Someday, somehow, Lassie, find out the truth and tell them.
Tell them all. Make it right.
It was about 1958 that my grandmother, Agnes Templeton Meikle Thompson - Grandma Thompson as I knew her, spoke those very poignant words to me. She was getting ready to be moved from her home in Denver, Colorado to live with her oldest son, my Uncle Fred and his family, out in Venice, California. It would be her last move, as about a year later she passed away.
She would have been eighty in August after her death in February 1959. A long life you might say. She bore four sons and a daughter. Very few people even knew about the daughter. She died either at birth or shortly thereafter. Her husband had passed away in 1942, leaving her care to his sons, Harold (my Dad) and Harvey. FJ and Agnes had been married nearly 45 years when he passed away. Together they had built the Thompson Ranch into a legacy, had seen the Depression among other things eat it away, and watched their two sons, Harold and Harvey, rebuild it. Triumphs and tears of most every early ranching family.
As soon as I was able to walk on my own, I was visiting her home. Her sons had bought a home right across the alley from our house, one house over - "cattywampus across the alley" as the old folks would say. Her and I struck up a close bond that only a grandparent and a grandchild can ever know. She sang me songs, some in English that I could understand and some in a strange tongue to me. Turned out that was Gaelic, which she later taught me (an ability I have pretty much lost over the years, much to my dismay). She had the neatest player piano, which she could play without the player part. And I might add she could play it as well as the player did. And she had a guitar. It was a light colored wood. And in her garage was a desk, fairly small as I remember it, with a drop down front "lid". That is where I spent a lot of time doing my numbers, as she was determined that I learn my math. She was also determined that I learn about history, especially Scot history. She read Robert Burns to me. She talked of her family. She and I talked about everything. She felt the need to talk, and I filled that need by listening. Knowing human nature now the way I do, I suspect few of the family listened to her. Rather, I doubt if any of them sat down and let her talk about what she wanted to talk. When others said she had withdrawn and didn't talk, I just looked at them and smiled. I knew different. She had just chosen to withdraw from those who didn't listen. Not that she quit loving them though. I am sure she just didn't want to be hurt when someone didn't listen or told her not to talk so much.
Grandma scared the other cousins and my sister. She was "crazy" they said. My own niece and nephews who were about my age would not go over there either. She seemed to know about things happening without being told. One instance I have been told about is that my sister was told to sneak over around the block and retrieve the newspaper before Grandma would go out to get it. My Uncle Harvey had passed away the night before, and my Dad was valiantly trying to protect her from it. She got there as the paperboy arrived. Unfortunately, Grandma was on her front bench waiting. "Don't worry about the paper, girl. I know Harvey is gone. He was here with me all night." Now, my sister who was almost 10 probably ran the fastest race home that she ever ran.
Grandma always had to have her tea, every afternoon. That was a habit of many, many years. And she lived alone, but she always sat the table for her two deceased sons and her deceased husband. And it was my sister who had to take the tea to her!! It never bothered me though. I joined them. The tea tradition came from their 45 years together!
In her hallway was one of the ugliest faces I have ever seen, bar none. It looked something like a paper mache mask that we kids would make in school. But it was flesh colored, with wisps of wild red and black hair coming out of the head. I asked her about it once. She simply said it had always been in her family, and that she had taken to hanging it to keep away bad spirits. Now, looking back ..... how long had she been hanging it? How long had the family been hanging it? Or had it been packed away somewhere and taken out later? An where is it now?
Why do I ask those questions? Brings us to why Grandma made the statement to me in 1958 "Someday, somehow, Lassie, find out the truth and tell them. Tell them all. Make it right."
I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed. I only agreed because I loved her, and I vaguely thought I knew what she meant. She had lost a son in 1920 to an apparent murder. So I tucked it away in my childhood brain, for future reference.
In 1962 my sister and I made a trip to the Denver Public Library to look at microfilm of old newspapers. She had been given a baby book for her second son, with a space in it for family history. Dad was vague about answering some of the questions. I was still in high school, yet that trip proved to be a landmark in my life. Voila! We found an article about our Grandfather Thompson being shot in 1902. Yes, Dad knew about that when we asked. "Never caught the guys. Grandpa survived. And that was before I was born." Oh really, now that can't be all to the family history could it?
