Wednesday, April 22, 2015



William E. Thompson was an original “Colorado Boy” credited with establishing one of the first permanent settlements in Lincoln County, Kansas (1865-1866).  I know that Thompson was 27 years of age in December 1863 (35 in July 1870) and was born in Maine, most likely in 1836 (the 1870 census states abt. 1835).  He had black hair, black eyes, a dark complexion and was 5’6.75” tall.  In my searches he first appears in Colorado as a miner in the “Nevada District”, evidently Nevadaville near Central City.

Thompson enlisted in the military on September 3, 1861 as a Private in the Colorado First Regiment Infantry and was assigned to Company G.  The 1st was organized by the Colorado Territory Governor William Gilpin and was often called “Gilpen’s Pet Lambs” or the “Pike Peakers.”  The Colorado State Archives noted that Thompson listed his occupation as a miner.  He served until October 31, 1862.

The 1st had companies stationed at Ft. Wise, Ft. Lyon and Camp Weld (all in Colorado).  In February and March 1862 the Regiment headed to Ft. Union, NM to meet the Confederate threat posed by General Sibley marching north with an “army” of Texans.  The Civil War Archives list their actions as follows:  At Fort Union until March 22; March toward Santa Fe; Actions at Apache Canon on March 26, La Glorietta Pass, or Pigeon Ranch, March 28, Peralta April 15; At Fort Craig until July; Garrison at Fort Garland, Fort Union, Fort Craig, Fort Larned and Fort Lyon until November and then mustered out.  The battles around Glorieta Pass, NM, were perhaps the most important battles of the Civil War in the west.

Thompson then enlisted in November 1862 as a Private in the First Colorado Cavalry and was assigned to Company G.  The Colorado State Archives note the Regiment was formed in November 1862 with members coming from the 1st Regiment Infantry and from Companies C and D of the 2nd Colorado Infantry. This conversion from infantry to cavalry was authorized by the War Department because cavalry troops were more effective for “Indian-fighting purposes”. The 1st Colorado Cavalry's assignment was to guard the Colorado Territory and its gold mines from possible Confederate invasion, and to protect the ever-expanding settlements from conflicts with the Native American population.

The Civil War Archives note that the 1st was stationed, by detachments, at Denver, Camps Collins, Curtis, Fillmore, Robbins, Weld and Canon City and at Forts Lyon and Garland (all in Colorado) and listed service of Company G as follows: Scout from Fort Sumner August 3-November 4, 1863 (evidently they had marched to NM); Skirmish near Sand Creek, CO August 11; Engagement with Native Americans at Sand Creek, CO., November 29.  So it appears that Thompson was at this infamous battle on the plains of eastern Colorado.

In December 1863, shortly after Sand Creek, Thompson either mustered out of Company G or simply transferred because on December 19, 1863 he joined Company C.  Perhaps his enlistment simply ended in December since it appears that several of his colleagues formed the First Colorado Veteran Volunteers in January 1864, after they had mustered out of the 1st.

I am still checking on activities of the 1st in 1864 and most of 1865.  However, in early1865 Company C saw action as follows (Civil War Archives):  Operations on Overland Stage Route between Denver and Julesburg January 14-25; Skirmish near Valley Station, CO, January 28.  The Regiment was mustered out at Ft. Leavenworth, KS on November 18, 1865.  The roster sheets noted that Thompson retained his army pistol and appendages and was charged $8.

Thompson then settled in Lincoln County, along with his fellow Colorado military veterans Richard Clark, D. C. Skinner, Edward Johnson, Isaac DeGraff, and James Adams.  In 1870 Thompson was a farmer with his holdings appraised at $1500, was single, and lived next to the DeGraff family in Colorado Township that was also home to several other “Colorado Boys”.  In 1871 he was the Township Trustee.   I also know that in his younger life he studied for the Priesthood and in 1876 owned a “livery property”.

