Thon Family of Niobrara County
THE THON FAMILY OF NIOBRARA COUNTY
by Vesta Thon Thomas
In the spring of 1910, A. A. Thon and his son, Jalmer, arrived in Lusk, Wyo. from Clearwater, Nebr. They both had filed on government claims five miles west of Lusk. They had rented an immigrant car and had their livestock, household goods and the family dog. Jalmer was accompanied by his bride, Anna May. They had just been married prior to coming to Wyoming.
A. A. Thon was a native of Norway where he had been born near Bergen. He and his wife and three young daughters came to America in 1882 and settled at Wisner, Nebr. Later he moved to Antelope County, Nebr. where he farmed. Another daughter and two sons were added to the family. Mrs. Thon died in 1888. After the death of his wife, Mr. Thon moved to Fergus Falls, Minn. where he returned to the trade he had learned as a child. He was a shoemaker and ran a shoe store there. Later he returned to Nebraska where he farmed until he came to Wyoming.
He proved up on his claim and in 1914 he married Mary Grimes and the couple made their home in Lusk. Mr. Thon opened a shoe repair shop which he operated until his death. Mrs. Thon passed away in 1937 and Mr. Thon in 1941. Fred Bertram now owns the land that Mr. Thon homesteaded.
Jalmer Thon was only 22 when he took up his claim which became his home until 1951. There were 320 acres of land located on the ridge which seemed to draw severe storms as they passed. There was quite a bit of clay in the soil which didn't make it ideal for farming. It was surrounded by larger holdings which made it impossible for him to expand. But in spite of drought, hail and bad times he managed to make a
living and rear his four children.
Johnnie now resides in Lusk. He received his education in the Lusk schools. He served his country as a Major in World War II. In 1936 he married Margaret Mc Cormick. He worked in the post office in Lusk from the time he graduated from high school until he retired in 1970. He and his wife are members of the First Baptist Church of Lusk. He is now employed by H & R Block income tax people.
Vesta also received her education in the schools in Niobrara County District No. 1.
In 1938 she married Lee Thomas of Keeline. She and her husband reside in Keeline where he is the postmaster. They have four children, Helene of Edgemont, S.D., Wayne of Denver, Colo., and LaDonna of Albuquerque, N.M., and Rhonda, deceased.
Bernard lives in Lusk where he does custom work in carpentering, carpeting and painting. He too, is a veteran of World War II, serving in Iran. Mrs. Thon is a beautician and works at the flower shop.
They have two sons, Bob who lives in River ton, Wyo. with his wife Sandi and daughter, Kerri; and Ron who also lives in Riverton. Ron and Carole have just returned to Wyoming from California where Ron was in the service. He teaches in the Riverton schools. Bob is a veteran of Vietnam.
Elmer resides in Denver. He is a World War II veteran as he served in the Air Force in Italy. He is employed by the Shell Oil company where he has worked since his dismissal from the service in World War II. He and his wife, Helen, have one son, Terry, who is a student in Boulder.
In 1951 Mom and Dad surprised us by announcing that they had sold the place to William Ladwig and were moving to Lusk where they had bought a home. I believe these last years were the happiest of my father's life. He was about the only member of his family who had been a farmer and perhaps if he had gone to town to live he might have been better satisfied. When he had homesteaded he had never had a real home since his mother had died and he had always said to have a home of his own was his dearest desire. After living on the homestead for 41 years it must have been with a sense of gratitude that he retired. He worked for the Midwest Hardware and Skelgas until shortly before his death in 1958. Mother is still living at 86 years. As my story unfolds you will understand some of the hardships and joys of a couple who came as newlyweds to a homestead in Wyoming.
To be the daughter or son of a home steader is really a rewarding and interesting experience. I shall now relate some experiences that our family had that I either remember or heard them tell about.
My mother encountered her first rattle snake when she went out to the clothesline after dark. She called my father as she heard it and he brought a lantern. They looked for its head on the outside of the coiled snake and were amazed to find it in the center.
When Johnnie was born, my father made a hasty trip to get one of the neighbor ladies to assist. When I was born my Grandfather Thon did the honors. By the time Bernard and Elmer arrived there was a good and able Dr. Christison in Manville. Bean soup and mashed potatoes were the only baby food we knew.
When my oldest brother was very small he came up missing a couple of times. One time he had followed dog down into the "draws" near our house and after quite a search my father found him. He told my
father "Rover, wee wee off", Another time after much searching they found him asleep in the dog house.
One day the wind blew exceedingly hard which seemed to mean something in those days. It blew away the only straw hat I had. That afternoon we had the worst hail storm. I can remember the folks holding quilts and things against the windows. Many were broken. It was impossible to do the milking that night and the next morning the folks had a wash tub full of milk. That looked like a lot of milk to a small little girl.
One time my oldest brother fell into a boiler of; hot water that mother had prepared for the washing. She grabbed him out and you can still see the mark on his back where the skin came off. They never took him to the doctor but she applied goose grease in a generous amount.
