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Alfred Thomas

Early-day business owner in De Smet, elected Clerk of De Smet township schools in 1993.

Mr. Alfred Thomas, brother of our townsman C.J. Thomas, with his family, arrived here last Saturday. He has begun erecting a house in the Carroll addition, intending to become a permanent resident. -De Smet Leader, April 1883

In her handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote this, about one evening before a Literary Society meeting in De Smet:

…a young lawyer name Alfred Thomas came in and stayed and kept on staying for no reason that I could see, until I was afraid Pa and I would be late. At last he asked Pa if he were going to the meeting and to my surprise Pa said “No!” Then he asked me if I were going and I thinking if Pa didn’t go of course I wouldn’t said “No!” too… So Mr Thomas went away alone and then Pa laughed at me and said all Mr. Thomas had come for was to take me… I had refused my first offer of an escort…

The statement was also repeated in Donald Zochert’s biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Supposedly Mr. Thomas wanted to take Laura to one of the literaries in De Smet, and Laura was too naive to know she was being asked.

Yes, there was an Alfred Thomas in De Smet. One of four sons of Reverend Evan Thomas from Winnebago County, Wisconsin, Alfred Thomas moved to De Smet in 1883 with his wife of eight years, Christina (Powers) Thomas, and their four children: Mabel (born 1875), Ana (born 1879), Grace (born 1880), and Arthur (born 1883). The house they built west of the Catholic Church is still standing, shown above, one of the oldest houses in De Smet. Alfred started an abstract business and later sold insurance; he was on the board of Dakota Loan & Investment Company. He was on the school board, and as Clerk in the De Smet Township Schools, he signed Laura Ingalls’ contracts to teach the Perry and Wilkin schools.

Alfred Thomas was born in 1851, so he was 6 years older than Almanzo Wilder and 16 years older than Laura Ingalls. I’m willing to bet that there is no way on earth he wanted Laura Ingalls to attend the Literary with him.

Alfred Thomas did, however, have a younger brother who lived in De Smet for a while, beginning in 1880, and this brother was a lawyer. Carey J. Thomas worked in the office of Vischer Barnes, running an abstract and loan company. When Alfred came to De Smet, it was to go into business with his younger brother, Carey, and they established Thomas Brothers Real Estate and Loan Brokers. Alfred’s name is frequently mentioned in newspaper stories about his participation in the local Literary Society meetings. His wife is also mentioned.

Carey Thomas had attended law school in Madison, Wisconsin, and he returned to Wisconsin in 1886 to be married. He and his wife, Alice, remained in Wisconsin. Is it possible that Carey, not Alfred, is the lawyer and Thomas brother remembered by Laura Ingalls Wilder? To confuse matters even more, there was a third Thomas brother, Austin, who lived in De Smet briefly in the early 1880s. Austin was a physician and he visited with the idea of settling in Dakota Territory, but decided against it. Austin also returned to Wisconsin, where he married his wife, Marguerite, in 1883.

In 1890, the Alfred Thomas family relocated to Minneapolis, then made several moves, always living where most convenient for the education of their children. Alfred sold insurance in each location. For a time, they owned a farm at Millbank, South Dakota, and they made frequent visits to De Smet. In the 1920s, the Thomases moved to Washington, D.C., where Christina died in January 1934, and Alfred died in June 1939, at age 88.


Alfred Thomas (PG)
     Asks Laura to literary (PG)