Archive for the ‘William Thompson’ category

Thompson Line Seems to End at William Thompson, Sr.

March 27, 2010

This may be William Thompson, Sr.

Like most amateur genealogists, I have reached a maddening dead-end in the quest to trace my family roots. The end of the line is William Thompson, Sr., who appears to have lived most his life in Ontario, Canada, but was probably born in Scotland.

Thompson’s very common name, which shows up often in Census counts, church records, and other family trees, doesn’t help matters. Neither does conflicting information about him that has been passed down.

J.E. Thompson left a letter identifying his grandfather as “a British army officer [who] lived and died in Canada .” According to the book, Progressive Men of the State of Montana , Thompson, Sr., was born in Scotland and “emigrated to Canada in an early day, and as a carpenter, there passed the rest of his life.” This fact is born out by the 1880 Census, in which William, Jr., lists his father’s place of birth as England.

We know that the family at one time lived in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada, a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario, about 118 kilometers east of Toronto. That’s because Cobourg is listed as the birthplace of William Thompson, Jr., who was born on March 1st, 1838. His grave stone lists that date.

A family tree left behind by Mabel Maud Thompson says that her grandfather, William, Sr., was born in Scotland in 1806 and moved to Canada. It lists 1849 as his year of death.

After Thompson, Jr., died, the Butte Miner carried his obituary, dated May 16, 1900. It says that the son was 15 when his father died. Other sources have this as early as 11; it must have been the stuff of legend. The obit says when Thompson, Sr. died in 1953, his wife, Margret Maguire, moved the family to Detroit .

Margaret Maguire

 That chronology is seconded by the Illustrated History of the State of Montana , published in 1894. It says that William, Jr., lived in Cobourg until he was 15—which would be 1853—and received a public school education. According to this source, after Thompson, Sr., died, the family in 1853 moved to Detroit, where William, Jr., learned the cabinet and carpentry trades.

Other clues to the past come from “The Magnate,” the biography of William Boyce Thompson (1869-1930) written in 1935. William Boyce commissioned genealogy research to assist the writer. According to the Magnate, William Thompson, Jr., was 11 when he left school; that would be in 1849. The Magnate says he was a licensed pilot on the Great Lakes at 16 in 1854.

The Magnate provides another possible link the past by identifying the family’s ties to Northern Methodism. That may help identify his birth record or his father’s marriage record, because they were all kept by churches at the time. But they aren’t readily available.  

Other sources create confusion about when William, Sr., died. For instance, the book “Pioneer Trail and Trials” by the Madison County History Association says that William Thompson, Jr., was 12 when his father passed away. That would mean William, Sr., died in 1850, not 1849. Genealogists can live with being off by a year. The book says William, Jr., left at that time, 1850, to find work to support his family, which lived in Detroit.

In any event, Thompson, Sr.’s wife survived him by many years. Margret Maguire was 12 years older than her husband (she may have even been married once before) and outlived him by 31 year. Maguire died in Sacramento, not Canada, as listed in some Montana history books, and is buried in Sacramento City Cemetery, Lot 97.

Maguire lived there for almost 30 years with her daughter, Hanna, who married Joseph Ough. This trail, only recently uncovered, may shed new light on the history of the illusive William Thompson, Sr.

Annie Maria Boyce Lived a Hard Life

January 31, 2010

Only five of Annie Maria Boyce’s 10 children lived to adulthood, and ill-health forced her to spend summers in California, according to letters left behind by her son, Joseph Edward Thompson. Like many Western pioneers, Annie Maria Boyce lived a hard life, though she was steadfast in her faith and a great inspiration to her children.

Born in August, 15, 1846 in Boone County, Missouri, Annie traveled with her mother and father, Col. James R. Boyce, to Virginia City, Montana after the Civil War. She married William Thompson in 1875 at the age of 29. Thompson, who had come to Montana in 1863, was a prosperous lumber dealer and miner. 

The couple had children in quick succession but many died at an early age. The names of two children remain a mystery. J.E., writing about his childhood  from his death-bed, explained the harsh pioneer conditions in Montana in a series of letters to his son, William Boner Thompson.

