John Martin Thompson, biography c. 1910
[American Lumberman magazine]
  Source: “Lone Star Pine”, American Lumberman, September 26, 1908. Chicago, 1908. pp. 67-150.
  Early Family History.  

We have been so busy amassing fortunes and practicing citizenship in this republic that most of us have given but little thought to the personal history of our people. Interest in these things comes, however, with culture and maturing years.

John Martin Thompson always looked with something akin to reverence upon the origin of his people and during the year in which he retired from business he erected a beautiful marble monument to the memory of his father, Benjamin F. Thompson; his mother, Nellie Martin Thompson, and his father's second wife, Mary Harris, in the family cemetery on the old B. F. Thompson homestead near Kilgore, Tex. During the remaining years of his life John Martin Thompson collated some of the history of the race, none of which, up to this writing, has been put in print.

William Thompson, who came to America before the Revolutionary war and who served as a soldier in that war, was born in March, 1754, in the north of Ireland. He was but a young man when he came to America with his father, settling in the Abbeville district of South Carolina.

William Thompson lived an active life and in business was a flour miller. He died in his eighty-first year on Sunday morning, August 23, 1834, in Swinette county, Georgia, and was buried five miles west of Lawrenceville, that state.

Early in life William Thompson married Mary Johnston, whose father also migrated to America from the northern part of Ireland and settled in the Abbeville district of South Carolina. Mary Johnston's father served in the Revolutionary war as did the head of the Thompson family, and lived to a ripe old age and died at Baties Prairie, Ind. Ter.

The result of the union of William Thompson and Mary Johnston Thompson was five sons and three daughters. Of these Benjamin Franklin Thompson was one, and the first member of the Thompson family to become a citizen of Texas. On this page are pictures of four generations of the Thompson family: Benjamin Franklin Thompson, John Martin Thompson, oldest son of B. F. Thompson; James Allen Thompson, oldest son of John Martin Thompson, and Alexander Martin Thompson, oldest son of James Allen Thompson.

On the maternal side the Thompsons are directly descended from the Cherokee Indians. Benjamin Franklin Thompson migrated from South Carolina, where he was born in April, 1803, and settled with his father's family in what was known as the old Cherokee purchase of Georgia. There he was a man of prominence and force, was sheriff for two terms, and there he married Anna, the oldest daughter of John and Nellie Martin, and settled in Cass (now Bartow) county, Georgia.

John Martin's father was a white man and his mother a high class, half breed Cherokee woman. There is no doubt whatever of John Martin's Indian blood or that he was not less than a quarter blood Cherokee. The evidence is not so good that his wife was of Indian blood. He married in his twenty-first year, which should have been, according to all records conveniently at hand, about the year 1801. There is not at hand any record of John Martin's father. He was supposed to have served in the war of the Revolution.

While the records do not show the maiden name of his mother it is recorded that she got her Indian blood through her mother. John Martin lived with and was of the Cherokee tribe and was chief justice of that tribe for many years, the only chief justice the Cherokees ever had.

John Martin married Nellie McDaniels, also of Indian blood, in 1806. Whether or not Nellie McDaniels was a half or quarter blood Cherokee is not known. Neither she nor her husband, Judge John Martin, was more than half blood.

Judge John Martin and his family emigrated with the Cherokees when that tribe moved from Georgia to the Indian Territory in 1837.

John Martin was a delegate on the Ross side when the two parties in the Cherokee nation, the Ross party, or home party, and the Ridge party, or treaty party, made their famous trip to Washington in 1835 either to form or prevent a treaty with the United States government. The Ridge party, or treaty party, as history relates, reached Washington three weeks ahead of the Ross party to which John Martin belonged, and the treaty was consummated, but the known wisdom of John Martin was so universally admired among his people that he was called into the conference and asked for an opinion and it was he that proposed that a clause should be put in the agreement that the Cherokees hold the ceded lands "so long as grass grows and water runs"— a phrase and provision which caused the white man no end of trouble in recent years and secured to the Indians rights which they might not have achieved.

After that time John Martin secured a contract from the United States government through General Arbuckle to feed the Indians for a period of years. He died in 1840 after having amassed a fortune of $400,000 and is buried at Ft. Gibson, then in Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma.

Benjamin Franklin Thompson and Anna Martin Thompson had as a result of their union three girls and two boys, the girls being Mary Ann, Susanna and Martha and the boys John Martin and William Wirt Thompson. The picture of John Martin Thompson, which has many times appeared in the columns of the AMERICAN LUMBERMAN in places of honor, is not only printed in this article to show an unbroken line of descent of four generations of the Thompson family but is printed also on the front page of the AMERICAN LUMBERMAN of this issue, surrounded by pictures of his five living sons.

