My Personal History: Life & Times in Southeast Utah #3…by Verona Stocks

The twins were born March 7, 1916.  That was a night.  Mary had to run up the hill a little way to get Mrs. Wheeler to come stay with Mother while Dad went after Mrs. Carrol, the Midwife.  I had to get Annie, Neva and Margaret dressed and up the hill to Mrs. Wheeler’s place where we would spend the rest of the night.  Margaret would not walk anywhere, Mary and I always had to carry her, so I carried her up the hill that night.

We were supposed to sleep but Mary was so keyed up she would not let us sleep.  I finally got mad and contested her, as long as she picked on me and let the babies alone I did not care.  Some of those little kids was two, three, and four years old.  All of the Wheeler children were younger than we were, Minnie Wheeler was nine years old, our sister Annie was nine, I was 10 but would be eleven April 1st.  I was pinched, my hair pulled, was shoved around, morning came and Mary took off down the hill to see that baby boy we felt so sure of.

The Blanding people were so wonderful, they brought Mother so many beautiful clothes for those babies, they brought Mother some gowns and bed jackets too.  They prepared food for Mother too for the first few days.  Dad had so much to do Mary had to stay home from school to tend Neva and Margaret and take care of Mother and the twins.

The little boy was named after Dad’s father, Felix Grundy Murphy; his twin sister got a pretty name, Felicia Violet.  It was a long time before Mary got to do much for Felix because Mother kept him close to her.  She had lost two baby boys which made her so afraid for this one.  The little girl was quiet and seldom fussed; when she did either Mary or I took care of her.

Dad needed something from over town, it was a dark night, I was not afraid of the dark so I got on Bird, I was no longer afraid of her either.  Coming down the road through the trees to our place I could not see a thing but I figured the horse could.  All at once she stopped, I kicked her but she would not move then hands took hold of my legs just below the knees, I knew then there were two people that had stopped my horse.  I said “I don’t know who you are but I am in a hurry.”  One of them said, “You are not afraid?”  I said, “Sure, wouldn’t you be if someone you could not see stopped your horse?”  They all laughed, one of them said something to the others and I knew him then even though he spoke Indian.  He patted my leg and they went on toward the store.  I went home, Dad was outside waiting for me, he asked if I had met them.  I told him what happened, He said, “Yes, I knew they were up to something, that is why I waited for you out here.”

That Indian was a friend, he had not come to ask for food as so many of them did.  He came because he probably had something important to tell Dad.  He liked to play tricks on Mary and me as he did his own kids.  He was the one that sang with us in the tent in Recapture.  I do not remember his name and I don’t remember seeing him again.

We moved down to the farm before school was out, Dad needed help, he had two big fields he had cleared and needed our help to plant and harrow.  There was twenty acres in  each field on farms adjoining ours.  Mary usually did the harrowing but now she had to stay with Mother.  She did it when she was eleven so why shouldn’t I.

Dad favored me, Mother favored Mary, they each made it very plain to us.  Mary could and did work with Dad, I could do dishes, make beds and sweep floors as long as I stayed away from the cooking.  Mary and I got along with each other, accepted things as they were and did our work, never discussing our parents way of treating us, it was their problem not ours.

Dad put me to harrowing the field close to our place so he could keep an eye on me.  It was a big harrow and it took three horses to pull it.  He had to use Bird for that third horse, he put her in the middle, Baldy on one side, Nickle on the other side.  There was a board on the harrow to ride on but Dad told me not to get on it because if Bird got to acting up it might flip over.  I walked just behind in the dust.  Bird did act up but the other two horses held steady.  Dad sure knew about horses.

There were big grassy flats south and east of our place, that is where our cows and horses liked to graze.  We had to watch out for mean cows and rattlesnakes, there was always plenty of both around.  Sometimes Mary and I could not find the cows and if they did not come home in the night then Mother would saddle a horse and go after them.  She usually took Mary with her and left me to tend the kids.  Those were long scary days for me, and one time they did not get back until far into the night.  She took me with her one time, we went northwest and away up toward Blanding.  We saw the cows in a field, there as a gate close by and those cows took off on a run toward the south when they saw us come in.  They reached the hole in the fence they had come in.  When we caught up to them they were on the other side of the fence.  Mother could make a horse do things a horse could not do.  She made Nickle jump that fence,and he could not jump anything with anyone else on him.  She told me to go back to the gate, I asked her to make Bird jump the fence, she told me Bird was not smart enough, so Mother left with the cows.  I got a tree limb and pried some staples out of the fence, pressed the wire down and Bird crawled through the hole.  Mother said, “that was fast.” I said, “Yes, she couldn’t jump over but she could crawl through.”

