Sesquicentennial

I first encountered the sexisyllabic word above in 1986 when Texas celebrated one, or perhaps several.  At least some Texas patriots probably observed the 150th anniversary of each the dozen engagements that occurred between October 1835 and April 1836, culminating in the Battle of San Jacinto and the winning of independence for Texas.

It occurred to me when it was almost too late to say anything about it, that this is the sesquicentennial year for a few interesting moments in Thomas Lovewell’s story.  The first was his return from an extended adventure in the Far West in 1865.  We can attach a firm date to an interesting stopover on his way home, thanks to a story passed down by Thomas's son Stephen about a massacre at a fort near present-day Gothenburg, Nebraska.

At this point it’s important to underline the fact that there was no real massacre - only a rumor that percolated up and down the Platte River Road that summer after an attack on Dan Smith’s Station by a band of Sioux raiders.  Overhearing the story must have made Thomas’s ears tingle, because he had bunked for the night in the soldiers’ quarters at Dan Smith’s, and after reaching Fort Kearny the next evening heard murmurs about all personnel at Smith's being wiped out.

If it was not a massacre, the fight at Dan Smith's was not nothing, either.  A sizable war party launched a surprise attack on a military wagon en route to the little fort that guarded the stagecoach station, and a morning-long battle ensued, involving members of three Army units who were in the area.  There were dead and wounded on both sides, and a Medal of Honor awaited Private Francis Lohnes, who at one point in the fighting was surrounded by ten enemy combatants.  

The series of skirmishes at Dan Smith’s Station almost got lost amid the cloud of bigger and more costly battles in the Plains Indian War.  There is a single, puzzling interment at Fort McPherson National Cemetery which is listed in the paperwork as the reburial of a soldier from “Ft. Gothenburg, Ne.”  The forgotten soldier who lies buried under a blank marker must be Commissary Sergeant Hiram Creighton, the only wounded soldier to die shortly after the fracas died down.

There was no lingering historical significance to the fight of May 12, 1865.  Even to Lovewell family history it serves mainly as a GPS beacon, and perhaps a clue about how Thomas Lovewell was making his way home in 1865.  We know that he rolled out of bed at 40° 55’ North Latitude, 100° 9’ West Longitude on the morning of May 12, 1865.  If Stephen Rhodes Lovewell was correct about his father’s timetable that day, Thomas must have been riding the stage, the only mode of transportation fast enough to whisk him from the vicinity of Gothenburg to Fort Kearny by nightfall.  When facts about a man’s story are so hard to come by, those two can seem precious.

There are more sesquicentennial anniversaries to be commemorated or at least pondered before the year is out, some that are much more personal and bittersweet, since they resulted in cleaving Thomas Lovewell’s descendants into two major branches.  On October 7th, 150 years ago, Thomas’s wife Nancy scuttled her nine-month effort to obtain a divorce from him.  Her attorney filed the petition for dissolution of marriage in January, when Nancy's husband had been absent for a little more than five years, and she seemed to have sufficient grounds to win her case.  Suddenly she did an about-face in October, perhaps indicating that Thomas had finally had shown up in Clarke County, Iowa, and was rooming on the farm south of Osceola owned by Nancy’s brother Vinson Perry Davis.  Reconciliation must have seemed possible until Thomas learned how his wife had spent her evenings during his absence.  According to testimony in a Civil War pension case, she started seeing a neighbor named Aaron Kennedy almost as soon as Thomas left for Pikes Peak in 1859. 

150 years ago today, other trails were about to intersect.  Vinson’s youngest daughter and Thomas’s wife-to-be, Orel Jane Moore, specified November 8, 1865, as the date of her divorce from Alfred W. Moore.  Since she never actually filed legal papers to end the union, the date she picked may have been the day when she boarded a train in East St. Louis, Illinois, to return to her parents’ home in Iowa, glad to be rid of the scoundrel she had married less than two years earlier.  Walking through the door of the farmhouse with a baby in her arms, she must have been surprised to find her uncle Thomas living there.  The last time she had seen him, she had been a 16-year-old girl and her world had been a far less complicated place.


© Dale Switzer 2016  dale@lovewellhistory.com