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November 14, 2019

The drinking fountain in honor of Tom Ramsey is on display at the Old Jail Museum in Thompson Falls.

40 YEARS AGO •

NOVEMBER 15, 1979

THE WAY IT WAS by LORRAINE DUFRESNE

By pretending almost total deafness, one of the early characters of Thompson Falls eked out a fairly comfortable existence. Tom Ramsey was a single man, who resided in Thompson Falls for many years during the early 1900s. He lived in a small frame house between Main Street and the river, near the section known in those days as Maiden Lane, or the red light district. He was known as "Deafy" as probably very few residents knew him by any other name.

He died about 1925, leaving no known relatives and a very small estate. Attorney A.S. Ainsworth was a longtime friend and attended to his burial. A small sum of money remained after the estate was closed. The thought of a fitting memorial to commemorate Ramsey's long life in Thompson Falls ended in purchasing a street-type drinking fountain. It was erected and fitted with the metal plaque which now adorns it. (This drinking fountain, which is no longer with us was located on the corner by the burned out Weaver's Café, now the site of Til Valhalla Tattoo Parlor.)

"Deafy" was remembered as a man of small stature, friendly disposition and unhurried approach of life. He always wore a flat brimmed white straw hat. In the winter he tied it down with a plaid woolen muffler.

Tom and his "deafness" played quite a role in his poker games, these being the pastime in the backs of the Main Street saloons. He made these his hangout and the regulars knew him well. But the newcomers and transients did not. These unsuspecting players were deluded into thinking that Ramsey was stone deaf. Often when playing they would mumble to themselves, or talk to their partners. "Deafy" picked up these bits of information loud and clear and utilized them to his benefit. In other words, he raked in many a sizeable pot, without ever letting on that his ears were far better than he indicated.

THOMAS BENTLEY RAMSEY

From Pioneers and Early Settlers of Thompson Falls by Ann Miller

Thomas Bentley Ramsey was born Jan. 10, 1843, the eighth of twelve children, at Des Moines, Iowa. He served in the Civil War, entering Sept. 25, 1861 and was discharged Dec. 19, 1863.

Information taken from "Nuggets to Timber," the story of Libby, Montana, page 20 – Naming of Ramsey Creek and Horse Mountain, "J.A. McGowan was a merchant in Plains, and being a live wire with his ear to the ground, wishing to share in the placer mining activities we had on Libby Creek, outfitted a man for prospecting, by the name of Ramsey, who was a one-legged man and deaf. He would talk to you and have you write your answer in a book. One day he asked us to help him locate some worthwhile claims, so next morning I took him to a creek which my brother named Ramsey Creek in his honor. He made his location from the mouth, nearly to the bridge and called his claim "Poker Flats," saying he once had a claim in California by that name and it proved to be very rich.

Ramsey or "Deafy" as they all called him, turned out his pack horses thinking they would range down the creek and band with ours, but later upon looking for his horses he found no trace of them. Several months later, when my brother was deer hunting he went past Howard Lake to the divide between that lake and Miller Creek and followed that divide until it brought him over the mountain opposite Hoo Doo Creek, to the present location of the ranger station and discovered a band of horses and upon going to look at them saw that he had found Deafy's horses. Naming the mountain Horse Mountain because of this incident."

Another memory of Deafy, was the time at the halfway house between Murray, Idaho and Thompson Falls. He and a French woman danced and sang up a storm all the while telling the mother of the French woman the cards in the other players hand.

The Weekly Montanian Oct. 13, 1894, page 3 – Geo Good and Mr. Ramsey, the owners of the Squaw Creek fruit ranch, are preparing the ground for an additional 900 trees of choice varieties. (George Good owned 1400 acres of land three miles northwest of Thompson Falls developed with one of the largest, if not the largest apple orchards in the county, along with considerable town property.)

Paul Harlow told The Ledger about Deafy Ramsey. He said his wife first met Ramsey when she was a little girl and resided with her parents Mr. & Mrs. W.A. Barto, in the old house on the hill above the George West place. Later Ramsey worked for many years for George Good on the present Paul Harlow ranch. In addition to being deaf, Paul recalls that in later hears he had a peg leg and that he fashioned a special stirrup for his peg leg. Paul also recalls that Ramsey was quite community minded.

Thompson Falls had its quota of unusual residents during those early years. The highly educated remittance man, Judge Nippert, who taught school with a firm hand and a willow switch, but whose failing was the whiskey bottle; Swift Water Bill, who supplied buffalo meat for the Western railroads, rode Weeksville Rapids standing on a runaway sawlog and was the best recognized freelance liar in Montana.

Thomas Ramsey first came west with the wagon trains and arrived in Sanders County in 1885. He worked for Col. McGowan of Plains and later in 1891 moved to Thompson Falls where he ranched in partnership with George Good on the ranch now occupied by Paul Harlow.

He died Sunday, October 21, 1940. By all figures he was 97 years of age at the time of his death.

In the late 1990s the city deemed the fountain worthless, many of the members not knowing the story behind it; and threw it into the city dump. There it was found by Sterling Larsen who knew the value of the item. He took it home, removed the coats of painted and donated it to the Old Jail Museum.

 

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