« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
SENATOR JOHN M. THAYER.
March 4th, 1867-March 4th, 1871.
John M. Thayer settled in Omaha, Nebraska, in the fall of 1854, a few months after the territorial organization. He was born in Bellingham, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, January 24, 1820. Possessing a good education and hopeful of the future, with a laudable ambition to succeed, he naturally challenged early attention, gained the confidence of his associates, and found the field of enterprise wide open for occupancy. Belonging to the legal profession it was not strange that visions of legislative honors should have an enticing influence, and that in 1857, he was found a candidate for congress in a "free for all," before the organization of parties, in a case where four aspirants divided among them 5,600 votes, each receiving 1,000, but Fenner Ferguson having the highest number in the hundreds. Again in 1859 and then in 1860 his name was placed before the Republican nominating convention, but Samuel G. Daily, an original abolition republican, became the nominee and delegate. He was elected to the territorial council of 1860-61, and subsequently to a constitutional convention. In the council he was author of a bill to abolish slavery in Nebraska. In 1867 he entered the United States senate for a term of four years and in 1875 was appointed governor of Wyoming Territory.
Inasmuch as the entire eastern front of Nebraska was first settled, bordering on the Missouri River, where numerous Indian tribes had originally roamed at will, the peace and quiet, the lives and property of emigrants were often at the mercy of savage marauders.
So early as May, 1855, we find Gen. John M. Thayer one of a commission to hold a council with the Pawnee chiefs, under appointment of Governor Izard.
In July of the same year the governor commissioned General Thayer to raise troops and give protection to the settlers against the depredations of the Sioux.
In the summer of 1859 he led a force against Indians in what was denominated "the Pawnee war," the results of which were reassuring to the emigrants, and a lesson of power and authority to the Indians. An article by Major Dudley in the second volume of Nebraska Historical Society reports contains the following: "One figure, too, stands out prominently in all this history connected with every military affair or expedition, the first brigadier general of the territory, colonel of its first regiment to take the field in defense of the Union; brigadier and brevet major general of United States Volunteers, and then. after the war, United States senator, and now the recently elected governor of our state, John M. Thayer."
While it is neither appropriate nor intended to incorporate a military history of Nebraska with this brief sketch of General Thayer's services, references must necessarily be made to the fact that he was active and persistent in the organization of the First Nebraska Infantry, afterward cavalry, becoming its colonel and leading it in marches and skirmishes prior to its participation in the battle of Fort Donelson, where on the 15th day of February, 1862, it received its first "baptism of fire." As colonel commanding the 2d brigade in General Lew Wallace's division at the battle of Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, known also as Shiloh, he submitted a very minute, comprehensive and accurate report of the participation of his command in that most important and sanguinary contest. After stating the circumstances under which it took position in line of battle on that memorable Sunday night, he gave a graphic description of the steady retreat of the Confederate line from "5 a. m. to 5 p. m.," before the steady advance of the Union army, reinforced by Buell's command. He said, "I cannot speak in terms of too high praise of the officers and soldiers under my command. Their conduct was most gallant and brave throughout. They fought with the ardor and zeal of true patriots. It gives me pleasure to speak of the different regiments and their officers. Nobly did the First Nebraska sustain its reputation, well earned on the field of Donelson.. Its progress was onward during the whole day in face of a galling fire of the enemy, moving on
without flinching, at one time being an hour and a half in front of their battery, receiving and returning fire, its conduct was most excellent." Having in detail mentioned the Twenty-third Indiana and the Fifty-eighth Ohio, surgeons and officers of his staff, he "congratulated the general upon the part his division took, and upon the success which attended all his movements in the memorable battle of Pittsburg Landing." From this time on until in July, 1865, when his active military career closed, he is seen commanding a brigade of Iowa troops and leading a storming party in the battle of Chickasaw Bayou, then in the battle of Arkansas Post where his horse was shot under him, and through the siege of Vicksburg, and appointed "Major General of Volunteers for gallant and distinguished services"; with Sherman in the battle of Jackson, Mississippi, and with General Steel in Arkansas in command of the Army of the Frontier and ending with a command at Helena, on the Mississippi river, and retiring to civil life, brevetted a major general.
MAIDEN SPEECH OF GENERAL THAYER.
