This is an expanded history on the Thornton family. Since he has a complete bio on the game site, Shade Thornton is not included.
Lewis and Clark Expedition
The Lewis and Clark Expedition from May 1804 to September 1806, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States. It began near St. Louis, made its way westward, and passed through the continental divide to reach the Pacific coast. The Corps of Discovery comprised a selected group of U.S. Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend, Second Lieutenant William Clark.
President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route across the Western half of the continent, and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.
The campaign’s secondary objectives were scientific and economic: to study the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, and to establish trade with local Native American tribes. With maps, sketches, and journals in hand, the expedition returned to St. Louis to report its findings to Jefferson.
Scotland to America
The Thorntons immigrated to the Americas after the 1745 Jacobite uprising in their Scottish homeland. From Cape Breton, off the coast of Canada, the family spread southward into the American colonies. Many of them settled in the southern Appalachian region of the colonies as did many Irish and Scottish immigrants. Very little is known about their history in Scotland beyond that they did fight against the British in the uprising.
They were an enterprising and hard working family that embodied many of the traits of their Scottish forebears. They had a reputation for being fiercely independent, hot-headed, and once their loyalty was engaged, it rarely wavered. Although not wealthy, the Thorntons made good livings at their respective trades. Many fought against the British in the American Revolution. Over subsequent generations, many more would fight and die in other conflicts on American soil. As the country expanded west toward the Pacific, so did the Thorntons.
William Ishmael Thornton
- Date of Birth: Unknown
- Date of Death: Fall 1834 (presumed)
1779 – 1834
Army geologist and prospector, Ishmael Thornton, was one of the volunteers that accompanied the expedition. He had hopes of discovering veins of diamonds in the west similar to those found in other far-off lands. He was also tasked with marking spots on the maps that would be most likely to contain other vital resources: silver, iron, tin, copper, and of course, gold. He would also be providing valuable geological perspectives on the age and types of rock and soil encountered.
While gathering rock and soil samples in the Blackfeet territory, accompanied by one of the tribe’s scouts, Ishmael fell and was badly injured. Unable to continue with the expedition, an agreement was made to send his work on, while he remained with the Blackfeet who agreed to tend his injuries. All they asked in return was for him to share his knowledge of the land, to tell stories of what he had encountered on his great journey. Ishmael was happy to oblige. Before many months had passed, he was more at home with them than with the white man and made the decision to remain with the tribe.
Ishmael had another reason to remain with the tribe. He had fallen in love with more than the land and its indigenous people.
Kimi Dancing Sky was the daughter of the youngest of the clan elder’s son. Her mother was Angelique DeBec, the daughter of a French trapper and fur trader. She had been traded to the tribe in exchange for supplies and a guide through the territory. Kimi was an extraordinarily beautiful woman with flowing black hair and eyes the color of the summer sky. Many of descendants of Ishmael and Kimi inherited Angelique’s beautiful blue eyes and refined features.
Dancing Wolf and Angelique were gifted with the birth of a daughter. They named her Neha for the gentle rain that was falling at the time of her birth. Neha grew up to be a very accomplished and beautiful young woman. She also helped tend Josiah’s injuries, eventually falling in love with him and accepting his offer of marriage.
Not long after Ishmael and Kimi married, the clan traveled south on a hunting and foraging expedition. He and Kimi separated from the tribe to journey west with the intention of settling on the Pacific coast. They had been told of a mountain pass that led to a valley and mountains that the Blackfeet called the Choguns. If they could find it, there was a trail through the Salish that would take them to the Columbia River and on westward. They were high in the mountains, beyond the valley, when Kimi told Ishmael she was with child. It was too far for them to journey back to the tribe before the first winter snows set in, so they settled in a small, high basin that overlooked the great Chogun Valley and its vast, deep lake.
By spring, Ishmael and Kimi were the proud parents of a strong baby boy with hair as black as a raven’s wing and his mother’s piercing blue eyes. They named him John Caleb Thornton. They had also made a home for themselves in the Choguns. It was a good land with fertile soil and plenty of acreage for grazing animals. Ishmael took the steps required to claim the Chogun region for himself and his family.
