but he did not win nomination.
In 1875, a second wedding occurred in the Thomas family. Jane was married at Snail Lake to Mr. Griffith J. Roberts, a local farmer and builder. Mr. Roberts bought a farm near Cambria. A year and a half later while he was moving a barn, an accident took place in which he was injured so badly that both arms became partially paralyzed. Shortly after, through the death of a brother, a mining man in New Mexico, Mrs. Roberts inherited a considerable legacy, fortunately. In 1878, a son John, was born to Griffith and Jane; they then sold their farm and moved temporarily to Snail Lake.
In the autumn of 1876, a third wedding occurred, also at Snail Lake. Mrs. Thomas' namesake daughter Harriet was united in marriage with Mr. John Evans of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A farm near Lime Springs, Iowa, near Owen's farm, became their home. The bridegroom, however, was not attracted to farming. He was educated, had been a store clerk, and a school teacher; consequently, most of the farm management devolved upon his wife, who was capable and experienced through years of helping her brother Thomas. Mr. Evans was what is called a "good mixer," and quickly became a popular figure in Howard County politics. He was appointed to teach a district school several terms, and also twice re-elected town clerk. They continued to live on their farm in their pretty white New England house encircled with young evergreens.
The year 1879 saw the fourth marriage in Mrs. Thomas' family during the 70's. Her youngest child Robert, married Miss Mary Jane Owen, daughter of Mr. Richard Owen of Cambria, Wisconsin. With his brother Thomas, Robert studied at Carroll Academy; he left to attend a business school in Milwaukee. Here he was an outstanding student of exceptional ability in business studies; and on recommendation, he was employed by the Henry Gardiner Fur and Leather Company of Milwaukee. A few years later he opened a Produce Commission business, The R. T. Thomas and Company, later the Thomas and Schaus Company on West Water Street. the firm was one of the original builders of Commission Row.
Only one of Mrs. Harriet Thomas' children, Thomas was still single. He was proving himself worthy of Snail Lake. He helped his mother indoors, kept her home in good order, attended to her every wish, farmed successfully, helped other members of the family to settle their homes, and was a very popular bachelor of his community.
Also, in the 70's, two young nephews, once removed from Wales, came to Snail Lake intending to become farmers. They were welcomed and invited to make Snail Lake their home until they could locate themselves. Neither had any experience of farming. Soon both left for Chicago. Thomas Davis, the elder of the two, was a trained singer. He soon found work in music stores and choirs, until he became choir master at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and opened his studio for pupils in the Fine Arts Building.
The younger relative, Thomas Jones, entered business. After several years he became a member of the Monarch Refrigerating Company. Here he accumulated fifty thousand dollars by middle life; he died leaving his money to his sister in Llanerchy Medd, Wales.
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Kate Thomas Hancock
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