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Significant Scots

Thomas Moonlight (1833-99)

The story of Thomas Moonlight began somewhere in Scotland about the year 1650. A couple were sitting by the fireside one evening when they heard the sobbing of a small infant outside their door. It was late. The couple cautiously opened their front door and looked out into the moonlight. An abandoned baby was lying in a basket outside their house.

The baby was brought up by that kindly couple. Because it was not truly their baby, they did not give it their surname but called it “Moonlight”. Little did they know it but the name of Moonlight would survive for three centuries and that young baby would be the founder of a famous family.

Thomas Moonlight was born in 1833. He was the son of a poor, industrious farmer who owned a farm near Arbroath called Boysack Muir. At the age of twelve Thomas became an apprentice draper in Arbroath. Life in a stuffy draper’s shop did not suit an adventurous boy like him, however. He worked earnestly for a year but was not happy. Then Thomas suddenly disappeared. Years would pass before his family or friends heard from him again.

Instead of going to work at the draper’s as usual, Thomas set out for Dundee one morning. It must have taken the young boy hours to walk to the big city. When he arrived in Dundee, he went along to the docks and signed on the crew of a ship bound for Philadelphia.

At first, America did not bring Thomas the excitement he craved. He spent a number of years working on farms in the east until he enlisted as a private in the U.S. Artillery a the age of twenty. A born soldier, young Thomas soon gained promotion. By 1857, he held the rank of captain.

Thomas, however, yearned after the happy days of his boyhood on Boysack Muir farm. For six years, he saved what he could from his earnings until he had collected enough to buy a farm, which he did at a place in Kansas called Kickapoo.

But the peaceful life of the farm did not last long. Within two years the American Civil War had broken out. Thomas joined up with the Northern States. One of the best shots in the western army, he was promoted to Colonel of the Eleventh Kansas Cavalry. When he was commended for bravery at the battle of Dry Wood, he was promoted again to Brigadier-General.

Thomas was one of three commanders of the Northern troops at the famous battle of Pea Ridge fought on March 7th and 8th, 1862. About fifty thousand fought in the battle. The result of the carnage was a decisive victory for the North. Even so, the war continued.

General Moonlight commanded the Second Kansas Brigade at the battle of Westport in 1864 and was again commended for bravery. Thomas, though, remained a farmer at heart in spite of his successful career as a soldier. He resigned from the army the moment the war ended in 1864.

As before, Thomas did not enjoy the peace of farm life for long. War broke out with the Red Indians in Wyoming and Moonlight inevitably became involved. For once, the adventurer bit off more than he could chew when he led an expedition into Indian territory. Hampered by a shortage of supplies and up against overwhelming odds, Moonlight met with disaster. All the horses under his command were stolen. Moonlight and his troops were forced to walk all the way back to Fort Lamarie. It was a distance of one hundred miles.

His love of farming never left him and it was to his farm that Moonlight returned in 1868. Never one to be idle, he spent much of his spare time in politics. His sharp brain and powerful oratory soon made him an eminent figure. It was not long before Thomas was holding positions of high office. In 1887, he reached the pinnacle of his life’s career when he was appointed Governor of Wyoming.

Again, though, the call of the farming life was too strong for Thomas. After two turbulent years as Governor, he resigned to return to his farm. Four years later, Thomas received his last appointment when President Cleveland made him U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia. Now sixty years old, he held the position until his retiral in 1897.

This time, Thomas Moonlight’s return to farm life was final. He died two years later in 1899.

Thanks to Angus Council for this information.

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