I Seat Myself to Write You a Few Lines:
Civil War and Homestead Letters
from Thomas Lucas and Family
Collected and Edited by Dona Bayard Sauerburger,
great-great granddaughter, 2002
Thomas Lucas Bayard, grandson, 1960
With chapter introductions by Andrew German
Heritage Books, Bowie, Maryland, 2002
Thomas Lucas and Family:
From Home Town to Homestead
The letters in this section unfold the story of Thomas and his family after he returned home to Greene County, Pennsylvania from the Civil War. It includes about 80 letters written after they moved to Nebraska to homestead near Central City in the fall of 1885, 20 years after the Civil War. The collection also includes several letters from his father Swan's family, which moved west to Iowa in November 1864. At that time, according to Catton (1952), the government was encouraging people to move west by giving away 160-acre farms to anyone who would occupy and improve the land. Wagon trains were rolling across the frontier without a halt, with 25-100 wagons ferried every day across the Missouri River on the road leading west from Omaha through Iowa.
For the first dozen years after Thomas returned from the war, he and his wife Letty raised their family while Thomas worked as a merchant, a bookkeeper for a saw mill (and perhaps co-owner and operator of a mill), and a postmaster. They had seven children:
Libby or Lizzie (Elizabeth)
Lulu (Susan Luetta)
Charles Wayne Lucas ("Stub")
Letty died in childbirth May 20, 1876, at the age of 37. The baby was a boy she called Tommie. Before dying, she clasped her arms around him and called him "Mother's boy," according to Emma's letter of July, 1887. Tommie died three months later.
After Letty's death, her daughters Millie (who was almost 16) and Libby (14 years old) helped raise the other children. Anna went to stay with Thomas's cousin Anna Swan, after whom she had been named. Libby married Marion Knestrick in December, 1879 and Millie married John Allen Bayard the following September
In 1878 Thomas was elected County Commissioner, which required him to stay occasionally in Waynesburg to serve on the court of appeals, hear bids on the construction of the new jail, etc. On October 23, 1879, when he was almost 39 years old, Thomas married 35-year-old Ruth Martin in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Their son, Thomas Martin Lucas, was born October 5, 1880.
Five years later, in the fall of 1885, Thomas's family moved west. In Nebraska Thomas made his living variously as a farmer and as a merchant, according to military service and pension records.
A family with four young women ages 13-20 could not leave their home town without some broken hearts. Twenty-year-old Emma was seeing a young man named Will Bosworth, 16-year-old Lucy and 20-year-old Will Rose were sweethearts, and 15-year-old Anna was smitten with Jesse Gregg, the 17-year-old son of James Gregg (James was the soldier whose sense of humor Thomas Lucas had enjoyed so much during the Civil War -- click here to read his tongue-in-cheek letter about a trip to a bar). After the Lucas family had moved, Will Bosworth got into trouble with a girl named Birdie and then moved to Nebraska, where people were scandalized by his misdeed and rumors flew that he had gotten Emma pregnant. Emma would have nothing to do with him, and regretted having flirted with him and leading him on just for fun. A year and a half after the Lucas family had moved to Nebraska, Will Rose followed them west, and 9 months later he and Lucy were married. Jesse Gregg and two of his brothers, Frank (age 20) and Charles (19), also moved west, and they are often mentioned in the letters. Frank moved within a year of the time that the Lucas family moved, and Jesse planned to move in 1890. Romance with Anna, however, was destined not to be -- Anna graduated from high school in 1890, and a few days later she married a 41-year-old widower. The third Gregg brother, Charles, eventually fell in love with and married Emma. Their father, James Gregg, remained in Pennsylvania, even though during the Civil War he had jested that he'd move west (see letter from Thomas Lucas dated February 18, 1864).
On April 9, 1909, Thomas's wife Ruth died. In 1912, at the age of 75, Thomas married Victoria Hammond Fouts, and 10 years later he became a widower for the third time. When he died at the age of 89 on March 17, 1926, all his children except for the infant Tommie survived him.
While the family lived in Nebraska, they remained close to Millie and Libby in Pennsylvania through their letters. Except where noted, all the letters in this collection were written to Millie. We are very fortunate that she, like her mother Letty before her, saved them because they provide a rich description of homesteading life in Nebraska.
To help understand who are the people mentioned in these letters, Section III has brief biographies of the key people, as well as a family tree.
Sample Chapter Introductions
Wedding Bells and Babies
January 1888 - July 1895
This chapter sees Thomas through his 50's. He works hard from daylight till after 9 at night, 6 days a week, with very little time for writing letters -- he writes an average of less than once a year, but his daughters fill in the gaps. Plagues and diphtheria take many lives, and the crop failures and economic depression in 1893-1894 caused many to give up their farms and leave. The "blizzard of 1888," so vividly described in this chapter, was memorable but blizzards were not unusual -- winters often left 2-3 feet of snow on the ground for months. Nevertheless, Emma writes that Thomas is again singing through his chores, as he did back in Pennsylvania. He looks for someone to invest in his cattle and pay for the expenses, and apparently his daughter Millie finally agrees to do it.
Emma is also struggling. She boards with families near the schools where she is teaching, has to pay for college courses, is paid less than the male teachers and barely makes enough money to live. She writes, "It took all my money this summer to pay my board and what I had to go in debt for last winter, but it didn't leave anything for clothes or anything else, and it is enough to give any one the ‘blues.' I wish I had been a boy."
The main topic of many of the girls' letters are, of course, beaus. Even Emma's students are distracted -- she writes that "Of all nuisances in the world, girls big enough to have beaus are the worst."
