My grandmother, Dudley Casteel Thompson Stahr, 1902-1986, was married twice, first in 1922 to Clarence Thompson, 1900-1925, and then in 1930 to my grandfather, Roland Stahr, 1901-1969. I knew vaguely that my grandmother had been “married before her marriage” but did not know much about Clarence Thompson until the past few days.
My father and I went to Chapman last week to look at papers from his side of the family. Among the items that Wendy, the librarian, had placed out for us was a wedding announcement. “Mr. and Mrs. Walter Lee Casteel announce the marriage of their daughter Bertha Dudley to Clarence Selmer Thompson on Tuesday the twenty-first of March one thousand nine hundred and twenty two Los Angeles California.” Wendy had also found a date of death, February 1925, but no obituary. My father knew that Clarence died in a car crash, but not the when or where or how.
Thanks to newspapers.com, and ancestry.com, and kind librarians at the Nebraska History Center and Fort Dodge Public Library, I can now write a brief biography of Clarence Thompson.
Clarence was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on January 4, 1900. He was the sixth child, and first son, of Norwegian immigrants, Stehn and Martha Thompson. He was baptized in the Lutheran church a month after his birth and grew up in Fort Dodge, where his father (according to the 1910 census) worked for the Cook Carriage Company. Clarence attended public schools but left high school to join the Army, to serve in the Mexican border skirmishes. From there he went to France, one of the two million American men who served in France during the Great War.
Clarence returned to Fort Dodge, returned to high school. The 1920 yearbook for Fort Dodge High listed him among the football players. “Clarence Thompson, right tackle, Mope. Mope showed the fans what a real tackle could do. He opened holes for the backs and did his share of the defensive work. Mope was given a place on the All State Team.” My grandmother, Dudley Casteel, is among those listed in the senior class in this yearbook but Clarence Thompson is not. Nor is he listed as a junior. Perhaps he was allowed to play football but did not attend classes?
Starting in about 1920, Clarence Thompson worked for SH Thompson & Co., a business founded by his late father, which manufactured “white ash butter tubs, barrels and kegs” according to the Fort Dodge city directory. In the 1921 and 1923 directories, Thompson is listed as the manager of this small business, with its offices at 520 North Seventh. In 1921, Clarence’s home address is listed as 1119 Sixth Street North, his mother’s home, but in 1923, he has his own home, 813 North Thirteenth Street, and he has a wife, my grandmother.
As I noted at the outset, Clarence Thompson and Dudley Casteel were married in Los Angeles in 1922. She had just returned from a winter in Hawaii with her grandmother, Bertha Long. An article in the Los Angeles Times (March 26, 1922) reports that the couple were married at the Congregational Church, that their relatives were the only guests, and that they would return to live in Fort Dodge “where their parents reside.”
Not long thereafter, however, my great-grandparents (Walter and Birdie Casteel) and their daughter (my grandmother) and her husband (Clarence Thompson) all moved to Los Angeles, California. There are articles in the Fort Dodge papers, from April 1924, saying that ladies were giving parties for Mrs. Walter Casteel and Mrs. Clarence Thompson before their move to California. Walter Casteel announces to the Rotary, of which he is president, that he is leaving Fort Dodge. It appears that my great-grandfather Walter went into the livestock business in Los Angeles—one article says cattle and another pigs–and that Clarence worked for Walter.
Clarence was back in the Midwest when he died, in an auto accident on February 12, 1925. I have two news accounts, which differ somewhat. I will give them both, starting with the Grant Nebraska Tribune-Sentinel for February 12.
This afternoon about 3:00 o’clock C.E. Thompson of 237 North Rampart Street, Los Angeles, California, was almost instantly killed when the car which he was driving turned over on the road eight miles west of Grant.
Frank Lane of Grant was seriously injured, and George Burtis of Fort Dodge, Iowa, was slightly hurt by the accident.
It is thought that the accident was caused by the front wheel of the car striking one of the soft places in the road, which had been covered up by the recent dragging.
Mr. Thompson was brought to Grant soon after the accident, but passed away before they arrived here with him. He was a son-in-law of Walter Casteel, who is known here, and was buying hogs for a firm in California.
Mr. Lance was knocked unconscious but later was able to walk about, although it is thought that he is pretty badly injured, while Mr. Burtis escaped with scratches on his face and hands.
The remains of Mr. Thompson were taken to the Lynn undertaking parlor, to wait word from relatives in California.
Here is the account from the Fort Dodge Messenger on February 13, 1925:
Clarence Thompson, twenty-five years of age, son of Mrs. SH Thompson of this city, was instantly killed when the car in which he was driving crashed into a ditch eight miles west of Grant, Nebraska. A defective wheel in the Dodge Coupe which he was driving is said to have caused the accident. Mr. Thompson with his wife and parents-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Casteel, had gone to Los Angeles a year ago where Mr. Thompson went into the cattle business with Mr. Casteel. It was on a cattle-buying trip that the accident happened.
With Mr. Thompson in the car were Frank Lance of Grant and George Burtis of Fort Dodge. Mr. Lance was injured but Mr. Burtis escaped without any ill effects.
The body will be brought to Fort Dodge for burial. Mrs. Thompson and Mr. and Mrs. Casteel are already on their way from Los Angeles and they will be met in Nebraska by Maurice Thompson, a brother, and Fred Helleman, a brother-in-law, of this city. No plans for the funeral will be made until more definite news of the arrival of the body can be learned.
Word of this sad accident reached Fort Dodge last evening was heard everywhere with shocked surprise. The young man was born and raised in Fort Dodge and he had the happy, cheerful personality that makes friends and much regret is felt as well as sincere sympathy for his young widow and his bereaved mother, sisters, and brother.
Mr. Thompson was born in Fort Dodge January 4, 1900. He attended the public schools, leaving high school to enlist for the Mexican border service. He served during the Great War in Company A, 126 Machine Gun Battalion, seeing service in France. After the war he took a position at Thompson Buttertub Factory, an institution founded by his father and of which he was the manager when he moved to California. He was married in March 1922 to Miss Dudley Casteel. His father died a number of years ago and besides his mother, five sisters and one brother survive. They are Mrs. F.B. Cornelinssen of Story City, Mrs. Fred Helleman, Mrs. Fred Henderson, Miss Helen Thompson of Fort Dodge, Mrs. Horace Smith of Mankato, and Maurice Thompson of Fort Dodge.
A few days later the Fort Dodge paper reported on the funeral services at St. Olaf Lutheran Church. “Hundreds of friends and relatives thronged into the church as a final tribute to the young man who was so well and favorably known in the city.” Rev. HC Holm, of Eagle Grove, was the pastor and music was provided by the church choir. The body was buried in the St. Olaf churchyard, next to that of his father.
I think that Walter and Birdie Casteel and their daughter, now the widow Thompson, moved back to Fort Dodge soon after the death of Clarence. I see Walter and Birdie, for example, in the 1926 Fort Dodge city directory. Indeed until this week I had no idea that my grandmother had lived for a few months in Los Angeles during the twenties.
So that is a brief biography of my “other” grandfather, Clarence Thompson. There is much that I would love to know. How old was he when he enlisted? Did he actually get to the Mexican border? Where was he in France? What did he write home from France? Why did he and his father-in-law decide to move to Los Angeles? Was it a cattle business or a pork business or both? What exactly happened on February 12 on that road west of Grant, Nebraska? Some of these questions I could perhaps answer, with a bit more research, but at the moment I need to turn my attention back to Salmon Portland Chase.