Decatur County Journal
Leon, Decatur County, Iowa
Thursday, November 19, 1891

The Whereabouts of Ex-County Treasurer THOMPSON disclosed - by Death.

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ED. K. PITMAN Makes a Statement of His connection With Him.

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The following is an account of the death of DR. S.C. THOMPSON at Olympia, Washington, on the 10th, and which appreared in the Register of the 18th. While the article refers to MR. THOMPSON's embezzlement it is not thought by any of the older citizens that MR. THOMPSON applied the funds to his own use, but that too much confidence had been placed with friends who borrowed the county funds and refused to pay them back:

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OLYMPIA, Wash., Nov. 12 -- Special to the State Register

--Tuesday evening an elderly man known here as DR. S.C. SMITH, was found dead on the Northern Pacific track in this city. He had resided here two years. An examination of his papers today revealed his real name to be S.C. THOMPSON, and that he was from Leon, Iowa. In 1862 a discovery was made of his embezzlement of county funds, while acting as Decatur County's Treasurer. He went to Texas from Iowa and settling in Llano County, then a remote section of the state, practiced medicine there for seventeen years. His health failed two years ago and he came to Washington to repair it.

A gentleman who moved here with him says that in Texas he had led an honorable career, was highly respected and was a leading physician of his county. He engaged in mining there, too, and lost some $100,000 in his speculations. The secret of his life was not disclosed during his rsidence in the south, and the people of his former Iowa home, except one, never learned of his whereabouts.

Among his letters have been found several from a party named ED. K. PITMAN, who kept him informed as to events at Leon. From these letters it is gathered that Decatur County people supposed him dead long ago.

In a document left by THOMPSON he charged his defalcation to too much confidence in professed friends. He also stated that if a proper investigation of his accounts had been made, his defalcation would have been found not to exceed $5,000 and that his successor was responsible for all over that sum.

Since coming to Olympia, THOMPSON has lived alone. He had a small income from property here which sustained him, but of late he has been suffering from a complication of diseases. It is thought that he became delirious yesterday evening and wandered off to the lonely spot where he was found. He owned real estate worth about $3,000.

In his will, made last March, he leaves half his estate to his son, FRANK, and his daughters, CORDELIA and MARY, and the other half to those of his bondsmen who suffered by his defalcation, with a residuary interest to his wife, who probably owns half the property anyway under the laws of this state.

He left letters to his children and a request to be interred in an obscure corner of the Masonic Cemetery. A statement signed by him, found on his desk, indicates that he died an agnostic. He was very kind to all his acquaintances here and led a correct life.


To the entire people of Decatur County, and more especially to those who were citizens twenty years ago, it must be a matter of thrilling interest to be informed of the whereabouts, mode of life and final sad end of one who all loved and none hated; and who was honored by all, as few have been, and whose misfortunes in an official capacity caused him to flee the country and absent himself from every human being, both friend and foe, for a period of seventeen years, at which time he was impelled from various causes to open communication with one person only, and that after he had secured the most solemn compact as to continued secrecy. And still his isolation to continue until death, which he had long expected and ever desired ended all of life for him.

Through the ever recurring vicissitudes of life, and the mutations of time, it happened to fall to the lot of the writer to be that one to whom he unveiled his long and deep obscurity; and while to possess his secret had a glow of pleasure within it, the realization that I was the possessor of it under all the surroundings and conditions rendered it a burden rather hard to bear, yet agreeable, strangely thrilling and romantic, but within a tinge of sadness and pleasure.

The discovery of his whereabouts and identity was the result of long and bulky correspondence beginning April 15, 1889, the writer of this being then postmaster of Leon. This correspondence being too bulky and voluminous for publication in the newspapers will not be published entire just now; a plain and simple statement of facts only being aimed at by this writing.

The Captain was in Austin, Texas, when the correspondence began and he remained there long enough to write his second letter; then retreated to his home at Llano, Texas, where he had resided continuously from the time he arrived there, which was within one week or 10 days after leaving here. From there the correspondence was continued by him and the writer of this from Leon.

An item in the New York World, mentioning my name, was the means of and gave origin to the opening of communication. He wrote his third letter before he would acknowledge his identity, after which the letters were free in style and lengthy on both sides. My first ones charging him with being the long absent, his denying and very adroitly evading an acknowledgement as to his being the man. After becoming satisfied of fair treatment and that his great secret would still be subject alone to his control after its transmission to another, he gave it up.

