Thude’s are Back Raising Sheep

Well that isn’t quite true.

This is Staci Hancock Smith. She is carrying on the tradition of raising sheep.

Staci is the great great granddaughter of Gunnar Thude. Gunnar has been mentioned before on this blog and the years he raised sheep passing on the love of the sheep to his daughter Elma Sanudo. This is Elma’s great granddaughter.

While she may have only a few at the moment, who knows what may happen. Tomorrow we will look at sheep back in the Buckeye Valley!

Happy Ewe Year

The month of December wasn’t a good month for me with working on the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall Of Fame Volume 3 book. But I am glad it is almost completed and about to go to printing stage. The book has many sheep families included-Basilio Aja, Antonio and Marianne Manterola, the Perry family, Frank Auza, Joseph, Pierre and Albert Pouquettes, Gunnar Thude and Elma Sanudo, and the Babbitts.

Many of these families have been honored here and as more information comes to light about each of them it also will be added. The Perry family and Babbitts have not had their stories told and that will be in the next couple of weeks. I am working on getting the Amos family story put together which is long over due. Once their story is added, I will do Babbitts and the Perry family. Then back to the old stories as I find them in the newspapers across the state.

So until early next week enjoy the video from my trip in October to Cedar City’s Livestock Festival. it may not be Arizona but who cares, they’re sheep!

The Thude Family Part 2

Gunnar has now been in the livestock business for nearly 30 years. Carlos Sanudo was hired in 1957 to work in Gunnar’s sheep business. Carlos was 37 years old when he migrated to Arizona. Gunnar’s eldest daughter, Elma, married Carlos Sanudo in 1962.  In 1968, Elma bought a part of Gunnar’s sheep outfit.  She named it the Long Tom Sheep Co. as their sheep ran in Long Tom Canyon.  Previously to buying Gunnar’s sheep, she had many years of experience with the sheep.  She had followed her father’s sheep into the mountains every year as a young woman, starting in 1946, at the age of 20.  In the summer, the sheep were trailed to greener pastures in the Heber area of the White Mountains.  The trailing of the sheep took 30 long days, but she was always at the tail end of the flocks as the sheep would be moved on city roads in Chandler and Mesa to begin the Heber-Reno trail northward.  She would get the herders supplies and keep the books while living in a cabin with no telephone and only kerosene lighting. Her father believed that every child should learn to work and indeed, she worked.  Since she did not like riding a horse for hours on end which was required for taking care of cattle, she was willing to care for the sheep. At times, it was necessary for her to bottle feed the lambs, but she learned early on that even if she grew attached to the lamb, it was to be sold or eaten! 

Elma Thude Sanudo and Francis Line, film maker.

As the sheep were moved from the farm in Chandler, through the town to get to the Heber Reno trail, she delighted in telling complaining motorist and Department of Public Safety officers that livestock and that included sheep, had the right-of-way in Arizona. No matter how many obstacles got in her way, from DPS officers to motorist complaints, or angry people in subdivisions, nothing would keep her from her beloved sheep. Trucking of the sheep was not an option as it was too expensive. Her desire to remain as a shepherdess was dependent upon the hazards of trailing and being able to find winter feed, alfalfa, for the sheep.

In the 1960s Gunnar sold one of his ranches to John Wayne.

In 1977, Gunnar sold his Holbrook ranch and the Paradise Sheep Company to John Frandsen Thude, his nephew. With no sheep or cattle to care for, Gunnar was free to spend his summers in his native Denmark, away from the Arizona heat. He passed away in 1980 only having a short time to enjoy his retirement. He was known for always helping others, either lending money or giving them a helping hand on their ranch.

Elma continued to work the sheep until she sold out in 1999 to the Auza Sheep Company, Casa Grande, Arizona. Elma raised her five sons, Gerald (1947), Mike (1949), James (1950), John Gunnar (1953), and Dennis (1955), while tending her sheep. Raising sheep was a full-time job and she was saddened that none of her children continued in the business she loved. Elma passed away in 2002 and Carlos in 2006. What happened to Gunnar’s nephew still needs to be told and hopefully I can finish researching it soon.

Carlos and his pet sheep, Franco!

The Thude family spent nearly 70 years in the livestock business in Arizona and many of those years was in the sheep raising business. I have been privileged to known some of Gunnar’s and Elma’s children and hearing their stories of early life on the range in Arizona. The Thude Family – Gunnar and Elma – will be inducted into the Arizona Ranching and Farming Hall of Fame in March 2022. They should have been this March but circumstances beyond the control of the Hall of Fame, i.e., pandemic, has postponed most celebrations. More will be posted as it is learned about the family, herder stories are collected, and when the family is finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Gunnar and Eliseo, one of his herders.

The Thude Family Part 1

I posted sometime ago that I was going to present the story of the Thude family.  So here is their story as researched by me after interviews with many of the family members.

Gunnar Thude was a humble man instilling in his family the traits of hard work, honesty and always willing to lend a helping hand to other ranchers and others. The story of the Thude family begins when Niels Pedersen (Petersen), a naturalized Arizonan, in 1887, went back to Vilslev, Ribe County, Denmark, his home village, and recruited his cousin Hans Peder Thude with two other men to come to Arizona and help settle the land. Pedersen, being well established in the Arizona farming community by this time, had two reasons for bringing men from his home village: workers for his farm and ultimately for them to acquire their own farmland. Pedersen paid the passage of the three men and the men paid off their debt by working for Pedersen.

