Peder Engmar Thomsen
Peter Elmer Thompson
Known as Elmer most of his life, but called P E by his wife Annie
The ancestor I will be talking about this week is my husband, Roy’s, grandfather, Peder Engmar Thomsen (the Danish spelling of his name) Peter Elmer Thompson (the English spelling of his name) who was born February 23, 1878 in Spring City, Sanpete County, Utah the son of Hans Adolph Thomsen and Karen Karoline Sorensen, both born in Denmark, Elmer was their tenth and last child. Just two weeks after Elmer’s birth on March 9, 1878 Elmer had a half-sister born who was named Mary Ann Thomsen, 1878-1954, daughter of Hans Adolph Thomsen and his plural wife, Jensine ‘Sina’ Christensen, she married David Mears Hawkins. The stories in this short bio were found in different personal journals and life stories that have been passed down in the Thompson family as well as my own research into this fascinating man.
The following picture that I found online, was taken in Spring City in February 2008, 130 years after Elmer’s birth, this picture looks a lot like I think it could have looked 130 years previously when Elmer was born.
Elmer’s siblings were the following: Mette Marie Thomsen, 1856-1863 in Salt Lake City; Ane Marie Thomsen, 1859-1863 along the Platte River somewhere in Wyoming; and Jens Adolph Thomsen/James Adolph Thompson, 1860-1926, married Sarah Etta Mortenson; and Sofie Frederikke Thomsen, 1862-1863, near Florence, Nebraska; These first four children were all born in Denmark and the three girls all died while on their way to the Salt Lake Valley, the last dying just days after arriving in the valley. The next children were all born in Utah: Ane Mettie Marie Sofie Frederikke Thomsen, 1864-1886, married Rasmus Strate, (Ane was given all the names of her sisters who had died before her birth as was the Danish custom and she died in childbirth with her 3rd child.); Karoline Thomsen, 1866-1868; Hanssina Thomsen, 1869-1939, married Joseph Obadiah Stradling; Soren Christian Thomsen, 1872-1935, married Susan Elizabeth Stradling; and Hyrum Adolph Thomsen, 1874-1892, (murdered by Apache’s).
On the 1880 federal census, Elmer is living in Spring City, Sanpete County, Utah on Polk Street with his parents and siblings. The following is the census entry for Elmer and his family. On October 15, 1880 Elmer has another half-sister born named, Christena Alvina Thomsen, 1880-1970, daughter of Hans Adolph Thomsen and his plural wife, Jensine ‘Sina’ Christensen, she married Heber J. Davis.
When Elmer was just four years old in March of 1882, he and his family left Spring City, Sanpete County, Utah for the Arizona Territory. Elmer’s father had been called by the Prophet to go and settle down in the Arizona Territory and so they left Utah as soon as they could get their wagons and supplies ready. Almost two months later in May of 1882, Elmer and his family arrived in St. Johns, Apache County, Arizona Territory. The following picture is a map I found online of the Arizona Territory from 1881. St. John’s is on the east side of the state close to the New Mexico border.
In 1884, Elmer is attending school with his half-sister Mary Ann, in St. John’s in the white school house on the hill, south of town with Mrs. Franks as their teacher. The following picture that I found online, is a view of St. Johns in 1890 and is from the southeast slope of what would become Airport Hill looking southeast toward the Great White Schoolhouse on the Hill. The two-story building at left-center is the brick tithing office. The Great White Schoolhouse is the building I believe they are talking about Elmer and his sister, Mary Ann attending in 1884.
In December of 1884, Elmer went with his parents and others from St. John’s up to St. George, Utah. The trip to and from St. George took approximately six weeks, as they were snowbound in a mine for several days. While crossing the Buckskin Mountains their wagon tipped over but no one was hurt. After getting back to Arizona the family continue living in St. John’s, worrying about Indians, striving to make a living and to grow food in the hot arid temperatures of the high desert. In February of 1885 Elmer’s father was again called by the Prophet to go and settle in Mexico and left the next day. He came back and forth but it was not until March of 1889, that Elmer’s father came back to St. John’s and took them all down to Mexico to live permanently. They traveled by way of Fort Apache, on down the White and Black Rivers to the Gila River, which was so high they could not cross with their wagons and they crossed the border near Columbus, New Mexico. The following map shows the areas they were in.
