Sunday, July 17, 2016

Characters Under The Mogollon Rim – John Henry Thompson, Part 1

By Stan Brown

John Henry Thompson was among those Texans who along with the Haught and Ellison families migrated to the Rim Country in the 1880s. Like the others he made a significant mark on the historical landscape of Gila County and became Arizona’s longest serving sheriff.

Thompson was born Dec. 19, 1861 in Bell County, Texas, to William Gordon Thompson and Mary Ann Cockerham. He was the first of 12 children. Bell County is in east-central Texas. He grew up learning the cowboy trade, and in 1880 at the age of 19 he moved out and headed for Arizona. Like so many others, he heard about the lush rangeland of central Arizona and was intrigued by stories of easy-to-find gold.

The young cowboy staked a claim along the upper waters of Webber Creek, snug under the Mogollon Rim. [1] 

In protecting his herd of livestock from bears and lions he became an expert tracker, something that would stand him in good stead later as county sheriff. In the years immediately after he settled the Webber Creek ranch Thompson went into partnership with a Mr. Van Stack and was so successful developing the herd of cattle it grew to number 2,000 high-grade animals'.

In 1884 Thompson felt the need to pay a visit to his family and friends in Texas, and while there he reunited with a rancher he had known while growing up, Jesse W. Ellison.  At that time a severe drought was plaguing Texas ranchers, and when Thompson described to good range below the Mogollon Rim, Ellison decided to bring his herd with its Q brand and his family to Arizona. Ellison hired Thompson and a group of other cowboys to help him with the cattle over the long distance. They would be able to go part of the way by railroad and then just over the New Mexico border with Arizona they would trail the herd the rest of the way. Among the men coming to Arizona with Ellison was a fellow rancher named Glenn Reynolds, who would play a significant role in Thompson’s future. After the Ellison family settled on a creek that would carry their name, John Henry returned to his Webber Creek ranch. 

It is of interest to note that the same year John Henry Thompson made a return visit to Texas, 1884, a 20-year-old teacher named Carrie Louise Nash traveled with her family from Indiana to Arizona, where her father took up a teaching position in Yuma. Looking for a teaching position somewhere in the Territory she applied to the local school board in Strawberry. They had just completed a schoolhouse for their community and were looking for a teacher to begin the first session in the new school in the autumn of 1885. [2]

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