When, in 1837, Benjamin Franklin Thompson migrated from Georgia he settled about fifty miles northwest of where the town of Tahlequa, Okla., is now located, on a place well known as Baties Prairie. He came to Texas in 1844 and in 1845 bought his first Texas land in and about where Kilgore now stands. He ultimately got together in that section a wonderfully fine body of land of 10,000 acres and became a citizen of great prominence in that part of the state.

Benjamin Franklin's wife, Anna, the mother of John Martin Thompson, William Wirt Thompson and others, who was married to him in Georgia April 27, 1826, was born in Georgia September 1, 1810, and died in Rusk county, Texas, April 2, 1851.

  John Martin Thompson

The personality of John Martin Thompson was "as an hiding place for the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of waters in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land; and that personality and the philosophical precepts he laid down in his fruitful life live today in the hearts of all who knew him and have as much force for good in the management of the business interests which he founded as though he lived yet in the flesh, still held his strong hand on the lever and looked ahead for obstructions that might disturb the progress of his affairs.

The death of a man at the head of any great institution in this country so usually means a change of policy in whatever business he may have built up that to find an example of the opposite gives the biographer a text very refreshing in comparison to the usually flat commonplace of the ordinary story of a business life.

He was a man who mingled business and pleasure, whose rules of business were patriarchal in their coloring, and about whose principles volumes might be written. His benefactions were done so quietly and his goodness was so modestly submerged that no historian will ever know them all, however painstaking may be his search.

John Martin Thompson lived seventy-seven years, nine months and eighteen days, from June 9, 1829, to March 23, 1907. He was born in Cass county, Georgia, where Cartersville now stands, and died in Houston, Harris county, Tex. His origin and ancestry have already been traced.

John Martin Thompson reverenced God and loved his neighbors. If he had been given his choice of title or decoration by which he might be designated when after death mention of him was to have been made in history he undoubtedly would have chosen the shortest, most expressive English words stating the simple fact that he had lived his whole life fully up to his idea of what constituted a Christian gentleman.

In making up this estimate of the character of the man whose policies still bind together the business which he built the writer has talked least to those who are related to him, but rather to those drawn to him by friendliness and comradeship, and had there been enemies they also would have been consulted, but John Martin Thompson was a man of whom it may truly be said that the list of his friends was limited only by those with whom he held acquaintance.

To many others than members of his family was he "as an hiding place from the wind." The help which he extended privately to many other deserving boys and girls besides his own that they might acquire an education will never be known except to the hearts and in the minds of those who were helped.

His church connection was Presbyterian in creed, but his faith was so simple and his Christianity so broad that no creed might be considered to bound it upon all sides.

His life from 1829 to 1837 was spent in Georgia. From 1837 to 1844, a period of seven years, he spent as a boy with his father's family in the tribe of the Cherokee Indians in that portion of the fertile west which a paternal government had guaranteed to them and to their successors "so long as grass grows and water runs."

As has been told historically elsewhere, the family moved to the Kilgore locality in 1844, where Benjamin Franklin Thompson, the father of John Martin Thompson, had acquired 10,000 acres of land, which he expected to reduce to cotton fields. On this land, however, was a great amount of shortleaf yellow pine timber.

During the first five years in Texas the Thompson young men undoubtedly labored with the strength of their bodies and hands.

When John Martin Thompson was 20 years old he and his brother William Wirt Thompson were sent away to acquire knowledge. They did not go straggling across the plains to the gold-mad western slopes of California, but sought golden knowledge at the Western Military Institute at Georgetown, Ky. They remained in that school for two years. Among their teachers was James G. Blaine, afterward the renowned statesman, then a professor of languages.

After their return to their father's house in 1851 Benjamin Franklin Thompson gave his two sons, John Martin and William Wirt, occupation, and unconsciously paved the way for the building up of a great commercial house by starting his sons with the old sash saw mill referred to later in this story.

  In the Civil War.  

At the outset of the Civil war these young men had acquired a fortune of about $30,000. Their mill was a combination saw and flour mill, as history will relate.

In the war between the states John Martin Thompson made a record second to no one in Texas. It may not have had as many battles to its credit, as many war records, but it had as much bravery and self denial backed by as much love for country as ever was fused into any military record. Leaving the mill stones revolving one upon the other in the charitable task of grinding corn and wheat into meal and flour for the wives and children of their brothers in arms, the grinding to be done without levy of toll, John Martin Thompson and William Wirt Thompson went out in the defense of their country.

