Judge Alfred Delavan Thomas

Judge Alfred Delavan Thomas, deceased. That which records in perpetuity the names and the memory of great men, and secures to history the deeds that shape the course and policy of a state or nation, is a treasure valued by all who stand for purity and high attainments in the public service. A life history of the late Judge Thomas will add luster to the brightest pages of the annals of the Dakotas, where the last twenty-three years of his life were spent, Fargo being his home from 1878 Up to the time of his death, in 1896.

Judge Thomas was born in Walworth County, Wisconsin, August 11, 1837, His parents were Salmon and Elizabeth (Stowell) Thomas, both native of New York, and his grandfather, George Thomas, was born in Connecticut. Judge Thomas had two sisters and one brother - the two sisters are now living. In New York Salmon Thomas was a large landowner, and in 1833 removed to Walworth County, Wisconsin, where his integrity and personal worth soon brought him into prominence. He served in the legislature of that state in 1847 and 1848, and was recognized as one of the leading public men of the state. He died in Walworth County September 27, 1887, and his wife died June 27, 1896.

Alfred D. Thomas grew to manhood in his native state, and received an unusually good primary education. He graduated from the Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, in the class of 1801, and was soon after elected district attorney of his home county of Walworth, Wisconsin, serving for six years.. He began the study of law with the Hon. Alanson H. Barnes, of Delavan, Wisconsin, and finished his preliminary studies in the office of Butler & Cottrell, of Milwaukee. He devoted his entire attention to his profession as a lawyer, and being a great student, he continued after his graduations to pursue a course of self-education, and thus to equip his mind with these powers which afterward asserted themselves so effectively in the high duties he was called upon to discharge.

In February, 1877, Judge Thomas visited Dakota, intending to locate at Fargo, but accompanying Judge Barnes and other friends to the Black Hills, he there met Senator Hearst, who formed so favorable an impression of his acquirements and natural gifts that he offered him the position of regular attorney for the Homestake and other mining companies of California in which the Senator was interested. In this capacity he was associated with, or pitted against, such men as Colonel Harry Thornton, of San Francisco; Judge W. H. Clagett, of Idaho: Judge William Fullerton, of New York; Judge William C. Kingsley, of Denver, and Judge Bennett, of Salt Lake City, and during the live years of his professional services to these companies he proved himself at least the peer of these brilliant lights of the profession in the west. In 1883 he returned to Fargo and entered the practice of his profession there, but his fame as a lawyer and a man of integrity had reached far beyond the borders of his state, and in 1889 President Harrison appointed him United States district judge for the district of North Dakota. His known ability and peculiar fitness to deal with the judicial questions and conditions of the west added greatly to his labors, and he was called to preside in the federal courts at St. Paul, Topeka, Kansas City, Little Rock, Denver and various other points. His zeal for the service of his country was only equaled by his capacity to perform the duties of his high station.

Judge Thomas was a man of a genial nature, and his popularity was not a matter of wonder. His warm-hearted manner, combined with high attainments and force of character, won him friends and admirers wherever he went. While performing the stern duties of a federal judge, he was still a man of genuine sympathy, and while upholding the solemn dignity of the law, mercy was ever made a substitute for severity where the latter quality was not absolutely essential in the administration of justice. In his private life none could be purer, more sympathetic, more lovable; and in his face were registered the kindly, generous thoughts that sprang from the heart of a noble man. This narrative is for all to read, but in its lines, as in the features of his sympathetic face, only those of the little circle encompassed by his best love can read the inexpressible depths and truths of his life story. His death occurred August 8, 1896, within three days of his fifty-ninth birthday, surrounded by his family and friends, at his home in Fargo. His remains were taken back to his old home, Delavan, Wisconsin, where they rest in Spring Grove cemetery.

Judge Thomas' domestic life was a particularly happy one. He was married to Miss Fannie E. Barnes, daughter of A. H. Barnes, who was for eight years associate judge of the territory of Dakota. The marriage ceremony took place at Delavan, Wisconsin, in October, 1864. Mrs. Thomas died November 5, 1898 in Fargo, where their two daughters, Mrs. Lulu Thomas Wear and Mrs. Dr. C. E. Wheeler, reside. Their only son, Alfred B., Thomas, is a resident of Duluth, Minnesota.

Source:  Compendium of History and Biography of North Dakota 1900 Page 171

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