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Thomas Higginbotham Bales
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Birth: Oct. 20, 1845
Randolph County
Indiana, USA
Death: Apr. 13, 1934
Red Willow County
Nebraska, USA

He enlisted, November 18, 1861, in Company E Fifty-Seventh Indiana Infantry at Richmond, Indiana, shortly after his sixteenth birthday. During the Civil War, he was in many battles. Among them were: Shiloh, Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mountain and the Battle at Stone River, where he was wounded in the right foot. His father and brother were both killed in the war. He was discharged February 4, 1865. After receiving an honorable discharge from the army, he returned home and completed his education in the public schools. He taught school for three or four terms but disliked the confinement of the school room; so he devoted himself to outdoor work. In 1871, he came to eastern Nebraska. In 1878, at Seward Nebraska, he was married to Mrs. Delsina Jeffers, and they were the parents of ten children: six girls and four sons. In 1879 the family moved to Red Willow County, where he farmed north of town, and then moved into McCook in 1882. He was a local contractor and was the best ditch and cellar digger in McCook. He also spent time in his garden and orchard. He died at his home in McCook on Friday, April 13. 1934 and was buried in the Memorial Park Cemetery, Tuesday April 17. 1934.

Tom Bales, McCook's ditch-digging debater
Monday, January 8, 2007

Walt Sehnert

Thomas Bales, and his wife, Delcina (Bates) Bales were among McCook's earliest settlers, arriving in this vicinity in 1879, three years before McCook became a town. Tom was a Civil War Veteran. He had been wounded in the War and arrived in Southwest Nebraska from the eastern part of the state to make claim to a plot of land, as part of his Veterans' bonus. For some time, the couple lived in a cave dug into the bank of a stream (a dugout) in the east part of McCook,

Tom was born Thomas Beals, but a mistake in his Army records had incorrectly identified him as Thomas Bales, and to avoid any more unnecessary red tape, Tom declined to make the correction, so ever after Tom and his descendants have been known as Bales.

Early on, Tom Bales went to work for the new City of McCook, sometimes as a regular employee, sometimes as a contract worker for the city. Though he walked with a severe limp, the result of a gunshot wound at the Battle of Shiloh, in the Civil War, that did not stop him from working as a ditch digger for the city.

He was "strong as an ox" and took part in laying most of McCook's early water lines. As his two older boys, Earl and Clarence matured they joined their father in making McCook's water system a reality.

Over the years Tom Bales became "The" authority in knowing the location of all of McCook's early water lines. When there was trouble and old water lines needed to be identified and dug up Tom Bales was the man whom the city fathers called.

Tom was a character, and quite a showman. When he was called to find a waterline he would arrive with his shovel, and with great flourish line up on one or another land mark, circle the area a few times, tap the ground with his shovel, and only then begin to dig. Invariably, seeming to call on his remarkable memory, he would locate the water line in question. It was only when Tom was an old man that he revealed his secret.

From the very beginning, whenever Tom Bales was commissioned to lay a water line he recorded the event, and the location of the water line in a well used notebook, complete with the number of paces from which that water line was located from two or more existing land marks. So, whenever he was called in to locate an old water line Tom had merely to look up the location in his notebook prior to his arrival onto the scene.

All the sightings and tapping with his shovel were merely pretenses, to build a bit of suspense into the drama. Before Old Tom died his heirs tried to persuade him to sell the valuable notebook to the city for a considerable sum of money. Tom would have none of it. He felt that the city should have the notebook in their archives and gave them the notebook. In return a grateful City Water Dept. rewarded Tom with a check -- for $15.

Tom had lived his adult life in East McCook, which in the early days was known as a pretty rough part of town---really like another community, where many of the residents were related to each other by marriage. The heart of East McCook was Koetter's Store, and the East McCook Community Center (formerly a church) next door.

Here people gathered for song fests, and storytelling -- and all activities that were free. It was no doubt here that Tom Bales first began to speak, and he learned that he liked to talk -- and argue, which eventually led him to partake in one of the great loves of his life.

In the early days, before TV, or movies, or air conditioning, or even radio, some of the popular activities on a summer's Sunday afternoon, were orations and debates in City Park (now known as Norris Park). Families would bring picnic lunches to the park and stay the afternoon listening to speakers, or an occasional band concert, and very often listening to debates between some of the intellectuals and politicians of the area.

