Maurice Thompson, The Early Years

by Cliff Huntington

Not much is known of Maurice's early years and the available information is at times confusing and contradictory, but most biographers agree that Maurice was born in Fairfield, Indiana on September 9, 1844. Elder Grigg Thompson and his wife Diantha Jagger Thompson named their fifth child, James Madison Thompson. As a young man he would change his given name to James Maurice Thompson and eventually drop James altogether. Maurice (pronounced Morris) acquired the nickname "Mat" as a youngster and it never really left him, as close friends and family would continue to call him "Mat" throughout his life.

There's been more discussion and speculation concerning the place and date of birth of Maurice's younger brother Will Henry Thompson. It appears that Will was born in Missouri on 10 March 1846. Evidence supports the family residing in Missouri at this time and a penciled note in the margin of Otis B. Wheeler's 1951 Master's Thesis, Maurice Thompson: A Biographical and Critical Study simply says, "Family sources confirm date of Will's birth as 10 March 1846." Some researchers have placed their age differences at four years, but throughout his writings, Maurice infers that he and Will were similar and matched in abilities as youngsters, an indication they were much closer in age.

Early in 1855 Maurice's family moved from Kentucky to near Calhoun, a small town nestled in the Cherokee valley of North Georgia where Grigg Thompson purchased 160 acres in a pine forest nestled along the beautiful and scenic Coosawattee River. Later additions would swell their "farmstead" as Maurice called it, to several hundred acres. The forests were full of game, the Coosawattee River and tributaries full of fish and adventure awaited just over the rugged peaks guarding the peaceful valley. Maurice fell in love with this brooding and beautiful country where Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia join and continued to make trips back long after moving to Crawfordsville, Indiana. Here Maurice's and Will's education would be taken over by Diantha Thompson and the occasional live in tutor from Savannah and here the longbow would strike a spark, igniting a flame that would only be extinguished in death. The old church where Grigg Thompson once pastored is now gone, another stands in its place on the same plot of ground; the home of Maurice's youth has long turned to ashes that now nurture sod in the yards of expensive homes, but his spirit may still be felt by those who visit.

Maurice's first experience with archery began here, probably an interest developed from reading and studying the classics. Archery's colorful history is well represented in the Greek and Latin literature used by Diantha in her teachings. Maurice and Will were certain to have had contact with local Native Americans as the Cherokee were common inhabitants of this rough and rugged country, but nothing indicates their archery beginnings were influenced by them. After rudimentary and rough beginnings, the brothers were taken under the wing of a reclusive and eccentric individual who resided at the edge of their father's farm by the name of Thomas Williams. Williams, schooled in the proper technique of the English, was the instrument responsible for their fundamental skill and knowledge which would prove so valuable in later years.

From all accounts Maurice and Will enjoyed a carefree existence, and to some the brothers were "both wild as the devil, doing nothing but hunting, fishing and galloping around the country." Maurice's later articles and books would wear the influence of his boyhood home in this valley of the Coosawattee River, a tribute to the rich experiences he enjoyed during his youth. He always spoke fondly of this period and later remarked that he had lived "a sweet, wild life; hard enough in many respects, almost savage in some--a sweet wild life as I remember it; however, devoted to books, manual labor, wildwood roaming, shooting and fishing."

Otis B. Wheeler, in The Literary Career of Maurice Thompson, paints a glowing picture of the brothers and their early years. "It was an irregular and picturesque regimen that the boys lived under. The idyllic nature of the life in North Georgia that was possible before the war Thompson nostalgically expressed in his essay A Fortnight in a Palace of Reeds. It is April, and through rifts in the forest of pine, hickory, oak, and tulip, grassy glades shine, miniature prairies peculiar to that region. `The young hickory trees spread out marvelous leaves, more than a span in width, and the yellow tulip exaggerates both foliage and flowers. The dogwood and sour gum, the red-oak, the maple and the chestnut, the cherry, the sassafras, and the lovely sweet gum all flourish in the fullest luxury of life and color.' Wild flowers cover the valley slopes and fill the ravines. The odors of sassafras and wild plum blossoms, mingle and fill the air. In this Arcadia the boys set up their camp in a moss-carpeted area between two wild plum trees, over which a thick-leaved vine has made a connecting canopy and around which, except for a small opening, tall gold-green reeds make a wall. `The earth is warm, the sky is pure and cloudless. Deep in the brake a hermit- thrush is calling. A vireo beyond the river quavers mournfully."

Life was good, but soon the threat of war loomed, threatening the peace and harmony of their childhood existence. The year 1862 ushered in the conflict that pitted brother against brother and Maurice, age 17, became the first to answer the call in defense of the Confederate. His father soon followed and two years later Will would be the third and final Thompson to wear the colors.

history menu
Hunting with the Bow - Will Thompson
The Clout Shoot
Horace Ford - Britains Greatest Archer
The Glory Years
Bill Sweetland
Thoughts on...
The Three Merry Bowmen
Ben Pearson
Sasha Siemel - "Tiger Man"
The Trinity
The history of Roving
Maurice Thompson, The Early Years
Maurice Thompson - The War Years
Maurice Thompson - The Sylvan Years
Maurice Thompson, - The Final Years
Howard Hill
Dr. Saxton Pope
Art Young
Will Compton

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