From that time his letters are remarkable for their scope, intelligence, pointedness and for a wonderful glamor of seriousness pervading them from end to end and in every line. Each of our letters I must say carried more the impress of funeral orations than of light literature. As said before, the correspondence has been very extensive. He was informed from time to time of everybody and everything for the last twenty years; at all events of everything of interest to him.

From the very first he wanted to know about his shortage and how much money it amounted to and manifested the greatest solicitude for those "I have wronged," as he expressed it frequently. His family concerned him to an exceeding degree. Then all his old friends, mentioning nearly every one by name.

The main object of the writer hereof from the very outset was to induce him to return and every resource and energy was beat to that end. Everything touching, sacred and tender was adverted to, to stimulate him to this end. He stoutly and eloquently refused and asseverated against that step. He appeared to have taken the impression that not a friend was left him, but that all hated and despised him. And though assured and reassured of the contrary, he bravely persisted in maintaining obscurity.

The old Captain truly had the courage of his resolution, and when he knew that his life's tenure was uncertain he made the more preparation in the way of arranging his property for the benefit of those to whom he owed it all -- his former bondsmen and his family.

Being a well schooled physician enabled him to foreknow his earth life would be but short, of which he has often spoken. It should have been stated earlier that within a few months after our communications began he moved from Llano, Texas to Olympia, Washington, and from there continued the correspondence. On the 20th of May last, he wrote that he well knew he would not live one year longer and thought the real time would come much short of that. How true his prediction, in view of the fact that he died on Tuesday, the 10th inst.

It is a fact well-known to many that he was a man of good mind and versatile attainments and was capable of handling nearly all the prominent themes of thought and investigation from the higher criticisms all the way down through philosophy, heavy literature, the sciences and medicines, and in his much writing he has touched them all, though without intending it. A man of the most noble sentiments, just and generous to the finest points. To young men just starting out in life's meanderings, it might be well to say that the only quality he lacked of being a model man was the power and the will to say "no" and check the unreasonable demands of pretended or seeming friends. From this lack grew all his troubles. Many, very many, hold rigidly to the belief that he was at no time an intentional wrong-doer. In his letter of May 20th he tells of having made a will and copies its exact specifications.

I do not see any way more interesting to close this statement than to give the Captain's last letter, written to myself and I.N. CLARK. It is as follows:

"Olympia, Wash., Oct. 10, 1891;

"My Very Dear Old Friends -- ED and IKE (as per old style, which I yet love)

"Your last kind, and to me very precious letter, was received a few days ago -- on the 6th, I think -- It was late in the evening and I thought now I will as per your request answer tomorrow morning sure. Can't see to write by lamp light any more to do much good, but that night I had a fearful old time nearly all night with cramps in my feet and legs, with also heart palpitation, etc., just taking on a fresh and ugly cold with the over tension of my nervous system started up by your letter.

"You see, as in my usual custom, I never opened your letter until I got home to my room and locked the door, than it is read and I think and then cry awhile and then go over about the same process again until my mind just naturally has to traverse off into some other channel. But I am fully convinced, dear ED., that had it not been for the rejuvenating influence upon my energies brought on by the strange and fortunate opening up of our correspondence, I should have been over that Silent River two or more years ago anyhow, and so I think I may truly say that it is to you I am indebted for those two years. At least I know I am for all the pleasure I have enjoyed and you can scarcely appreciate the pleasure it gives me to know that we have a true and mutual friend in whom you can safely confide all this queer and "thrilling" history, and counsel together.

"I now feel more than ever what a happy thought it was in you to fix upon good old friend like to initiate into this queer and ticklish mystery and almost wonder why you did not suggest it even before MRS. P's demise. The more I think of the whole matter, the clearer I can comprehend the extreme delicacy of the position you both occupy. To think of CLARK's thrilling experience down at--at--(how shall I express it) -- the old place -- at my own dear BELLE's little home reception party--looking over the family pictures his mind full of the most thrilling thoughts of me and all this and then your sudden meeting with BELLE on the streets, etc., etc.

