I've heard of the old Thompson Ranch but never could find it, no matter how much we walked Thompson Road in Keokea looking for clues.
Now I've solved the mystery, and it's a grand tale that links the old Maui with the new, through two children of the legendary Charlie Thompson, who never gave up believing in their father's legacy.
Charlie Thompson was a handsome devil, blue-eyed, a hell of a cowboy, born in Kealakekua to a Hawaiian woman and a German tanner. He moved to Maui in 1902, where he married, and outlived, three Hawaiian wives.
Each inherited property in Keokea that, with the addition of his own purchases, became the 500-acre Thompson Ranch, stretching from above Thompson Road to the vicinity of Sun Yat-Sen Park.
Charlie Thompson sired 17 children with his three Hawaiian wives and hanaied seven stepchildren when he married his last wife, the Portuguese-Hawaiian widow Lillian Eckart. Four more children came, including Jerry, No. 27, and Theresa, No. 28, the last. They were age 10 and 7, respectively, when their father passed away, but in those few years he stole their hearts and shaped their values.
"Papa was old school," said Theresa, the driving force behind the annual Paniolo Parade. "He'd bring home all parts of the cow. He'd sit on the porch and clean the tripe for days. Mama would boil the tongue. He'd go out and pick different weeds and leaves, grind them up for a poultice. He was happy. He was always helping people out. He'd go out of his way to get a good laugh."
Theresa remembered how her father would oil his rawhide saddle with pipi 'aila, fat from a cow, how he was always sharpening knives, oiling tools. "You don't see people doing that anymore. He rode his horse every day, checked the water troughs, checked the fences. He was a real steward of the land."
"He was a good man," Jerry added. "He'd always bring us rose apples he picked on the mountain, or what was in season. When I was little he made me a little rope and taught me to rope."
When the wooden school house at Holy Rosary Church was abandoned in the '60s, Charlie hired Louis Cambra and "old Shimoti," to break it down board by board and salvage the fittings. This became the long, low, six-bedroom ranch house, a fixture for years on Thompson Road.
Charlie Thompson was 90 when he died in 1969, and he left the ranch lands to the children of the mothers who had owned it. They sold out, thus the houses on Thompson Road. The ranch house and 100 acres of his own property went to his wife. Upon her death in 1981, Lillian sagely bequeathed 50 acres to 10 of her children and the last 50 with the ranch house to Jerry. "She figured I'd keep the ranch going," he said.
The trouble was, the value of the land skyrocketed and Jerry Thompson eventually owed $1.3 million in inheritance taxes. To pay them, around 1985 he sold the ranch house and lower 20 acres to a couple who renamed it the Silver Cloud Ranch and started a bed and breakfast. Then along came the gazillionaire, Oprah Winfrey, who bought Silver Cloud and razed the house.
Jerry, his wife Toni, and two children, meanwhile, retreated to the upper 30 acres, which were all that remained of Thompson Ranch, where he knocked together a 500-square-foot cabin. "It was like a bird cage," Toni said.
They kept the trail rides going but it wasn't enough to make ends meet. One day a neighbor who was in real estate approached to see if they wanted to sell. "This person has more money than God," he said.
Oprah paid Jerry just enough for him to buy 1,400 acres of Campbell Estate land atop Polipoli Road and build a house. "I was real sad and shook up," Jerry recalled, at the loss of the last of his father's land. But as he drove back to the cabin after signing the papers, he saw a beautiful rainbow. "As I looked up to where I thought I'd be moving, I saw another big rainbow. Someone telling me it's all good."
Ten years later, two of them spent living in the barn and days and days of fencing and cutting wattle - Toni and Theresa very much involved - Thompson Ranch is alive again as a working ranch, with 80 breeding cows, 200 meat goats and 30 horses for, yes, the trail rides. Charlie Thompson's old metal Thompson Ranch sign is planted at the foot of the driveway.
"It's back on the map," Jerry said. "I doing good. I taking care the land."
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.