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A fringed linen frock wrapped itself around his lean, lanky frame. A decorated sheathed knife, suspended from a cord around his neck, and a powder horn cradled along his side produced an image of the early American frontier.
His diminutive Shawnee wife, her calico shirt displaying trade silver, accompanied her husband; and 250 years of history surrounded these two figures of the past as they made their way into the present
Authors James Alexander Thom and his wife, Dark Rain, were the special guests of the historical society last week. Mr. Thom has written many books but is best known for his well-researched historical novels.
“It takes years of research before an author begins to write a historical novel,” stated James, “and there’s a difference between a historian and a historical novelist,” Mr. Thom went on to explain that a historian points to the past by reciting names, places, and dates. A historical novelist transports the reader into the past bringing life, color, and movement to his world.
Supporting himself by teaching and working for newspapers, the soft spoken, distinguished Mr. Thom related incidents of his early life and recalled the sometimes rocky road to fame.
James Alexander Thom was born in Owen County, Indiana, a county which shares its name with Owen County, Kentucky. Both were designated so in honor of the same Abraham Owen who, through mistaken identity, lost his life at the Battle of Tippecanoe.
James was the son of two country doctors. In his youth many people approached him and declared how his mother or father had saved their life. Recently when Mr. Thom traveled to the local courthouse for a copy of his birth certificate he discovered the fact that most people in his county were delivered by either his father or mother. Both of his parents were dedicated genealogists and stories of his ancestors were commonplace in their home.
James is a descendant of Joseph Thom who came to America from Scotland in 1770. Joseph fought in the Revolutionary War serving in the Pennsylvania militia. He eventually moved to Indiana where he spent the rest of his life and where he was buried.
Illustrating how the same incident witnessed by two people can be interpreted quite differently Mr. Thom related one humorous story which involved his brother. It seems, as such is the case with all youngsters at one time or another, James’ brother decided he would run away from home. He announced his decision to his parents, packed a few belongings, and proceeded down the hill in front of their house where he sat for awhile. The young boy spent several hours walking from one place to another near home. When he returned at suppertime he glanced down at their dog taking a nap in the yard and commented, “ I see you have the same old dog.”
Whether James’ brother believed he had been gone for a long time or whether he wanted the rest of his family to believe it was a matter of debate.
James and Dark Rain co-authored Warrior Woman, the story Cornstalk’s sister, Nonhelema. It was evident that James and Dark Rain Thom have high regard for each other’s talents; and though perhaps patience was tried a bit during the time it took to complete the book, Dark Rain commented, “The subject of divorce never came up.”
Nonhelma was a Shawnee Chieftess. Known as the” Grenadier Squaw “ because of her imposing height, Nonhelema was also intelligent and beautiful. When she failed in her efforts to execute peace with the whites she led her people in battle.
Other Thom books include “Follow The River,” the story of Mary Draper Ingles who was captured by the Shawnee, eventually escaped, and made the 800 mile journey back home in just 42 days. Mr. Thom describes the courage and endurance of Mary in a way that captures the hearts and minds of his readers as they travel with Mary Draper on her torturous road back to freedom.
Francis Slocum is the heroine in “The Red Heart.” She was captured by the Indians at the age of five, and although had the opportunity to return home later in life, refused to leave her Indian family.
Tecumseh is brought to life in “Panther In The Sky.” This great Indian chief and unifier of many of the tribes met his death at the Battle of the Thames in the War of 1812.
George Rogers Clark, American legend, warrior, and hero fills the pages of “Long Knife.” Like all Mr. Thom’s meticulously researched books “Long Knife” reveals the character of this great American hero who led a small but mighty army west from Virginia to conquer the territory between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In the end George Rogers Clark was betrayed by the government which he spent most of his life serving.
According to author John Sugden James Alexander Thom “ cares passionately about getting it right, and has a gift for illuminating those forgotten but fascinating corners of the American past.”
As is true with most historians James Alexander Thom is concerned that today’s generation will lose their past if they have no interest in the vital part it plays in their lives today. He believes that “a man who doesn’t have 5.000 years of history is eating hand to mouth.”
Yet it is those who, like James Alexander Thom and Dark Rain, can take a piece of history, add the sights, sounds, smells, joys, and sorrows of its characters and create a lasting memory for those who are willing to take the first step into the past.
Our thanks to everyone who helped prepare the special dinner before the presentation of the Thoms, and for all who joined us for the program.
We are currently working to provide another special guest for our May meeting and should have plans finalized by next week.
Our June program will feature Owen countian Brian Forsee who will discuss sheep farming in Owen county.
On Saturday, June 21, the historical society will present History Day/Kentucky River Day in the backyard of the museum. More details upcoming.