During an expedition to map the source of the creek that fed the lake, Ishmael discovered gold. It was a substantial find, but knowing that it could also mean the loss of his lands, he decided to not record the strike. Instead, Ishmael would disguise himself and travel far afield to trade the gold for the coin of the day and supplies. Ishmael decided to create the Thornton Legacy which stipulated that the land and the bulk of the family fortunes, whatever that entailed, would pass to the eldest sons. The younger children would inherit a generous amount of money to use for their own futures. They were expected to make what they could of it because no more would be forthcoming. It was Ishmael’s way of preserving the land intact, as well as the secret of the gold.
Over the years, Kimi was the primary manager of the land, and it remained a subsistence farm and ranch rather than being operated for profit. Ishmael, with an intense interest in the mineral resources and timber, expanded the family businesses, mainly on the West Coast, but he also contracted with various freight companies to ferry the goods east.
Ishmael and Kimi had several more children after John Caleb, not all of them survived. The ones that did took their inheritance and, as Ishmael had hoped, they scattered to the four winds to make their own fortunes. Over the years, there were occasional letters, but contact was eventually lost with the majority of them.
In 1834, at the age of fifty-five, Ishmael set off into the mountains to gather more gold. He fully intended to return and, after the winter’s supplies were purchased, he planned on showing Caleb the source of the strike in the spring. He never returned.
In the spring of 1835, Kimi rode out and disappeared. If there was gold hidden in the Choguns, she took the secret with her. Interestingly, her name means secret in the language of the Blackfeet people.
John Caleb Thornton
- Born: April 1, 1806
- Died: March 2, 1868 (62)
John Caleb Thornton, the son of Ishmael and Kimi Thornton, was born in the Chogun Mountains during the winter of 1806. He was homeschooled mostly by his father who was a well-educated man. From his mother, he learned French and a deep, abiding love of the land. Standing at 6’5″, Caleb could be an intimidating presence, especially with his deep voice and strong, no-nonsense personality. His steady gaze intimidated family and foe alike. John Caleb Thornton was known as an honest and fair man, highly respected by all who knew him and dealt with him.
At the age of twenty-five, Caleb made the long and arduous journey to Charleston, South Carolina to establish contracts with a shipping company. In need of financially stable clients and partners, Cantrell Shipping and Shipyards was the ideal choice for adding that business element to the expanding Thornton portfolio. Caleb also formed a deep and abiding friendship with the company’s owner, Charles Cantrell and his wife, Claire Devereaux Cantrell.
While in Charleston, he met the beautiful and vivacious Isadora Kiara de Monserrat y Calderón, the daughter of a Spanish nobleman visiting the city on business. The spaniard owned a large ranch just over the border in Mexico although he and his family resided in Mexico City. The raven-haired beauty immediately captured Caleb’s heart.
Caleb asked her father for permission to court her, but aghast at the rough Montanan, he promptly refused and forbid her to see him. Not to be thwarted, Caleb and Isadora sought help from the Cantrells who arranged their wedding in their home. Charles Cantrell stood as Caleb’s best man. Claire acted as Isadora’s Matron of Honor.
When Ishmael rode off into the mountains in the fall of 1834 never to be seen or heard from again, Caleb inherited the ranch. He and Isadora promptly registered the LLbarH brand, giving Lost Lake Ranch its alternate name, the Double L. With the ebb and flow of income from their various business interests, they decided they wanted to try to put the ranch on a profitable basis.
While on a cattle-buying trip to the recently liberated Texas Territory, Caleb ran into one of his younger sister, Celeste, who had married a Spaniard of noble blood and now lived on a coffee plantation in Costa Rica. As luck would have it, Don Diego de Sylva was looking for North American outlets for his premium coffees. Always in the market for goods and products, Caleb offered to handle the shipping for a percentage of the profits. Don Diego insisted on making him a minor shareholder. Over the years to come, his interest in de Sylva Coffee would sustain the family through other financial hardships.
