GEORGE W. THATCHER. Among the early settlers of Barton County one whose personal achievements and family have been of great benefit to the community and one whose experiences in life make a story of more than ordinary interest is George W. Thatcher of Great Bend.
Mr. Thatcher, whose prominent relations with the county dates from February 17, 1879, had already earned those honorable distinctions that belong to a veteran of the great Civil war and a successful educator and farmer.
He was born in the Farm Ridge community of LaSalle County, Illinois, November 8, 1844. His father, Enos Thatcher, who was born near old Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1798 represented Pilgrim ancestry, and married in Pennsylvania Charlotte Torrey. She was born at Bethany, Pennsylvania, in 1816, of Quaker stock. Her father was of French Huguenot ancestry and settled in Pennsylvania at an early day. Enos Thatcher moved from Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, to Illinois in 1832, and was one of the early pioneers of the Illinois River Valley. He and his wife had two children, George W. and Celia. The daughter is now Mrs. John H. Allbee, of Harvard, Nebraska.
The first important feature in the career of George W. Thatcher was his army service. He was only seventeen when the war broke out, and on February 19, 1863, he enlisted as a member of Company D of the Fifty-Second Illinois Infantry. His first captain was D. C. Newton and his second A. M. Watson. The regiment was first commanded by Colonel Sweeney, who afterwards became connected with the Fenian uprising in Canada. His second regimental commander was Colonel Davis. The Fifty-Second Illinois rendezvoused at Elgin and went to the front at Fort Donelson. It saw service at Pittsburg Landing, Corinth and throughout the Atlanta campaign. Mr. Thatcher was a fighting soldier at these points and during the Atlanta campaign was in the battles of Buzzard's Roost, Resaca, Dallas and Kennesaw Mountain. July 4, 1864, at Marietta, Georgia, he was wounded in the left arm with a piece of shell, but never left the company and in less than three weeks was back in line. He was in the big battles of the 26th and 28th of July before Atlanta and at Jonesboro as well. His command was in General Corse's Division, and immediately after the fall of Atlanta the division fell back to Rome and to Altoona, where it was attacked by the Confederate General Hood on his retreat to Nashville. In this engagement Mr. Thatcher received a second wound, a piece of shell striking him in the ankle. But it was not a serious injury and he remained with the company. From Rome the Fifty-Second Illinois went with its old division on the march to the sea, and participated in the short but fierce assault on Fort McAlister and then entered Savannah on Christmas Day of 1864. From there Mr. Thatcher continued on the northern march through the Carolinas. While in this campaign Mr. Thatcher discovered a Confederate lookout of three men while they were preparing their supper over a fire. He noted that one of the Confederates wore a Union overcoat. Just before this a Federal forager was found dead and his body mutilated. Mr. Thatcher proposed to two soldier companions that they capture the Confederate lookout, and they carried out the exploit successfully, and turned over the prisoners to General Logan. General Logan at once forced the "blue-coated Johnny" to write a note to Gen. Joe Shelby saying that three Confederate soldiers would be made reprisals for every Federal found dead under such circumstances as the Federal forager met his death.
As the Union army went north it fought at Columbia, South Carolina, the Fifty-Second Illinois being among the first regiments to enter that city. They also were at Fayetteville, Bentonville and finally at Raleigh, until Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered and ended the war. The forces of Sherman then continued north to Washington, participating in the Grand Review in June, 1865. July 6, 1865, the Fifty-Second was mustered out at Louisville, Kentucky, and Mr. Thatcher reached home on the 12th of the same month.
The veteran soldier was not yet twenty-one years of age. He resumed civil life as a farmer and was soon induced to purchase eighty acres of land near the old home. His parents were in humble circumstances and he was depended upon to manage their affairs as well as his own. About that time a neighher came to him and told him he was the unanimous choice of the citizens of the district to teach their winter term of school. He had made good use of his opportunities during his school days, but never with the idea that he would become a teacher. Before giving his answer to his insistent neighbor he went to consult his mother. His mother was practical and sensible, as most mothers are, and suggested that his wages as a teacher would provide the lumber for the house they planned to build on his eighty acres in the spring, and advised him to take the school provided he could get a certificate. He had not been inside a schoolroom for seven years, and feared that the examination would prove too much for his limited knowledge. However, soon afterward he went to the county seat at Pontiac, took the examination, and to make a long story short secured the highes[sic] grade of the fourteen applicants. In the case of Mr. Thatcher, who was a man of original mind, it was perhaps fortunate that he had not been drilled and disciplined in the formal art of pedagogy. A few days after he began his work in the schoolroom the county superintendent hurried out to see what he was doing. He found the young teacher following an original plan of teaching by object lessons, something entirely new at that time anywhere, and certainly without precedent in that part of Illinois. Mr. Thatcher finished his four months time without untoward incident, and took beginners through the second reader, seeing them able to spell every word. An echo of his success came at the Normal Institute held that spring. On the third morning of the institute he appeared as a student and saw his name inscribed on the blackboard program announcing that "Methods of teaching by George W. Thatcher" was part of the program for that day. This embarrassed him beyond description, since he was not more than twenty-two and a beginner in educational work. He explained what he did in object lesson work through his term, and it furnished a sensation to old teachers and resulted in introducing new methods and discarding many old ones not only in Illinois but in all the states east and west, north and south.
