Thompson
JMT: the legend, the stone, the story
One of the most enigmatic figures of 19th century Fairfield is James Maurice Thompson, Civil War veteran, legislator, lawyer, author, historian. His "Alice of Old Vincennes" was considered a classic for its time in 1900. Thompson was considered something of an expert in the sport of archery and his history textboook is chock full of interesting details. Plus, he was a great writer. He comes from curious stock. A compelling figure.

He was born in Fairfield in 1844 and the hut where he was spawned was moved to Vincennes in the early 1970s just prior to the completion of Brookville Lake. But the rock that marked his birthplace on the south side of town, was lost along the way.

Later, we found the rock and it sat unattended for years until the summer of 2017 when the Franklin County Historical Society gathered the ambition to move the stone to the Historical Society Seminary in Brookville. The rock has a home now. Thompson hasn't been lost in the weeds.




Photos by Julia Teuschler, Franklin Co. Historical Society


WIKIPEDIA ENTRY ON THOMPSON

FAIRFIELD 200 ON THOMPSON
A MUSICAL ADAPTATION at SKELTON AUDITORIUM

WHO WAS ALICE?

Alice Roussillon was tall, lithe, strongly knit, with an almost perfect figure, judging by what the master sculptors carved for the form of Venus, and her face was comely and winning, if not absolutely beautiful; but the time and the place were vigorously indicated by her dress, which was of coarse stuff and simply designed. Plainly she was a child of the American wilderness, a daughter of old Vincennes on the Wabash in the time that tried menís souls.

Her French was colloquial, but quite good, showing here and there what we often notice in the speech of those who have been educated in isolated places far from that babel of polite energies which we call the world; something that may be described as a bookish cast appearing oddly in the midst of phrasing distinctly rustic and local, a peculiarity not easy to transfer from one language to another.



"Alice" was a phenomenal marketing figure in the years after the novel was published, and a stage play was written about the story around 1914. There's sheet music for that if you go searching. Vincennes used the "Alice" image in attempts to market the city, including using WAOV (Alice Old Vincennes) as the call letters for its radio station.

The rock stood hidden in some weeds just north of the lake on old State Route 101, moved there by Leroy Stevens and Bob Chapman.

WHY IT'S NOT IN VINCENNES
THE IRRELEVANT THOMPSON HUT

The stone was in front of the Fairfield Methodist parsonage, put there by the Garden Club in the 1930s. These photos from the late Mabel Cooney show its location. That's David Cooney on the stone. You can see the hut in the background. These photos are from around 1964.



There's more to Thompson than a rock and hut. Thompson was an important writer for his time and his work spanned a diversity of genres, including a history textbook that was published in 1898 by Stanford University and recently made available in electronic form by Google. It's pretty old now so I don't mind "lifting" key parts of it. Here are some interesting topics that Thompson included in his textbook. I assume it was limited to Hoosier students.



The inventor of the Gatling gun, a weapon of immense terror in the 1860s, was a Hoosier who Thompson discusses.

Here are a few interesting narratives. The Lincoln piece is exceptionally personal.

THOMPSON ON GOV. RAY
THOMPSON ON HONEST ABE
THOMPSON ON SNAKES AND WHISKEY
THOMPSON ON SLAVERY
THOMPSON ON MILK-SICKNESS
THOUGHTS ON A DEFEATED REBEL SOLDIER