“In pioneer days, doctors were not so good, drugs poor, and many kinds of foods did not exist there, but we had all the diseases there were. It is a wonder that children lived to grow up in those days,” J.E. wrote. 

“All grease was saved to make either soap or candles. Some oranges came in and were sold at 25 cts. each. Think of father’s struggle to feed and clothe a family and mother’s wonderful care of us all. It wore her out and she died in her early forties.”

“Mother died when I was about 15 [he was actually 19]. As I see it now, she knew her days were limited and wanted to leave a thought with us and did. She said over and over again that we were raised as gentlemen and wished us to always remain gentlemen. Many a time I have thought of her last message and it had great power in making me a better man.”

One son, Arthur H. Thompson, died in 1887 at a little more than one year of age. He’s buried, along with his parents and some siblings, in the Thompson colonnade at the Mount Moriah Cemetery in Butte. Little is known of second-born Lula, or Alvin, or Marvin. Even less is known of two children for which we don’t have names. Flora, who died in 1925, probably in her early 40s, is buried beside her mom in the colonnade. 

The Thompsons were stout Methodists. Another son, William Boyce Thompson, recalls in his biography, The Magnate, that preachers often came to dinner on Sunday night, sometimes joined by circuit riders holding revival meetings in town. The visitors ate so much at dinner that young William was often left with no more than a chicken neck. Many of his descendants went on to love chicken, too.

Montana winters must have been tough on Annie, who fancied herself a Southern girl. She was born in Missouri to a family that traced its roots back to Virginia. Her father, James R. Boyce, was a major in the confederate Army who lost his property in the war. After the way, he found his way to Virginia City, Montana in 1864 and established a general store.

Annie was 14 and living on a Missouri plantation when the Civil War erupted. She told her children that Southern troops hid in the woods not far from where she lived. After everyone else in the household had gone to bed, Annie and her sisters would cook meat and bake bread. The next morning they would casually wander into the countryside, cut into the woods, and feed the soldiers.

If Virginia City, where Annie and husband William first lived, was no easy place to raise kids, Butte was even worse. When the family moved to the hardscrabble town in 1880, there were hardly any trees. Annie would tell her children and husband that she dreamed of one day living again in a Kentucky cottage with flowers and views of rolling hills.

Instead, from the door of their bare brown house on Granite street, Annie looked out on smelters and roasting ovens that belched sulphur smoke into the sky night and day. The odor of rotten eggs was everywhere, even on lovers’ lips, wrote Herman Hagedorn in The Magnate. But there wasn’t a lot of polite society in Butte at the time.  The eastern labor brought in to work the factories didn’t keep the best company.

J.E. remembers Butte as “the toughest town in the world….There was a sharp line between the good and the not so good woman. More not so good. The fast houses were all in one district and it was a large district. Saloons were everywhere. The main street had at least one saloon and gambling house for every store.” 

Annie Marie had 10 children over the course of about 17 years. She lost her eldest daughter, Lula, in Virginia City. Her youngest child, Mabel Maud, was born in 1886 in Butte. Life as a Western pioneer certainly took its toll on Annie Maria, who died on November 17, 1894 in Butte, Montana.

William Thompson Was Published in 1899

November 14, 2009

Who would have thought that William Thompson, the rugged frontiersman who was instrumental in the founding of Alder Gulch, Montana, was also a published author? Perhaps this explains the penchant of descendants toward things literary.

Asked by the Anaconda Standard to reminisce about his first Christmas at Alder Gulch, Thompson relates in avuncular Western style his attempts to salvage a decent holiday meal from bear meat by lacing it with cinnamon and cooking it with onions. The story, first published on December 17, 1899, can still be found on the internet thanks to the Montana Historical Society.

“Bear Meat and Frozen Onions–Virginia City, 1863” is written with the kind of self-effacing humor that would characterize later Thompsons. In family fashion, Thompson quickly resorts to the colloquial, recalling that at the time he was “baching” it with his partner, Joe Griffith, and two other “trail blazers,” Nunley and Clanton, whose first names apparently weren’t worth remembering, if he knew them at all. 