The income from the coffee plantation allowed Caleb to build a grand mountain lodge for Isadora. He had it constructed in Snowlight Basin which overlooked Lost Lake and Chogun Valley. They named the house Blackbird Lodge. The lodge was built with all the modern conveniences of the day and was completed just in time for the birth of Caleb and Isadora’s first child.
Caleb and subsequent generations of Thorntons maintained Ishmael and Kimi’s cabin as a hunting lodge. From time to time, it appears that someone has used the cabin, but no sign of anyone was ever detected.
January 5: William Chance Thornton born.
March 13: Jesse Shade Thornton born; midwife says that there will be no more children.
1850 – 1860
The next ten years saw the Thorntons not only survive but thrive. Although they were not the wealthiest family west of the Mississippi, they were comfortably well off. Both of Caleb’s sons were thriving although young Shade was something of a wild child who often clashed with his father.
1861 – 1867
By 1861, there were real fears that civil war was coming to the United States. The Cantrells, long-time friends to Caleb and Isadora, sent their daughter to live with the family. That same year, Shade was expelled for fighting from the school in Kalispell. Having had more than enough of his youngest son’s defiance, Caleb moved him to the bunkhouse with the other ranch hands and put him to work on the ranch.
Within a few months of arriving in Montana, Regina Cantrell was firmly and completely in love with Chance Thornton. Chance’s feelings were mutual and they, with the blessing of Regina’s parents, made plans to marry in June of 1962.
Shade too had fallen in love. After being expelled from school, he had renewed his friendship with Hannah Cory, the daughter of the town marshal. Their feelings for one another had changed from simple friendship to love. Although they were young, Caleb hoped that Hannah could settle Shade down so raised no objection when they stated their plans to marry in May of 1862, a month before Regina and Chance were to wed. A few days before the wedding, Shade was embroiled in an incident in Missoula that ended with him killing one of the Steelgrave boys. Although he was cleared of wrongdoing, the long-held enmity between the two families made it untenable for him to remain in the territory. The timing of it all kept Shade from getting to Hannah to warn her or ask her to leave with him resulting in her being left at the altar. Caleb disowned Shade completely, refusing to allow his name to be spoken in his presence. A few months later, the first rumors of Shade having turned to gunfighting reached Caleb’s ears. They were only rumors, but knowing of Shade’s speed with a gun and his temper, Caleb believed them. Shade never returned home and Caleb never saw or spoke to him again.
The Civil War had a tremendous impact on the Thornton fortunes. They lost everything they had invested when Cantrell Shipping was lost. The post-war devastation in the South took an equally heavy toll on their finances. Although they were still far from destitute, things were precarious.
- March 2, 1868: Caleb Thornton dies of natural causes (a. 62).
- June 2, 1868: Isadora Thornton dies of natural causes (a. 60).
William Chance Thornton
- Born: January 5, 1837
- Died: June 2, 1875 (38)
1837 – 1854
Chance Thornton was the eldest of Caleb and Isadora Thornton’s two sons. In personality, he was more like his mother, even seeming to have inherited a bit of her Southern accent. He was very affable and good-natured although not he was not a man that allowed himself to be taken advantage of by anyone. Chance was also highly intelligent and excelled at his school work, eventually graduating at the top of his class and going on to college to study business and economics.
1855 – 1865
Chance continued to do well in his studies and graduated from Wesleyan College in Stockton, California with a degree in business and economics. In 1859, he returned to Montana to take over the management of the family ranch from his father.
He met Regina Cantrell in 1861 when her family sent her to live with the Thorntons. Within a few months, they had made plans to marry as soon as possible. Despite an incident in Missoula that resulted in his younger brother’s banishment from home, Chance and Regina were married in June of 1862.
