By Linda Emley
I love reading old newspapers because you never know who or what you’ll find when you turn the page. The following article caught my eye for several different reasons.
From the front page of the Richmond Missourian, Feb. 19, 1910: “The Oldest Odd Fellow. Richmond Celebrates 60 years. The Missourian considers Judge Thomas McGinnis to be the oldest Odd Fellow in Missouri from point of years of membership in good standing and freedom from sick dues.
“Judge McGinnis was 82 years old in September, 1909. He came to Missouri in 1848. He was admitted to full fellowship in the Odd Fellows at Lexington, Mo. on about Feb. 15, 1850. His initiation was in January, 1850.
“This is sixty years of service in good standing and he has never drawn a dollar in sick dues. Who can beat this record! Judge McGinnis is also the oldest railroad conductor in Missouri; he “ran” on the first railroad ever built in Missouri.”
The “Odd Fellow” connection is what first caught my eye. I have always been fascinated by the different lodges that have existed around Ray County over the years. The IOOF, independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge #208, is still active in Richmond. I always thought it was strange that it’s called “Odd Fellows”.
One story claims it was because they were considered “odd” because it was odd to find people in the 18th Century world of industrialization who had values such as benevolence, charity and fraternalism. We will save the “Odd Fellow” stories for another chapter in our history because this is a story about the man, Thomas McGinnis.
The statement that I was really happy to find in this newspaper article was, “Judge McGinnis is also the oldest railroad conductor in Missouri; he ‘ran’ on the first railroad ever built in Missouri.”
Finding this small piece of information adds to the story about Ray County’s wooden railroad and gives me hope that there may be some other long-lost tidbits tucked away in another newspaper article.
I first read about Thomas McGinnis in the 1881 history book when I found the story that said he “forded the Missouri river, (on) horseback, without getting wet, a short distance below Lexington and in sight of that town. The act was witnessed by about thirty persons, standing on the river bank.”
This story took place in 1854 when Thomas was 27 years old, so this places him in the right place at the right time to be part of the early days of the wooden railroad. A train depot would be a perfect place for 30 people to gather on the river bank and witness him riding his horse across the Missouri River.
Thomas McGinnis was born Sept. 26, 1827, in Kentucky. He married his first wife, Rebecca Boggess, in 1847 and they moved to Ray County in 1848. He was a school teacher and managed his farm in the Hardin river bottoms. His wife died in 1853 and a few years later he married his second wife, Miss Laura Shaw. She died in May 1865 and he subsequently married Mrs. Lucinda M. Duncan, who was the widow of John Duncan. Thomas had five children by his first wife, five by his second wife and 11 by his third wife.
Thomas had a long colorful life in Ray County with his three wives and 21 children. In the 1880 history book, he was married to his third wife and had already outlived seven of his 21 children. It also mentions that when the great cyclone of 1878 hit Richmond, his wife and four of his children were seriously injured when their house was destroyed. This would have been his third wife, Lucinda, because they got married in 1867.
McGinnis was elected justice of the peace for the Crooked River township in 1870. During this time, he was a justice of the peace, a farmer and had a general merchandise store in Hardin.
He was also sheriff of Ray County from November 1876 to November 1880. I am sure one of his most memorable jobs as sheriff was when the cyclone hit in 1878 and he had to deal with all the destruction and the welfare of his own family members.
McGinnis was living in Ray County in 1867 when Deputy Griffin was shot in Richmond’s bank robbery, so he was always thinking about another bank robbery in the back of his mind. There were a few murders in Ray County while he was sheriff, so he experienced his share of wild-west tales during his four years as sheriff.
His son James became the youngest sheriff in Missouri when he took over the reins from his father in 1880. James had served as deputy during his father’s reign.
Thomas’s first wife, Rebecca, was buried in her family’s Boggess Cemetery south of Hardin. This cemetery is on land purchased by Argle Boggess, Sr. from Philip Curtis and Andres Leget, who were Mormons leaving Ray County. It’s said that this cemetery has some unmarked graves from these early Mormon families.
I was unable to locate the grave of his second wife, Laura. His third wife, Lucinda, was buried by Thomas in the McGinnis Cemetery. The only other McGinnis with a tombstone there is their daughter, Miss Nancy McGinnis. She died from pneumonia in 1926 at the age of 51. It looks like Nancy was the last person buried in this cemetery.
Lucinda outlived her husband Thomas by one year. She died in 1916 at the age of 73 from tuberculosis. Her obituary listed all the McGinnis children who were still living. “To them were born eleven children, two of whom survive – Miss Nannie and Charles McGinnis, both residing on the home place. She is survived by four step-children as follows: Mrs. Fannie Wood, Hardin; Mrs. Cora Hughes, Chicago; Mrs. Anna Pettus and James T. McGinnis, both residents of Richmond. The funeral services were held at the home and interment was made in the family burying ground on the McGinnis farm.”
Thomas McGinnis died on Feb. 10, 1915. He was 88 years, 2 months and 24 days old. His death certificate lists his cause of death as “old age”. If only we all could be so lucky to live long enough to die of “old age”. His occupation was listed as farming because it was his final occupation. There would not have been enough room to list all the many hats that he wore during the 67 years that he lived in Ray County. He was a father, a husband, a grandfather, a neighbor, a friend, a teacher, a farmer, a sheriff, a merchant, a justice of the peace, an Odd Fellow, a Mason, a Knight of Pythias and a conductor on the first railroad in the state of Missouri.
You can reach Linda Emley at firstname.lastname@example.org