WALLACE (WAL) THOMASON
Submitted by Frank Butcher, updated May 28, 2007
Wal Thomason lived the first 30 years of his life in the remnants of the Wild
West, and perhaps the toughness of that time helps to explain the dichotomy of
his life. As a young man, Wal was a fighter and has been described as a
“violent” man. It was said that Wal Thomason "would fight at the drop of a hat,
and he would drop the hat". Wal was not the kind of person to start a fight,
but he never backed away from one, and his fuse was very short. He was a heavy
drinker as a young man, which made a large contribution to his violent ways.
Wal almost killed a man on the streets of Mart, beating him senseless and then
in uncontrolled anger, kicking and stomping him until he was pulled off. When
Wal married Allie Rutherford, he showed up for the wedding scuffed
up--apparently from a fight, but never explained what had happened. Wal was a
slightly built man, close to six feet tall and weighing no more than 150 pounds.
In a fight, Wal made up for this less than imposing physical stature with a
bulldog mentality that meant he was either going to whip his adversary or die
A grandson remembered overhearing a conversation between Wal and his son, Paul, the subject of which was things Wal wished he hadn’t done in his rough younger days. Wal told of having been drinking heavily and riding his horse down a country lane when he encountered a stranger traveling in the opposite direction. Wal stopped and offered the man a drink. The man responded, “I’m a man of the cloth. I don’t drink”. Wal looked the man in the eye, pulled out his pistol and said, “Preacher, you’ll drink today!” When Wal finally rode off, he left the preacher in a drunken stupor lying under a tree.
As a married man, Wal mellowed considerably under the faithful influence of his wife who was a devout Christian. However, occasionally his rough side would resurface. The story is told about an ex-slave called Auntie who weekly helped Allie with the washing, but showed up hours late on one occasion. Wal asked for an explanation for her tardiness, and was told that she was stopped by some white men who would not let her pass in an area that was off limits to blacks. Wal did not say a word, but retrieved his 44 pistol from his trunk, and walked out the door. Hours later, when he returned, Wal simply told Auntie "you won't have that problem again." Wal gave no details on how he managed to be so persuasive, but given Wal's reputation, it is not hard to imagine.
Several years into his marriage, Wal and his dad were involved in a dispute with Will Rutherford over 30 acres of land. Eventually, there was a confrontation and a shootout, leaving his wife's brothers, Will and Bob Rutherford dead, as well as Wal's dad. In the repercussions of this shooting, Wal left town temporarily to avoid a possible lynching, and Allie separated from Wal, moving with her baby daughter, Kate, to live with her mother. Wal was tried and acquitted for his role in the shooting, mostly because there were no reliable witnesses and because his brother Charlie is reputed to have lied on the witness stand to protect Wal. As an older man Wal told Allie that he greatly regretted the killings, saying that "it never should have been", and blamed his rough behavior on not being taught right as a child. This episode made life-long enemies for Wal among members of the Rutherford and Clancy families. One member of the Clancy family reports thinking as child that Wal’s name was “Old Sorry” because she never heard his name mentioned except as “Old Sorry Wal”. When Allie returned to Wal after a three-year separation, she was excommunicated from the Clancy and Rutherford families who would not even allow their children to mention her name, because “she no longer existed”.
Mary Elizabeth Anderson told her daughter, Tomi, who had married into the Lenamon/Thomason family, that people in the Ben Hur area avoided dealing with Wal because they were afraid of him. According to Mrs. Anderson, Wal was known as a “mean” man, and out of fear for his safety, the country doctor would not make house calls if it required passing by Wal Thomason’s house.
As a father, Wal was a harsh disciplinarian, routinely using a buggy whip to beat his children. Once, after he whipped his 25 year-old daughter, Erin (still single and living at home), she ran into the house and came out with a shotgun, letting Wal know that if he ever tried that again, she would shoot him dead.
Allie, grumbling to other family members about her husband’s stubborn ways, revealed that Wal even refused to go to his mother’s funeral, just 6 miles away, because it was raining. Perhaps Wal did not have a good relationship with his mother, but it is more likely that it was Wal’s personality to do as he pleased.
As a grandfather, Wal is remembered more kindly. His grandchildren recall that he always used clean language and was very ethical. When he went to town, he wore overalls, a white Stetson hat, and spotless shoes. He took great pride in keeping his shoes and hat clean, always brushing his shoes when he came inside and putting his hat away in a hatbox. Wal’s grandchildren recall that even on the wettest days, he could walk down the dirt lane to the store, and somehow arrive without a speck of mud on his shoes. He loved peppermint candy, and delighted in listening to the "Lone Ranger" and the "Grand Ole Opry" on the radio. Wal chewed tobacco, but was very neat about it, probably due to the influence of Allie who by all accounts was a fastidious housekeeper. He was a quiet man, reserved about demonstrations of affection except when it came to his grandchildren and great grandchildren, whom he thought could do no wrong. Wal bought apples and oranges by the box during the winter as treats for his grandchildren. He called each of the boys "sugar man", and he called his daughter Kate "Sweet Baby", his son Paul, "Bud", and his daughter Erin, "Peg". In the summer Wal would take his grandchildren to the tank and let them swim, sitting patiently for hours. His granddaughter Frances remembers Wal taking her and John to Groesbeck on Saturdays, feeding them at Lynn's Cafe, and letting them go to a movie at the local theater, while he sat and visited with friends on the street. Grandson Staton Thomason commented that Wal’s patience sometimes didn’t last through the lengthy double feature, and recalls being embarrassed when his grandfather walked into the darkened theatre and hollered, “Staton Earl, come on--it’s time to go home”.
Wal raised watermelons in the summer and sweet potatoes in the fall, taking his produce to Mart and Groesbeck in a wagon to sell on the street. According to notes left by his granddaughter, Mary Beth Fife, Wal raised sugar cane and had a syrup mill on his farm. He also had one of the largest pear orchards in the area, and as late as 1990, kin were picking pears from the few remaining trees.
Wal was not a religious man, but exposure to his wife's steadfast faith and Bible readings possibly made him into a believer. On his deathbed just before dying, Wall told Allie that he could see a dove hovering above him.
Wal’s granddaughter, Mary Beth Lenamon Fife, wrote the following description of times she and her siblings spent with Wal and Allie for the Limestone County Family Genealogy Book: “I am the oldest grandchild and the only one born in the big house on the hill near the stores at Box Church (Wal and Allie’s home), but all the grandchildren have the fond memories of our grandparents that I have. They made us rope swings, let us climb in the two-story barn, washed and warmed our feet in winter, provided cheese, crackers, apples and peppermint candy to munch on while we sat around a winter’s roaring fire in the fireplace and listened to The Lone Ranger or some such radio program, and let us gather the eggs to sell to buy candy--a seldom had treat for us. Our Sundays were spent there playing with cousins and always glad when we graduated from the little table to the big table. Love, patience, prayers and good training are what we think of when we think of our grandparents.”