Orin Lewis and Agnes Gibson Thompson

Memories by My Folks by Albert Thompson

Agnes Gibson, fifth child born to Alexander and Ellen Gibson, born May 15, 1874, on a farm near Sigorney, Iowa.  She was one of six girls in a family of seven children.

From what mother used to tell me, her father, Alexander Gibson, came to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from Ireland, then to Rock Island, Illinois and then to Iowa.  Alexander married Ellen Morrison and a son was born to them before they moved to Iowa.  They settled near Sigourney, Iowa and lived there several years before moving to Nebraska.

Mother said they went to a little country church about six miles from Sigourney.  We have a Bible yet, that she won there for learning a number of Bible verses.  All our family’s birth records are in it.

Mother told me her father went to Sigourney every Sunday morning in his wagon and brought the preacher to their church and took him home after the services were over.  He said there would be no charge for the preaching if they would furnish him a way back and forth.  That would make a 24 mile trip for Grandpa Gibson every Sunday, but Mother said they were sure glad to do it so they could have a preacher at their little church.

Around 1890, the Alexander Gibson family moved to McPherson County, Nebraska, where Alex filed on a homestead.

My dad, Orin Lewis Thompson, had come from Iowa to Nebraska with Tommy Neal, who was some relation to him through his mother, Adeline Neal.  (Adeline Neal Thompson was a sister to Cornelius Neal, father of Tom.  Another brother was John Luther Neal, a homesteader in McPherson County, Nebraska.)  Tom Neal was a coal miner from Knoxville, Iowa.  (Thomas Jasper Neal also homesteaded McPherson County.)

Dad got a job with the U.B.I. (United British Industries) Ranch and worked for them until he homesteaded.  The U.B.I. was a good sized spread because Dad said it was fifty miles long.  They would send him up on the Dismal River to herd cattle for months at a time with only his horse and dog.  He would dig a cave in the bank of the river to sleep in and his dog would keep the snakes out.

The chuck wagon would come around every two weeks or so and bring him bacon, lard, flour, soda, salt and some canned fruit.  There were some folks who had homesteaded close by and he would visit them once in awhile and they would invite him for supper.  The lady made real good biscuits.  He was bragging on her biscuits one evening and she said, “Oh, those are made from skunk oil.”  They would render the fat from the skunk for the lard.  Dad said they never tasted so good after that.

It was in McPherson County that Agnes Gibson met Orin Lewis Thompson.  They applied for the sixth marriage license in the County.  Agnes and Orin were married August 8, 1893 at Omega, Nebraska.  The witnesses were John M. Neal and his wife, Lydia Nora Burger Neal.  (John M. was another son of Cornelius).  Hugh Bedell officiated.  (Hugh Bedell’s wife, Nancy Matilda Neal Bedell or Aunt T was a sister of Adeline Neal Thompson.)

The Thompsons took up a homestead in McPherson County.  The land is owned by John Power today.  (Research shows a patent on 480 acres E1/2E1/2 Sec. 20, W1/2 Sec. 21 T20 R31 now owned by John Power.  Research also shows a patent dated December 12, 1898 on 160 acres S1/2NE1/4 Sec. 22 T20 R30 and S1/2NW1/4 Sec. 23 T20 R30, 80 acres of which sold to W.E. Bedell June 17, 1899 and 90 acres sold to McGrey C. Adams, a widower, Sept. 7, 1898 (a date before the patent was even issued by the government) Adams sold to J.L. Neal, John Luther Neal sold to Hugh Bedell in 1899.  LaVerne Neal now owns this ground, so it has been in the family since the first government patent.)

They build a sod house, sod barn and dug a well.  We had a Majestic kitchen range that heated the house and we used to cook on, too.  The fuel was cow chips and wood hauled from the Dismal River about twenty miles away.  The folks always warned us kids when gathering cow chips to be sure and watch for rattlesnakes, because a coiled rattler was about the color and shape of a cow chip.

Ten of the twelve Thompson children were born in Nebraska.  The first six were girls, including a pair of twins.  Dad told his neighbors, “Now I am going to have six boys.”  He did, the two youngest born after we moved back to Iowa.

