A New Life: Homestead on the Prairie --
October 1885 - December 1887
On October 6, 1885, when he was almost 49 years old, Thomas and his family moved into the grove on Cottonwood Farm on the bank of Prairie Creek near Central City, Nebraska. He was hoping for a better life, and wrote, "looking back over the last fifteen years of my life it seems as though all my hard labor, and it has been hard too, has turned into dead sea ashes - bitter to the taste and utterly void of fruit - but I have not yet given up in despair and hope to make a better showing in the future."
Thomas's wife Ruth and his children all moved with him to Nebraska except for Milly and Libby (who by this time each had two children of their own), and 13-year-old Lulu (Susan Luetta), who stayed for a few years in Pennsylvania with Milly or Libby. Lulu moved to Nebraska some time between Thomas's letter of November 24, 1889, and Lulu's first letter from Nebraska on February 1, 1891.
Thomas's brother Charles helped them settle in. He and his wife Lucy and their children Ella and William (both of them teenagers by now) had moved to Central City Nebraska ten years earlier. Thomas's other brother Jonas and his wife were probably in Central City at that time too. There were also families of other Civil War veterans in the area, including the sons of Captain Josiah Rea, who had served with Thomas's Company F.
Thomas's new life as a farmer kept him hard at work from dawn till past dusk, but he managed to write Millie an average of one letter every other month. On November 16 the year after the move west, Thomas's family and neighbors planned a surprise party for his 50th birthday, but it was cancelled because of one of the many blizzards that made the community snowbound for a time each winter. His wife and children, including those who were still in Pennsylvania, had each pitched in to surprise him with a present -- a rocking chair with a home-made cushion and stool.
The younger children, aged 5-16, attended school, and 20-year-old Emma became a school teacher. Thomas's wife Ruth also taught school, which was very unusual for a married woman her age.
The girls, most of whom left sweethearts in Pennsylvania, began seeing boys in Nebraska. Emma takes pity on her father, writing that "Pap has been having a serious time of it this summer -- we only have two rooms and unless we bring our beaus into the kitchen he has to sit up until they go away." Several fellows followed the Lucas family from Greene..
Emma's sweetheart from Pennsylvania, Will ("Hank") Bosworth, became involved in a "scrape" with a woman named Birdie. Afterwards, he moved to Nebraska where he got the cold shoulder from some of the Lucas family, and later married another woman. The Lucas family must have warmed up to him – in 1888 Will was invited to Lucy's wedding and signed as a witness on her marriage certificate.
Three Gregg brothers (sons of Thomas's comrade James Gregg) also moved west from Greene County. The first to arrive was Frank, followed after several years by Jesse and finally Charles, who eventually married Emma.