It’s good to catch up with a relative, even if they are long gone. I never met my great uncle J.E. (Joe) Thompson, Jr., but thankfully he left behind hand-written notes that chronicled some important, and some not so important, events in his life, including a few details about his legendary trip around the world. Unfortunately, he quite taking notes in Panama.
This much we know for sure. Joseph Edward, Jr., was born in New York City around two in the morning on October 14th, 1899, to J.E. Thompson, Sr. (1875-1950) and Elizabeth Boner (1978-1954). Joe loved to tell the story surrounding the events of his birth.
Tell us that story you love to tell
My father’s older brother William Boyce Thompson and his wife Gertrude were living in the same building. Uncle Will was there after the birth in his long woolen nightgown and pasted a label which he had removed from a handkerchief on my forehead, “Made in France.” My mother and father had been in Europe on their wedding trip for nine months and hurried back to this country so I would be born in the United States.
Then we took the long train trip back to Butte, Montana, where they stayed a short time and on account [of] the cold winters that were not good for my mother’s health, they moved to Morenci, Arizona. We stayed at a hotel and then father built two tents on a wood platform lined with blue muslin and a bathtub for one tent. We had a water pipe and had to let it cool before getting in the tub due to being on the surface of the ground and heating up in the sun.
Why did you move to Clifton?
We moved to Clifton because houses were not available in Morenci. Father was engaged in the real estate business. Many old-timers from Clifton later became prominent in Phoenix. One was Roy Wayland who worked in a drugstore and also Fred Whittlesry (sp) who later was in the Valley Bank at Phoenix….Alex Arnett was a deputy sheriff in Clifton. Many years later he was a deputy in Superior in the 50s and part of the 60s.
We lived in a four-room house with an outhouse across the road from Baylor Shannon. [Father] was interested in the Shannon Copper Co. There was a cable footbridge across the river. It swung so bad that I was scared to walk across it. My family lost me one day. I visited some Chinese who had a … garden across the railroad tracks. I had lunch with them and got home late.
Tell us about the horses in your life
I have had three horses in my life — Buck, Cheyenne, and a white Fort Tennessee walking horse. Of the three my favorite was Buck. I purchased him in 1917 at Flagstaff for the sum of $50.00. He was a Hualapai Indian horse and raised in the Grand Canyon at the Hualapai Indian Reservation which was over half way down the canyon. He had a flying hat brand.
Buck was not a beauty. He was sway back with one hip slightly lower than the other and buckskin color with short stubby ears. Very gentle and with a soft spot on his back so you could ride him bareback all day long with comfort.
The first time I rode him was a two-week trip from Flagstaff to Mesa, Arizona. I had never rode a horse before except when we lived in Arizona from 1901 to 1907 on the back of my mother’s horse holding tightly to my mother with my feet in the latigo straps. To those who do not know what latigo means, it is the straps that tie coats etc. to the back of a saddle.
Horses have an instinct about rides. Buck took advantage of me on the first two days of the trip. When the trail curved around a clump of trees, he would shortcut straight [through] the tree. If there were branches between the trees, I would have to duck and if too close together I had to put my knees on the saddle and duck.
Buck had several other habits which I had difficulty coping with. You had to pry his mouth open to get the bit in and when cinching the saddle he fluffed his stomach like a balloon. The only cure for that was a swift and hard kick in [the] ribs when he exhaled. It shocked him so that he would forget to fluff up and he would turn around and say with his sad eyes “Why did you do that?”
What happened in Globe in 1917?
Father and I came to Globe [Arizona] in the latter part of June. We were there for the fourth of July. Newt Robbins met us at the train station and we stayed at the Old Dominion Hotel. The Old Dominion mines was using tin cans to [extract] extra copper from water.
Uncle [William Boyce Thompson] sent father to buy more claims. We went to Mesa on the West Hill Stage Line by Roosevelt Dam. Then we took a Cadillac Touring car with a board over jump seats. I sat on the board. It took all day. We had lunch at Fish Creek and got to Mesa around five. Went out to Evans School to enter. Saw Professor Evans.
We spent three days on New Robinson Ranch. The horse wrangler left while we were there. We ate biscuits and Karo syrup. That was all I ate. A chicken pecked me when I tried to get eggs so I ate no eggs.
