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The orphan, lumberman and war hero: Thomas Price

Thomas Price is shown in this undated photo. Price came to Chippewa Falls on the "Orphan Train," deciding to spend his life dedicated to his city and country.

Lumber family and military histories run deep in Chippewa Falls — as made obvious by the story of Thomas Price. The following excerpt was told by Jean Hebert’s father. Hebert writes, “The following story was written by my father, John (Ace) Laird. He was born in 1915 and died in 2005 at the age of 90 years. He was proud of his Grandpa Tom Price’s accomplishments and dedication to his country and to Chippewa Falls.”

My Grandfather, Thomas Price

By John (Ace) Laird

Thomas Price was born in Bedford County, Tenn. He was an orphan who lived for a while with a French family, where he learned to speak French. Then he was sent to an orphanage. He told me that there was never enough to eat, and he was treated poorly. He hated it.

He ran away, at the age of 15, to Chippewa Falls. He came on the Orphan Train. He told me that he had gotten his first square meal in Wisconsin and decided he was never going to leave. The only time he left was to fight in the Civil War.

After he grew up, he became an estimator for lumber in Flambeau, a position that was called a “Timber Cruiser.” The job entailed traveling up and down the Chippewa River in a canoe, estimating the amount of lumber on a chunk of forest. It was his job to determine if there were enough good trees for the lumber company to benefit by purchasing the land.

One time, “while cruising”, Grandpa Tom was surveying some land and ran into another person who was surveying the same piece of forest for a different company. He knew that whoever made it back to the Courthouse in Chippewa Falls first would get to claim the woods. It was his job to ensure that his employer, Chippewa Lumber and Boom Company, could buy it.

When he was finished estimating the lumber, he got in his canoe and headed down the river. It was dusk and he saw that the other cruiser was ahead of him. Then he saw that the other guy was stopping, just around the bend, to set up camp for the night. He knew he had to beat that guy back to Chippewa Falls.

He pulled his canoe over to the side of the river and put some rocks in it to make it look as though it was fully loaded and running low in the water. Then he took his Indian blanket and covered the rocks and draped it around himself. As most of the loggers and lumber cruisers of the day, he had long hair which was tied back in a “club” with a piece of rawhide at the base of his neck. So, he took the tie out of his hair and draped the long black hair down over his face. Then he paddled quietly and softly down the river until he passed the other lumber cruisers camp. Once past the camp, he plied the canoe paddle and headed for Chippewa Falls.

The next day while he was walking out of the courthouse, he saw that other lumber cruiser coming up the street. The guy asked how he got there ahead of him. Tom said he just paddled his canoe. The other guy said he couldn’t have because the only person he saw pass his camp that night was an old Indian squaw.

Later on, he was put in charge of the lumber drivers on the Yellow River. In March of 1861, he walked down from the Yellow River to vote for Abraham Lincoln.

On June 7, 1861, Tom Price enlisted to serve in the Civil War. He served with the (Wisconsin) 7th Infantry until Sept. 13, 1864. He fought in nearly all of the principle battles, including Gettysburg. He was a member of the “Iron Man Brigade.” His regiment was reviewed twice by President Lincoln.

He was wounded in the ear and arm. A record of surviving soldiers (U.S. Government Doc. 7-741) which lists him and his injuries, claims that his ear was ruptured. He was the only one that came back from the Civil War as a private. He laughed as he said that everyone else came back claiming to be an officer of some sort.

At that time, war veterans could buy land cheaper, so he bought a farm, on State Street, in Chippewa Falls. He met Lucy Clancy, from County Cork Ireland, and they were married on April 23, 1879.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited for AP Style. Each Saturday, the Chippewa Area History Center showcases a piece of local history in the Herald. Visit www.ChippewaAreaHistoryCenter.org to learn more about the future Chippewa Area History Center.

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Each Saturday, the Chippewa Area History Center showcases a piece of local history in the Herald. Visit www.ChippewaAreaHistoryCenter.org to learn more about the future Chippewa Area History Center.

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