Thunder Butte

March 18, 2005

Tragedy: Loss of a Son, a Brother

Tragedies are always difficult for families to handle. When tragedy struck at Thunder Butte early in the last century, the remoteness of the place and lack of ready access to doctors and medical care made the loss of a loved one all the more poignant. Thomas (Tommie) James Crowley, the son of Thomas Francis Crowley, died tragically in 1926 at about 17 years of age. Gene (John) Crowley, who was only four at the time, remembers the circumstances vividly, and the retelling is difficult.

Tommie “had been out checking the livestock. He found an orphaned calf. He leaned out of the saddle and picked it up. He was riding a half-wild horse, and it bolted, and he had to fight the horse and the calf to stay on board. When he got home, he said he was sick and everyone thought he had the flu, so he went to bed where he stayed for something like two weeks. He started having insufferable pain.”

“I remember my mother getting him ready to go to the hospital. Someone had gone for a car. I don’t know who the car belonged to, but it was a Model T Ford without any side curtains. This was in the wintertime. The car probably froze up, had flat tires, etc. I’m sure it was an all day trip to Mobridge…” and the nearest hospital. Today, the trip would be about 80 miles over State Highways 20 and 12, which are paved. Back then, not only would the roads not have been paved, but traveling in winter would have made for very slow going.

“When they got him to the hospital [in Mobridge] the doctor ran out of anaesthetic (ether). He had to proceed with the operation without anaesthetic…” and it “…lasted for hours….” “…Tommie died on the operating table. I was left at home. I don’t know who else was home, Cece [Cecelia], I suppose…” who would have been about 10. “My Mother went with him to the hospital.”

“Tommie was… well over six feet, around 200 pounds.” He “…was [an] all around cowboy and ranch hand. He was very talented.” He “…had an old broken down fiddle that he used to play constantly, and he used to make it sing.” He “…played all the popular tunes of the day. Everybody said he was a handsome young man. All who knew him loved him.” He had an “up-front, friendly disposition,” with “…dark brown hair, hazel eyes.” He was “…very serious at times,” and “…always seemed to have great sympathy for others. [I] don’t recall that he ever had a girl friend, but that was quite common back then. People didn’t start dating until they were about his age…in the country.”

It seemed like “…the entire country was shaken up. [It] seems like there were hundreds of people at the funeral…. My grandmother threw herself on the body, crying at the funeral.” Joseph, who was about 15, was “saying he was going to kill himself. It was the most emotional incident that I ever recall. Cece was quite emotional…so it was terribly hard on her.”

That night, “the whole family was gathered in the living room.” Cece “…was sitting on my father’s lap.” Cece saw Tommie appear “…at the window and [he] motioned for her to follow him…. She screamed and flew across the room to the window, then ran outside screaming for Tommie.” Of course, Tommie was not there.
Mike Crowley Friday, March 18, 2005


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