Now, officially a Thornton, Regina took over the ranch leaving Chance to deal with the various family business interests. The reversal of the Thorntons’ fortunes by the end of the Civil War in 1865 made it necessary to make the ranch start paying for itself or risk losing everything to the Steelgraves. Regina was a natural at ranching. She had an instinct for animal husbandry that was totally independent of her formal education. Soon, the ranch was breeding prized Angus, and Hereford cattle crossed with a hardy breed imported from Scotland who could better handle the brutal winters. Regina saw opportunities to provide both beef and horses to the recently established military operation at Fort Kalispell, the budding need for beef by the new Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the re-emergence of affluence meant high-end restaurants wanted to stock the best steaks and other cuts of beef that could be found.
1865 – 1875
Chance and Regina had a divide and conquer approach to business. Chance managed the books and the remaining Thornton business interests while Regina made the ranch a profitable enterprise.
Their family thrived as well. Between the years of 1867 and 1870, Regina gave birth to four children. Their first child,
Josiah Grant, was born in 1865 followed two years later by their daughter, Isadora Beth. In 1870, Regina gave birth to twins, William Cody and Regina Antoinette. The only thing left incomplete in Chance’s life was the absence of his younger brother. He kept track of Shade as best he could, even occasionally journeying to observe him and stand ready in case he needed help after some incident or another.
After the death of his parents in 1868, Chance discharged their rather nefarious attorney and business manager when he found out the man was also doing work for Elinor Steelgrave. He hired H.G. Mercer, a highly recommended San Francisco attorney. To his surprise and Reggie’s amusement, H.G. turned out to stand for Harriet Grace. Chance never had cause to regret his decision as H.G. Mercer proved to be as brilliant an accountant as she was in the courtroom. One of Chance’s first orders was that she break up the Thornton Legacy so that he could legally leave half the Double L to his younger brother, Shade. It took some effort, but in 1871, Chance and Regina were able to rewrite their wills leaving half of all of their goods and property to their children and half the ranch to the absent Shade. They also named Shade as their children’s legal guardian should it become necessary for them to have one.
Another provision of their will named Quentin Cantrell, Regina’s brother and a good friend to Chance, as the children’s guardian should Shade be incapable of discharging his duties and responsibilities. Regina also left Quentin approximately ten-percent of the wealth she had accrued via the ranch and her income from the Thornton business interests. It did not amount to a tremendous amount of money and property, but it would give him an interest in everything.
It was fortunate that Chance and Regina made all of their arrangements. In June of 1875, while returning from a shopping trip in Missoula, their coach was attacked by renegades. Chance, Regina, and their two oldest children were killed. Cody was injured and traumatized but survived. Antoinette had been ill and was not with them for the journey.
The Thornton Legacy
The Thornton Legacy was the trust created by Ishmael Thornton that defined how the family lands and assets would be distributed to the heirs. It designated that the eldest son would inherit all the lands, businesses and assets in its entirety. All of the other children would receive a legacy when they came of age that would be theirs to do with as they pleased although the intent was that they use it to make their own way in the world.
After he inherited the ranch and businesses, Chance Thornton initiated legal proceedings to dismantle the trust so that he and his wife could divide their state in the manner they saw fit.
Terms of Regina Thornton’s Will
Mr. Quentin Cantrell, the brother of Regina Cantrell Thornton, inherits her shares in all shipping, mining, and timber businesses. The percentage to remain 2% less than a controlling interest. If her children and heirs are not of legal age, Mr. Cantrell will manage their shares until they can legally do so for themselves. Mr. Cantrell also received items of Mrs. Thornton’s personal property that had formerly belonged to the Cantrell estate.
Mrs. Regina Cantrell Thornton’s remaining assets are to be divided equally amongst her children. Should there be any minor children at the time of her death and should her husband, Mr. Chance Thornton, predecease her, their paternal uncle, Mr. Jesse Shade Thornton, is to act as their legal guardian and administrator of their estate.
Terms of Chance Thornton’s Will
Chance Thornton left the majority of his assets to his children, to be divided equally amongst them. It also left them exactly one-half of Lost Lake Ranch and building sites for homes of their own should they choose to remain on the ranch. It also named Mr. Jesse Shade Thornton as their legal guardian and the trustee of their estate should Mrs. Regina Thornton predecease him.