While living on the homestead, he would put up hay for the U.B.I Ranch on contract on the Dismal River.  He had two teams, a mowing machine and a hay rake.  With two other men, they would camp up there, mow, rake and tack the hay for so much a ton by measuring the stacks.  Dad was on the stack, stacking hay one hot afternoon, when he said, “Boys, I have been bitten by a rattler that come up with the hay.”  He crawled down off the stack and laid down in the shade of it, and rolled up his pant leg.  There was a small trickle  of blood coming down his leg.  He said, “Get me a quart of whiskey in a hurry.”  One of the men unhooked the team from the rake, pulled the harness off one horse, jumped one and rode off on the dead run.  A few hours later, he came back on the hot lathered horse, jumped off and handed him a quart of whiskey.  Dad laid in the shade of the stack the rest of the day while the two helpers made a fuss over him and fed him whiskey — by evening he was well and happy, feeling fine — so happy, he couldn’t keep his secret any longer.  He was only scratched on the leg by a weed.

It was while he was putting up hay on the Dismal that Orin contracted typhoid fever and was sick for several weeks.  All his hair fell out and he was bald for awhile.  It cost $50.00 for a doctor to come from Mullen, so the neighbors all chipped in and helped pay for the doctor’s trip.  The doctor came twice to see him.

It was after this that Orin ran for sheriff on the Republic ticket in McPherson County.  His brother, Jess, ran for sheriff on the Democratic ticket.  Orin won the election.  (Records show Orin Thompson was sheriff in 1893 and a second term in 1903.)  It looked like the family had the election in the bag either way it went.  Wages were 8 cents a mile while on horseback.

The year Orin was running for sheriff, Teddy Roosevelt was running for President of the United States.  With a group of neighbors, Orin went to North Platte to hear Teddy Roosevelt give a speech.  Dad said when Teddy’s train came in, the trainmen opened the baggage car door and led a good looking gray horse down a ramp and on to the ground.  Teddy mounted and rode up to the courthouse yard and gave his speech while sitting on his horse.

After his speech he said, “Now, boys if any of you want a drink, go across the street to the saloon and I’ll buy the drinks.”  Of course, most of the men took him up on his offer.  Dad said after he had his drink, he walked up to Teddy, who was still sitting on his horse and thanked him for his drink and said, “Teddy, if I had a gallon of that whiskey, I could get you every vote in McPherson County.”  Teddy told the saloon keeper, “Give this man a gallon of that whiskey.”  Dad hung the jug on his saddle horn and took it home.  He gave his friends and neighbors a drink while campaigning.  He told them the drink was on Teddy Roosevelt.

When the next Thompson child was born, in 1905, it was a boy and was named Teddy.  He lived to be two years old and died of summer complaint, probably caused by cutting teeth in hot weather.  He is buried in the Miller Cemetery by Tommy Neal’s and his wife’s graves.  His grave is marked by a little lamb on the stone.

All the girls got to go to school in the sod schoolhouse.  Their teacher was Scott Wisner.  He married my oldest sister, Ethel.

In 1912, the family moved to Iowa, by two covered wagons, Dad drove one team and Art Cooper drove the other.  I, Albert, was three years old when we moved.  I can remember some things about the hold homestead — the old soddie, the sandburs in my bare feet when I tried to follow the girls to school and our old black shepherd dog, Carlo.  When the wagons were all loaded and everybody in the them but me, I didn’t want to leave because they were leaving old Carlo.  I went behind the house and laid down in the dust wallow with him.  The folks started down the road.  They thought I would come if they acted like they were going to leave me.  The bluff didn’t work because they finally stopped the wagon and someone back for me.

I remember crossing the Missouri River and looking out the back of the covered wagon and seeing some boats.

The family lived in Humeston, Iowa for one year, then one year in High Point, and one year in Garden Grove.  In 1917, they moved to LeRoy, Iowa and spent the rest of their lives there.

Orin worked for the railroad and Agnes and the girls ran the telephone office at LeRoy from 1918 to 1932.

We ran a general store in LeRoy, Iowa during the thirties and forties.  Dad was retired and he enjoyed helping us out in the store.  He would sweep the floor and build the fire in the stove for us.

It was during the quiet time of the day that we could set down and visit and he would tell me about living in Nebraska.  He told how he shot prairie chickens and packed them in barrels and shipped them back east on the train.  How the sportsmen from Omaha and Lincoln, would come out in the sandhills in the fall with their pedigreed dogs and hire him to take his team and wagon and take them hunting.  He always took his own dogs along just in case they needed them when they started hunting.  The sportsmen would let their dogs loose and in a few minutes their dogs’ feet would be full of sandburs.  They would lay down and howl.  They’d carry their fancy dogs back to the wagon.  Dad would then turn his dogs loose because his dogs knew what a sandbur was and stayed clear of them.  From then on the fancy dogs rode in the wagon.