One by one, the girls are each married and move out of the home. Lucy and her husband Will move to a farm outside Fullerton, Nebraska, which is about 20 miles from Central City. They have no neighbors within a mile, and later move to Oklahoma, where Will builds their cabin and Indians pay surprise visits. Anna and her husband Joe move into Central City where Joe has a pharmacy, and Anna helps as clerk. Meanwhile Lulu has finally moved from Pennsylvania to join the rest of the family, and later marries a neighbor she meets in Nebraska, Buel Larcom. Emma was still single at the age of 28 and called herself one of the "five old maids" remaining in town, but Charles Gregg sweeps her away from school in his horse and buggy and they are married. By the end of the chapter, each of them has had her first baby, though Emma nearly dies in the effort.
This chapter also picks up on the story of the most tragic figure in this family history -- Thomas's younger sister, Sade (Sarah). Sade has always been very sensitive -- her letters about her brothers leaving for the Civil War and the death of Thomas's wife Letty are among the most poignant in this collection (pages 107 and 260). Now that Sade is in her 40's and married with 5 children, she suffers one tragedy after another. Her daughter Sudie has three children, all of whom die in infancy, and in 1891 Sudie herself dies at the age of 21. Sade's son Thomas -- named after her brother -- dies six years later when he is only 19. About five years after that, when Sade is in her late 50's, she is paralized and becomes an invalid for the rest of her life. Seven years later, just after Christmas in 1909, her husband dies. Sade lives another 5 years, and dies when she is almost 70.
Enjoying the Golden Years
1910 - 1954
In this last chapter in the lives of Thomas and his family, Thomas seems to finally be able to relax and enjoy life. He says, "Only those that experience can know with what pleasure and pride the old can look about them and see those that are as dear to them as the apple of their eye growing up around them good and useful citizens, and so after all life is worth living." Although he laments that his children have grown up and scattered away from the old home, Emma, Anna, Thomas and Charles live within 30 miles of him for all their lives. His daughters Millie and Libby and their families are still in Pennsylvania, Lulu's family is in Vermont, and Lucy's is in Oklahoma.
Thomas is now 74 years old and seems to consider himself at the end of his journey. He looks back over his past with a "good degree of joy and satisfaction," thinking that "my time here is only a few years more at best, but I am oh so thankful that I can look forward with such a blessed assurance of a home, beyond where pain and parting and disappointments can not enter.". However Thomas has another 15 years to live, and they seem to be robust years filled with pleasure and a loving family. He keeps himself busy, finding it hard to remain idle for long ("it occurred to me that I would go down on the street and loaf a bit, but a half-hour or so was all I could stand so I came back home and spent the afternoon tidying up around the yard and in reading" and writing a letter).
He marries again, this time to a vivacious widow, Victoria Hammond Fouts, a fellow pioneer who is "full of energy and vitality" with a love of gaiety that made her welcome to every gathering. He takes many trips, including an extended honeymoon in California, and visits his daughters in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, his brothers' and sisters' families in Iowa, and others. At the age of 87, in a touching exchange with the Bureau of Pensions just two years before his death, Thomas disavows any crippling health problems, saying that if his age alone doesn't qualify him for a raise in his pension, he is not entitled to it because "[I have a] good wholesome appetite and enjoying my meal ... I can go to the post office twice a day by taking my time and not [hurry], a distance of a half mile round trip..."
As this chapter opens, Thomas has just visited his daughter Lucy's family in Oklahoma, and he and his son Tom have moved into a new home in the outskirts of Central City. His other son Charles, who remains a bachelor all his life, also lives with them but rarely gets home because he is confined to his livery business (pictured on page 364). Charles also loves to travel, and he takes many trips to visit his sisters. Thomas's son Tom gets married in 1912, but Thomas is alone for only a few months before he himself is married and off to California. Ten years later, after he is widowed for the third time, Thomas lives with his daughter Emma and her husband in nearby Fullerton, Nebraska.
Thomas's children, meanwhile are doing well. The children of his daughters Libby and Millie are about grown -- Millie's son William goes to Nebraska to work with Charles, but when World War I comes he is inducted into the armed services and shipped off to France. After the war, he accepts Charles's offer of work in Nebraska, but then returns to Rice's Landing, Pennsylvania where he gets married and lives out the rest of his days on the farm next door to his mother Millie and his brothers and sister. Thomas's daughter Emma and her husband Charles retire from their farm when they are in their 50's and move into a lovely Victorian home in Fullerton, where Emma takes in boarders. A few years later (1918) Thomas's daughter Lucy and her husband Will take Emma and Anna on their first road trip in a "Tin Lizzie," which Emma describes in her usual exuberant style in this chapter. The trip must have whet Emma's appetite -- she and her husband consequently enjoy traveling together many places.
Two of Thomas's daughters lose their husbands -- Lulu's husband Willet Atherton dies in 1916, leaving her with four young children, and Millie's husband John Bayard dies in November 1921, when Millie is 61. Three of Thomas's children -- Libby, Emma, and Charles -- become deaf as they get older, as does Emma's daughter Per. When Millie is 67, she almost dies from a serious illness -- she lives another 22 years but is bedridden.
Thomas lives to be almost 90, and is survived by all his children. Anna dies the following year at the age of 57, and her brother Tom was only 58 when he and his wife were hit by a train and killed. Two of the other children lived into their 60's, two into their 70's, and two lived well into their 80's. Among them, they had more than 30 children, some of whom helped with this book.
Veterans of the Civil War, probably members of the Grand Army of the Republic in Grand Island, Nebraska, pose for a photo.
The year of the photo is unknown but judging from the apparent age of Thomas Lucas (at the right end of the front row), it is probably around 1910.
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