Tom Bales was certainly an unlikely debater. He was from East McCook. He had little formal schooling, and he made his living as a ditch digger. People probably dismissed him as a serious debater. That was a mistake.

Deriving most of his book learning from his set of the Encyclopedia "Book of Knowledge," he proved to be a formidable debater, not hesitating to challenge opponents from all walks of life. What is more, he allowed his opponent to pick the side of the question that they preferred -- pro or con. Since these challenges were normally picked a week in advance, Mr. Bales would use the week to do research and study up on the debate topic -- for instance, "Should the United States engage in the construction of the Panama Canal? -- Pro or Con?

Usually Bales would win the debate, as determined by a consensus of the judges present. Then frequently he would offer to debate his adversary the next week on the same topic, but they would switch sides. Usually, Tom Bales prevailed again, arguing against the stand that he had taken in the original debate. He savored these wins.

The Civil War remained the most important event in the life of that generation who had lived through the event, especially for the veterans who had served in the war. Over the years the distinctions blurred, between rich and poor veterans, officers and enlisted men, even those who fought for the North (which was most of the McCook Veterans) and those who had fought for the South (in McCook, notably James Jamison). Veterans of the Civil War became a close knit "Band of Brothers."

Tom Bales took great pride in his status as a veteran of the Civil War, and his membership in the GAR -- Grand Army of the Republic.

He was ever proud to take his place on the speaker's stand with other Civil War Veterans, at the Indianola Old Settlers' Picnic, and Fourth of July Celebrations in McCook.

In the Special Gazette Edition of McCook's 50th year, in 1932, Tom Bales is singled out as one of the last three living Civil War Veterans in Red Willow County.

Tom and Delcina Bales never had a lot of money, but they considered themselves rich because of their own family and their extended family in East McCook. They had eleven children of their own, and many of their children had large families as well. Those family members retained the strong bonds that had been so important to them in the early, trying times.

In the year 2000, McCook had a memorable celebration. The schools celebrated an All-Class Reunion, and many families hosted reunions in the city. That year the descendants of Tom and Delcina had a reunion of their own. More than 600 of the Bales Clan congregated in McCook, in what was believed to be the largest reunion of one family ever assembled in our city.

Cousins came from all over the United States to renew relationships, and to get acquainted with younger members of the family. The Bales Family Reunion completely took over Barnett Park, for one giant picnic, with games, contests, and conversation -- lots of conversation, with stories of Tom and Delcina and the hard times, and the good times of the Bales family's over 100 years in McCook.

At times the conversations took on the tone of a discussion, and sometimes the discussions approached the flavor of an old time debate. Old Tom would have loved it.

Source: Gazette Golden Anniversary Edition---1932

© Copyright 2007 McCook Daily Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Thomas Bales Dies Tom Bales, one of the two remaining Civil War veterans of this city, and an old resident of this county passed away about noon today at his home in East McCook. Mr. Bales was widely known in this vicinity and had a large circle of friends. He was highly respected by everyone and was an honest and useful citizen. During his residence here, and up to a few years ago was actively engaged in the excavating business, and contracted the majority of the jobs cone in this city and vicinity. Mr. Bales was born in Indiana, October 20, 1845, and enlisted in the 57th Indiana Infantry, Novemeber 18, 1861, at Richmond, Indiana; entrained to Louisville, Kentucky and marched from there to Nashville. Although only sixteen at the time, his father aided in his enlistment. Later his father and younger brother also enlisted and both were killed in action. His war record included such engagements as Shiloh, Mission Ridge, Lookout Mountain, and other historical battles In 1871 Mr. Bales left Indiana and came to Eastern Nebraska, and in 1879 moved to Red Willow county. For a time he engage in farming and later, assisted by his sons, engaged in the excavation work. The deceased is survived by his wife and several children. Funeral services will be announced later.