Later in 1876 tragedy struck.  The Lincoln County Obituaries website gives the following information concerning Thompson:  Saline Valley Register -- Wednesday, September 13, 1876 Killed by the Indians.  A letter received here, on the 5th, by T.A. Walls, from Peter Smith of Custar (sic) City, states that William E. THOMPSON, who left here in March last for the Black Hills, was killed by the Indians near Custar, on the 23rd of August. He, with three others was out four miles from Custar, making hay, when they were murdered. Mr. THOMPSON had several balls in his body and was scalped also. He was one of the first settlers of this county, and was highly respected by all parties. He sold his livery property here to Mr. ROBINSON, last spring and in company with several other citizens of our county went to the new gold fields, where he has since been. He had been on the plains for a number of years, and was the last men we would have thought of being surprised and murdered by the savages. He was an intelligent, honest, industrious man, and his loss is deeply deplored by all our citizens, among whom he had many friends and few enemies.”

I had always wonder what became of Thompson’s body--was he buried at the site?  Was he moved to another location, or what?  For three years I kept hitting dead ends until I noticed a book in the Colorado Springs Library archives entitled The Black Hills or Last Hunting Grounds of the Dakotahs written by Annie D. Tallent in 1899.  She arrived in the Black Hills in 1874 and was an early chronicler of activities in the region.  Tallent writes:  In the early part of July [1876] word came from General Crook to Custer (South Dakota) that a large band of 800 Indians was making its way towards the Black Hills, with the avowed purpose of driving the white settlers from their country.  

A few days after the last recorded atrocity (in late July 4 miners were killed) four other men [haymakers] were killed and scalped within a short distance of Custer.  The unfortunate men who were engaged at the time in cutting hay for Ernest Schleuning Sr., now of Rapid City, went out from Custer on the morning of the fatal day to their work in the hay field, but never returned alive.  They had not been gone long before a man came running into the city, breathless and excited, and reported that he had seen Indians out in the direction of the hay field, and that they were up to some deviltry, as he put itOf course the man did not want to investigate. 

.....arrived on the scene, the Indians were nowhere to be seen, but the work of their gory hands was painfully in evidence.  The bodies of the four men were scalped, and curiously enough three of them were scalped in four circular pieces each, while the fourth was removed in one piece. The supposition was that there were thirteen Indians, each of whom desired a piece to exhibit as a trophy of his wonderful achievement.

.....The bodies of the murdered men were interred in the little graveyard a mile or so below Custer, where to-day, may be found among the tangled underbrush and weeds, the sunken graves of numerous victims of Indian savagery, little slabs of crumbling wood marking the spot where repose their ashes.”

The September 21st, 1876 edition of the Janesville Gazette (WI), paraphrasing or quoting from the Sioux City Journal, gave even more detail of the killings: “Little Jake [Jacob Weilly] thought he would rather go the other way and make a hay camp out of a point of rocks on the Sidney road.  So he and Sam Wallace, a half brother of  Lawyer Hooper, of that city, and Thompson [Wm. E.], from Denver, and another named Kidd [James], started out at 2 p. m., and had not got more than five miles from town when they ran into an ambuscade and were all killed, scalped and mutilated. They must have fought like tigers, for there were piles of empty shells lying where they stood when fired upon by the Indians.  Poor Thompson must have killed a number of them, for they beat his brains out with a new regulation needle gun, breaking it all up over his head. They scalped all of the boys and dragged them back into the road so that they might be seen by passing trains. The Indians must surely have been a party returning to the Red Cloud agency from the north, for the needle gun referred to was one they had captured in the Custer fight…”

So, at long last I knew what happed to Thompson’s body and decided to travel to Custer to further explore.  I visited with the Custer, SD, historian Jesse Sundstrom and found that the "haymakers" killed by the Indians in summer 1876 were buried in the "local Boot Hill", an area now covered with a mobile home park and housing development and that Kay Kiefer had made the coffins for the four men.  However, the Boot Hill bodies were exhumed in 1884 and reburied in the Custer City cemetery in an unmarked pauper's grave.  Today, the “pauper’s area” is just an open space in the cemetery without markers.

In my opinion, this should not be the end of the story for Wm. E. Thompson.  He served his country notably and should be remembered.   I am concerned that he lies in an unmarked pauper’s grave without citizens knowing much about the man and his military accomplishments.  Although I am uncertain about the exact location of burial in the cemetery, I do know the general area.  Unfortunately, only close relatives may request a marker stone from the federal government and I have been unable to locate any relatives.  Therefore, a man who served his country lies in an unmarked grave.

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