The other half of the ranch, all lands, buildings, assets and Blackbird Lodge, the main house, was left to his younger brother, Mr. Jesse Shade Thornton.
Judge Oliver Mandrell’s Ruling
Under the guise of protecting the interests of the two surviving children of Chance and Regina Thornton, Carson Tyndall, attorney, brought suit on their behalf, seeing to overturn the dictates of the wills. Mr. Tyndall stipulated that Mr. Shade Thornton, due to a previous criminal record, was not a fit guardian for the children. Judge Oliver Mandrell, the district court judge for Kalispell, heard the case and granted an injunction against further proceedings until the children’s maternal uncle, Mr. Quentin Cantrell, could locate Shade Thornton.
After hearing the case, Judge Mandrell upheld the terms of the wills with the following conditions to be met with the understanding that he would review the case in six months.
Judge Mandrell’s Conditions
- Custody and guardianship of the minor children to be shared between Mr. Quentin Cantrell and Mr. Shade Thornton.
- A suitable female caregiver will be hired to see to the needs of the minor children.
- The ranch must show a clear profit of no less than 6% at the end of a six month period.
- Business profits should remain steady or increase.
- Mr. Jesse Shade Thornton will remain clear of criminal activities and charges.
- Ms. Harriet Mercer is appointed to oversee that all conditions are met and to monitor the management of the properties and business interests.
The Thornton Family
H.G. Mercer was unable to locate any of Ishmael and Kimi Thornton’s surviving children or their offspring that could or would be interested in relocating to Montana.
Angus and Gloria Thornton: Upon receiving his inheritance, Angus relocated to the East Coast, finally settling in Connecticut. He married Gloria Stewart. While on a trip back from Scotland, their ship sank in a storm with no survivors. Angus and Gloria did not have any children.
Celeste Thornton: Celeste set aside a good portion of her inheritance for the future and used the remainder to travel in Europe. While in Spain, she met and married Don Diego de Sylva, and settled with him on his coffee plantation in Brazil. Their children (3 daughters) have no interest in relocating to North America. Celeste and Don Diego still use Thornton Shipping to move their exclusive, high-end coffees and teas.
Sister Mary Margaret (Thornton): Kimberly Thornton used a portion of her inheritance to complete a college education and took a position teaching at a private girl’s school in New York. After the death of her fiancé, Kimberly joined a convent, eventually taking the name of Sister Mary Margaret. She currently resides in Tuscany at St. Catherine’s by the Sea, a small convent. The remainder of her fortune was surrendered to charity when she took her vows.
Seth Thornton: The youngest of Ishmael’s and Kimi’s children was last seen heading for California to look for gold and augment his inheritance. Long before the Klondike gold rush, he migrated toward the Yukon territory. There are no records of him after that.
The Legend of Ishmael’s Cross
Although Ishmael Thornton took extreme care when mining and selling the gold that he found in the Choguns and never told anyone of its existence, rumors about how he had acquired some of his wealth grew. The only person that knew for certain was Kimi Thornton, his wife. The subsequent generations of Thorntons all believe the strike, such as it was, has been mined out. Whether it has been or if there are still rich veins of gold in the Choguns is unknown.
However, as so often happens, the rumors of the existence of a rich gold mine, one even more fantastic than the legendary Lost Dutchman, persist. When those brave enough to try trespassing on Thornton land come back from the Blackbirds empty-handed, the stories fade from memory only to be resurrected again. That the Thorntons have made their modest fortune from hard work and by having an acute business sense gets pushed aside as unlikely. It’s easier to believe they are sitting on a golden horde.
The alleged golden treasure, as well as the legend itself, is called Ishmael’s Cross in the mistaken belief that Ishmael Thornton was such a dour man because he was carrying the burden of the secret of the gold. This is actually part and parcel of the legend. In reality, although not a jolly man, Ishmael Thornton was a very pleasant man with a great sense of humor.