In 1913 the folks and my grandfather hosted a 4th of July celebration. They went to the timber and cut large pine trees which they erected around my grandfather's house for shade. They cleaned out his house and set up tables. Everyone arrived with a picnic dinner which was spread out on the tables. My mother had engaged Rev. Long to make the address. She had also planned and put on a patriotic program of recitations, songs and other entertainment. In the late afternoon there were footraces and contests for both adults and children. After eating the evening meal the tables were removed and the rest of the night was spent dancing. So many remarked that it was one of the most enjoyable days of their life.
The first Christmas I can remember my brother got a little truck loaded with some sort of candy and I got a doll and we got Crayolas.
When I was about three years old my folks found it necessary to move their dwelling site. They had spent a great deal of money trying to get water on top of the hill where they had built their buildings. They had used dynamite to make holes to plant trees but none had grown. They had found water about a half mile north down over the hill. They had preferred to build along the road but they could not make a home without water. I remember the day we moved mother got lunch on the cook stove as it sat out in the yard. She and Johnnie and I walked behind the house as they moved it to its new location. We had to climb up to get inside to sleep. We, children, had some rag dolls that never got moved that first day and we could scarcely wait the next day to walk back where we had been living to get our dolls. The move proved very beneficial as water was to be had at a shallow depth. It was plentiful and good. Soon my father added four more rooms on to the house. The man that did the plastering was not much of an expert. We used to lie in bed and see how many odd looking animals, trees and things we could find in the queer outlines of the rough plaster on the ceilings. Later a partition was removed between a bedroom and the dining room to make the dining area larger and my father bought a house that had three rooms and added three bedrooms on to our house.That is the way it was all the time we grew up and lived at home.
I think of the hard work the folks put in to make our house a home. My father terraced the yard and hauled many, many loads of flat rock from a nearby canyon to build a wall around the yard. He also used this type of stone to make the walls on his barn, chicken coop and cellar.
Mother always had a big garden and lots of chickens. They raised pork, their own potatoes and Dad usually had something to trade to the local grocery to get flour and coffee and sugar we needed for the table. Mother dried corn, rendered lard, made soap, and put the meat down in a salt and sugar brine. Until later years, my father tilled the soil by using horses which made lots of work getting them ready and the days were long.
Once he needed a new team and had planted a field of grain figuring if it only yielded 5 bushels to the acre, which was a very small yield, he would have plenty to pay for the team. But that summer he got completely hailed out and didn't get one bushel off of that field. The folks milked cows and had lots of chickens and what we got we usually had to "squeeze out of milk and egg money", and that included groceries, clothing, binder twine, etc.
We were a happy family, though. The folks had brought an organ when they came to homestead. Later we managed to get a piano. Johnnie had a clarinet and saxophone he learned to play, Bernard had a cornet and a banjo, Elmer got a guitar and played the violin some. I learned to play the piano. Dad had a violin he had had since he was a young man. He had learned to play by "ear" but as we children grew older he learned the notes so he could play along with us. We would play for hours on Sunday afternoons. The fellows would hurry out and do the chores and maybe we could play all evening. We had a Silvertone phonograph that came in handy on long winter evenings. We would move it out into the dining room where it was warm and replay all the records over and over again. I have often wondered who picked out the first records we had. They were very nicely chosen. I know as I grew to know more about music that these first records were some of the best music that could have entered our home!
How differently the work was accomplished when my folks were on the place. In the fall, as soon as the threshing season came, my father would take his team, either a grain wagon, bundle wagon and fork and start to help thresh. If it were a near neighbor, he would drive home after a hard days work and go back early the next morning. If not he would stay overnight.
There were quite a number of young men who would just hire out to follow the machine and go from place to place helping. It often took weeks, especially at the time of the old steam engine. By the time they could get the steam up it would be time for dinner and there would not be too much threshing done by night. My folks would have men that would be there for breakfast, dinner and supper. What a lot of work it was and what a lot of food was consumed. This would sometimes last for three or four days depending upon how much grain you had and the weather.
Some of the other problems the home steader faced were fuel for heat, enough forage to last through a long Wyoming winter, and the problem of having enough cash to put in next year's crop and pay his taxes and expenses. My father hauled wood for the stoves. In the winter time it was an endless job having enough wood chopped to keep warm. It was a happy day when we could afford to supplement our wood with a bucket of coal. Every bit of hay and feed was salvaged for the winter. Dad used to put his hay rack on the sled and haul hay all winter that way. In the fall he would fill the haymow to be used when the weather
was extremely bad. He had all his buildings for the livestock connected so he could go from one shed to another by inside doors in the winter time. It was a good thing, as his bank barns would drift over with snow for weeks. My father had the theory that you had to have money to make money, so he would borrow money in the spring to be paid back in the fall. Then times got so hard that he could not borrow any money one spring. With the help of us children the crops were put in without borrowing. From that time on he started to prosper. That fall there was nothing to pay back.
