Genealogy

The Scalping of William Thompson

The Man Who Was Scalped And Lived
In 1867, on the still wild plains of Nebraska, an Englishman named William Thompson was sent to Lexington, Nebraska.  He worked for the Union Pacific railroad and he was dispatched west to repair a broken telegraph line.  When the train he was on was attacked by members of the Cheyenne tribe, Thompson was shot in the shoulder and then scalp.  And although the other repairmen that he was traveling with were killed, Thompson miraculously, survived.

Sometime during the skirmish, Thompson’s scalp fell, abandoned, and he was able to retrieve it after the Indians had departed.  He returned to Omaha, scalp in hand, and went to Dr. Richard Moore, with hopes of reattaching his bloodied hair.

 However, the doctor failed to reattach the scalp, but Thompson kept it still, and he returned to England where he displayed the scalp for money.  In 1900 he sent the scalp back to the doctor who had tried to reattach his copper hair and the doctor in turn donated the scalp to the Omaha Public Library Museum where it remained on display for the next seventy-five years.

I first learned of this artifact last year when the Omaha Public Library celebrated it’s 140th birthday this past year and the scalp was placed on public display (it is now housed in a special archive).  I’ve always been interested in the historical aspects and romanticized versions of what are actually quite horrific facts of the American Old West so when I heard of the scalp I was intrigued.  Not only was I unaware that my local library had such an item in their archives, I had no idea that people could actually survive being scalped, although  I suppose that’s because I can’t imagine living through the sheer pain and agony of it all.

I’ve been wanting to write a story about my ancestors and their travels into and their eventual settlement in eastern Nebraska and I can see interweaving this true tale into my somewhat fictionalized novel.  My family settled in the Iowa/Nebraska area in the mid to late 1850s, when the area was still largely open and wild territory.  They crossed over the Missouri River multiple times and I could easily imagine writing about my ancestors discussing their worries and fears for their own families upon hearing the frightening news of Mr. William Thompson’s unfortunate affair.  Perhaps in the story, one of my great-grandparents, or even one of my grandparents, would go to the Omaha Public Library Museum to view the scalp of the man that they had heard their parents or grandparents speak of when they were children.

Now, my fingers are itching to begin writing this story…

Below are a few pictures and different articles from the Omaha World Herald newspaper discussing the scalp.

The first (how it feels to be scalped) is an article about the scalping of William Thompson.
The second (sends his own scalp) was written in 1900 when the scalp was sent to the Omaha Public Library Museum.  Also, there is a wonderful quirky article about the scalp available on this website: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/willaason-s-scalped-scalp.
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