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RG5331.AM:  David S. Thomas, 1834-1917

Reminiscence:  1898

Location:  North Platte, Lincoln County, Nebraska:  Farmer, inventor, photographer

Size:  0.25 cu.ft.; 1 box


David S. Thomas, son of Walter and Eunice (Sheldon) Thomas, was born in Carlin, Tompkins County, New York, on April 8, 1834.  He married Elizabeth M. Strang on January 30, 1856.  He farmed in New York until after the election of 1856, when he left New York to try farming in Michigan and then Iowa.  He also farmed in Missouri and Illinois before homesteading in Nebraska in the early 1870s.

David Thomas lived a nomadic existence and observed firsthand many of the major historical events of the mid-19th century.  Constantly looking for new opportunities and better employment, Thomas went overland to California in 1859, panned for gold at Pike’s Peak, served in the Civil War as an artificer (artist/mapmaker), homesteaded in Lincoln County, Nebraska, visited the Red Cloud Agency and the Black Hills during the Black Hills gold rush, invented numerous labor-saving and safety devices that he was unable to market, and for a time resided at the National Old Soldiers Home in Leavenworth, Kansas.

David S. Thomas died at age eighty-three on December 22, 1917, at the National Sanitarium in Hot Springs, South Dakota.  Two children, Walter J. Thomas and Sara Bickley, survived him.


This collection consists of a reminiscence dating from 1898.  The reminiscence describes the varied life experiences of David S. Thomas, a native New Yorker who participated in many of the major events of U.S. history in the mid-19th century.  Thomas discusses his childhood and upbringing in New York, including the suicide of his father; his overland journey to California in 1859; prospecting for gold at Pike’s Peak; his Civil War service with Company H of the 15th New York Engineers; farming in Missouri and Illinois; homesteading near North Platte, Lincoln County, Nebraska in the 1870s; his sometimes contentious dealings with his North Platte neighbors; operating a photograph gallery in North Platte; and attempts to market his fire escape, ice elevator, and potato digger inventions.  Numerous illustrations by Thomas accompany his narrative, including drawings of Council Bluffs and Omaha in 1859, Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, sites along the Overland Trail, scenes during his Civil War service, the house that he built on his homestead, Crow Butte, buffalo hunts, his inventions, self-portraits, and a gallery of his friends.

Note:  Because of the extremely fragile condition of the original handwritten reminiscence, researchers must use the photocopied version of this volume.

Acc. 2003


Box 1


  1. Reminiscence, 1898, p. 1-100

  2. Reminiscence, 1898, p. 101-200

  3. Reminiscence, 1898, p. 201-319

  4. Reminiscence, 1898, p. 320-492

  5. Typescript of Reminiscence pages 1-36


Subject headings:

Bison hunting

Black Hills (South Dakota)

Gold rushes — Colorado

Gold rushes — South Dakota

Homesteading — Nebraska

Inventions — Nebraska

Inventors — Nebraska

Lincoln County (Nebraska) — History

North Platte (Nebraska) — History

Overland journeys to the Pacific

Overland trails

Photographers — Nebraska

Pike’s Peak (Colorado)

Red Cloud Agency (Nebraska)

Thomas, David S., 1834-1917

United States — History — Civil War, 1861-1865 — Personal narratives

United States — History — Civil War, 1861-1865 — Veterans


AIF/kfk   11-03-2003