Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Adelia Gregg Thomas' Family

Our cousin from the Thomas line, Susan Ertsgaard, kindly shared this treasure from her mother's house. It was written by Adelia (she calls herself Leila here) for her children. Adelia was the wife of Louis Albert Thomas and the mother of James Emmert(1894), Marion Rawlings (1895), and Katharine Louisa Margaret Thomas (1903).

In the early 1830s five Gregg brothers came from near Wheeling West Virginia to the territory of Iowa. After taking up land and building log cabins, Benjamin and John sent for their wives, the two Boan girls, Melissa and Emily, 17 and 19 years of age.

The rivers were the common highways in those early days, and it must have been a long, tiresome journey for the two young sisters, down the Ohio to Cairo, and up the Miss. to Burlington where they were met by their eager husbands, who proudly took them to the one room log cabins near Burlington. The prairies were wild and barren, and Indians still roved up and down. Summer winds were hot and winter blizzards fierce, but the fields when broken were easy to cultivate after their experience with those of the rocky east, and the corn and wheat a rich reward for their labor. The log cabins soon had added rooms, and were finally replaced by brick houses, with a fireplace in each room. The barren yards had tree lined driveways, and gardens of vegetables and small fruit. Thirteen children came to the cabin of John and Emily, and eleven to Benjamin and Melissa. Of the latter was your great grandfather, James Bonar Gregg. All of the children had their part in the work of the home, and between chores they attended school at Burlington, about three miles away, walking and carrying the meager lunch. At Christmas time, a Mississippi river packet brought a supply of oranges, and each child had a quarter of one as a special treat. Mother squeezed oil from a walnut to oil the clock. James was a dreamy boy and wasted much time (according to his father, Benjamin) building aircastles, and reading books. There was a college in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa Wesleyan, about 25 miles away, and James Bonar and his two older sisters, conceived the idea of doing light housekeeping there, and attending the college. They rented a few rooms and brought food and wood from home, so that it cost very little. Then the Civil War broke out, and James enlisted with the Mt. Pleasant Co., most of them college students. They drilled on the campus, and then Co. K, 4th Iowa Cavalry rode away, most of them never to return. Although wounded and once in the St. Louis hospital with typhoid fever, James returned after 4 years service. During the “Reconstruction” period, he went back to college, this time alone, for his sisters had finished their work and gone home, and married returning soldiers.

Back in college, he bet and after graduation married another student, Josephine Mills. They lived for a time in Burlington, where James studied law in the office of a leading lawyer there. During this time Leila was born. After completing his law course, Josephine with baby Leila remained with her parents, in Mt. Pleasant, while James built a new home in western Iowa, a new country, but promising. What later was called the C B & Q RR was being built through southern Iowa, and a number of Burlington and Mt. Pleasant young people were planning to settle in Red Oak. James went out with team and wagon to investigate. He found the prospects for a lawyer, who would combine Real Estate with law problems incident to the settling of a new country very promising. So he purchased a half block between 7th and 8th St. on Reed, in R.O., and hauled material from Council Bluffs for a house. It was a long haul, for there were few bridges, and many ‘detours’. The roads wound over the lovely prairies, flower strewn, scarcely a tree in sight, and nothing to hide the view for miles and miles. Plenty of time to dream of the little home for the lovely “Josie” and baby girl, over on the Red Oak hill.

In November, 1868 Josie and Leila came out from Mt. Pleasant. The railroad had been completed half way across the state, and the latter part of the journey was by stage coach. All the Red Oak people were young folks like themselves. James’ law and real estate business prospered. Six children, 5 girls and a boy, came to the little house on the hill at 7th and Reed streets. They all attended Lincoln School, graduated from high school and then went to college. After graduating from Iowa State Teachers College, Leila taught in the Atlantic HS. There she met and in 1892 married a young physician, Louis A. Thomas. They moved to Anthon, Iowa, where on Feb. 23, 1894 James Emmert was born. In 1897 they came to Red Oak, where they have since resided.

Your father can best give you the rest of your autobiography.

Now for a little of your great grandmother Gregg’s background. Josephine Mills was born in Chillicothe Ohio in 1845 to Levi Mills and Mary Booth, whose parents came from Mass. Levi Mills and family came from Ohio in a “moving wagon” to the northern part of Iowa. Finding the country there very undeveloped, they moved (again by wagon) to Mt. Pleasant, that the daughters might have the advantage of the schools there and Iowa Wesleyan College. Levi was a carpenter and cabinet maker. In later years he bought a grocery store which he ran until his retirement. Josephine, after her graduation from Iowa Wesleyan, married James Bonar Gregg, with whom she went to Red Oak in 1868, where they both resided until their deaths.

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