Tell us about the genesis of the Picket Post in Superior
After Uncle Will purchased Magna Copper Company, he was so delighted with the beautiful mountains that he looked for a site to build a house. He picked a location on the top of a cliff overlooking Queen Creek. It was a two-story house. The first floor was dynamited out of the rock and another story added on top. Later he added another wing on the edge of the cliff looking down 100 feet straight into the canyon from his living room window and made a walk on the side of the cliff to a three-story elevator. This was around 1927 when he was confined to a wheelchair after he had a stroke.
He wanted trees and shrubs and as it was all on rock it was necessary to build a series of walls to hold dirt. It took three months to build the walls and haul in dirt.
As I was in the landscape business I supervised and designed the planting. We had three freight-car loads of plant shipped from California.
Didn’t Uncle Will have a fondness for the man who built the walls?
The man who built the walls was a Pollack named Doby Tom. Uncle Will used to tell him to [remove] a rock and put it in a different position and loved to tease him by having him do it three or four times. Doby would get mad and say “I quit.” Doby would walk off and Uncle Will would say “Come back here you dumb Pollack” so Doby would come back. This went on all day.
When he ran out of work for Doby, he would put Doby panning for gold all day in Queen Creek. Doby would complain that there was no gold but he left him [panning] for days and would sit and watch him from his wheel chair. In his will he left him $80 a month for his lifetime.
Tell us about the early years of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, Arizona
Uncle Will hired Dr. Poirault and his daughter to help Crider in setting up the Arboretum card system and as an advisor to Crider. He was director of the botanical garden at Villa Thuret in Antilles, France, on the Mediterranean between Nice and Cannes.
He was a man of 70 with college degrees in many subjects and worked very hard. He was also Plant Quarantine Inspector of the state of Alpes-Maritimes and inspected … shipments to the U.S. and other countries. The region around Antibes, Nice, and Cannes was the center of perfume industry where the odors were actually extracted from flowers instead of made of chemicals.
Dr. Poirault spent most of his time in his library but any time my brother and I wanted to go anywhere he … picked up his hat and marked where he left off on his writing or reading. He spoke and wrote six different languages. He learned English when he was 65 and said it was the hardest of all. His daughter also spoke English very well and was his secretary and went with him on most of his trips.
One of his disturbing habits was if my brother or I asked him a question he didn’t know he without a word would fold his napkin and go to his library and look it up. We would have to wait until he came back as French meals are served with more courses than we do. Salad, soup, vegetable, main meat course, and desert.
The Poiraults lived in a four-story house in which the first floor consisted of office, library, and laboratory. On the 2nd were living quarters and third and fourth consisted of bedrooms. The only bathroom was on the 3rd floor and if you wished to take a bath it was necessary to heat the gas water 20 minutes ahead of time.
Uncle Will sent me back to France with the Doctor and daughter by boat to visit Arboretums and Botanical Gardens.
What happened on the trip to California with Uncle Will to buy plants for Picket Post? I hear there was a mix-up in the switching yard.
We took Uncle Will’s private rail car. The engineer in switching forgot to hook us on again. My uncle was in a rage and used many swear words, having lived in a mining camp. He called up the president of the New York Central and within a half hour a locomotive and a baggage car were hooked up to us. Off we went, bypassing Chicago where we had planned on hooking up to the Golden State. We arrived in St. Louis where we hooked onto a milk train on the Missouri Central. It stopped at every station for milk and mail. We had a speedometer in the car. In between stops it would go 80 to 90 miles per hour. It was a bumpy trip and my aunt [Gertrude] had to go to bed on account of the train sickness. However, we got to Kansas City before the Golden Gate arrived.
Tell us about your trip around the world
We left on November 15th, 1969 from San Diego. The ship was the Orient Esmalrada of the Orient Overseas Line based in Taiwan.
Our first stop was a Acapulco, Mexico. My impression was that the scenery was beautiful and the town filthy. The usual Mexican laziness in not patching up holes in walks and roads. This is also typical of Venezuela and Brazil but not of Argentina. The hotels in Acapulco were beautiful sucker traps fro the Americans.
Our next stop was in Panama. We went through the canal and docked at Cristobal. It was hot, humid, and dirty. Enough said. Venezuela was oil rich with the rich and very poor. There were beautiful buildings but poorly constructed.
It was nice talking with you Joe. Rest peacefully.