One time one of the neighbors called and told us that a man had jumped off the Chicago Northwestern passenger train. We were to be on the look out for him. It was a bad blizzard that entire day. That evening as we sat around the fire we heard a knock on the door. A man was there wanting to know if he could borrow some matches to build a fire as he was very cold. He didn't have on any hat. My father invited him to come inside and mother fixed him something to eat. Later he asked them for a place to sleep. We had a spare bedroom which was connected to the rest of the house by double doors which opened out into the dining room. Dad was going to put a couch we had in front of the door so the man couldn't come out of the bedroom without him knowing it. As he was preparing for bed the door opened and the man came out holding his pants with one hand and held up a knife dripping with blood in the other hand. He was crazy and had tried to commit suicide. He had cut his wrists, his neck and had a deep cut in his groin which took a great number of stitches to close. The folks called the doctor, the neighbor and the sheriff to come. The snow was very deep, so the doctor rode horseback seven miles to get there. The neighbor also came by horseback but the sheriff never came at all. So the folks had to keep the man for several days until they could come and get him, which they did by wagon. He gave the folks his real name and they corresponded with his relatives. He worked in Lusk for a time but disappeared as mysteriously as he had come. He had hidden in one of the straw stacks all day before he had made his appearance and said he had watched my father feed the livestock. He was afraid to go near the animals as he was from the city so the cold had finally forced him to come to the house. He had been in the service when his mother was dying and had asked to go home (so he said) and had been re fused. He went anyway. When he got back they had thrown him in the guardhouse and that is why his mind had gone. For many months my mother would lock the door every time my father left the house!
One fall about everyone on the threshing crew got blood poisoning. While my father was laid up with it in his foot mother and we children did the chores. One morning my mother slipped and fell and broke her nose. She held her nose on her face with one hand and milked with the other until she had completed the chores and then came to the house to call the doctor. Our whole family was ill at the same time with the flu during World War II. Mother fainted when she tried to light a lamp. Later she lost most of her hair and it came in much darker. My father fell and broke his collar bone. It was very painful as he was quite stooped and the doctor put a steel brace right up the middle of his back.
Elmer had a severe illness and had to stay in bed one summer from the middle of June until the middle of July. The doctor told us to keep him quiet so we borrowed about all the records in the neighborhood and took turns playing the phonograph and read ing to him. It paid off as he went back to school that fall and never missed a day of school the next term of school.
Speaking of school--it was a real hardship for us at first. Mother moved to Lusk for two different years and stayed to send us to school. We walked to the bottom of the “Thon" hill for several years to meet the bus. Finally we were old enough to ride horseback and then in later years we either took ourselves or had a bus come part way. Johnnie was eight years and I was seven before the folks entered us in school.
I have heard the folks speak of the boom day in Lusk. The population grew so rapidly it was almost impossible to get your mail. Remember my father bringing about a half of a gunny sack of mail at one time. Oil had been discovered at Lance Creek and big money was flowing. Businesses, homes, dance halls, and every manner of enterprise sprung up almost overnight. For a time all was prosperity but with it the usual problems that develop with the coming of all types of people to make a quick buck. There was enough crime to have jury trials for the first time. The schools were overcrowded. I think most were glad when things settled down to the normal course of living again.
I remember one Easter I was in a program at the Baptist Church. We had a huge snow. My father took me to Lusk in the sled. The snow was so deep that it reached the horse's stomachs. The snow was so heavy that it caved in several roofs. The sun shone brightly and I got a good snow burn.
I think I was the "pinkest” angel in the church program.
I believe people who first made their homes on the prairie got along better and thoroughly enjoyed their neighbors.We used to have the greatest people. There was always someone "coming for dinner on Sunday" or we were invited to our friends homes. We had barn dances and in our neighborhood and parties at the various homes.
Birthdays and anniversaries were celebrated by having everyone in for a party or dance. It got to be a fad to have surprise parties. If you didn’t hear of a dance or party you had better bake a cake and get things clean ed up for the "bunch" might be coming in to your home. Everyone would bring sandwiches or cakes and he whose home was used would furnish coffee. If some type of music was available fine; but if not, there would be a lot of games and a lot of visiting and conversation and fun.
Homesteading is an accomplishment that people who are living now won't have the opportunity to do. Over 60 years ago it afforded the young man or woman a means of getting started. If he had the courage, the know how, the perseverance and tenacity to hold on he made it. He usually started
with a plot of land, some good and some bad, a few head of livestock, a bit of machinery, some household goods, a few chickens and a dog. His shack usually was expanded and added to in a few years. Many started on what is known as a "shoe-string". There actually wasn't a great deal to lose but a great deal to be gained. Nothing can be exchanged for the experience a homesteader received. He won’t exchange it for any thing in the world. He may not want to go back to it but you can't take it away from him. It is with a sense of pride that he looks back to his success. As a homestead er's child, I will say I am glad that my folks were lucky enough to come to Wyoming and put their roots down. It is the great est state in the Union. I feel that its lonesomeness, its wholesome people, its good water, its wonderful traditions have been the greatest things in life. I am glad that the Thons were homesteaders in Wyoming, Niobrara County, near Lusk.
Images & Attachments
|Obituary||Thon, Jalmer (02/22/1888 - 06/03/1958)||View Record||Obituary||Thon, Anna (07/08/1886 - 09/04/1979)||View Record|