"O, I know that few indeed are capable of bearing all this tension. Still I do not suffer the slightest fear now of exposure; not half as I might if only one of you were in the mystery. I wonder if my own old pictures retain a place in that old album. But of course I presume not. Indeed I almost feel that it is wicked presumption in me to expect or even think of being recognized as a man having any claims to a relationship with those dear children -- stop and think a minute. Do you fully comprehend what is involved in that expression? Its full meaning, extent and horridness! Yes, horridness! If so, then you can form some faint idea of the manner of my internal life for the past twenty years. Yet those tender chords of love and sympathy for them, also mother as well, have never in the slightest ceased to vibrate and a kind of grim hope (to speak) has sustained me until I have had the additional comfort of our blessed correspondence, which I value beyond all your reasonable comprehension.

"I do hope friend CLARK will succeed in obtaining some pictures or other mementos as it would add so much to my already extensive store of love's recollections. You cannot know how much I value dear old friend BURTON's letter you sent so kindly, and also WESLEY SILVERS'. You must remember that all such things reach away back on the musty shelves of memory.

"You speak of going to a reunion at Princeton, MO. How I would love to sit away back, so I could just see and recognize old friends and comrades. MRS. T's brother, DR. T.M. FULLERTON, used to live there. I have often wondered if he was still alive. I was much gratified to hear of E.W. FULLERTON for the first time, but sorry to hear he was sick and also had lost his oldest boy. E.W. FULLERTON is truly one of God's noblemen.

"But here I am tired and almost played out and I will have to stop for this afternoon; have been nearly half a day on this, so you may see how trifling I am. I verily expected to write a very short letter this time."

The Captain's last letter, written to myself and I.N. CLARK. It is as follows:

"October 13

"Well, I did not get to finish this missive the next day, as I had expected -- have had several very ugly days -- a revival of my cold and consequent aggravation of all my old troubles. Through the innate kindness and generosity of yours and CLARK's, dear old souls, you made a suggestion in your last letter, over which I have pondered much but have ruled it out as entirely impracticable and useless under the circumstances. Having dear BELLE led into this mystery and carrying with it a glimmering hope even of meeting her and having her with me in my few remaining days, is indeed, as you must know, an exceedingly fascinating one and I have little or no doubt of her competency for the strain, but I also know that this state of things cannot continue but a short time longer, not long enough to justify the proceeding.

"Indeed it will be nothing surprising any day for me to pass out of this mortality, nor at any place. I had one of my quite severe spells of heart failure not long since, when out in the woods near my little ranch, and had it been as bad as one lately here in my room at night, I should not have survived it. I care not how soon this occurs -- only we are having a great season of depression here all over this Sound country in real estate matters and every one is sanguine that when the Northern Pacific Railroad resumes work here again, everything at this place will go up on a high boom, and we have reliable news that this will be done next spring; in fact it is sure to come here in the near future, and by my holding on to the Willows a little longer, I may be able to place my property in shape to be that much better for those who are to have the benefit.

"This is all that gives me the slightest desire to stay here twenty-four hours, and were it not for the comfort derived from our correspondence, I hardly see how I could endure to remain longer anyhow, though this is surely the pleasantest climate I ever saw and we have one of the prettiest little cities on the coast, with inevitable prospects of one of the most prosperous and substantial and almost everything to make it a pleasant, happy home. But I must close, as it will, I fear, disgust and tire you out, to read what I have already written.

"O, yes, I met up with a man the other day who used to live at Mt. Ayr and knew old friend, GEO. T. YOUNG. He is a plasterer by trade, but I don't remember his name. He gave considerable news, to me interesting. O, I think of so much I would like to write. Remember this is a partnership letter. I wish I could see IKE's picture. I look at yours every few days and every time see more of the old features.

"Well, counsel together, and give me results of your cogitations. Hoping you both may live long to enjoy life far better than is possible for me.

"I am, while I live,
"Yours Sincerely, C.S. SMITH."

Many have wondered at the ability of anyone to keep the secret under all the difficulties and in the face of the great anxiety of all to learn the old Doctor's whereabouts or fate, it being a theme spoken of in almost every gathering of several persons. He early permitted me to let my wife into the whole scheme, and while she lived, I got along very well with the great secret, she being elated with the thrilling romance and even enjoyed it.

Sadness and grief were not alone the old Captain's, for in one year and four months after the discovery, the death angel visited our home and took away one of the only two that were in his confidence, then for eight or nine months it was borne all alone, and frankly, it was weighty. Giving the matter much thought, I wrote the Captain that I wanted him to agree to allow me to take in I.N. CLARK as a partner in the trust, as he was a friend of even longer standing than I was. He readily agreed and was much pleased with the choice.

