Thomas Spilman



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Thomas Spilman
October 20, 1884 -April 22, 1967 Clear Lake, IA

Thomas was the forth child of Dan and Thea Spilman.  His older brother, Ned, died at about 6 months of age. 

Tom's daughter, Alice Spilman, recounted a story of Tom playing with fire as a kid. They had a farm building with a board ceiling with spaces in between the boards. They hay used to hang down between the gaps. Tom used to go in the building and light the hay hanging down and attempt to grab it with his hand to put it out. One time it got away from him and he burnt down 3 buildings. His father Daniel warned him not to play with fire but did nothing else.  Alice said that within a few days Tom and one of his siblings had a bunch of dead grass and they decided to safely burn it by putting it in a pile with dirt around it and igniting it. Once Dan found out Tom had defied him by playing with fire he was given a "wailing".  Alice said they thought it was something that he wasn't punished at all for burning buildings down but for lighting a safe fire instead.

As a young adult Tom moved out to South Dakota.  We know that Tom was in Faith, South Dakota in 1913 since there are photos and references to him in a book called "Faith Country 1910-1960".  There are also photos of his mother, Thea Spilman, and his sister Kate  which show they had also gone to South Dakota to visit Tom.  Faith is almost 600 miles west of Clear Lake, IA.

From the introduction of the book:
"It was 1890  -- the Cheyenne Indian Reservation boundary was moved east to its present line and the territory to the west was opened for settlement.  It wasn't until the first decade of the century when the railroad started building westward that the new country attracted attention.  This news loosed a flood of migrant workers, home seekers, adventurers, and not a few searchers for the rainbow's end.  Numerous mail drop and small settlements, boasting a Post Office, had been established in the region before and during this period, but the allure of a railroad town fascinated the newcomers.  By every means of transportation, hordes of enterprising pioneers reached Faith and its environs and decided this was the place.  It was 1910...Nineteen hundred and ten was a year of bubbling optimism -- capturing the imagination of all: everyone was young in those days and everything was fun in a country that was new and exciting.  The land of opportunity lay before them and each owned a part of it.  Long trains of immigrant cars arrived daily -- almost every quarter of land was claimed and occupied and it was free."

Deane Spilman said that at first his father, Tom, worked for a cattle rancher in South Dakota.  One day Tom's boss got into an argument with a sheep rancher and his boss told the sheep rancher that he had "seen better women than his come out of whore houses".  The sheep rancher responded by shooting Tom's boss dead.  Tom was standing there by him when this happened!

Faith, SD looked like a classic Western sort of town:

In the front a man checks his wagon wheel and in the distance is a Rail Road train.

Here is an article written January 18, 1913:
Marriage under difficulties on the frontier, is recorded in the story of two young couples who had planned a double wedding in Perkins County.  The contracting parties were Prudence Escott and Dan Meckling, and Esther Escott and Emil Gubbin.  The invited guests gathered at the home of the brides' parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Escott, but the minister failed to appear.  The afternoon wore on, the feast was losing its savor, and most of the guests had gone home.  George Escott, Jr. and Tom Spilman rode to Brayton after a Justice of Peace, but he declined to come.  Next day the two couples accompanied by Miss Martha Hennessy and Frank Tatroe, who were to act as attendants, drove to Faith, to have the ceremony performed there.

Since the licenses were issued in Perkins County, a Meade County Justice could not officiate.  Friday afternoon the wedding party drove out to the homestead of a local minister - incidentally, the same one who had promised to be on hand at the Escott home for ceremony, but who didn't come because he couldn't find his horse.  The minister was persuaded to cross over the county line for the marrying.  The first house they reached proved to be one on an unoccupied farm and the house was locked so tight they couldn't break in.  Whereupon, the wedding party adjourned to an old tumbled-down barn on the premises, and with the wind howling and snow blowing through the cracks of the old building, the minister, wrapped in his overcoat and wearing mittens, tied the respective knots.

The young couples started housekeeping on the respective claims of the bridegrooms."

Back row: Mrs. Heeron, Mrs. Alden, Laura Alden. 
Front: Mrs. (Thea) Spilman (Tom's mother), Mrs. Miller and George Miller.

This photo would have been taken between 1913-1917.  Dan is not pictured and so it is not clear if this photo was after his death or not.  Kate was in South Dakota in 1913 - perhaps she came with her mother.  Tom was close to Jack Alden ( below) and his family (pictured to the right with Thea).

Life was not easy in South Dakota.  In the book Faith Country it says,
"The hardy soul who came early and stayed, had the courage and perseverance of a champion, the nerve and audacity of a deep sea diver and the imaginative boldness of an astronaut -- they lived on a trapeze -- swinging from the depths to the heights, always undaunted.  Those who left because of economic or other reasons, but lived here long enough to become tempered by the seasons and the camaraderie of the people, inevitably feel the clutching pang of homesickness and return, if only for a brief visit."

