A Maid's Life

​MOST TRAIL END maids – and there were many over the years – were young girls from poor families. They tended to be ill-educated and extremely temporary (the work was hard and paid very little). Emily Thomas, who worked at Trail End for a brief time in the 1920s, may have been young and poor, but she had dreams of a brighter future; one that did not include cleaning other people’s homes. We are very fortunate to have discovered quite a lot about Emily's background, as well as her life after Trail End. 


Born out-of-wedlock in Spearfish, South Dakota, Emily Thomas (1908-1987) was the daughter of flour mill worker Adelbert Rudd Thomas (1887-1949) and dressmaker Florence Belle Lincoln (1890-1972). "Del" and "Flossie" had met as children on the prairies of eastern Wyoming, growing up three doors away from each other in the tiny Crook County hamlet of Williams. Flossie's father was a farmer; Del's was the local postmaster.

Although they had produced their first child six months earlier, Del and Flossie were married in Deadwood, South Dakota, in November 1908. Ten months later, their second child, Marie Delayne Thomas, was born in Sundance, Wyoming. Employed as a sacker in a Spearfish flour mill, Del lost four fingers in an industrial accident, thus making him ineligible for service in World War One. 

By January 1918, Flossie was divorced and living with her children in Lead, South Dakota. There she married James E. Toms, a 33-year-old bachelor from Terry, South Dakota. Later that year, the family moved to Shelton, Washington, where James registered for the draft (he was unemployed). Flossie's parents and siblings previously relocated to Washington state, so it is assumed that the Toms family went there to be near them. 

The 1920 Federal Census shows Emily and her family back in South Dakota, where her stepfather was employed as a shovel operator at the Trojan Mining Company's Portland gold mine. In July 1920, James Toms was killed in a mining accident. Witnesses stated that a large slab of rock fell onto his power shovel as he loaded railroad cars, killing him instantly

We haven't been able to find where Emily was for the next three years, but by 1924, she was in Sheridan with her mother and sister. She attended high school, where she appeared in the sophomore class play. In 1926, she graduated from Sheridan High School, having completed Normal Training – the educational track that allowed her to be an elementary school teacher right out of high school. During her final year at SHS, she performed in the senior class play and was a soloist in the Second Annual Minstrel Show (her sister Marie was a member of the chorus). 


While we have been unable to find exact dates, it is most likely sometime during her high school years that Emily worked at Trail End. She is pictured holding a bouquet and standing alongside Senator John B. Kendrick, gazing up at him. She is wearing a maid's uniform, and the photo was taken on the Trail End grounds. 


Emily’s first teaching assignment, beginning in 1927, was in the mining camp of Monarch, just north of Sheridan. She was teaching first and second grades there when the school building was destroyed by fire in January 1930. According to the 1930 Federal Census, Emily lived on West Loucks Street in Sheridan with her mother, Florence Austin (she had apparently married for a third time, but no record of the union has been found) and sister Marie (also a school teacher). Throughout the early 1930s, Emily, Marie and Florence lived in a series of small homes on West Loucks and South Brooks streets.

In 1930, Emily's estranged father, Del, was living in Carter County, Montana. Curiously, he was enumerated twice; the first time on April 12 in Carter County, Township 6, and again on April 14 in Carter County School District Number 9. Both times he was listed as forty-two years old, married, and working as a stock farmer. He was married to a woman named Mamie, and living with her daughter, nine-year-old Janie A. Chausse. 

In 1933, Florence Lincoln Thomas Toms Austin married for the fourth time, to bachelor railroad switchman William A. Winters, a 43-year-old veteran of the World War. They set up house at 940 West Loucks. One year later, Emily's sister Marie married English-born watch repairman Stanley Greenhalgh and moved to Thermopolis, Wyoming. 

In 1935, Emily taught in Superior, a coal town in Wyoming's Sweetwater County. Five years later, she was teaching at the Willard School in Casper. Sometime between her Superior and Casper assignments, she attended classes at - and graduated from - the University of Wyoming. The 1940 census showed her boarding at the home of postal clerk Paul H. Burdell in Casper. (The same census showed her mother still married to William Winters; Marie was still married, the mother of a three-year-old son, and working as a jewelry store saleslady; Del Thomas was divorced (again) and living in Madison County, Montana, where he was enumerated as an unemployed quartz miner.

In July 1944, Emily married watch repairman James Karl Gouge at a small ceremony in Moose, Wyoming. A native of North Carolina, James was seven years younger than his bride. After James was discharged from the U. S. Army in September 1945, the couple moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she got a job at the Whittier School, and he worked as a watch repairman at the Diamond Watch & Jewelry Company. 

Emily continued to teach for many more years, while James eventually became a partner at the jewelry store. They had no children.

Emily's father, Adelbert Rudd Thomas, died alone in 1949 and was buried in Twin Bridges, Montana. Her mother, Florence Winters, died in Sheridan in 1972 and was buried with her fourth husband, William Winters, who died in 1958. James Gouge died in 1981, while Emily Thomas Gouge, former Trail End maid, passed away in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1987, at the age of seventy-nine. She was survived by her sister, Marie Thomas Greenhalgh, and one nephew.  

The Ties That Bind

Exploring the Relationship Between Sheridan & Trail End

Trail End overlooking Sheridan, circa 1912 (Gwinn Collection, SCHS)

 (AHC Kendrick & Sheridan collections, TESHS)

A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site

March 2014 - December 2015

 State Historic Site

Trail End