I must testify that the matter has been less burdensome and even pleasurable since this compact between CLARK and myself which was early last spring. The pleasant memories that cluster around the many noble qualities of the long lamented old Captain, as a citizen, physician and a soldier, belong, not to one or two individuals, but to all who knew him and none will withhold tears of sympathy or suppress thoughts of sadness.


Copied by Nancee(McMurtrey)Seifert
Taken from the Decatur County Journal
Thursday, November 19, 1891

The Register
Olympia, Washington
November 18, 1891



He Fled From Iowa to Avoid the Consequences of a Defalcation.


For Ninteen Years He Escaped Detection and Was Believed to Be Dead.


The lonely old man who died suddenly in this city on Tuesday evening [November 10, 1891] was for nearly twenty years a fugitive from justice!

In the early seventies, Dr. S. C. Thompson was a leading citizen of Decatur county, Iowa. He had served in the war as a captain, and his fellow citizens had shown their trust in him by electing him as the custodian of their county funds. He was married, and was the father of two daughters and a son. His record pointed to the continuance of an honorable career. But he betrayed the confidence reposed in him, embezzled the public funds, and when 1872 the defalcation became known, fled from justice. His whereabouts became a mystery and finally a report that he had died was accepted as true in his former Iowa home. Last Tuesday night the runaway treasurer dropped dead in a secluded spot in Olympia.


Thompson went from Iowa to Texas, and settled in Llano county, a remote region of that state far from railways and away from lines of travel. He entered upon the practices of his profession there, under the name of C. S. Smith and became the leading physician of his county. S. S. Churchill, of Tumwater, who came to Washington from Texas with him, says that he held high rank as a doctor there, and that his conduct was above reproach and his integrity unquestioned. He made money, but ventured to engage in mining speculations which were disastrous, costing him, he was heard to say, about $10,000.

His health declined in Texas, and he gradually withdrew from practice. In 1889 he concluded to come to the coast in search of health, and he reached Olympus in September of that year. For 17 years he had preserved the secret of his life from the people among whom he had lived, and he parted from them bearing their esteem and confidence.


In Olympia he lived alone in a room of the house which he owned on Ayer's hill. His intimate acquaintances were few, but those who knew hims speak in the highest terms of him. W. A. Westover, of Land Commissioner's Forrest's office, who resides in the old man's house, said to a reporter yesterday, "He was a man of high moral character here, and was respected for his noble qualities of mind and heart. He was one of the kindest and most obliging men I ever knew, and was extremely careful to give no one any trouble. The doctor was a man of fine education and studious habits."

Dr. Thompson, or Smith, as he was called, owned besides his property on Ayer's hill, 15 acres of land adjoining the city limits on the east. The entire property is estimated to be worth $5000.

On the day of his death he visited the family of his friend Churchill at Tumwater. While there he complained of dizziness, which he attributed to heart failure. He started for home on foot, and four hours later was found where he fell. Why he wandered away from the most direct route to his home is unknown, but it is possible that his mind failed him. Had his body not been found, the midnight train would have mangled the remains and his death would have been accounted for as a railway accident.

Those who knew him best say that the morphine found in his pocket was carried by him for use while suffering from the intense pain which he was subjected to from a complication of diseases.


The deceased left behind him a number of documents which show that he anticipated his death, and it is these papers which have disclosed his identity.

He made a will in March, bequeathing one-half of his property to his son, Frank E. Thompson, of Leon, Iowa, and his daughters, Cordelia Bell Thompson, of Leon, and Mrs. Mary Eva Silvers, of Butler, Mo., and the other half to "the sufferers on the bond of S. C. Thompson, as county treasurer of Decatur county, Ia.," with a residuary interest to his wife, who is probably entitled to one-half of his Olympia property, anyway, under the community laws of this state.

For some reason he did not seem to regard his wife with the same interest that he did his children, for while he has left letters to be sent to the latter, no message was written for Mrs. Thompson. The letters to his children are framed in the most affectionate terms and betray his kindly nature. They indicate the remorse he suffered for his offense, and the grief he felt because of his forced separation from his loved ones.

The day of his death he mailed a number of letters, and it may be that he had a premonition of his early death and informed his wife and others of is whereabouts.


The fugitive had one friend at Leon with whom he communicated and who evidently justified Thompson's confidence by keeping to himself the knowledge of the doctor's movements. This friend's name is Ed. K. Pitman. He kept Thompson advised of events at his old home. In one of his letters he says that all the people of Decatur county would stand on their heads in wonder if they knew, as he did, of the runaway's whereabouts.