Forty one years later, I have traveled quite a road in piecing together family history, on all sides. However, my promise to Grandma Thompson has never been forgotten. And what I have found is far more than the apparent murder of her son in 1920. At the very least, we could write a book on the need back then for medical help and counseling for stress. But could there be more? Here is a brief recap - denotes a violent, unexplained death or attempted murder.
Stories were abundant about the Meikles, and with Grandma acting "crazy" some people were not kind. But then people do not have a history of being kind to those afflicted, no matter what the affliction. I have heard stories such as 1) the Meikles were run out of Scotland for witchcraft. WRONG. 2) the Meikles were bums who never worked. WRONG. 3) George Metcalf died in the Denver County jail, drowning in his own vomit. WRONG. 4). George Metcalf was found along a curb in Lafayette, dead from drinking too much. WRONG. 5) George Meikle, Agnes' father, was an abusive alcoholic. I have found nothing to prove this, but lots to help disprove this. Most abusive, alcoholic men would not be buying cemetery lots for the young people who died whose parents couldn't afford it. Most abusive, alcoholic men would not make the trip of 10 miles to help a daughter whose husband had just been shot. He worked hard on their farm and also was forced to return to work in the coal mine adjacent to their farm.
In a phone call to the Boulder County District Attorney's office two years ago, I found that their old records had never been sent to the state archives. The law clerk who was gracious enough to listen to me took the names of the four Boulder County deaths - Archie and Maggie Meikle in 1910, George Meikle in 1915 and John Meikle in 1918. He called me later to report there were no files for any of the incidents. He also told me that back then if the county coroner and/or sheriff did not think there was any foul play, no investigation was ever done. Therefore, there would be no reason to have files at the courthouse. Dead end there!
I have gathered the various articles on the 1902 shooting of FJ Thompson. And we have the newspaper article about the arrest of Virginia, wife of William James Thompson, in 1920. The Adams County District Attorney's office did a search for their investigation files and found that the files have been sent to the Colorado State Archives. I am planning to make a visit to the Colorado State Archives the next actual visit to Denver, not just a fast trip through.
And I have also learned that several of the Meikle related individuals had purchased holdings in mining companies in Boulder County. For anyone wishing to research early Boulder County land records, you can visit this site http://icris.co.boulder.co.us/ . I do know that the early 1900's were violent times in the Colorado mining industry. Perhaps a connection? Two of the Meikle men (James and William T) owned holdings but lived through all this. James died in 1950 at the age of 78 and William died in 1931 at the age of 60. So perhaps not a connection. Both however worked in the mines their whole adult lives after leaving home.
But what? where? how? why? I can see why Grandma was so stressed about it all, and I now know how complicated it all was. Perhaps they were suicides, but one must then ask why? Was my Uncle Willie really murdered? I believe so. The article talks about a substance found the day of the funeral. It talks of four poisons - arsenic, antimony, bismuth or mercury - as being possible agents. Bismuth had been used as a medicament when he was ill. In studying the lab tests of 1920 versus today, they were quite rudimentary in the least. Until I can get, if I can get, the actual investigation records, we won't know any more. May not know then.
Almost eighty three years after the death of Willie in 1920, and nearly 101 years after FJ Thompson was shot in 1902, it will be impossible to do too much. If there was a person or persons responsible for their deaths, they too have passed on. And if the records are as scarce and incomplete as I suspect, no one will ever be able to make an intelligent guess. However, I don't believe that is what my grandmother meant. I think she wanted me to find it all out and tell it as it happened, so that people would know there may have been another side(s) to what happened. And I am sure in a way to vindicate herself. She knew what was said about her. And I know it hurt her. Her Scot pride kept her going, withdrawing but going.
If I find out more to add to all this, I will add it. Did it end in 1920? There are a few other instances in later years, but I have kept the research to these.
And I dedicate this to my Grandmother. I understand her more now than I ever did, perhaps because I am now a Grandmother myself.
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