John Martin Thompson was then a prominent young man of good fortune living near Bellevue, in the north part of Rusk county, Texas, and he, together with James M. Barton, former sheriff of that county, raised a company composed of young men selected from the best blood of that historic portion of the Texas commonwealth. The members of this company—one hundred and fifteen in number—were men of culture and refinement and at the organization in the latter part of May or early part of June, 1861, James M. Barton was elected captain and John Martin Thompson elected first lieutenant. C. B. Kilgore, afterward famous as a congressman from Texas, was an orderly sergeant in the company.

The company joined Locke's regiment, known as the Tenth Texas cavalry, afterward as the Tenth Texas dismounted cavalry. At the organization of the regiment James M. Barton was elected lieutenant colonel and John M. Thompson succeeded him by promotion as captain of the company. The popular name of this company was the "Texas Troopers" and it became Company "G" of the Tenth Texas regiment. The regiment was sworn into Confederate service at Porter's Bluff on the Trinity river, took a short furlough home, reassembled at Coffeyville, Tex., and went up through the Arkansas country and into the White river district.

In the spring, 1862, the regiment was dismounted and sent into the Mississippi river territory by transport, where with the Fourteenth, Thirty-second and Eleventh Texas Dismounted cavalry and the Ninth Texas infantry a magnificent brigade was formed, first commanded by General Hogg and afterward known as Ector's Brigade, and was engaged in all the battles from Nashville, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss.

At Corinth, Miss., the companies and regiments composing this brigade were reorganized and John M. Thompson was elected major of the Tenth Texas. At Corinth the company was devastated by sickness, occasioned by the miserable character of food supplies, and many died, and here John M. Thompson became himself seriously sick, resigned his office as major and returned to Texas.

As soon as Mr. Thompson regained his health he raised another company in Rusk county and joined Lane 's regiment, commanded by that distinguished veteran of the Mexican war, W. P. Lane. It also formed a part of Tom Green's Brigade, which rendered such signal service in the Trans-Mississippi department of the Confederate government.

This company did service in scouting in the Boston mountains near Fort Smith. The company, with the regiment of which it was a member, saw service near Van Buren in the Choctaw nation. Its most signal test of bravery occurred in the defense of a wagon train filled with Confederate army supplies, near Dripping Springs, Ark.; the company held its position in a running fight nine miles long against 5,000 Federal artillery, and would have saved the train but for a failure of support which ought to have been received.

It was Captain Thompson's regiment which captured the notorious Martin D. Hart, the Texas Jay-hawker, who commanded thirty or forty outlaws, for which achievement Captain Thompson was greatly distinguished throughout the south, particularly in the Trans-Mississippi department.

Captain Thompson's regiment took a gallant part in the battle of Mansfield and after that engagement pursued the Federals on the lower Red river. Below Alexandria, La., Captain Thompson was dangerously wounded and was carried from the battlefield by his men, whose untiring devotion saved his life. He was permanently disabled as a military man by that wound and returned to his home and took up the battle of civic life.

  In Civil Life.  

The story of the saw milling operations of John Martin Thompson is told in the "Fifty-six Years of History" department of this article. In fact there is scarcely a ramification of this illustrated story which does not contain some suggestion of this remarkable man, whose personality still pervades and controls the great business he founded.

He did not credit himself with any special genius and attributed his success to hard work alone. His beginnings were moderate, his progress was slow, his methods conservative, his investments always secure and sure, and no deflection from his policies will be made in this generation.

During the years of his married life with his first wife, Lucinda Adeline McCord, and his last wife, Emily Holt, who still lives, he had, all told, five homes. Pictures of all are shown on a particular page of this article: the log cabin near Kilgore; the old country home four miles from Kilgore; the home in Kilgore; the first or temporary home in Sherman, the now family residence where his widow and his unmarried daughter live, in Sherman, Tex. Incidentally, too, with these illustrations is given a picture of the house in Houston where he died.

John Martin Thompson is at rest. His remains are buried in the family cemetery on the old B. F. Thompson estate near Kilgore, Tex., near the monument of marble he reared in honor of his immediate ancestors, and those who knew him will feel his personality throughout the years and know always that the influence of his life was "as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."

Text and images were digitized and proofread from the original source documents by Murry Hammond. Contact Murry for all corrections and contributions of new material.