The following are Elmer’s parents, Hans Adolph Thomsen and his wife Karen Sorensen, picture taken ca. 1890. Elmer’s son Gilbert, had the originals of the above 2 pictures in a double frame, at his home in Grand Junction, Colorado. On the backs of the pictures, it said they were taken in Colonia Juarez, Mexico.
In 1890, Elmer had the job of town herd boy in Colonia Juarez and kept track of everyone’s cows, including his fathers. Elmer said, that it seemed that almost every other cow had his father’s brand on it during that time period. In the spring of 1891, Elmer’s father Hans, leased out their Colonia Juarez farm and moved the family to the Pratt Ranch in Cave Valley, Chihuahua, Mexico. The following picture is of Elmer’s mother, Karen and her granddaughter Annie and was probably taken in Colonia Juarez sometime between 1891 and 1892.
On September 19, 1892 Apache Indians attack the Pratt Ranch and Elmer who is now 14 years old, is severely wounded and his mother, Karen and 18 year old brother Hyrum are murdered during the attack. Elmer’s niece Annie, age 6, was not hurt, her mother had died shortly after her birth and her grandparents had taken her in. When Elmer saw his father afterwards, Hans ask him, “boy did you have prayer that morning” and Elmer said, “Yes father we did”. Then Hans said, that it was supposed to have happened, since they had had prayer that morning. According to Roy, he said that he had heard that his grandfather never called them Indians he always called them savages. Roy also said that he heard when his grandfather was old he would have dreams that savages were outside the house and coming to get him. Elmer died before Roy was born so he never knew him, but heard many stories of his life and especially about this time. It is thought and generally believed that the renegade Apaches who attacked the ranch were led by one called the Apache Kid, from the White Mountain Band of Apaches from Arizona. The Apache Kid had been a scout for the US Army for a time before he started getting into trouble. He was born sometime in the 1860’s and some say he died in about 1894 others say he lived until the 1930’s. The following are some pictures of the Apache Kid and one of his wanted poster.
From about 1893 to 1897, Elmer lived off and on for about the next 4 years or so with the George Washington Sevey family in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and worked on many different jobs, hauling freight, mining, cutting timber and working for the railroad, most of the time with George Washington Sevey’s sons, George Francis Sevey and George Thomas ‘Tom’ Sevey. The following pictures show Elmer with some of his buddies, Elmer is setting in each of the pictures. The first picture is of Elmer with George Francis Sevey and the second is with George Thomas ‘Tom’ Sevey, George Francis Sevey and their friend, Sam Brown.
In 1894, Elmer is working in the Carletas Mines in Mexico when his brother James and sister-in-law Sarah Etta stopped to visit with him. In 1895, Elmer and his friend, George Francis Sevey went in as partners and bought a team and wagon and hauled a lot of lumber, around the Nacozari area in Mexico. In 1896, Elmer worked on the railroad making grade, and he later got a job hauling ties, for the guys that laid the track, with his friend Tom Sevey, around the Nacozari area. In 1897, Elmer left in the fall from Chihuahua, Mexico and went to Sonora, Mexico for a time working odd jobs. In 1898, Elmer is hauling lumber that spring for about 6 months from the Sierra Madres Mountains about 30 miles south of Nacozari into Nacozari, Sonora, Mexico getting lumber in there where they were building a smelter with his friend Tom Sevey and Tom’s uncle, Andrew Thomas. This may have been the time that Elmer fell at least 20 feet or more and laid unconscious for about 2 weeks, while an old Chinaman feed him broth and took care of him, until he was able to take care of himself again. The family stories say that he was about 20 years old and in Nacozari when this accident was supposed to have happened. His age and the place fits to be this time.
