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Thomas Quiner

Brother of Caroline Quiner Ingalls and uncle of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

homas is at home and just as good a boy as ever. He said last night he would give so much to see you… – Letter from Caroline Quiner Ingalls to her sister, Martha Quiner Carpenter, October 6, 1861, Concord, Wisconsin

Thomas Lewis Quiner was born November 23, 1844, in Fort Atkins, Wisconsin, the youngest child of Henry Newton Quiner and Charlotte Tucker. He had older siblings Joseph (born 1834), Henry Newton (born 1835), Martha Jane (born 1837), Caroline (born 1839), and Eliza Ann (born 1842). A sibling, Martha, had lived from 1832-1836.

In November 1845, Tom’s father died in the Mackinac Straits of Lake Michigan, and Charlotte Quiner moved the family to Jefferson County, Wisconsin. When Tom was four years old, Charlotte Quiner married Frederick M. Holbrook, on June 2, 1849. They had one daughter, Tom’s half-sister Charlotte, born in 1854.

Tom Quiner moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and worked in the logging industry. Six months after his brother Henry and his brother-in-law, Charles Ingalls, purchased land in Chariton County, Missouri, Tom bought a quarter section nearby. Although neither Henry nor Charles kept their Chariton land, Tom owned his until 1881; it is not known if he every lived there. In the early 1870s, Tom and several of his friends answered an advertisement placed in the Sioux City (Iowa) Times, other papers, and also distributed as a circular, searching for men experienced with “a gun and axe and cash for expenses” to take part in a private expedition to look for gold in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory, sacred ground of the Sioux Nation. In 1874, General George Custer had been sent to the area to seek the best location for a future military post, yet the party included a number of scientists and miners, also in search of gold. Once Custer reported “gold in paying quantities,” a stampede to the Black Hills was only prevented by direct government orders to halt such actions at all cost:

To Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Terry, St. Paul, Minn.
Sir: Should the companies now organizing at Sioux City and Yankton trespass on the Sioux Indian reservation, you are hereby directed to use the force at your command to burn the wagon trains, destroy the outfits and arrest the leaders, confining them at the nearest military post in the Indian country. Should they succeed in reaching the interior, you are directed to send such force of cavalry in pursuit as will accomplish the purposes above named…
P.H. Sheridan. Lieut. General.

By August 1874, eleven thousand men had communicated interest in going to the Black Hills. Following the government order, organizers Charles Collins and T.H. Russell publicly announced that they were giving up the trip, yet this was merely to hide a private – and still illegal – much smaller group that decided to disguise themselves as a party traveling to the Elkhorn Valley.

Tom Quiner was a member of a party of 28 men (one died and one left the group, leaving 26), one woman, and her 10-year-old son, led to the Black Hills by trail boss, John Gordon. Eight of the men – including “Tommy Quiner” – came from the logging camps around Eau Claire and Chippewa, Wisconsin. Laura Ingalls Wilder includes Uncle Tom’s story in These Happy Golden Years (see Chapter 13, “Springtime”). The expedition was organized in Sioux City and set out from a location three miles west of the Missouri River on October 16, 1874. No one knew of the secret expedition until several weeks later, and nothing was heard from them until the following February.

In December, the group had built a stockade on French Creek, several miles from present-day Custer. They found plenty of gold and, in order to buy supplies, sent some gold back to Iowa with two members of the party. Once the group’s location was known, however, members of the Second United States Cavalry were sent to remove the prospectors, during a time when success of the Gordon Party also enticed large groups to organize and leave Sioux City in quest of gold. The Army found and removed the Gordon Party (they offered no resistance), and they were given a hero’s welcome upon their return to Sioux City, for “preparing the way for the opening up to settlement of the country.” In the photo here, Thomas Quiner is the shorter man standing at the end of the row on the left, wearing the light-colored hat and holding a pistol.

December 10, 1879, Thomas Quiner married Lillian “Lillie” Graham Hill at Winona, Minnesota. Lillian was born September 1, 1858, in Wisconsin, the daughter of Marion and John Hill, from Scotland. Tom and Lillian had six children: Helen Marion (born March 13, 1881), Alice (born October 13, 1882; she died young), Donald (died young), Lillian Josephine (born August 30, 1887), Dugald Lewis (born July 19, 1889; died October 11, 1943), and John Hill (born March 1900). In Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that Pa shot a swan soon after they moved to Kingsbury County, and Pa salted the skin and sent it to Uncle Tom to make a coat for his daughter Helen, who was born in the spring of 1881. The Kingsbury County News for April 5, 1880, recorded that “C.P. Ingalls shot a large white swan on Silver Lake one day last week. It measured six feet eight inches from tip to tip.” In By the Shores of Silver Lake, the swan’s down is used to make a hood for baby Grace, and trim for the wrists of Grace’s winter coat. The newspaper fragment was brought to De Smet by Jack Fuller in 1968.

For over twenty years, Tom Quiner worked for the Laird, Norton Lumber Company. In the 1850s, the Laird brothers, John, William, and Matthew, with their Norton cousins, Matthew and James, had begun a milling operation in Winona, Minnesota. This was followed by a sawmill, a planing mill, and a sash-and-door factory, all served by the Winona and St. Peter Railroad. When the railroad began to penetrate Dakota Territory – specifically the area east of the Missouri River in today’s South Dakota during the years 1878-1887 – there was a demand for lumber that mill owners in Winona and La Crosse rushed to supply.

Although Laird, Norton never had a lumberyard in De Smet, they considered establishing yards east of De Smet in Brookings, Volga, and Lake Preston, and in Cavour and Huron to the west. They eventually settled on Lake Preston as their base of operations in Kingsbury County, a decision which may have been influenced by the fact that Lake Preston was campaigning hard for the county seat to be moved from De Smet.

The December 22, 1883, De Smet Leader noted: “Mr. T. L. Quiner, of Fountain City, Wis., arrived in De Smet this week with a carload of lumber, with which he proposes to build a store.” Thomas Quiner purchased both residential and business lots in De Smet in March 1884, but by May, it was reported that the house he was having built by his brother-in-law, Charles Ingalls, would be occupied by someone else. It has been suggested that Quiner’s interest in De Smet had as much to do with lumber interests there as with family in town. Tom Quiner remained in Wisconsin, however, and he continued his work for Laird, Norton.

Shortly after the birth of Tom and Lillian’s son John in 1900, the Quiners moved to Eugene, Oregon, where Tom took a job as foreman of a logging crew. He died February 23, 1903, in an accident on the Columbia River. Thomas Quiner was buried in Pioneer Memorial Cemetery, Eugene, Oregon.

Following her husband’s death, Lillian Quiner remained in Eugene, where she worked as a milliner and raised their children. July 3, 1919, she married James Fuller, a lumberman. Lillian died April 26, 1924, and was buried beside Thomas Quiner.


Quiner family
     Tom, brother of Caroline Ingalls (THGY 13-14; PG), see also Gordon Stockade
     Lily (THGY 13)
     Helen (THGY 13; PG)