Dad said there was a prairie dog town about a quarter of a mile north of our house.  The neighbors would get together on horseback with their shotguns and ride up there to shoot rattlesnakes.  They would shoot as many as two a day sometimes.  The horses would get so nervous they would have to quit.  One morning when Mother was cooking breakfast we heard a dull thud on the kitchen floor.  A big rattlesnake had fallen from under the eve of the sod house, and was curled up by the wall.  Dad took his shotgun down from over the door and blowed snake all over the kitchen.  Mother had to throw out the gravy and biscuits, wash the pans and skillets and cook breakfast all over again.

Our neighbor had a little two year old child that came in the house one day and said, “Mommy, that snake in the yard scratched me.”  The mother came out in the yard to see the snake and it was a rattler.  The child didn’t live very long.

We had a wire that ran from our sod house to our well and also one from the house to the barn so you could hold on to it during a blizzard and not get lost.

One summer night mother started for a bucket of water and she heard a rattler buzz. She went back in the house and got Dad.  He took the lantern and found a big rattler curled up in the path.  He shot it.

One time when Dad was sheriff, he had to take a man in for stealing cattle.  His first name was Pete and I don’t remember the last name, but he took him to Tryon and the trial was in the sod courthouse.  There was no jail so Dad and Pete slept on a bed they had in the courthouse.  Pete was handcuffed to the bedstead.  At the trial Pete was convicted.  Dad had to take him to North Platte to take a train to Lincoln where Pete would have to serve four years in the State Pen.  They stayed overnight in North Platte.  Pete needed a shave, so Dad took him to the barber.  When Pete got in the chair for the shave, Dad handcuffed Pete to the barber chair.  Before the barber was through shaving him, his hand was shaking so bad from nervousness, that Dad was afraid he might cut the poor guy’s face.  The barber, no doubt, was glad when that shave was over.

Orin passed away in 1948.  He and Agnes had been married for fifty-six years.  After Orin’s death, Agnes and a close friend, Mollie Hitt, spent the next few years in their own homes, looking after each other and enjoying a very close friendship.

In 1955, Agnes’ daughter, Ellen Boyce, came to live with her.  They spent the next fifteen years together.  In September of 1970, Agnes was moved to a nursing home in Osceola.  The first part of November, she suffered two light strokes.  November 7, 1970, she was moved to Clarke County Hospital, where she passed away, Monday, November 8, 1970, at the age of 96 years, five months, and 24 days.

Orin Lewis and Agnes Gibson Thompson were the parents of 12 children:  Ethel, Carrie, twins Adeline and Ellen, Iva, Pearl, Clifton, Charles, Albert, Teddy, Keith and Dean.

At the time of Agnes’ death, her parents, her husband, Orin, her daughter, Carrie, and three sons, Clifton, Charles and Teddy, one brother and five sisters had preceded her in death.

Agnes was survived by five daughters, Ethel Wisner of North Platte, Nebraska; Adeline Garton of Humeston, Iowa; Ellen Boyce of LeRoy, Iowa; Iva Jelsma of Lineville, Iowa; and Pearl Biddison of Conoga Park, California; three sons, Albert Thompson of LeRoy, Iowa; Keith Thompson of Phoenix, Arizona; and Dean Thompson of Daytona Beach, Florida; 30 grandchildren, 49 great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren.

Agnes was buried at Garden Grove, Iowa in the Garden Grove Cemetery.

In April of 1981, Ellen Boyce is in a nursing home in Corydon, Iowa, suffering from a stroke.  Ellen’s twin sister, Adeline Garten, lives in Humeston, Iowa.  She seems well.  They are 84 years old.  The only other sister living is Pearl Biddison, who lives in Conoga Park, California.  She ran a restaurant there several years.

I, Albert, am the oldest son living.  I am 71 years old, and live at Weldon, Iowa.  I still farm some, but rent some out also.  Keith is 68 and lives in Phoenix, Arizona.  He and his son own a marble plant which makes marble for bathrooms.  Their firm is called Arizona Marble Inc.  The youngest son, Dean, 61, lives in Daytona Beach, Florida.  He and his wife work in a gift shop.  They like their work and enjoy the sunny climate of Florida.

McPherson County: Facts, Families, Fiction
Published 1986
Insert Between Pages 726-727

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