Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Colonel Monstery, Soldier of Fortune

by Diane Hayes

In my pursuit of my family genealogy, I’ve collected quite a lot of information, newspaper articles, family letters and records on Col. Thomas Monstery. While we’re not sure that everything is absolute fact where Thomas is concerned, he did have a very notable life. Various obituaries were published at Thomas’s death which give versions of his many exploits. I believe he definitely took part in revolutions or some similar types of adventures in several Central American locations.

Lillie Langtry Letter

Thomas may have began his adventure in Denmark, where he was born, but I’m amazed at all the places he traveled. Through available records, it’s possible to follow Thomas from Cuba, Baltimore, Central America, Mexico, California, New York, and Chicago. There are many newspaper accounts of his fencing exhibitions, fencing classes and students, etcetera. He taught fencing to some of the Booth family, and I have a letter (to him) from Lilly Langtry, where she looks forward to a fencing session with him. I have another letter from Samuel Kayzer, the President of Chicago’s Conservatory of Music & Dramatic Art, written in 1897. It’s basically a letter of appreciation and admiration for Thomas.

Thomas wrote articles on physical exercise and self defense, which were published in the newspaper as a weekly series. He had a patent for a swimming aide or apparatus of some type. He had fencing academies in California, Mexico, New York and Chicago.

During one of Thomas’s passes through Mexico, while staying overnight in a town to enjoy a local festival, military guards stationed at his room to guard his trunks, instead stole his trunks and made off with Thomas’s fortune. The officers admitted their guilt and Thomas later sued Mexico in an attempt to recoup his money. I have a copy of the court case, which was decided against Thomas.

I have the pension application Thomas submitted, claiming he was a veteran of the Mexican War conflict. Despite Thomas’s description of his activities during the conflict, no record could be found substantiating his claim that he had joined the Navy, and the pension was denied. The official decision was that he may have been on a ship that was not an official Navy ship, but one hired to transport equipment, horses, etc. I do have a photo (the original is in the holdings at the San Jacinto Museum in Texas; it was part of some family memorabilia donated by Thomas’s granddaughter Carmen), of a group of men at a reunion of Mexican War Veterans, and Thomas is one of the group. This may be a reunion in 1892, held in Thomas’s fencing establishment, which was mentioned in a newspaper account.

Veterans of the Mexican War.
Rear, fourth from right, Thomas Monstery

Besides his claim of having been involved with the Mexican War, Thomas also claimed to have been one of the California ’49ers, who had gone there looking for gold. Thomas was present at several ’49er reunions, as mentioned in newspaper accounts.

I have a written ‘Notes on the Life of Thomas Hoyer Monstery,’ which apparently was related while Thomas was alive, possibly when he was still living in New York.

Although there were few mentions anywhere of Thomas’s family, he had at least seven children with his wife Carmen Xiques, of Cuba. At the end of his life, Thomas lived in Chicago while Carmen lived in New Jersey and their children were scattered. Thomas apparently was estranged from most of his family. I am a great-great granddaughter of Thomas through his son Ole. 
(There are over 60 Monstery descendants in my N.J. line, and other branches in Texas, the Council Bluffs, Iowa area, and Illinois, from three of Thomas’s children.)

*Biographical article: Monstery Soldier of Fortune, from Everybody’s Magazine, October 1902, HERE. Monstery's dime novels HERE.

1 comment:

  1. That's my great, great, great grandpa! (yes.. three greats) His great grandaughter, Carmen Monstery (My dad's grandma, later Carmen Van Ness) moved from NJ to Texas during the early twentieth century! YAY heritage!