Thomas and Anna

Two Pioneering Lives

By Barbara Scott

When I was a child, my brother, sisters, and I woke early every Memorial Day to gather blossoms off the lilac tree and flowers from the garden, which we took to the cemetery on the hill above Juliaetta.

We wandered the groomed cemetery, looking at the headstones carved with angels and lambs, and we thought about the children who had died so young. When I was old enough to read the dates, I wondered if a certain little Robert had been taken in the 1918 flu epidemic. We also were drawn to the graves with small flags that indicated a soldier.

Our elders took us to an old headstone at the top of the hill. “This is your great-grandmother, Anna Medora Pierce, who came out West from Kansas with her husband Thomas. She was a little bitty woman, not even five feet tall, but she could handle the prairie schooner when Thomas was out hunting and scouting.”

As I absorbed such stories over the years, I asked my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins for details, but I didn’t pursue this interest further until 2000, when I had surgery and took three months off work. That’s when I first requested a public record, which was of Thomas Pierce’s military pension file.

In it, a Civil War comrade stated that Thomas was a “a mere stripling of a boy, about sixteen years of age, I think, when he ran away from home and enlisted.” He joined the North’s cavalry, which tugged at my heart. My eldest child was the same age.

That summer project turned into twenty-four years of research. I collected innumerable stories and clues about Thomas Henry Pierce and Anna Medora (Brewer) Pierce. Among my sources were regional newspaper articles, history books, family members, church records, and a wide range of government documents, all of which gave me a picture of what kind of people my great-grandparents were.

I now see Thomas as an outdoorsman, a restless and adventurous man who traveled many miles, a religious man, and one who kept a lot of irons in the fire. To be married to this kind of man, Anna Medora must have been one tough woman. While Thomas was off hunting buffalo, she took care of the home and their eight children, three of whom died before reaching adulthood.

In 1906, when she was fifty-eight years old, she transported her husband in the back of a wagon hundreds of miles from Juliaetta to Boise for medical treatment.

Thomas was born in Wayne County, Indiana. I found three different years reported for his birth but in several federal censuses and on his marriage certificate, his age coincided with a birth year of 1844. On the other hand, his Union Army discharge papers say he was only eighteen in 1865.

If so, he would have lied about his age when he joined the Union Army, in 1861, which wasn’t uncommon for young boys to do at the time. He was shot in the foot and ankle, was discharged, reenlisted, and fought with the cavalry in numerous Civil War battles, including the siege of Vicksburg.

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Anna (left) and her sister Lizzy.
Anna's headstone in Juliaetta.
Anna and Thomas with their children , 1882.
Clearwater River near Juliaetta. Ken Lund.
Fort Russell neighborhood of Moscow, 1913. Steve Shook Collection.
Juliaetta postcard, 1914. Steve Shook Collection.
Downtown Juliaetta. Ian Poellet.
Thomas H. Pierce.
Thomas as a young soldier.
Headstone of Thomas in Boise.


After his second discharge, he and Anna were married in Kansas. In 1877, they moved to Idaho. My Uncle Bruce, a grandchild of Anna, used to sit on her lap in Juliaetta as she told stories of tribal people, buffalo hunts, and the Chisholm Trail on which cattle were driven between Kansas and Texas.

She told Uncle Bruce that once, when her Tommy was out on the trail, she saw him in a dream beside a river, laying out money on rocks. When he got home, she learned that he had saved a man from drowning and had put his money out to dry.

Uncle Bruce also told me about a time when Anna and Thomas were traveling by wagon and stopped to rest at a wayside inn. Thomas, who was very familiar with the smell of human blood from the Civil War, smelled it at that place, and he urged Anna to go on. Later, they heard reports that the notorious Benders, a family of serial killers, operated the inn and had buried their victims in the backyard.

My Grandmother Pearl, a daughter of Anna and Thomas, told us that the Brewers and Thomas Pierce were good friends of Buffalo Bill Cody. Pearl’s grandson and my cousin, Bradley Bowen, remembered that Pearl told him the Pierce family took the train from Juliaetta to Spokane to see Buffalo Bill in one of his shows when she was a little girl, because Bill sent them tickets.

