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TOMPKINS, Winslow Casady (ca. 1916)


Posted By: Jennifer Gunderson (email)
Date: 3/22/2021 at 22:52:58


We accord and wisely so a large measure of respect to the man who wins success honorably and regard as a proud American title the term of self-made. The individual deserves even more credit, however, when he is self-educated as well as self-made in a material way, when he comes to a realization of the value of intellectual advancement and achievement and uses his opportunities for learning the lessons of life, drawing therefrom logical conclusions. Such has been the record of Winslow Casady Tompkins, who is now living retired at Clear Lake, Iowa, where for many years he was actively identified with business interests, taking up his abode there in 1862 and remaining continuously a resident of the city with the exception of the period of his military service in the south at the time of the Civil war.

Mr. Tompkins was born at Lockport, New York, January 31, 1836, a son of Enoch and Deborah (Westbrook) Tompkins, also natives of New York and representatives of old families of the Empire state. The father was born in Dutchess county and the mother in Rochester. The former saw service in War of 1812, and fought at Sackett's Harbor, New York. Winslow C. Tompkins was the fifth in order of birth in a family of nine children. He was less than a year old when his parents removed to Brantford, Canada, and was four years of age when they established their home in the township of Norage, about twenty miles west of Brantford. The father was a tanner and currier and had the difficult task of providing by means of his trade for the wants of his large family. His son Winslow went to Illinois when a lad of nine years, in 1845, there joining a cousin with the expectation that his parents would remove to that state the following year, but the father became ill and died. Mr. Tompkins received anything but kind treatment at the hands of his cousin during the year and a half which he spent in his home. He was then sent to a neighbor of the name of Armstrong, with whom his condition was even worse. The Armstrong family removed to North Grove, Ogle county, and while there Mr. Tompkins formed the acquaintance of a Mr. Frantz, who took an interest in him and told him that he might have a home in his family until he could get a good place. When the Armstrong family removed from that district Mr. Tompkins was returned to the home of his cousin. He was ordered one day to do the chores and after, as he believed, satisfactorily performing this task, went to bed. His cousin returning home, complained of the manner in which the work had been done and the lad overheard the statement that he was to receive a beating in the morning. At daybreak he gathered his little possessions together, tying them in a blue handkerchief which his mother had given him before he left home, and without breakfast started for the home of Mr. Frantz, fifteen miles away. He lived with the Frantz family for two years, enjoying all of the privileges of the children of the household. He then hired out to Elias Thomas, who paid him twenty dollars, allow him three months' schooling, his board and clothes and an extra suit of clothing on the expiration of the year. He then returned to the Frantz family in Freeport, Illinois, where he attended school through the winter and in the spring he returned to Ogle county, where he worked for different farmers. The following winter he engaged with Horace Gaffin to do his chores for his board and the opportunity to attend school. Through the spring and summer he was paid five dollars per month. Through the winter of 1850-1 he was employed at chopping wood at fifty cents per cord and his board. Later he was employed in various ways and after returning to Freeport engaged in driving a team and later in railroad work.

In the winter of 1852-3 he carried mail on horseback from Freeport to Savannah, covering the distance of thirty-five miles in one day and returning the succeeding day, working for five months at five dollars per month and never missing a trip during that time. In the succeeding summer he drove a hack and in the spring of 1854 he engaged to do teaming at fifteen dollars per month. After four months he returned to the employ of Adam Frantz, with whom he was to go to Iowa and assist him in breaking the prairie and improving a farm in Hardin county. For his labor he was to receive eighty acres of land and in order to secure an adjoining eighty acres he borrowed one hundred dollars at forty per cent interest, thus becoming the owner of one hundred and sixty acres of land in Grundy county. Before his payments came due, however, he sold the place for five hundred dollars.

In the spring of 1856 Mr. Tompkins purchased horses and a wagon and began teaming and in the fall of that year sent for his mother, then living in Canada, to join him. In the fall of 1857 they removed to Ellington, Hancock county, Iowa, where Mr. Tompkins purchased a school land claim of one hundred and sixty acres.

Settling his family upon it, he returned to Hardin county and later worked on the Ohio Stock Farm in Butler county. In the winter of 1858-9 he attended school in Iowa Falls and on the 20th of March of the latter year started on foot for Leavenworth, Kansas, a distance of three hundred and fifty miles, carrying with him his cash capital of seven dollars. There he obtained employment in a grocery store and later was employed at farm labor. In the fall of 1859 occurred one of the ever memorable experiences of his life. He heard Abraham Lincoln deliver both of his addresses in Leavenworth and has ever counted this experience a rare good fortune.

In May, 1860, Mr. Tompkins entered the employ of J. B. Wolf, for whom he was to drive his oxen across the plains to Denver, Colorado, and then work on his ranch for a year. It was on the trip that they heard the news of Lincoln's nomination for the presidency. In the spring of 1861 there was great excitement concerning the reports of the discovery of gold near the head waters of the Rio Grande river. A man of the name of Reader reported that he had a rich claim there and told a friend of his that if a small party could be organized he would take them through to his discovery. The party was formed and with twenty wagons and teams started, Mr. Tompkins among the number. They continued the journey for several days but about the time they reached Pueblo Mr. Reader began acting in a suspicious manner so that a guard was instructed to watch him lest he attempt to run away. The guard fell asleep one night and in the morning the man was missing. However, some of the party started in pursuit and after a chase of three days returned Reader to camp. An investigation party was sent on to discover the truth of Reader's report concerning the mine and when it was learned that the entire story was without foundation it was decided by vote that he should have twenty lashes on the bare back. The punishment administered, the culprit was then started from the camp and the party broke up, scattering in different directions. Mr. Tompkins remained in California Gulch and entered into partnership with four other men in the purchase of a gold claim. Their first attempt to secure the precious metal proved fruitless but sinking a shaft at the other end of the claim, it prospected ten cents to the pan, which was thought a good showing. At the end of a week, however, they were ready to sell for seventy-five dollars.

