Column: Nobles County's Scotsmen were men of rare adventures

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared April 15, 2006.

WORTHINGTON - You perhaps spent the winter in Trinidad. I had to look at a map to make certain I knew where Trinidad is. By the time you get to the isle of Trinidad, you are in South America. Nearly. Trinidad is about Worthington-to-Beaver Creek long and Worthington-to-Sheldon wide.

A couple of weeks ago, this column talked of Lord Ogilvy, the Earl of Airlie, who played a role in the settlement of northeast Nobles County and in starting the village of Kinbrae. Lord Ogilvy was a Scotsman. His castle was/is near Scotland’s city of Dundee.

“It was uncommon to find a Scotchman in Nobles County, wasn’t it?” someone asked. It is easy to believe everyone in Nobles County came from Germany or Sweden or Norway - or Mexico. From the beginning, however, there always were people with roots in Scotland.

I can’t begin to know how many Scottish people there were, but some I heard of had unusual stories.


William Malcolm, for example. William Malcolm was born in Scotland’s city of Aberdeen. When he decided to leave his native home - 1881, age 26 - William Malcolm emigrated to the island of Trinidad. This is what sent me looking for a map.

Why in the world Trinidad?

I have no idea, of course.

Malcolm may have had some “Trinidad connection” - he became overseer for a large Trinidad sugar plantation. Quite a change from living in Scotland with no certain occupation.

Malcolm remained in Trinidad overseeing sugar cane fields and sugar cane workers for 42 months. Then he left - still not for Nobles County, but for Panama. He stayed there briefly, finding his way across Panama in the time before the canal. His years in the tropics - with the insects - broke his health, and he spent weeks in a hospital at San Francisco.

William Malcolm went back to Scotland to claim a wife. Elsie Horne. On to Jackson County, then to Nobles County. Malcolm ranked among the pioneers. When he came together with other old settlers, he had better stories to tell than most of them.

James Baird became a shepherd in Scotland - Dumfries Shire - at the age of 13. He lived as a Scottish shepherd until he was 40. Then, 1883, Baird came to America and went to work for the Northern Pacific Railroad in Montana before finding his way to Nobles County.

Robert Bird was born in Scotland on New Year’s Eve, 1836. Robert Bird could match stories with William Malcolm. Mr. Bird hired out to the Union Army as a teamster. He drove a team and wagon (1864) from Atchison, Kan., to Salt Lake City, Utah, to San Francisco. He then hired out to a company that specialized in trade with Indians. Bird’s new work took him to Alaska; he followed the Yukon River to Anvik - 19 months - before returning to California.


In 1871, as the first railroad was pressing toward Worthington, Robert Bird sailed for New Zealand. By January 1872, he was in Chicago, where he married Dorothea Blome. The newlyweds then became some of Nobles County’s earliest settlers.

James Greig was born in Scotland. He was a boy of 19 when he sailed for Houston County, Minnesota. It was there that he met four other Scotsmen, including William Thom and J.C. Thom. The five men came to explore Nobles County. On the day U.S. Grant was elected president, the Scotch explorers were in Nobles County’s empty Olney Township as a blizzard swept upon them.

The men fitted two wagon boxes together to create a tiny room, where they remained two days before they could dig themselves out of the drift that buried them.

James Grieg stayed to become another county pioneer. Those two Thoms from Scotland - on to the next generation - Robert Thom was pressed by his family to join them in carpentry although, “I could never get up more than 10 feet off the ground without holding onto something with both hands.”

Robert was working on a roof. He fell off. They revived him by pumping water on him.

“Next thing they knew, I was pumping a bicycle to St. Paul. I joined the Army.”

Robert Thom became one of Nobles County’s last surviving veterans of the war with Spain.

The Scotsmen: they were adventuresome.

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