Are these family stories true? Well, certainly my great-grandparents were in Kansas at the right time, and Thomas was in Texas when the cattle drives started, and he fit the young and adventurous profile of those cowboys.

I gathered a lot of evidence that the couple very likely could have stopped at the Bender Inn, and that Buffalo Bill and Thomas could well have been friends. They lived in the same area when they were youngsters and, interestingly, each gave a daughter the same name, Ora Maude. I believe these stories, because the pieces fit.

Researching Anna Medora and Thomas has been like putting together a puzzle. Each piece has added detail to the adventure of their lives, and I never know what will turn up next. Recently, my sister Susan Lincoln, who has joined my research, found an article by T.O. Greene, a correspondent for the Lewiston Tribune who interviewed Anna in 1928. She said that during the trip west from Kansas, a woman in the wagon caravan washed her dress and hung it on a bush to dry.

Late that evening, when Thomas returned to the campsite, he spied something swaying in the breeze. Worried that Indians were trying to take the horses, he drew his needle gun (an early form of cartridge rifle) to his shoulder and fired. Anna Medora told the reporter, “The woman’s dress was thus made more holy than righteous.”

That happened during the trip west that began on May 10, 1877, when sixteen prairie schooners drawn by mules left Cedarvale, Kansas. Thomas, Anna, and their baby were members of it. I dug up articles published in Spokane, Lewiston, Kendrick, and Juliaetta that mentioned Anna Medora Pierce and reported the family arrived in Moscow on that wagon train. Several families who also came in the group lived in close proximity to the Pierces, according to the 1880 census.

William Zeitler served as a witness in the homestead papers for Thomas, who in turn was a witness for William’s homestead papers, which I found during a visit to the National Archives in Washington, DC. William proved up his homestead in November 1881, and my great-grandfather proved up his in March 1882.

Three other families who arrived on the wagon train, the Madisons, Clydes, and Snows, likewise proved up homesteads around the same time. Our family history has it that my great-grandparents’ daughter Lydia Pearl was born on the “old Snow place.” I found the coordinates of the land Pierce homesteaded listed as owned by the Clyde family, which suggests a sale.

Thomas, Anna, and their daughter Maud arrived in Idaho during the Nez Perce Indian War. After staying near present-day Pullman, Washington, for a month, they moved over the line to the Idaho Territory, where they took up residence in Moscow. The settlers were living in a stockade they had erected, called Fort Russell.

For a time, the Pierces moved there, but then they homesteaded about four miles south of town. The land entry file shows this was in October 1877. The log cabin they built was thirteen-by-twenty-four feet, with doors and a window. They had a stable, 160 fenced acres, and about sixty-five acres for wheat and flax.

They lived on this Palouse farm for eight years, during which three children were born: Earl Strong, Miles Benton, and Lydia Pearl. After finding a mention of Thomas as a United Brethren lay delegate, I contacted the church and received evidence that he was licensed to preach in 1883-84.

About 1886, the Pierces moved to Juliaetta. Our family lore has it that they left the Moscow area because it was too cold and windy. Juliaetta, along the Potlatch River, probably would have seemed like a banana belt to them, compared to Moscow. In later years, Juliaetta became known for its fruit trees and the sweet melons grown on its slopes.

Thomas continued his work as a circuit minister, riding many miles on horseback. Meanwhile, Anna founded the first Sunday school in Juliaetta, in an old woodshed that later was moved to a school building, and still later to the community’s first church building. She also was the school superintendent for twelve years, according to a local history book and newspaper articles.

I found various land transactions of Thomas H. and Anna Medora in the deed books of Latah County from 1888, when the county broke off from Nez Perce County, up to 1903, thirteen years after Idaho Territory became a state.

The Juliaetta newspaper reported that when the couple’s youngest child, Stella Medora, was born in 1890, Thomas had to come down for the event from a ridge where he was haying. The next year, the eldest daughter Maud was married to John Evans at the home of her parents.

