Monday, February 19, 2018

Zadok Willis Thomas: Pioneer Capitalist (52 Ancestors #31)

Inherently ambitious, perhaps rebellious, Z W Thomas was born into a family with deep Quaker roots. Named Zadoc Willis, he was the second son born to parents Jesse Thomas Jr and Joanna B Stanley. Tradition ran deep and the Quaker faith stretched back generations on both sides of this family.

Born May 18th 1856 in Goshen, OH. Zadoc had one older brother, Benjamin Franklin but would eventually be joined by two younger sisters, Elma Luella and Mary Eldora.

Seeking opportunity, the family headed west to the frontier land of Iowa between 1864 and 1869. Settling in Mahaska County, Zadoc's father Jesse ran a fine hotel in Oskaloosa. According to the 1870 US Census he appeared to be one of the wealthiest men in town at the time. Zadoc must have learned his business skills at the heels of his father.

Z W (as he was known) left Oskaloosa for Monroe, IA to pursue teaching. Driven by a deeper ambition, Z W attended the University of Iowa Law School, graduating with a law degree in 1884. It might well have been where he met his future wife, Laura Busby; herself a college educated school teacher, living in Brooklyn, IA .

At any rate, Z W Thomas married Laura Busby, certainly his equal in many ways, in Brooklyn, IA on October 1st 1885.  The couple was married by a minister, I am unclear on the faith, but it appears that Z W had broken with his Quaker upbringing. Z W and Allie (as she was now called) made their home in Fort Dodge, IA, where Z W was partner in the law firm Bennett & Thomas.

Their first child, a son named Dana, was born the following August.

Land Agent - 1892
Shoe Company - 1895
Between 1886 and 1902 Z W build a fine, solid reputation for himself. He became a principal in many prominent business dealings around Fort Dodge. He was purchasing real estate and businesses, operating farms, mining for coal, drilling for oil (yes!) He owned a stone quarry, was experimenting with growing alfalfa, practicing law; let's just say, a very busy man!  He found time to father two more children, son Lauren, born in 1891 and daughter Edith, born in 1898.

By 1902 Z W was partnered with his brother-in-law in the law firm of Thomas & Busby.

Creamery - 1900
Bolivia - 1900
For a number of years he had been purchasing all the local dairy farms with the intention of creating one large dairy farm for the region. He succeeded with the Oakdale Dairy Farm servicing Fort Dodge and the surrounding area.

Then he began to set his sights outside of Iowa.

In July of 1900, Z W and a group of capitalists got together to investigate mining for gold in Bolivia. It appears they sent a junket to the region to explore their possibilties. I do not know what came of it, however.

Texas Oil - 1901
Louisiana Oil - 1902
Z W Thomas then partnered with a man named F S Hoyt out of Louisiana. The pair drilled for oil in both Louisiana and Texas. Again, I don't know the outcome but I suspect it was successful.

There are many accounts of Z W Thomas traveling around the country, I wonder if he was home much during this time?

Cow Attack - 1902

Stone Quarry - 1902
In December of 1902 poor Z W learned a hard lesson! One should never wear a fur coat around a cow (who knew?)

He did manage to make it home upon occasion, however. The couple's last child, a son, was born in 1904. Later that year Z W, along with partner F S Hoyt undertook a monumental project. The dredging of the New Iberia Canal in Louisiana. The project that began in 1904 was almost not completed several times due to natural and man-made obstacles. Success won out, however and in 1911 the project came to fruition.
Louisiana Canal - 1904
Alfalfa - 1912

Back home Z W set his determination on raising the newest crop, alfalfa, and in 1912 was quite successful.

Life by all appearances was grand for the family of Z W Thomas in the early 20th century. Z W had established quite a name and reputation for himself; and had his hand in many successful ventures in Fort Dodge and the surrounding area.
Louisiana Canal - 1911

His life was not exempt from sadness and hardships, however. Amid all his amassing of wealth and reputation, Z W buried his 7 year old son Dana in 1898, his mother in 1904 and his father in 1907. His little sister Luella died in 1913.

It seemed Z W had managed to keep a wide berth between himself and the financial crisis of the early 20th century. Never showing any outward sign of struggle or hardship during a time when people were loosing money and confidence in the U S banking system.

Obituary - 1914
Death - 1914
Nevertheless, his luck ran out on a June day in 1914. While returning from overseeing one of his properties, Z W was struck by an automobile and thrown from the buggy he was riding in. He landed on his head. Outwardly able to resume his duties, Z W continued home where, while hoeing his home garden, fell dead of a cracked skull.

Z W Thomas was 58 years old.

It would be another year before his estate was settled.

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Z W Thomas is buried in the large Thomas Family plot in Oakland Cemetery in Fort Dodge, IA.

©2018 Anne Faulkner -, All Rights Reserved

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