In 1892, using the Homestead Act Hans Peder acquired 160 acres.  What Hans did between 1892 and when he returned to Vilslev, Denmark is still being researched and someday more historical information will be able to be added to Hans story. But sometime in 1901 or 1902 Hans Peder visited his hometown.  His plans to return to the United States were thwarted when he met Kirstine Frandsen and they married. Some in the family suggested that he may have had to stay to care for the family farm but stay he did. Hans and Kirstine had seven children from which three of his sons would later migrate to Arizona.

Gunnar, the eldest son, migrated in 1921 at the age of 17. He first worked in New York, moving onto Nevada before coming to Arizona and working for Pedersen just as his father, Hans had done. It was during this time, Gunnar met his future wife, Anna Norby, Pedersen’s maid. The couple married in 1924 and they had three children: Eldon (1924), Elma (1926), and Mary (1928).

Gunnar and Anna bought land near Price and Ray Roads and began their own farm.  The years 1923 to 1927 were good to Thude. Thude believed in what he was doing in Arizona and officially became a naturalized citizen in 1928.  He was able to buy land and made good money. But the depression came and he lost everything, but his land which saved him. Hay was cut using horses as no one had money for fuel to use gasoline powered equipment. Hay that was sold helped pay the expenses during those lean years of the depression. But he did not sell all of the hay and this was stacked on his property. His foreman, Jose Valencia, told Gunnar to buy cattle or they would be eating the hay themselves.  And so, began his livestock business! In the 1930s he started to keep sheep. He bought a bigger farm in 1937 and expanded his sheep flock. Also Gunnar bought the Moose Ranch near Williams, Arizona to run his sheep sometime in the early 1940s. An exact date for the purchase has not been researched as of this writing.

By the mid-1940s, Gunnar was raising sheep under the name of the Paradise Sheep Company. Gunnar and his daughter, Elma, partnered with Kemper Marley and Don Brown. Marley had land in Scottsdale that could be used to winter the sheep.   

Thude trailed his sheep into the White Mountains along the Heber-Reno Driveway. Land acquisitions were made on ranches in many different parts of northern Arizona: Williams, Heber, Holbrook, and Springerville. Sheep and cattle were both raised. His land in Chandler was used for winter grazing of the sheep. A circuit of his ranches was required weekly to check on his flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, his workers, and his crops which were raised on his land in Chandler.

In 1948 Gunnar married Pat Pearce.  Three children were born of this union: Betty (1950), Gunnar Mikel (1953), and Frances (1955).  Pat had two children from a previous marriage, Charlene (1944) and Bill (1945).  She would ride horseback with him to the sheep camp in the White Mountains. She told her children that the sorest she ever was happened when she rode a horse with Gunnar on the range!

In the late 1940s, Francis Line, a film maker, traveled with a flock of Gunnar’s sheep as the herder took them into the White Mountains. Francis Line documented his travels in the National Geographic Magazine, April 1950, a book titled: Sheep, Stars, and Solitude: Adventure Saga of a Wilderness Trail, (1986), and in a documentary film.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story tomorrow!

A beautiful day for a trip to a old sheep ranch

A bright blue sky, a few wispy clouds, temperatures in the low 80s made for a perfect day trip spent on the rim and in the White Mountains. Leaving early last Wednesday, we drove for three-hours to Heber with a stop in Payson at the Beeline Café for breakfast. The reason for our trip today – a visit to George Wilbur Ranch!  My husband and I were met by Gerald and Gunnar Hancock who graciously took us on this adventure.

George Wilbur/Ryan/Thude ranch

The ranch has had a few owners since it was first started in 1885. George Wilbur was the original owner. Later it was owned by Bill (William) Ryan and his family.  Ryan bought the property from the widow of George in the 1940s. Gunnar Thude in turn bought it from Ryan and he sold it to his daughter, Elma, in the late 1960s. Gerald and Gunnar are grandsons of Gunnar Thude and Elma Thude Sanudo was their mother.  The present owners are in the process of remodeling – house, barn, workshop, root cellar and other places – to be made livable. As much as can be is being preserved as it was when it was used by Wilbur, Ryan, Thude and Sanudo.

One of the biggest changes that have been made at the Wilbur homestead is the solar system (seen on the picture above), allowing for electricity in the house and other buildings. Some cosmetic changes have also taken place. The floor in the cabin had to be replaced and so did the flooring upstairs. The bed in the upstairs is one that Gunnar told me he remembered sleeping in when his mother owned the ranch. 

Elma and Carlos Sanudo’s ashes have been scattered over the ranch. Gunnar told me that he would like his ashes scattered over the rocks he remembered playing on.

All four of these families grazed sheep here and on forest permits in the surrounding area. Sheep grazed these lands up to the late 1990s when Elma Thude Sanudo sold her sheep outfit to the Auza Sheep Company in Casa Grande. Today, sheep may graze for a day or two on the land and use the water tanks that have been here from early times. The tanks have been expanded over the years.


Sheep before shearing or tagging taken in 1984
Sheep summer of 2018 or 2019.

I am thankful that I was able to visit this unique ranch with its connection to the sheep industry.  The Hancock’s drove around the area for a glimpse of the sheep that are grazing in the area, but we had no luck in finding them.  Another visit is planned soon as one of Ryan’s granddaughters wants to visit and I would love to have her stories to go along with her family’s time at the ranch.  Maybe sheep viewing will be on that trip. So, stay tuned.