Tag Archives: Gibson

The Relinquished Homestead

Not all homesteaders made it. As far as I know, George Hiram Thoma was the last of my direct ancestors to stake a claim, which he did in western Nebraska on a February day in 1909. George and his brother-in-law Clare Eugene Gibson arrived together at the land office in Valentine in order to pay their respective filing fees; each was granted about six hundred acres of land on adjoining claims in the desolate Sandhills of nearby Rock County, Nebraska.1 While earlier claims under the Homestead Act of 1862 allowed each individual only one hundred and sixty acres, later amendments granted settlers more land in certain areas where, for example, the soil and climate might be less conducive to raising crops. The Kincaid Act of 1904 applied specifically to thirty-seven counties in northwestern Nebraska that contained non-irrigable land.2

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Google Earth certainly doesn’t make this part of the country look particularly inviting, and life there may have been even more difficult than expected. The homesteads were located more than twenty miles from the nearest town of Bassett, and the families had likely never experienced such isolation. However, Clare Gibson, along with his wife, Alpha, and their four children, Bernice, Pauline, James, and Florence, stuck it out; his homestead was patented in February 1913,3 and the Gibson family remained there for years to come.4

George Thoma and his wife Leota, on the other hand, lasted only a little more than a year. On 4 May 1910, George relinquished his homestead,5 acknowledging defeat and, apparently, accommodating his wife’s wishes to leave an area that his daughter later described as “all sand, horrible, no trees.”6 To make matters worse, there were rattlesnakes, and with a rambunctious six-year-old son, Fenton, and a two-year-old daughter, Fern, to keep safe, this was perhaps more than the couple had bargained for. They cut their losses, bade farewell to Clare and Alpha—sisters Alpha and Leota would never again have the opportunity to live as neighbors—and moved to town.7


George H. Thoma (Rock County) homestead file, case no. 1383, Valentine, Nebraska, Land Office; Serialized Land Entry Case Files That Were Canceled, Relinquished, or Rejected, ca. 1909-ca. 1918; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives at Kansas City.

I may never have come across this record had I not attended the course “Advanced Research Tools: Land Records” at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. [Read about my experience HERE.] It was there that I learned about tract books, bound volumes maintained by the Bureau of Land Management that faithfully recorded the filing of all land transactions—including claims that were later canceled, relinquished, or rejected. These claims cannot be found indexed at the Bureau of Land Management, typically my go-to resource for locating land records. Fortunately, however, the United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books are available online at FamilySearch, and a handy Tract Books Coverage Table makes it possible to navigate the unindexed record images.

While I knew my great-grandmother had said that her father had homesteaded near Bassett, Nebraska, when no final patent could be found on the Bureau of Land Management’s database, I initially came to the conclusion that he must not have actually homesteaded there. Perhaps the family had lived with relatives or rented a farm during their brief time in Bassett, I thought. After all, my grandmother was only a toddler at the time, so her recollections might well have been dim. Well, as it turns out, George Hiram Thoma did indeed have his very own homestead, albeit briefly, and as a bit of a research bonus, the federal records that this homestead created mark the conclusion of his mysterious use of an alias.

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Twenties by Day


Leota (Fenton) Thoma, Alpha (Fenton) Gibson, and Belle (Fenton) Hoffman, ca. 1920s; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

As seen in this photograph, the trends of the Roaring Twenties were not just for flappers – although daytime fashions were significantly less flashy than what one tends to associate with the era. Here, sisters Leota, Alpha, and Belle, from left to right, pose together sporting bobs and simple patterned dresses. Although the sisters were likely in their late forties or early fifties when this photograph was taken, they clearly made an effort to keep up with the times.

Alpha Doretta, Minnie Belle, and Anna Leota Fenton were born in Saline County, Kansas, the daughters of George W. and Sarah Ellen (Hall) Fenton.1 After their father’s death, their mother remarried, and eventually, the family relocated to northwestern Iowa.2 At the time that this photograph was taken, Alpha, the wife of Clare Gibson, lived in Colorado,3 whereas Belle, the wife of Joseph Hoffman, and Leota, the wife of George Thoma, lived in different counties in Iowa.4 It was likely a rare occasion that the sisters were able to be together.

Leota, Alpha, and Belle wear popular styles of what would have been considered day dresses or house dresses in this decade, as seen on Vintage Dancer: 1920s Day / House Dresses and Aprons. Likely made of cotton, their dresses feature lively prints and straight, comfortable cuts. Both Belle, right, and Alpha, center, wear dresses made of fabric printed with spirals or swirls. Both have sleeves cuffed above the elbow, and have belted, dropped waists. Leota wears a standard long apron with patch pockets over her dress, but it can be seen that her floral-patterned dress hits, appropriately, just below the knee. Her dress has contrasting fabric sewn at the hem and the cuffs, and she clutches a striped cloche hat in her hand.

This look was quite a change from the romantic, Gibson Girl-esque styles of just a quarter century before, as seen in an earlier photograph of Leota. However, it looks like these ladies might have had quite a bit of fun with their makeovers during this decade, before more conservative styles returned with the Great Depression.

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