Tom met and married his wife Winnie Fry in South Dakota.  Her father, Jerome Fry, worked on the Railroad there and had a homestead.  Winnie was born in Topeka, KS and their family moved to Pembine, WI then later to South Dakota and finally Appleton, WI.  Winnie and Tom were both Methodist like Daniel Spilman from England, but Winnie would later become Seventh Day Advent as would some of their children.  The couple married January 09, 1918 in Dupree, SD about 22 miles east of Faith.  Tom farmed the land and  lived in a sod house.

It appears Tom felt the hardships described in the Faith Country article as he did return to Clear Lake, IA where the farm land was much more productive.   After his father died in 1915, Tom  inherited 76 acres.  Tom's son Deane said that 8 parcels of land of approximately 80 acres were placed in a hat for each of Dan's children to draw.  Deane said that Tom and another of his brothers agreed to change their drawn parcels with each other. Tom let his homestead in South Dakota go for the property taxes sometime after 1918 and he returned to Clear Lake to farm.   


1959 Spilman family photo

Back: Deane Spilman, Fritz & Mary Gobeli, Jerry Gobeli, Alice Spilman, Norma & Dewey Howell, Tom Spilman.
2nd row : Lori, Bette &  Jayne Spilman, Tom Gobeli, Winnie Spilman, Ronny Gobeli.
Front row: Debra Spilman, Lynn Howell, Thomas Deane Spilman.

This photo was thought to have been taken for one of Tom and Winnie's wedding anniversaries.  Possibly the 25th anniversary which would have been 1943.

Winnie was diabetic and died in her sleep from the disease early on Christmas mroning 1962.

Tom never returned to Faith, SD.  He kept the book Faith Country with many bookmarks in it.  He died April 22, 1967 in Mason City, IA Death Certificate (pdf file)

From the Clear Lake Mirror - Reporter Wed April 26, 1967
Funeral services were held today (Wednesday) at 2 p.m. in the Ward Funeral Home for Tom Spilman, 82, a former Clear Lake Farmer. He died Saturday at a Mason City nursing home.
Elder E. W. Boggess, pastor of Seventh-day Adventist Church, Mason City officiated. Burial was in the Clear Lake Cemetery.
Thomas Spilman was born on a farm south of Clear Lake Oct. 20, 1884. He was the son of Daniel and Thea Spilman and lived here until 1910 when he moved to Faith, S. D. He was married to Winnie Frye on Jan 9, 1918 and they returned to Clear Lake in 1919 to a farm home a mile from the home place.
He made his home with his son, Deane, in Mason City following the death of his wife in 1962. A month ago, he entered the nursing home after a brief stay in a Mason City hospital.
He is survived by his son, Deane; three daughters, Mrs. Fritz (Mary) Gobeli;  Mrs. Dewey (Norma) Howell and Alice Spilman, all of Mason City; a brother Dan, Clear Lake; Mrs. Chester (Kate) Johnson, Sturgis, S.D., and Mrs. Clare (Lillie) Holmes, Nora Springs; 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Winnie; a son, Thomas Leroy, at six months; a daughter, Winnie Arlene, at 6 years of age; two brothers, Alex and Harry, and a sister Mrs. George (Minnie) Hughs. Pallbearers were Dale, Sam and Lloyd Spilman, Ashton Hugh, Duane Holmes and Donald Eastman. Jack Bull was soloist and Mrs. Bull, the organist. Mrs. Walter Wood and Mrs. William Oxley were in charge of flowers.

Tom and Winnie had 4 surviving children
Photo 1985, left to right:

  1. Mary Maxine Spilman November 02, 1922- February 19, 2003 Mason City, IA married 1 Glenn Broom, 2 Fritz (Frederick) Gobeli

  2. Deane Ellsworth Spilman October 26, 1920 - May 29, 1998 married 1 Bette Blahnik, 2 Shirley Grover.

  3. Alice Spilman September 03, 1926-February 05, 2016 Clear Lake, IA

  4. Norma Jean Spilman (Dewey (Paul) Howell)

Winnie and Tom's oldest son, Thomas Leroy, was said to have been born in South Dakota and either died there or on the trip back to Iowa.  Winnie Arlene Spilman September 25, 1924 - April 10, 1931 died from Scarlet Fever.

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Daniel , Jr.




Daniel Spilman 1848-1915 - Life in England before going to the United States.
-Birth Certificate,   Sloop Walcot, Whitton Windmill, Map of North Lincolnshire to America 1870.
Letters from America back to England
-Dan's marriage to Thea Anderson and his farm in Clear Lake, IA
  Marriage Certificate, 1912 plat map, Photo of Thea, Thea's death certificate
-Dan and Thea Spilman's children  photos 1893, 1898, 1961