Having traded in his team and wagon and spent his money, Mr. Tompkins was now almost penniless. He was still in California Gulch when he heard the news of the first battle of Bull Run. Soon afterward he started back to Clear Lake, Iowa, walking the entire distance. At Denver he collected sixty dollars which was owing him and soon afterward engaged transportation with a man who was going through to Omaha with a four-mule outfit. The distance was covered in twelve days and from that point the journey was continued on foot until there came an opportunity to ride to Des Moines.

Mr. Tompkins reached Clear Lake in November, 1861, and on the 22d of March, 1862, enlisted in the Union army for three years as a member of Company C, Twelfth United States Infantry. He was one of twelve who enlisted at that time. They proceeded to Fort Hamilton, in New York harbor, and after a month's duty there were sent to Fort Lafayette to do guard duty over rebel prisoners.

In September, 1862, an order came for the company to report to Fort Hamilton and join the regiment. Mr. Tompkins was one of twenty-five men picked out by the commander of Fort Lafayette to remain there. The first battle in which the regiment participated was the second battle of Bull Run. Of the twenty-five men left at Fort Lafayette until September, 1863, Mr. Tompkins and his brother Caleb were detailed for a part despatch boat crew whose duty it was to deliver passengers, carry mail and dispatches. Mr. Tompkins was coxswain of the crew. At length the commander of Fort Lafayette was ordered to his regiment, then in California, and Mr. Tompkins had permission to join his command, the regiment being then camped on Tompkins square in New York city. The next day they proceeded on a transport to the front. After the battle of Gettysburg he joined his company in the field and remained with that command until 1865, after having participated in the battles of Rappahannock Station, Mine Run, the Wilderness, Laurel Hill, Spottsylvania, North Anna, Bethesda Church, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and Weldon Railroad, where he was taken prisoner. For nearly eight months he was held as a prisoner of war in Belle Isle, Libby and Salisbury prisons. For five months he was incarcerated in Salisbury prison, being sent from there to Pemberton prison at Richmond, on parole for two weeks, and was then exchanged March 9, 1865, at Big Bend on the James river. While at Salisbury one of his fellow prisoners presented him with a cane which he carved with the injunction that “If anyone should contradict you what you say of this place, break this cane over their head.” This is still a highly prized possession of Mr. Tompkins. He was honorably discharged from the service in April, 1865.

After the war Mr. Tompkins engaged in farming and for ten years he was connected with Truman Woodford in the lumber business. In 1879 he was elected to the office of county treasurer of Cerro Gordo county on the republican ticket and assumed the duties of that position in 1880, serving through reelection for eight years, or four terms. In 1889 he established a wholesale grocery business, which he conducted for two years, and at the same time had other business connections in both Clear Lake and Mason City, becoming in the latter place a member of the wholesale grocery firm of Francisco Dyer & Company. He later became interested in a retail lumberyard at Clear Lake as a member of the firm of Woodford, Wheeler & Tompkins, who owned and operated seven yards in different towns.

Mr. Tompkins devoted fifteen years to that business and won substantial success therein, careful management and enterprise gaining for him well merited prosperity. In addition to other interests he is the owner of valuable farming properties, comprising three hundred and twenty acres.

On April 27, 1868, was celebrated the marriage of Mr. Tompkins and Miss Jean Duncan, who was born in Wardsville, Ontario, Canada, of Scotch parentage, but was reared in Illinois. Her father, Thomas Duncan, resided for a time at Clear Lake, Iowa, owning a farm there. Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins are the parents of a son and daughter, but the latter, Bertha, died at the age of thirteen months. The son, Dr. Earl Duncan Tompkins, is now engaged in medical practice at Clarion, Iowa. He married May Thompson of Forest City, Iowa, a daughter of Jasper Thompson, and they have one son, Winslow Thompson.

Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins attend the Methodist Episcopal church and he has membership with the Masons and the Grand Army of the Republic. He served as commander of C. H. Huntley Post, G. A. R., at Mason City. His wife is a member of the Woman's Relief Corps and also of the Eastern Star. He has always given his political allegiance to the republican party and for two terms he served as mayor of Clear Lake. In 1904 he was one of five commissioners appointed by Governor Cummins on the Andersonville committee to erect a monument at Andersonville. Their work was successfully carried out and the monument was completed January 20, 1906. The monument is surmounted by the figure of a weeping woman and each side is suitably inscribed, while on the base appear the names of the commissioners, including that of “Corporal W. C. Tompkins, Company D, Twelfth United States Infantry, prisoner eight months.”

Source: Brigham, Johnson. Iowa : its history and its foremost citizens. Chicago : S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1916. Transcribed by Jennifer Gunderson (Mar 2021).

Index of bios from Iowa : Its history and Its Foremost Citizens

Cerro Gordo Biographies maintained by Lynn Diemer-Mathews.
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