As you might expect from Nebraska’s rich (and sometimes unusual) history, there are a lot of stories out there that most people haven’t heard. Such is the case with William Thompson’s scalp. When it was attached to William Thompson, it was as unremarkable as scalps tend to be. But after it left Thompson’s body, it took on a life of its own.
William Thompson (seen here sans scalp) was employed by Union Pacific.
In August of 1867, a telegraph wire broke near Lexington. Thompson and a group of other repairmen were dispatched to the scene to fix the wire.
On the way, their train was attacked by a Cheyenne raiding party.
The attackers derailed the train, killing everyone inside except Thompson. For his resilience and ability to survive a train wreck, Thompson was rewarded by being shot and then scalped.
(Image does not depict the actual scene.)
The Cheyenne departed in such a hurry that they forgot their trophy.
Thompson had been knocked unconscious by the attack, but the hot summer sun had kept the wound from bleeding excessively.
Thompson found the top of his head lying in the grass not far from where he woke up.
Apparently this guy was insanely tough. He picked up his scalp, dusted himself off, and walked 15 miles to the nearest railroad station. The people there put him on a train to Omaha in the hopes of finding a doctor who could reattach the scalp. Thompson carried it there in a bucket of salt water to preserve it.
Upon arriving in Omaha, Thompson approached Dr. Richard Moore with his detached crown.
Dr. Moore couldn't attach the scalp, but he reassured Thompson that the skin would grow back over time. Unsurprisingly, Thompson beat a hasty retreat from America and returned to his native England...where he presumably would not be unwillingly freed of any more body parts.
Thompson kept the scalp with him for quite a while. What he did with it in that time we'll never know.
In 1900, he decided he was done with it and sent it back to Dr. Moore. Was it a thank-you gift? A reminder of the good doctor's failure to fix the injury? Or just a guy trying to get rid of that really weird memento of what was likely the worst day of his life?
Dr. Moore, for his part, decided that he also did not want the gruesome trophy.
He donated it to the Omaha Public Library almost as soon as he received it. It was on display there for quite some time before being moved into storage at the main branch location. Today, it is brought out for special displays at times. You can also make an appointment in advance to see the scalp.
Have you ever seen the Thompson scalp in person? Would you ever think about making an appointment for your own private showing?