Elmer was a fantastic horseman and it is said he could make a horse do about anything he wanted and never use a whip. Sometime in the late 1890’s Elmer was named all-around cowboy at a rodeo in El Paso, Texas and he won a silver saddle. The story goes that he left the saddle with his girlfriend at the time, while he went off to work somewhere. When he got back to El Paso the saddle and the girl had both disappeared and were never seen again. Elmer also drove ore wagons in Tombstone and made the road up into Rustler’s Park. The following picture is of Elmer on his horse named Diamond in the late 1890’s.
In 1899, Elmer was living with his half-sister Christena Thomsen and her husband Heber J. Davis in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. In 1900, Elmer was living with his brother James and sister-in-law Sarah Etta that spring in Naco, Sonora, Mexico. From 1903 to 1904, Elmer worked for the Tufa Stone Company just northeast of Douglas, Cochise County, Arizona blasting and hauling stone with his brother James that fall and winter and the next spring. On July 8, 1904 Elmer’s father, Hans Adolph Thomsen died in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and was buried the following day in Colonia Pacheco, Chihuahua, Mexico by his wife Karen and son Hyrum.
Elmer soon met and married Annie Frances McNeil, 1890-1989, in Douglas, Cochise County, Arizona on November 14, 1907. Annie was the daughter of John Corlett McNeil and Mary Ann Smith, John was born on the Isle of Man and Mary Ann was born in Manchester, England. From Wednesday’s Daily in an issue of the Tombstone Epitaph’s Sunday edition, dated November 17, 1907 it states that: “The following marriage licenses were issued in the probate court: Elmer Thompson to wed Annie McNeil both of Douglas.” The following picture is of them in the carriage and was taken on their wedding day and the next is also Elmer, probably taken that same year or the next.
On April 4, 1908 Elmer was working at the Phelps Dodge, Copper Queen Smelter in Douglas, Cochise County, Arizona. In the following picture Elmer is standing on the far right in the white shirt, and the postcard I found online is from about 1908 as well. The Copper Queen Smelter operated in Douglas from 1904 until 1931, when the Phelps Dodge Corporation purchased the Calumet and Arizona Company and took over their smelter.
Elmer and Annie soon became the parents of eight children, six boys and two girls. The first four boys and their first daughter were all born in Douglas, Cochise County, Arizona and the other three were all born in Whitewater, Cochise County, Arizona. Whitewater is about 30 miles north of Douglas. These children were the following: Gilbert Elmer Thompson, 1908-1992, married Corilla Martineau; Harry Wilbur, 1909-1961, never married; Jess Lee Thompson, 1911-2000, married 1st Cecelia Georgia Griffin, then Anna Blanche Turnbow; Floyd L Thompson, 1913-1984, married Elnora Mortenson (these were my husband’s parents); Angus H Thompson, 1918-1986, married Lelia Mae Huish; Annie Lavine Thompson, 1921-2005, married Golden Leroy Fenn; Loman Zane Thompson, 1923-1924; and Nathala Thompson, 1925-still living, married 1st Arthur Madsen Evans, then Francis Charles McDonald.
In 1917, Elmer had an old army barracks torn down from Camp Jones just north of Douglas, to build the family a new home in Whitewater, 30 miles to the north. The family lived there and owned this small ranch until the 1990’s. My husband Roy and I and our four daughters inherited the old home place and lived in the same house that had been built from the old barracks and lived there for two years, while Roy worked 50 miles north in Wilcox, Arizona. The following picture is of the house that was built from the old army barracks taken in December 1988 after we moved down there.
In November of 1917, Elmer received 3rd degree burns over 2/3’s of his body at the copper smelter and doctors said there was no way he was going to live through the night. Elmer had been working by the big pots that hold the melted down ore and somehow one of those pots tipped over and the hot slag fell over on him. The story goes that he had on these big heavy work gloves and they kept barrels of water by the hot slag and he kept dipping the gloves in the water and pouring them all over his body until help arrived. Someone came out to the ranch in Elfrida to tell Annie and bring her into the hospital in Douglas. She came to the hospital but only stayed a short time. The doctors said, “Ma’am your husband isn’t going to last through the night why are you leaving?” Annie replied, “I have young children at home and cows that need milking I can’t stay and he will be fine, I have faith.” Elmer didn’t die and he came home within a few days, but did not go back to work at the smelter. Elmer filed a suit against the copper company, but it was finally dropped because he didn’t have the money to continue paying a lawyer to fight for a claim against the company. In 1921, Elmer went to work hauling ore with his nephew, Jim Thompson in Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona. He took his big team and wagon and his horses named Diamond and Brownie to haul the ore. In 1925, Elmer started working for the county highway department, grading and making roads around the county. The following pictures shows Elmer with three of his sons, Floyd, Angus and J Lee and in the other picture Elmer with his son Harry Wilbur both taken in the 1920’s. The last picture is Elmer with his with Annie in the 1930’s.