Thompson, who didn’t marry until he was 37, writes that “in due time” the group set out to prepare a Christmas feast. He’s clearly remembering a time when he lived at his own pace, when he still had his future to create, and when family obligations didn’t dictate that meals be eat early, presents be given, or trees adorned. Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, the one-time mayor of Butte, Montana, clearly enjoyed his early freedom in “the far west.”

Elsewhere in the story, characteristic Thompson resourcefulness, not to be confused with insensitivity or sloth, is on display. For instance, we learn early on that the centerpiece of the meal is a piece of bear meat that has been given to them by a friend–they didn’t acquire it themselves. Then, Thompson, who probably remained a stranger to the kitchen for most of his life, quickly hands off the cooking to Griffith.

Thompson’s lone contribution to the meal, in typical male family tradition, is to know where some onions might be had to make the bear worth eating. He sagely remembers onions that had been thrown out in the trash after the first cold spell of the season.

Though we may never know for sure, Thompson probably knew the onions had turned bad. In allowing this inference, he seems to be laying out in the finest literary tradition a kind of foreshadowing of the story’s conclusion. He never vouches for the onions, even though he seemed to overpay for them–$3 for “several” pounds. One can only wonder how much that would be by today’s standards. $50?

The onion incident also reveals an almost cavalier attitude toward vegetables evident in later Thompson males. Reading liberally between the lines,  Thompson must have decided that vegetables needed to be eaten–thus his almost instinctive need to ferret them out. But that he snatched them from a garbage heap, and then mightily and overpayed for them, evinces an almost nihilist attitude toward the provision of vegetables for a holiday meal.

Read another way, vegetagles and their procurement must have meant a lot to the young man. Going for vegetables must have been something imbued in his early conscience from his life back east. He may have even eaten a vegetable or two when he was young. But now that he was out on his own, eating or enjoying vegetables, as we later learn, was a far different story.

The menu cobbled together for that early feast was indeed a peculiar one–bear meat, onions, salt-rising bread, coffee, cake, and sugar. How the quartet procured the ingredients is almost as revealing as the partaking of them.

For instance, Clanton, clearly the low-brow of the group, apparently spent Christmas afternoon at the saloon, playing cards, trying to “win” a gallon of whiskey for the feast.  Nunley, his methods no less purient, spent the afternoon trying to “rustle” up some ingredients for a cake. 

We may never know what Nunley did to procure the ingredients. It looks as though the group had sugar. Did Nunley steal the flour and eggs? Was their icing on the cake? If so, where did Nunley get the butter to make that? We know that Nunley visited a farm, because the group availed upon a perhaps unwitting farmer to use his cookstove to bake the cake.

Thompson, who clearly enjoyed roughing it, calls using the acquaintance’s cookstove was a “priviledge,” apparently one that our rugged frontiersmen, who later went on to fame and fortune, didn’t often enjoy. No, he was baching it, roughing it, rustling up ingredients for a holiday dinner.

Eventually, the group sits down for their Christmas “spread,” a classic bit of irony. Then, in a move reminiscent of later family males, Thompson quickly moves the onions to one side of the plate. He had no intention of actually eating the only vegetable offered. Providing them was apparently enough.

Interestingly, Thompson is the only one of the group who doesn’t eat what he has provided. Joe digs into the “rank and stringy” bear meat and doesn’t seem to taste the onions. It looks as though Clanton gets drunk on the whiskey he provided. And Nunley, who had worked his ass off that day, devours nearly the entire cake just to prove that it’s edible.

Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, the next day Nunley has to call the “medicine” man. Which brings us to the delicious moral of this tale–only a fool would eat what he brings to the holiday feast. It’s not making too much of a leap to assume that the whole idea, in Thompson’s mind at least, is to make other people sick. 

A literary masterpiece, no. A revealing portrait of the twisted Thompson psyche, yes.


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