Thunder Butte

March 07, 2005

Thomas Crowley Homestead

Thomas Crowley was already 36 when he bought 160 acres of land near Thunder Butte in 1913. Bureau of Land Management records show that Thomas filed his homesteader's claim on October 30, 1913. For the times, his was an age at which someone should have been well-established in life, as Thomas Crowley was no longer a young man. And yet, Thomas was still trying to find a place to make a go of it as a farmer, a place to raise his family, and a place to call home. Born and raised not far from Steuben and Seneca, Wisconsin, Thomas was the son of a prosperous farmer--prosperous compared to what he would encounter for himself in the Dakotas. One of 14 children, his father, Patrick, lived to a ripe old age. Because of all of the siblings and his father's own longevity, Thomas would not inherit his father's farm on Crowley Ridge.

Thomas set off with his wife, the former Mary Patricia Shockley, for Wimbledon, North Dakota, a place where she had relatives. Because of the availability of cheap land, Thomas packed up the family--then consisting of two boys, Thomas, age 5, and Joseph, age 3, along with his wife, pregnant with Neal--and moved the family to South Dakota in 1913. Mary Patricia's brother, Joseph Shockley, came with them and also staked a claim to some acreage nearby.

In 1909, and again a year later, the Congress enacted laws that put some of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribal lands up for sale to non-Indians. The land was offered at a considerable discount compared to farmland elsewhere.

Dry land farming was difficult compared to farming back in Wisconsin. Compared to the green, well-watered farmlands of Wisconsin, the South Dakota prairie was a virtual desert. Thomas perservered and made the best of a difficult situation, but the land was unproductive. He eventually sold the homestead. Still, the family leased another spread and continued to live near Thunder Butte for years afterward. Neal was born there in 1913, followed by Cecelia (who went by "Cece"), and then Eugene (or "Gene") in 1921. Thomas also would hire out to help other ranchers, as many people in the vicinity did to supplement their incomes. Even though the land was difficult to work, he was reluctant to call it quits and move away from the butte.

When most of the family packed up and moved to California in 1941, Thomas must have left with a heavy heart.
Mike Crowley Monday, March 07, 2005


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