Another story goes that in 1942, Elmer went for a physical during World War II, so that he could work at the airfield there in Douglas. When the doctor sees the old gunshot wounds in Elmer’s chest, he asks Elmer, “Were you in World War I”? “No”, says Elmer. “Were you in the Spanish American War”? “No”, says Elmer. “Well then”, says the doctor, “who the hell shot you”? I don’t know what Elmer’s reply was, but I am sure he told him about the massacre in Mexico, Elmer’s probable reply may have been, “A damn savage.” The following picture shows Elmer with three of his sons and their sons and Elmer is holding his daughter Lavine’s son. From left to right: Gilbert holding his son Neil, Elmer holding grandson Clifford Fenn, 1942-1951, Floyd holding son Eldon, 1942-2015, and J Lee holding son Jess, all four of these baby boys were born in 1942. Elmer and Annie’s picture taken in the late 1940’s and Elmer with two of his grandchildren, Floyd’s children, Eldon and Marla in 1948.
Elmer and Anna had moved over to Mesa to work in the Temple there and left the ranch to Roy’s Dad and Mom, Floyd and Elnora. Elmer’s health had started to fail around 1948 and so he came back home to Elfrida from Mesa and lived with Roy’s parents. Elmer did okay for the first little while after coming back to Elfrida, but he took sick again and on April, 10, 1951 Elmer died at the County Hospital in Douglas, Cochise County, Arizona of cirrhosis of the liver, according to his death certificate. This was caused from a disease he had called hemochromatosis, a condition in which excessive iron is absorbed and deposited into the liver and other organs, other family members have this same genetic anomaly. Three days later on April 13, 1951 Elmer was buried at the Whitewater Cemetery in Elfrida, Cochise County, Arizona. The first tombstone was made at the time of his death, by Alva Rich Porter, who was his daughter-in-law, Elnora’s, brother-in-law. The other stone was placed years later after his wife Annie died in 1989, she was just a couple of months shy of her 99th birthday.
In the July 1951 Hans Adolph Thomsen Family Association Quarterly Bulletin, we read the following: “It is with regret we announce the death of Peter Elmer Thomsen, esteemed relative, and honored President of the Thomsen Family Association. Known far and wide as “Uncle Elmer”, he was respected and well-liked by all who knew him. He died April 10, 1951. For the past several winters he lived in Mesa and spent a lot of his time doing work in the Temple. Much to his regret he couldn’t go last winter, but was hopeful his health would improve so that he could. The Doctors who treated him offered encouragement and he walked several times each week to the Clinic for treatments and was seldom confined to bed. It became evident that recovery would be a slow process and thinking perhaps a change would do him good, he left Mesa in March, returning to his home in Elfrida. For a time he seemed better, then became worse and was taken to a hospital at Douglas and died there. Funeral services were held at 2 p.m. Friday, April 13th, in the Webb School at Elfrida. Burial was in the local cemetery. The services were well attended by members of the family, relatives, friends and acquaintances who came to pay honor to his memory and express regret at his passing. Those who viewed his face for the last time as he lay at rest, were impressed with the expression of contentment and peace and went away with the conviction that “Uncle Elmer” was satisfied and happy.”
Elmer and Annie had 8 children and 39 grandchildren and too many great’s to count and whatever name you choose to use when talking about Roy’s grandpa, it does not matter. He was larger than life and cheated death at least three times that we are aware of and died at the age of 73, a life well lived and a family to be proud of. The following is a picture of Annie with her surviving children in 1980, I believe it was.