In one of the papers left by the doctor the statement is found that he had become a defaulter through the influence of "professed" friends, giving the impression that he may have loaned the county funds to individuals who never repaid the loans. He also wrote that if an investigation of his office had been properly made it would have shown that the amount taken by him did not exceed $5000, and that his successor was responsible for all the county lost above that sum.


Among the doctor's papers was found a request that he be buried with as little expense as possible in a neat casket and without display, in an obscure grave in the Masonic cemetery. Yesterday afternoon his request was complied with, and he rests in the graveyard named [Masonic Memorial Park, Tumwater, Washington], safe at last from the officers of the law. The funeral was attended by W. A. Westover, B. M. Price, S. S. Churchill and a few others.

A Masonic emblem found upon him and his request to be interred in the Masonic cemetery, indicate that he was a Mason. He was 66 years of age.


In his life of solitude the troubles of his mind evidently did not all relate to earthly matters. The doubts which harassed him as to the future are very intelligently expressed in the following statement found on the table in his room, and which is probably the last writing penned by its author:

"Feel sure of one thing, viz: That some grand, superior outside intelligence (outside material bodies) is the controlling governing power of the universe, and governing and controlling all by fixed and immutable laws dispensing all its force and manifesting its multitudinous variets of phenomna in complete accordance with the simple law of cause and effect. Whether this mighty fund of intelligence exists in some wonderful form or personality, or whether distributed through infinite numbers of personalities, all acting in harmony, or whether associated with any personality at all, it THE GREAT QUESTION to me, and I fear will ever remain so. C. S. SMITH."

His death, which has solved the mystery of his life, has illuminated for him the GREAT MYSTERY which he vainly tried to penetrate on earth.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2015

Decatur County Journal
Leon, Decatur County, Iowa
Thursday, December 17, 1891


FRANK THOMPSON returned from Olympia, Washington last Thursday, where he had been looking after the property left by his father. Olympia is the place DR. THOMPSON spent the last two years of his life and where his remains now lay at rest.

Among the many natural advantages FRANK possesses, is the ability to see everything that is visible to the naked eye, and what could not be learned about the advantages of a country by silence was brought out by FRANK's easy way of putting interrogatories. To converse with FRANK is quite interesting and one can almost see the places of interest as pictured by him in conversation.

We should like to give a detailed account of his trip, but space will not admit of it. In speaking of the climate of Portland and Olympia, FRANK said, owing to the fact that during the winter months, it rains almost continuously and that to get a good look at the sun was as rare as being shocked by an earthquake in Iowa, that he preferred Iowa as a home. FRANK visited San Francisco, Sacramento City and Oakland, California, and was very much impressed with those places, especially the climate. Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado were also among the cities visited.

The following is a brief statement of the property of MR. THOMPSON, left, and the condition of the affairs at the present time, as reported by F.E. THOMPSON. The first reports received here as to the probable value of the estate were greatly exaggerated; the papers placing the property at $10,000. The appraisers appointed by the court appraised the town property at $1,500 and 14 acres just inside the city limits at $1,500 and personal effects at $115, making in the aggregate $3,115. It will be borne in mind that out of this amount must be deducted the expenses of burial and court expenses, which will probably amount to $140.

The boom which Olympia once enjoyed has passed and today there is little or no demand for town property. How long this will remain we are unable to say, but the probabilities are that it will be several years before Olympia will be able to place handsome prices on her real estate.

The property has been left in charge of a MR. S.S. CHURCHILL, a young man who went from Texas with the Doctor and was a personal friend of his, and there is no question but what the interests of all will be protected. F.E. THOMPSON and T.W. SILVERS were appointed executors by the court, which under the law they were entitled to.

FRANK brought back with him all the personal papers and books of account belonging to his father, and they are now in his possession. The provisions of the will were about the same as given in the telegram received. Among other things, the will provides that one half of his estate shall go to his bondsmen and the remaining half to his three children.

The will was probated in the Superior Court in Olympia, November 19th. Papers and memorandums left by the Doctor, and which are now in Leon, furnish some very valuable information and to a certain extent, tend to exonerate the Doctor.

Copied by Nancee(McMurtrey)Seifert
Taken from the Decatur County Journal
March 29, 2001
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