The shadowy figure above is the only known image of Fond du Lac Constable Thomas Dobyns. Seen hear with the "empty sleeve" in front of his Rose Avenue home, taken some time around 1870. Thomas proudly displays his GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) pin on his lapel. The house still stands at 110 Rose Avenue in Fond du Lac and until 2001 was still owned by the Dobyns Family.
We really don't know much about Thomas as the records of his life are scant and the family history contradictory. For example, his grave marker in Rienzi Cemetery has his name spelled "Dobbins" and indicates he was a member of the 17th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He died February 3rd, 1873. His two obituaries (in 19th century style) are below.
Poor Tom Dobyns has left this vale of tears. He rests in yonder cemetery, free from pains, sorrows and misfortunes. He lost an arm while serving in the late war, was well known in this city and had a large heart. He will be missed by many of our citizens.
Tom Dobyns, our one armed constable, is no more. He died of dropsy* on Sunday, from which disease he suffered many months. Many an honest tear will be dropped to the memory of Thomas, respected by all who knew him as an honest, noble hearted man, who, though he left with his arm on his country's battle field half his life's chance for usefulness, [he] did not leave with it a single trait that makes an honest man the noblest work of God.
What more we know of Tom is little. Records in Madison have not yet revealed that he was a member of any Wisconsin Volunteer unit. Fortunately, family oral history tells us more. According to that history, Thomas came from Ireland, but before immigrating he was a solider in the Queens service and fought in the Crimean war. He moved to Fond du Lac sometime before the Civil war and registered at St. Paul's Cathedral as a member of the Episcopal faith. The 1860 Census shows him living at the Rose Avenue address with his brother, his brother's wife and children. Tradition has it that Tom was wounded in battle and then made prisoner. He lost his arm at this time. The family has in their possession the knife which is said to have been carried by him during his service, recovery, and imprisonment (hiding it in his boot). The story elaborates that one day one of the Dobyns Ladies was at the Rose Avenue home when a bearded, ragged and one- armed vagabond came up to the house. She supposed he was there to beg for food or board. She was soon shocked to discover it was Thomas; whom they had not heard from for some time and had thought dead.
As the 2nd obituary indicates Thomas became a constable and passed from this earth less than a decade after the end of the war.
*Dropsy is a 19th century term for edema or swelling; often caused by heart or kidney failure.