Thomas Bales Buried Funeral services for the late Tom Bales, who died last Friday, were held tuesday afternoon in the Methodist church. Rev. E. H. Maynard officiated, and appropriate music was rendered by a quartette. Spanish-American and World War veterans acted as paul bearers and gaurd of honor. Samuel Ellis, the only surviving Civil War veteran of this city was present at the services. At the cemetery, Rev. E. H. Maynard and Paul Akert, chaplain of the American Legion Post, committed the body to its last resting place. The firing squad fired the salute to the dead, and the bugler sounded taps, and thus another of the Boys In Blue was lowered to his last resting place. Thomas Higgenbottom Bales was born in Winchester, Indiana, October 20, 1845 and died at McCook, Nebraska April 13, 1934 at the age of 88 years, 5 months, and 24 days. He enlisted Novemeber 18, 1861, shortly after his 16th birthday in the 57th Indiana Infantry at Richmond, Indiana. He was discharged Febr. 4, 1865. During these long months he was in many battles, among them being Shiloh, Mission Ridge, Lookout Mountain. In a battle at Stone River he was wounded in the right foot. His father and brother were killed during the war. After recieving an honorable discharge from the army he returned home and completed his education in the public schools. He taught three or four terms of schools. He disliked the confinement of the school room, so devoted himself to out. In 1871 he came to eastern Nebraska. At Seward, in 1878 he was united in marriage to Ms. Delsina Jeffers. They came to this county in 1879. For the first two or three years they farmed north of town, and then moved into the village of McCook where he lived since. He has had charge of the greater part of the excavating work done in the city. He had many friends in all walks of life. Even though his labors were of a humble and laborious nature, he took great pride in his work and was without peer in his class. He is survived by his aged wife, five daughters: Mrs. Jessie Mitchem, Mrs. Conlloffmann, Mrs. N. Mitchem, Mrs. C. Clark and Mrs. H Stone, all of McCook; three sons: Thomas P., Clarence and Earl, all of McCook. One sone preceded him in death. Two step children, Mrs. W. M. Mapes and Mrs. Henry Jeffers, McCook; one half-brother, Clay Bales of Fairbury; 74 grandchildren; 79 great grand-children and one great great grandchild.
Private Thomas H Bales
Company E, 57th Indiana Infantry

Bales was born in Winchester (Randolph County), Indiana on October 20, 1845. He was residing in Buena Vista, Indiana when he enlisted and was mustered in the regiment on December 21, 1861. Bales served over 3 years before be discharged on February 1, 1865.

The 57th Indiana Infantry was organized and mustered at Richmond, Indiana on November 18, 1861. During Bales’ enlistment, the regiment was involved in many major battles and campaigns. Some of them include:

Atlanta (GA) Campaign (May 1 to September 8, 1864).

Battle of Peach Tree Creek (July 19-20, 1864)

Siege of Atlanta (July 22-August 25, 1864).

Battle of Franklin (November 30, 1864). Regimental losses were 9 killed, 4 were wounded, 2 were captured, and 20 reported missing.

Battle of Nashville (December 15-16, 1864).

Bales died on April 13, 1934 at the age of 88 years. He is buried in the Memorial Park Cemetery in McCook (Red Willow County), Nebraska. Bales was a member of the Reynolds Post (#26) of the Grand Army of the Republic in Osceola, Nebraska.

Family links: 
  Amer Jackson Bales (1818 - 1862)
  Harriet Higgenbotham Bales (1819 - 1856)
  Delsina D. Bates Bales (1855 - 1937)*
  Thomas Payne Bales (1879 - 1966)*
  Viretta Matilda Bales Mitchem (1882 - 1959)*
  Mamie Melissa Bales Hoffman (1883 - 1957)*
  Florence Elizabeth Bales Mitchem (1886 - 1968)*
  Winifred Lavina Bales King Clark (1887 - 1964)*
  Clarence Cecil Bales (1888 - 1979)*
  Justin Earl Bales (1891 - 1988)*
  Myrtle Elnora Bales Stone (1894 - 1975)*
  William Asbury Bales (1843 - 1904)*
  Thomas Higginbotham Bales (1845 - 1934)
  Daniel Bales (1847 - 1920)*
  Joel Franklin Bales (1849 - 1921)*
  Sarah Catherine Bales Mapes (1853 - 1924)*
  Cassius M. Clay Bales (1860 - 1949)**
*Calculated relationship
Memorial Park Cemetery
Red Willow County
Nebraska, USA
Maintained by: Eric C.
Originally Created by: Tony & Cindy Lloyd
Record added: Sep 29, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 59382726
Thomas Higginbotham Bales
Added by: Eric C.
Thomas Higginbotham Bales
Added by: Eric C.
Thomas Higginbotham Bales
Added by: Eric C.
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- W.Wm.McLeod
 Added: Jun. 7, 2016
Rest in Peace
- Shelly Ketchum
 Added: Apr. 17, 2014

- Jay Wright
 Added: Apr. 15, 2014

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