The Story Of John Henry Thompson



John Henry "Rim Rock" Thompson (1861 - 1934)

It's amazing that a man who served as a territorial sheriff longer than any other man in the United States once ranched under the Mogollon Rim. And it's strange that he has been "lost" in Rim country history. We don't hear stories about Sheriff John Henry "Rim Rock" Thompson, who was born in Bell County, Texas in 1861. But we should. While a teenager, he traveled to Arizona with Col. Jesse Ellison on a cattle drive which brought 1,800 head of cattle to their destination beneath the Mogollon Rim. The Colonel located on what was to become Ellison Creek.

At age 19, John homesteaded 160 acres on Webber Creek. Since he lived under the rim rocks of the Mogollon Rim, he acquired the title of "Rim Rock" Thompson -- a name that would stay with him.

He built a cabin of hand-hewn logs, and he built corrals for his horses. He had about 80 head of cattle which he branded UK on the left side. The pine-studded Rim country abounded with big game -- elk, deer, lion and bear. The lion and bear were a constant threat to his cattle, so to protect his animals he became an expert tracker and shot. His tracking and shooting expertise served him well in future years.

Rim Rock married Carrie L. Nash, the daughter of a pioneer family in nearby Strawberry. She was the daughter of George W. Nash and came to Arizona Territory about the same time Rim Rock arrived. They were married on Jan. 1, 1887.

Rim Rock moved his bride to Payson where he was appointed postmaster. His sister, Minnie, and his stepfather and mother, Mr. and Mrs. O.N. Creswell, also moved to Payson in 1887.

Political winds blew changes to Payson in 1889, which at that time was located in Yavapai County. The 15th Territorial Legislature met in Prescott, then the capital, on Jan. 21, 1889. Gila County and other southern counties were instrumental in moving the capital to Phoenix. Gila County also gained land that had belonged to Yavapai County.

Rim Rock happened to live on the annexed land and decided to seek the appointment of Gila County Sheriff. Glenn Reynolds, the elected sheriff, had been killed by the Apache Kid on Nov. 2, 1889. Jerry Ryan had been appointed to fill out the term, but he had drowned while trying to rescue a young girl, Mary Frush, who had been thrown from a capsized canoe in Pinal Creek while picnicking with the Ryan family near Wheatfields on June 1, 1890.

Several other Gila County sheriffs had met their demise in short order, including W. W. Lowther, Ben Pascoe and E. E. Hodgson. The office seemed to carry a curse, but Rim Rock wanted it.

Rim Rock was not too well known in Globe, where most of the voters lived, so he needed someone with political clout to give him a hand. He knew John W. Wentworth would be the man, but the two men were not very friendly. Wentworth owned the Grand Prize Mine, located a short distance from Thompson's cattle ranch. When Wentworth was away, Rim Rock's cattle had done some minor damage to the mine property. To add fuel to the fire, the men didn't see eye-to-eye on the results of the Civil War. Thompson had been born on Confederate soil, while Wentworth was born in the Union state of California. The mediator between the two men was Rim Rock's stepfather, O.N. Cresnell.

Thompson was appointed sheriff of Gila County. He took the oath of office on June 9, 1890. Gila County was still fierce, wild country. The Apache Kid, who had killed Sheriff Reynolds, was still at large. Rim Rock offered a $500 reward for him -- dead or alive.

Thompson was elected sheriff of Gila County at the general election held Nov. 4, 1890. During his term, he was involved in some very eventful history.

On May 18, 1892, he stopped by the John See Ranch on Spring Creek to speak to John who had not paid a fine for shooting and breaking up a country dance. John was not there, so Rim Rock visited a few minutes with his wife, Annie See, who had a 6-month-old baby in her arms. Her sister and brother-in-law, Alice and W.F. Gann, were present, as well as her dad, J.C. Narron. Annie usually milked four cows each evening but hadn't done so because she had been talking to the sheriff. When her husband arrived home and found the cows not milked, he shot his wife twice, killing her instantly. Annie See was buried among the flowers on a mesa about a hundred yards from where she died. John See escaped into Mexico where he changed his name to Juan Moreno, married, and had two more children.

In 1892, Rim Rock was again elected Sheriff of Gila County. During this term, he would deal with Phin Clanton, one of the surviving members of the notorious Clanton Gang. Old Man Nick Clanton and his boys had lived in Globe in the 1870s and knew the country well. After the shootout with the Earps and cohorts in Tombstone, Ike and Phin Clanton spent most of their time in Apache County, but they kept the trails hot between Tucson, Globe and Silver City, N.M. Lawmen killed Ike Clanton on Eagle Creek, and Phin was captured. After serving a term in Yuma Prison, he returned to Gila County. Thompson had a warrant for Phin's arrest for robbing Sam Kee, a Chinese gardener, at gunpoint. Rim Rock arrested Clanton at the Clanton Ranch in Globe, and he was released on bail.

When Phin was tried, he was acquitted. Phin Clanton returned to his ranch and married a widow, Jane Neal Bohme, who had a 12-year-old son by a former marriage. He never got into any more trouble with the law. In January 1905, Phin was caught in a snowstorm while herding his goats, He contracted pneumonia and died at his ranch on Jan. 5, 1905. He is buried in the Globe Cemetery.

In 1907, Sheriff Rim Rock Thompson prevented a mob lynching. About two miles east of the Roosevelt Dam, then under construction, lived Harvey Morris, his wife, Laura, and their five children. Laura baked bread and Harvey delivered it to stores at the construction camp. On Jan. 31, 1907, Laura Morris and her daughter, Arminta Ann (age 4 1/2), were home alone. They were brutally murdered with a knife.

Arizona Ranger Jim Holmes and Al Sieber, former Chief of Scouts for the U.S. Army during the Apache Wars, were notified. After some searching, they found the murder weapon, and a check with the commissary revealed that William Baldwin, a black man, had recently bought a knife of the same pattern and charged it to his account. They quickly arrested Baldwin and put him in the jail behind the newly-erected courthouse in Globe.

Anger spread quickly through Globe when it was found out that Baldwin was in the jail. A mob formed and rushed onto the courthouse steps, where it was stopped by Sheriff Rim Rock Henry Thompson who was holding a Winchester rifle. Thompson told the large group that he would allow no lynching, and that they would have to pass by him first. He continued to talk to the mob and then threw the cell keys to them, acting as if he had given up.

In the meantime, Baldwin had been sneaked out the back of the jail and was hidden on a train that was going to Solomonville. In Solomonville William Baldwin received his trial and was hung there on July 12, 1907.

Sheriff Rim Rock Thompson was re-elected to his seventh term in 1910 -- the same year another murderous incident occurred in Gila County -- the murders of 12-year-old Myrtle and 14-year-old Lou Goswick. These daughters of Wes Goswick were murdered on June 23, 1910, at Horseshoe Bend on the Salt River. The circumstances of the murders have been written about in an earlier Back Trackin' column (Jan. 21, 2004)) so I won't go into too much detail here other than to say that this incident created a lot of controversy and Sheriff Rim Rock Thompson was at the helm of law enforcement. The man accused of the murders, Kingsley Olds, was shot in his jail cell before he could be tried.

Sheriff John Henry "Rim Rock" Thompson was a colorful character and served as territorial sheriff longer than any other man in the United States. He should be remembered.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.