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C.H. (Henry )Thomas - Biographical Sketch

Biographical Sketch
(taken from a November 18, 1990 article in the Idaho State Journal)

Christian Henry Thomas, known locally as Henry, was born March 30, 1889 in Morrill, Nebraska. He lived in Wayan Idaho from 1915 until his death in January 1973. He is remembered by the people of the area in many ways; he is especially well-known for his gem and mineral collection. Smithsonian geologists wanted it, but he willed it to Idaho State University.

Some recall his intelligence and education, much of it self-taught. He was always ready for an intellectual discussion on almost any subject. But his collection of rocks, fossils and artifacts, which included the largest accumulation of Tempskya (petrified remains of Cretaceous ferns, which grew on Earth before grasses and flowering plants existed, and before the upheaval of the Rocky Mountains) in the world. He collected for about 60 years.

Thomas came to the area as a young man, and homesteaded in the Williamsburg region, in the hills near Wayan. A small community was there at the time, and after his own cabin was built, he learned the people needed a schoolhouse. He moved into a dugout, donating his cabin to the town so the children could attend a well-constructed school.

He later built a two-room log cabin in Wayan, where he lived the balance of his life. One room was entirely taken up by his library-most containing old and rare books. His yard was left natural, with waist-high grass, except for a path to the house and garden. He also took great pride in his flower patch.

Thomas was the first white child born in the Dutch Flats area of the North Platte area of west Nebraska, in a one-room sod house. Western Nebraska was a new country in those days; their ranch was recently inhabited by Native Americans. His family was poor, but his mother would bring pebbles rounded and polished by the Platte River, Indian arrowheads and artifacts, pretty rocks and flowers found while riding after the cattle to her son as special favors and for notable occasions.

He said this stimulated his taste for nature, which lasted the rest of his life.

He received an eighth-grade diploma there, and attended about two years of high school. Later he went to Union College from 1910-1911. He served in World War I, and also spent some time on a Wyoming sheep ranch.

An affable bachelor, he was an excellent cook. More than one young couple received bottled raspberries from him, homegrown and canned as a wedding gift.

Thomas was devoted to learning earth science. He literally dug out his own education as a "self-taught" student of geology and paleontology. He was highly successful in this study, and his guest book one summer a few years before his death showed visitors from Michigan University, University of Minnesota, University of Indiana, University of Illinois, University of Kansas, a geologist from Canada studying paleo-botany in the Canadian Arctic and several people from the Smithsonian and Geological Survey.

Visitors came from as far away as France, Argentina and Syria, as well as other foreign countries.

When Thomas found a Tempskya specimen on his Williamsburg property, he sent it to the Smithsonian for identification. His small homestead in Wayan became a collection site where tons of rocks were arranged on racks. He had Tempskya trunk sections 2 feet in diameter and about the same in length, as well as small pieces. Tempskya was never found in as good a state of preservation or in such quantities as on the Williamsburg Flats.

His fossil and mineral collection was known as one of the best in this part of the U.S., and was mentioned in several books and articles about rocks, minerals and geology. He exhibited in rock shows throughout Idaho, and some in Nebraska. West of Grays Lake, he found seaweeds, dentaliums from the Mississippian Period, Triasic ammonites, crab tracks, and Cambrian trilobites from west of Grace.

He carried on a long-term correspondence with Dr. Roland W. Brown from the National Geographic and U.S. Geological Survey, who also visited and stayed at Thomas' Wayan home, often with his assistant, Professor Carl Mumm. Dr. Aureal T. Cross, Department of Geology and Botany, Michigan State University, said he had an admirable collection of Tempskya, unrivalled anywhere, and called Thomas a scientific collector, as well as praising him for his contributions to earth science.

A letter from Thomas to the late Joyce Petersen on Feb. 26, 1962 gives a sampling of his knowledge about the geology of the area that Miss Petersen requested of the Grays Lake area:

"Dear Joyce:
"Southeastern Idaho, or what comprises Bear Lake and Caribou, counties, has been studied and mapped. According to Mansfield Report, Professional Paper 152, if the sedimentary formations of this area were placed end-to-end, they would aggregate to more than 87 miles, or nearly the height of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, ranging through the Paleozoic (ancient life), Mesozoic (middle life), and Centozoic (new Life) eras.

"Ranging from about 500 million years ago to the present, Grays Lake is a dying lake with most recent deposits. About 6 miles west of the Wayan Post Office, or what locally is called Blue Mountain, is of the Mississippian Period, where we find petrified seaweeds or Algal Stomatolites, dentaliums or thoothshells, and cup corals. To the south between Nevill's and Henry's Peak are phosphate formations of the Permain Period. To the south of Wayan and east of Gravel Creek are Triassic formations with outcroppings of ammonites. To the east and south of Wayan, on the Williamsburg bench, we find Tempskya, the petrified remains of peculiar fern of the Cretaceous Period, which of late has caused considerable excitement in scientific circles, bringing scientist to this area from the Smithsonian and U.S. Geological Survey, as: "Roland W. Brown, W.W. Rubey, Carl Mumm, Jack Smedley, John Lewis and Sergius Mamay; Henry N. Andrews (four visits) of Washington University; John H. Hall, University of Minnesota; Konrad Krauskopf, Stanford University; Larry Schaad, University of Indiana; Tom Phillips spent 10 days with me), University of Illinois; and Robert Baxter of the University of Kansas. All learned men with Ph.D.'s.

"On the Williamsburg bench, along Chippy Creek, is a lava overflow and the extreme eastern edge of our vast lava beds of out northwest, or Columbia Basin, of which the Yellowstone Park is a remnant. The park is little more than the top of a volcano, with something like 2,000 geysers, or more than all the other geysers in the world put together.

"The travertine formations of Fall River, north of Grays Lake, and those and Henry, and those mounds at Soda Springs are extinct geysers. China Hat is an extinct volcano, and our cinder pits are nothing more than extinct craters. It took 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit to melt those rocks."

While the Smithsonian geologists and many others constantly tried to buy his collection, Thomas would not part with it. Money meant little to this man who lived simply, but valued learning. He abhorred war, was concerned about promoting world peace, and showed love and concern to his fellow man, as well as his love for earth sciences. His collections were willed to Idaho State University.

Last Modified: 07/16/2009 kk