It’s interesting that when Thomas ministered the marriage of William Schetzle and Lilly J. Scott, both of Fix Ridge in Latah County, on December 17, 1897, the Pierces’ fourteen-year-old daughter Pearl signed as a witness. The bride was the cousin of Dow Scott, whom Pearl married three years later. Maybe they met at the 1897 wedding. The Pierces’ son Miles was married in 1903 and a year later their son Earl was wed at a ceremony in Juliaetta officiated by Thomas.

I found marriage records in the county courthouses of Latah and Nez Perce counties that showed other people married by Thomas during this time, when the Pierces were running a boarding house in Juliaetta.

The last home of Thomas and Anna Medora was in Juliaetta. I didn’t find much written about him in the papers, but Anna was interviewed many times, probably because she lived to be one of the oldest pioneers of Latah County, while he died relatively early.

The family wrote that he was a diligent minister to the Nez Perce and always was kind and helpful to the people he visited. I found a picture of him at a church conference in his later years, which suggests he stayed engaged, even though his health had begun to fail him.

An invalid pension of twelve dollars per month was approved for Thomas on July 29, 1890 and two years later, he applied for an increase in the sum. A report of the examining surgeon from September 1892 gave a description of my great-grandfather that made him seem even more real to me.

He was five feet five-and-a-half inches, 175 pounds, with hazel eyes and brown-gray hair. His occupation was listed as a minister. The report said he had a tattoo on each arm. On “the flexor surface of the right arm,” in India ink and vermilion, there was “a spread eagle, below the American flag on staff, measurements of emblems five and one-half inches.” In the same place on his left arm was a “shield of U.S., under this, crossed muskets with fixed bayonets, below these a five-rayed star, space measures three and three-quarters inches from top of the shield.”

The surgeon evaluated Thomas’s scar from the Civil War gunshot wound, his rheumatism, and an inguinal hernia. He was given a disability rating of 6/18, which was not enough to increase his pension.

In January 1906, a group of Juliaetta neighbors sent a petition to Idaho Senator Fred Dubois on behalf of Thomas. The petition described him as “an old soldier,” age sixty-two, who “has carried a bullet in his body since the war and is completely broken down in health. He has mortgaged his only home to live on, being too feeble to earn a living. He surely is entitled to increase of pension.”

The petition, which requested that the senator introduce a special bill for this increase under the heading “general debility,” had among its co-signers Dr. Robert Foster, founder of the Foster School of Healing, which was fundamental to Juliaetta’s economy in the early 1900s.

The petition was too late. By the fall of 1906, Thomas had suffered loss of weight and decreased strength. Anna and daughter Stella put him in the back of a wagon and traveled almost three hundred miles to Boise, where he was admitted to the Old Veterans’ Home on September 26. One month later, he died of stomach cancer.

The family couldn’t afford to transport him back to Latah County, and he was buried in the Boise Veterans’ Cemetery. An obituary in the Idaho Statesman announced his funeral. The Athena Press of Athena, Oregon, reported in its obituary that Thomas was “the father of Mrs. Evans,” whose eldest daughter was Ora Maude.

Anna Medora continued to live in Juliaetta after the passing of her husband. I found frequent accounts in the Kendrick and Juliaetta newspapers of visits she made to relatives, and of visits made by her children and grandchildren to her home. She died at home on Christmas Day in 1937, at age eighty-nine, and was survived by five children, who lived in Oregon, Lewiston, Juliaetta, Spokane, and Puyallup, Washington.

My great-grandmother is buried in the Juliaetta Cemetery near her daughter Pearl and her husband Dow, as well as five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.

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Barbara Scott

About Barbara Scott

Barbara Scott was born in Grangeville and grew up in Orofino. In 1977, she graduated from the University of Idaho, studied physical therapy at the University of Washington, and returned to Idaho in 1990 to work in the field. Barb says, “I’m a small-town girl and love the connections I have to my community.” She currently lives in Troy.

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