Founder of the Douglas School District
August 7, 1841, Thomas Baird Douglass was born in Glasgow, Scotland.
At the age of nine he came with his parents to Waukon, Iowa.
October 2, 1862, at the age of twenty-one, Thomas enlisted in the
27th Iowa Infantry of the Union Forces. During the fighting in the Civil
War, he was captured and taken to the Andersonville Prison in southwest
Georgia. Fortunately, he was able to tunnel his way out of this infamous
prison. Private Douglass mustered out of the Union Army in December,
1864, and became a proud member of the Grand Army of the Republic.
December 12, 1868, Thomas returned to Iowa, married Matilda Hannah
Ewing and had a family of eleven children. The wanderlust and the desire
for a better life led him and his family from Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska;
Sidney, Montana; Ogallala, Nebraska and finally in a covered wagon
pulled by an ox-team to the Dakota Territory near the present Box Elder.
On a tract about ten miles east of Rapid City on Box Elder Creek, he
took up a homestead and timber claim. This homestead was about 360 acres
of some of the most fertile land in the valley with Box Elder Creek
running through it. He raised livestock, horses, cattle, hogs, chickens,
wheat, flax, corn and garden vegetables.
Besides farming, he was a mule skinner - he freighted with a ten-mule
team from Pierre to Deadwood. Consequently, he became friends with such
personalities as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock. He was an
entrepreneur as he also had the contract to grade the streets of Pierre.
During all these transactions he became acquainted with "old timers"
such as Bill Cody and Granberg Behrens. Because the Douglass family had
brought an organ with them, the only one for miles around, guests such
as Buffalo Bill had many enjoyable evenings singing and listening to the
music of this organ.
Linguistically gifted, he spoke Lakota fluently and was a friend of
Chief Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, and Crazy Horse who had been born on Box
Elder Creek. Nevertheless, he joined other Civil War veterans at the
Battle of Wounded Knee.
Thomas Baird Douglass had the nickname "Lonesome Tom" because he was
the only Republican in his precinct. Nevertheless, this was no deterrent
to getting a school for his family. He got the farmers in the area
interested and together they built a one-room wooden structure so their
children could learn the threes Rs. April 21, 1891, the Douglas Precinct
school, our present Douglas School District, was formed. Thomas's
daughter, Cassandra Eberly, remarked in 1961 while visiting the Douglas
School System that her father would have been "awfully proud of the
Douglas School System because he was so interested in education."
July 5, 1890, Thomas's wife, Matilda, died at age 40. The family
continued to live near Box Elder two more years before they were forced
to separate and sent to live with various relatives. Thomas is buried in
Missoula, Montana, where he was killed by a train May 2, 1902.
-source: Douglas, S.D. School District website
-re-posted on Allamakee co. Biographies with permission of Bert Twiggs,
Douglas (S.D.) School District and current school Superintendent, Dr.
Joe Schmitz (who was the superintendent of the Waukon schools before he
moved to the Douglas school system)
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