The duties of the military and Indian committees were so congenial to Senator Thayer, on account of a long army service and the deep interest his constituents had in the latter, that he was soon before the senate with bills, reports, and incidental remarks. On the 26th of March, 1867, three weeks after his admission to the body, a question was raised by a friend of the California Pacific Railroad as to the progress of the Union Pacific from Omaha westward. Thereupon General Thayer, with accuracy of statement and collected demeanor arrested the attention of the senate.
MR. THAYER: I would not trouble the senate with any remarks on this question except for the fact that this road runs through the entire state which I have the honor in part to represent, on this floor, and in justice to the company who have had the building of this road. I feel it my duty to give utterance to a few words. I was surprised yesterday when the resolution was introduced by the honorable senator from California-not that he intended any injustice to the Union Pacific Railroad Company.
But from my knowledge of the facts, I am compelled to say that even instituting an inquiry on the subject, implying that there is a neglect, does them greater injustice; for I stand here to say that no improvement, in ancient or modern times, was ever prosecuted with such untiring energy, with such tireless force, and with means such as that company has used. Three hundred and five miles of continuous road were built last year, and they were only stopped because it was beyond human energy to prosecute work this winter. Now, sir, this has been the most remarkable winter in the west that that distinguished personage, "the oldest inhabitant," has had any knowledge of. There have been snows such as have never fallen before. They have stopped the progress of all works. But while this company have been stopped they have not been idle. They have been concentrating at the end of this three hundred miles of road an immense amount of material which they are now about to use. They have been gettin iron out there in immense quantities, and engines and all paraphernalia of a railroad, just as fast as the means of communication have enabled them to do."
In these few remarks his colleagues discerned that the new member from the West had not lost the polish of New England, in assuming the duties of pioneer life.
In a few days thereafter the records show Mr. Thayer engaged in an Indian war discussion, in which he had to arraign the report of a congressional committee, correspondents of the New York Tribune and Boston Journal, and an interview of the chairman of the Indian committee, together with numerous allegations made by senators in debate. With undisputed facts, and invulnerable arguments he met all comers and charges, and then appealed to the sense of the senate in the following compact sentences:
I stand here to say to the senate, speaking in behalf of every class of the community on the border, speaking in behalf of every industrial pursuit, that nothing can be more abhorrent, nothing more dreaded by them than an Indian war. Why, sir, until these hostilities upon the frontier everything was prosperous there; the commerce on the plains had risen to an immense magnitude; we could talk about the commerce of the Plains, as well as you could talk of the commerce of the seas and the lakes.
These men went out upon the plains and did business in the mountains. You could go in no direction across these wide plains that you did not see long caravans of trains bearing merchandise from all the points of the Missouri to all the territories in the mountains and away to the northwest.
It is the main source of our income; it is the market for our productive industry; and to send it forth to this Nation that we frontiersmen are in for a war to make money, is the most atrocious calumny of the nineteenth century.
Continuing in a more subdued and humorous strain, we have the following:
My dear sir, the very gamblers and thieves which Chicago, and St. Louis, and New York, and Cincinnati, and Boston, and Philadelphia failed to hang dread an Indian war. We have some of that class of people there,-I am sorry for it,— but it is because you in the East have not done your duty and hung them. They fled out there to escape but they do not represent the border. My friend from New York (Mr. Conkling) suggests that they do not come from New York. If so, it is because they treat them so kindly there that they do not have to run away. They vote the right way in New York City. [Laughter.]
Senator Morrill of Maine having been very active in the discussion and full of the poetic idea of "Lo, the poor Indian," and deeply anxious that at least some stray rays of civilization's light might dawn upon the far West, received a cordial invitation to visit and be convinced.
I tell him as a friend, frankly, without prejudice, that he would come back with different ideas as to that section of country.
He talks about Christianity and civilization. Why, sir, from whence did the people of the border come? Many came from New England. Men have settled there, whom I have the honor now in part to represent, whom he has heretofore represented on this floor. The people of the border are "bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh." Sir, I have seen a Christian people there coming from their humble cabins, meeting at cross-roads or by-roads in an improvised school-house, and I have seen them there raise the voice of thanksgiving and the song of praise to Almighty God, and worship Him with as much feeling and as much