Saturday, March 15, 2014

Thomas Adams

The internet site "Legends of America" devotes one paragraph to Thomas Adams and his contributions to Governor Isaac I. Stevens Railroad Survey and then states the remainder of his life was lost to history.  We are pleased that hours of research into information available both in books and the internet has enabled us to provide a more complete biography of Adams for this blog. 

Thomas Adams was born in the District of Columbia in 1830.  After being educated as a Civil Engineer he was attached to Governor Issac I. Stevens Pacific Railroad Survey. Adams served as assistant topographer from the Mississippi to Fort Benton. At Fort Benton Stevens  appointed Adams as a non-commissioned officer and assigned him to Lieutenant Donelson. From Fort Benton to St. Mary's Mission Adams served as assistant artist. Then during the winter of 1853-54 Tom served as Captain John Mullan's artist sketching  points of interest from Cantonment Stevens to Fort Hall and to the Kootenai region in what is now Idaho. The illustration below is from this trip, published as part of the report on the expedition. It is attributed to Sohon but it is no doubt taken from a sketch by Adams as Sohon is not mentioned in the report as part of this party. On the other hand, Adams sketches are specifically acknowledged by Mullan. The sketch shows the North Branch of the Big Hole River below Johnson Creek - the perspective is shown in the modern Google Earth image below the Adams/Sohon sketch.

In the spring of 1854, Tom Adams was appointed by Governor Stevens as a Special Agent to the Flathead Indians with Fred H. Burr as his assistant. One of the duties of this position was gathering all of the tribal chiefs together for the Council and Treaty signing in 1855 at Fort Benton and Hell Gate.

When the Railroad Survey was completed Tom chose to remain in the Bitterroot Valley and became a close friend to Major John Owen. Ledger records from Fort Owen (Weisel, 1955) show accounts in the sum of $211.34 during 1854. Then in January-February 1855 the accounts increase to $410 and by the end of the year totaled more than $900. During this year Major Owen journals frequently about Adams journeying to Fort Benton and Stevens, Burr and Adams  conducting business with the Flathead Indians (Owen Journal Vol. I, page 112).

By 1856 Adams was involved in trading on the Emigrant Trail (near Fort Hall) and the account ledgers reflect this with pack saddles, apichamons (blankets), and mocassins that amounted to more than $1,000. The accounts show his bill being settled in the spring after the cattle he had fattened during the winter were traded with the newly arriving immigrants on the Emigrant Trail.  During one of these trading journey's in August of 1857 Adams was hired by Col. Frederick W. Lander (on a second westward trip) to improve his various surveys by preliminary and cursory construction from Soda Springs westward. Lander had met Adams during the original Stevens Survey in 1853 (Wagon Roads of the West, pg. 195).

Both the Owen Journals and the Weisel account state that Adams wintered cattle during 1858 in the Flint Creek Valley. It is known that he had knowledge of the valley before this as Stevens Report credits Adams and John Owen for describing the Flint Creek Valley and Trail to the Bitterroot that shortened the trip by six to 12 hours, even though it was rougher than the Hell Gate (1853-54). Also, in Owen's Journals of 1855 John Owen, Adams and Tappan (both Indian Agents) traveled over the Bitterroot Direct Trail to the Flint Creek Valley on their way to Fort Benton on July 30-August 3. They were going to the Fort Benton Indian Council of 1855. The 1858 episode was documented also by Granville Stuart who wrote in his memoirs that Adams took a herd of cattle on shares from Johnny Grant at Deer Lodge. The Johnny Grant Memoirs do not specifically mention Adams but discuss cattle shares as part of the vast herds he built up from trading on the Emigrant Trail. The Camp Floyd Account books in the Utah Archives at Salt Lake City has a ledger page for Thomas Adams where he ordered $338.30 worth of supplies during January, February and June of 1859  consisting of items like calico ($3.60), Cash $50.00, 28 fine cut tobacco ($10.00), The items were paid off in June of 1859 obviously after his fattened livestock were sold to newly arriving wagon trains. There is also a ledger page under the names of Adams and Hereford with a total purchase of $2,957.03 during the months of January, May and June of 1859.  This account was paid off by Hereford on July 1, 1859.

Also the Granville and James Stuart Diaries identify Adams as one of their party when gold was discovered at Gold Creek on May of 1858.

John Gary Maxwell M.D. found documentation that Thomas Adams was the editor of the Valley Tan Newspaper at Camp Floyd from June 22, to September 21, 1859. Mr. Maxwell was researching for his book "The Civil War Years in Utah" when he discovered this information (2016).

In 1862 Adams returned to Gold Creek to mine with the Stuarts and Fred Burr. On February 26, 1862, Tom married Louise the step-daughter of Lonepenny, a Flathead Indian. One month later by mutual agreement the marriage was dissolved. A baby boy was born of this union and when the Flathead traveled through the Deer Lodge Valley on their journey to the winter Bison hunt Tom took the child from Louise. The boy cried so hard for his mother that the Stuarts convinced Tom to give the child back. Adams gave the baby to the next group of Flatheads traveling to the winter hunt with instructions to return him to Louise.

In 1864 Tom left the Territory and returned to Washington D.C. As a dear friend he corresponded frequently with Major John Owen. In John's journals he never fails to discuss Tom's letters and gifts. Tom set up a much needed mail route for the Major in November 1865 (Vol. II, p. 13) and by January 1866 he was receiving mail fairly regularly at Hell Gate. July 1, 1867 John received a letter from Tom announcing the birth of a baby boy born a few months prior. In January of 1868 Tom bought the Major a one year subscription to the National Intelligence to the great delight of all at the Fort (Vol.II, p. 86). In March of 1868 John sent Tom a copy of the Independent detailing the conclusion of Vindex's romance of Helen Wingate (ibid p.96.)

The  1870 U.S. Census shows Tom and 3 year old James in D.C. with a housekeeper and domestic servant and lists his occupation as Farmer. His assets are itemized as $10,000 in property and $5,000 in personal belongings. The 1880 Census shows Tom and his household all living with his sister Alice in D.C. and lists his occupation as Civil Engineer.  Fred Burr stated that Tom had lost his job as Secretary-Treasurer and was looking for a government position in a letter to Granville in 1895. The "Centennial History of Washington D.C." reports that the steamboat company Mount Vernon and Marshall had a Tom Adams as Secretary and treasurer in 1892. (The Vice president was L.L. Blake also one of the early explorers of Montana. Refer to the Blake Blog post for his history.)
The records of the Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C. show Tom Adams died on April 3, 1900 at the age of 70 from Uremia. He was the husband of Eliza R. Barry Adams who had died in 1870.

August 2015:This 1886 photograph of Thomas Adams is from Granville Stuart's papers housed in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (MSS 1534, Box 18, folder 10, item 69) and is reproduced by permission of the Lee Library.  

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