Mr. Thatcher continued to teach school for ten years. At his second examination he was given a first grade certificate and never had to take another examination. His school work was commented upon all over his county and elsewhere, and there are some of his old pupils who today would attest that he was the most effective and efficient teacher in their experience. On leaving the school room Mr. Thatcher took up farming in earnest. He had paid for his eighty acres, had improved it, and was making good progress toward financial independence. He had also acquired other land, and from his land and stock raising he made the capital which he brought to Kansas.
Before leaving Illinois permanently Mr. Thatcher knew something of the spirit of the Kansas prairies, gained from a brief visit to the state in the fall of 1871. He came out to visit relatives in Fillmore County, Nebraska. He found his relatives preparing to leave for a buffalo hunt along the Republican River. It was not difficult to enlist his interest in sport as well as in the pursuit of health and knowledge, and for four months he had a delightful time with the hunters along the Republican and up the Prairie Dog. Several loads of buffalo meat were gathered in by the expedition. Some of the buffaloes were killed in the region of Morton, Phillips and Smith counties. It is probably not too much to say that the exhilarating effects of this experience on Kansas prairies proved the chief influence which a few years later attached Mr. Thatcher to Kansas as a permanent settler. While he had prospered in Illinois his health was not good, and he came west with the idea of making his health and fortune at the same time.
As a Kansas settler Mr. Thatcher entered the northeast quarter of section 28, township 16, range 14, and built as a shelter for his family a board shanty 10 by 12 feet. After the first harvest season he put up a more substantial abode, a structure 16 by 22 feet with a basement. That was his home while proving up. He also entered a tree claim in section 34, and fulfilled the legal requirements and received patents for both sites. He had brought with some registered horses and cattle, and had more than an ordinary supply of other capital as measured by the usual circumstances of the homesteaders. Except for some losses of cattle during the big blizzard of 1886 Mr. Thatcher's progress was satisfactory until the boom period struck Kansas and land began advancing rapidly in value. He had acquired in the meantime title to five quarter sections. He yielded to the desire to exploit his money and holdings as a speculator in lands. Had he been satisfied to retire all would have gone well with him, but he could not resist the seductive opportunities of the period, and as a resuit he saw practically everything he owned swept away.
In 1884 Mr. Thatcher had moved to Great Bend to give his children educational advantages and has continued a resident of that city ever since. After his financial disasters he became dependent upon his daily labors to support his family. For four years he served as school janitor, and his older sons also worked. In 1898 he took up real estate and insurance, and continued that business until recently, when he disposed of his insurance agency and is now following the bent of his pleasure and tastes in the matter of occupation.
One of his chief interests in Kansas has been the Kansas Grand Army of the Republic. He has served in some of the head offices of the order, being a senior vice commander under P. H. Coney, the commander, and for three years served on the Council of Administration.
He has also been a strong friend of education. His own children were educated in the high school of Great Bend and six of them took higher courses in the state educational institutions. Three of them graduated from the Agricultural College at Manhattan, two from the University at Lawrence, and one from the State Normal at Emporia. Four of his children followed in his footsteps and taught school, and three of them became electrical engineers. One of the latter is his youngest son, who took a course with the Westinghouse Electrical concern and was induced to take examination for a commission in the regular army. Of eighty-seven applicants in that examination he stood fourth and was commissioned a second lieutenant of the Coast Artillery. He is now a captain of Coast Artillery in France, and has been in the service since 1912.
At Millington, Illinois, March 21, 1873, Mr. Thatcher married Miss Mary A. Fores. She was born at Lewiston, Canada. February 11, 1848. Her father, John Fores, was a shoemaker and came to the United States at the opening of the Civil war and established his home at Odell, Illinois. A brief record of the children of Mr. and Mrs. Thatcher is as follows: Frank W.. who with his wife, Susie, is a farmer at DeWeese, Nebraska; Reno E., whose wife is named Theresa, is manager of the Puget Sound Light & Power Company at Seattle, Washington; Ada L., who died at the age of sixteen; James W., who married Lela Martin and is assistant manager of the Prudential Life Insurance Company at Seattle, Washington; Harry R., who specialized in agriculture at Manhattan College, died in 1904, unmarried; Albert W. engaged in the transfer business at Sacramento, California; Blanche M., a teacher in the Wichita schools; Elmer L., an electrician in San Francisco; and Capt. George I., who is the soldier son above noted.
Mr. Thatcher answers politically to the call of the republican party, having inherited that faith from his father, who was one of the old "underground railroad" conductors before the rebellion. Though under age Mr. Thatcher as a soldier was given the privilege of voting for Mr. Lincoln in the fall of 1864. He was competent to bear arms in defense of his country and was justly considered competent to help decide who should be president. Since early boyhood he has been identified with the Congregational Church. As a boy he listened to the distinguished congregational and abolitionist minister Owen Lovejoy of Illinois, a brother of the abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy, who was murdered by a pro-slavery mob at Alton, Illinois. Mr. Thatcher is affiliated with the Lodge, Chapter and Commandery of Masonry, being a past master of his lodge and a member of Midian Temple of the Mystic Shrine at Wichita.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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