This blogger battled high altitude, dry air, and a near-empty library to make an important discovery in Greer, Arizona (elevation 8,356 feet). A local historian, Wink Crigler, not only preserved one of the two guest cabins at great grandfather J.E. Thompson’s lodge but possessed the only known photograph of the main lodge, built in about 1916.
Moreover, Crigler’s grandfather, John Butler, built J.E. Thompson’s Lodge and guest cabins with help from his partner Cleve Wiltbank. Butler also constructed lean-tos that Thompson used to hunt with guests around the region. Crigler had a picture of one of those, featuring the boys imbibing after a successful fishing expedition, tapestries hanging from the rafters. More on that later.
Twenty-three years ago, Crigler saved the cabin, a vitally important family landmark, from the proverbial wrecking ball, though I doubt there is one in this town of 58 year-round residents, according to the 2020 Census. Besides a couple of chimneys, the cabin was all left of the compound — a second guest cabin along with the lodge and a utility building burned in a 1952 fire.
“We took it all apart,” said Crigler, who runs the X-Diamond ranch near Greer. “We coded every log — east, west, north, south, 1, 2, 3 — and then it was like a jigsaw puzzle to put it back together again. All the logs and trusses are original. We had to add new floors and ceilings. The wood was pretty rotted.”
Crigler, a fourth-generation rancher who rebuilt the spacious one-room cabin with a large sitting porch on her guest ranch, took this blogger on a tour of the log cabin. The historian, who spent time in the buildings as a child after J.E. had sold it to another family, remembers that the cabin had a fireplace and wood stove. She rebuilt a facsimile of the fireplace in the front corner of the cabin. Crigler points to a notch in one roof truss. “That was the support for the chimney that went up to the roof,” she said.
The lodge and cabins were on land owned by the Forest Service, which must have permitted J.E. to build his summer compound there. In 1999, the government decided to protect land along the Little Colorado River in Greer from development. It organized a land swap with owners of the riverfront land, awarding them parcels along what’s currently known as Turner’s Hilltop. The only thing left on the ground from J.E.’s time was the cabin and a couple of stone chimneys. “They were just going to tear it down,” said a dismayed Crigler, who took matters into her own hands.
Crigler, a member of the Arizona Historical League, worked with the O’Connor Family, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s family, to salvage the cabin. The O’Connor family owned some riverbank lands and took a lead role in brokering the land swap. “In cooperation with the O’Conner Family, the Butler Family Trust was able to salvage the cabin and restore it here at the Butler Ranch,” reads a commemorative plaque on the cabin wall.
A picture of J.E.’s much bigger lodge also hangs on the cabin wall, the only known photographic image of the lodge, “the grandest place around,” according to Crigler, who has promised to send a copy to this blogger; for now, a photograph of the photograph will have to suffice. Memories of the lodge flooded back to Criger as she strolled the cabin. “It was more than one story,” she remembers, “with a big room on the first floor, ” including a living room, dining room, and kitchen. “I remember the kitchen had a big wood stove in it.”
The Thompson’s bedroom was also on the first floor, with five bedrooms upstairs. The home’s indoor plumbing was a first for Greer, according to Criger and Karen Applewhite, who wrote about J.E. and the lodge in her seminar work “On the Road to Nowhere, a History of Greer Arizona, 1879-1979.”
“They got the logs from around the neighborhood,” said Crigler, “and used the rocks on the site. The rocks weren’t flat — they were more roundish and rough. I remember that fireplace and whatnot now. The last time I was up there, the chimney was there. But it’s been a couple of years.”
The lifetime Greer native devoted a chapter to J.E. Thompson in her latest book, “Molly Butler, A Living Legend.” Colonel Thompson, she wrote, made Arizona’s hospitality famous by entertaining prominent guests from the New York State Exchange and mining companies. He would take them to his fishing camps, locally known as the Thompson lean-tos. Butler served as a guide, cook, wrangler, and host.
Thompson would have the log walls of the lean-tos adorned with imported tapestries from his private collection kept at the lodge. Butler would bring them to the lean-to on a buckboard, parked by the side of the lean-to in the only known picture. The host hung the day’s catch from the poles of the lean-to. “My granddad would do the cooking and help with the hunting.
“They were just log lean-tos with a support or two, and they mostly had a brush roof on them because they were pretty much just out in the wilderness. My granddad would just cut the logs. Obviously, there wasn’t any roofing material out there, so they just used branches and whatever for the top.”
Butler took care of Thompson’s horses as well. In the spring, he would saddle up with a pack horse or two and ride to the Superior area. He would return with Thompson’s fine remuda and put them out for summer pasture, then drive the cavy back in the fall. J.E. used the horses for hunting and fishing expeditions.
Mrs. Thompson, who suffered from a respiratory disease, one reason the family summered in Greer, was also an avid rider. “Her horse, a circus horse, I think, was trained to kneel upon command so she could easily mount and dismount,” said Crigler. “I was also told by an old timer, Fred Burk, who sometimes worked around the Lodge, that J.E. had a group of ‘dancing bears’ that were brought to Greer for special entertainment.”
In her book, Crigler writes that J.E. left a lasting impression on the citizens of Greer, even if they were very few. He may have been instrumental in getting the first road built to Greer. “The Colonel’s first trip into the valley was probably about 1916, in a Packard Twin Six touring car. He may have been instrumental in getting the first road built into Greer,” she wrote in her book.
Sometime in the 40s, Thompson sold his compound to the George Crosby family, who later sold it to Dr. Gillespie from California, known for his elegant iris gardens. The doctor, in turn, sold the lodge and cabins to his friends Milt and Althea Turner. Althea, who prepared fine cuisine at nearby Butler’s Lodge (still in existence), was recognized for her fly-tying skill. Thompson Lodge became known as Turner’s Hilltop Lodge. In 1952, long before a Greer Fire Department existed, the hilltop burned, leaving only the two chimneys and a guest cabin standing.