Mother did not need to hunt the cows after the twins were born; Mary and I knew all their hide-a-ways and little tricks by then.  We went after them one afternoon, it looked like a bad storm was coming.  It hit us before we got back with the cows.  Thunder and lightning and sheets of water, like a cloud burst.  When we got home Mother opened the cellar door and told us to get in fast.  We corralled the cows and took care of our horses first.  Mother had all five of her younger kids, some bedding and dry clothes for us.  She was so afraid for lightning.  When the storm was over there were little toads everywhere you looked.

There is an old saying, “It’s raining toads and frogs.”  I sure believed it then.  Mother was happy there on the farm.  No one was living with us that summer, she had her young ones to look after and Mary and I could manage what farm work that had to be done, keep the water supply for the house, take the cows and horses to water, Mary milked the cows and fed the chickens, I got in the wood.

When Dad came home from his job he would hitch up the horses to the wagon and they would take their baby boy and go to the spring and fill up all the barrels with fresh water.  They never took the little twin girl Felicia with them, it was all right because Mary and I always kept her well fed, she was a good baby.  After caring for Margaret so much, Felicia was just a doll.
When the planting was finished and the roads were dry enough to get to the mountain, Dad got a job once again working on ditches and resivoires to bring the water to Blanding and surrounding ranches.

Then all that changed for us.  Dad received word that his Father, Felix Murphy, was dying.  He was on the mountain working so he loaded his camp and tools in the wagon and came home fast.  We had just brought the cows in, Nickle was right there so Dad put his saddle on that little knock kneed pacer, and took off for Moab, 85 miles away.  He left the farm six o-clock in the evening and arrived in Moab six o-clock the following morning.

Felix G. Murphy died July 11, 1916.  The day Grandpa was buried Mother, Mary and I were looking at the clouds and watching for the sunset, the clouds were fluffy and beautiful, the kind that makes pictures in the sky.  Mother said “Oh no.”  I looked up at the clouds they had changed while I was watching a white dove that lit on a bush close by.  The picture in the clouds looked like a funeral procession, the sun was getting low and started tinting the clouds.  They gathered together all in one place as we watched then they broke up and went away.  We looked at the white dove, it flew over and settled on Mother’s shoulder, it stayed there for a few minutes then flow away.  Mother said she had never seen a white dove before and none of us ever did again.

July passed and Dad did not return and he did not write, food was getting scarce the flour had to be rationed, we had milk and she made cottage cheese; there were vegetables from the garden and a few eggs.  Then Dad and Grandma came in a wagon.

Dad was cranky with us kids and seldom spoke to Mother, Grandma never let Mother forget that she was in Blanding to make Dad come for his family.  I think Grandma was unhappy too and she adopted a cute little boy.  Guess she really missed us kids even if she did not think Mother was good enough for her son.

Dad sold Grandma’s place and our farm too.  Before we left the farm he killed a big roan cow, she was five years old and had never had a calf and she liked to jump fences, we had better cows for us kids to drive without her.  But how to keep the meat? It was August. Mother fried some and put it in crock jars, the rest she put in bottles.  Pressure cookers were unknown then so Mother put the jars of meat in a boiler and cooked it for several hours.  As it turned out we were very lucky she did that.

Now we were ready to leave for Moab, Dad finished loading the wagons.  He drove the wagon with the heavy load, the buggy as a trailer.  Mother drove the covered wagon with a lighter load and all the little kids with her.  Grandma rode with Dad.  Mary rode Bird and I rode that little bronc, Nibs to drive the cows.

Mary was worried for some reason, she kept checking on Mother.  Grandma was unhappy and she kept Dad stirred up, him and Mother had some trouble and Mother just left.  She was troubled and did not know what to do.  Mary grabbed Felix and followed her.  Mother tried to send her back but she would not go.  Dad finally tracked them down and they came back to the wagons.

As soon as I ate my breakfast I started out with the cattle, Nibs kept trying to go back to his mother, the grazing was good for the cows and I kept expecting the wagons to catch up with me.  I did not hurry, but I did fight with the colt all day.  When I saw the wagons I just stopped.  They made camp, as soon as I reached camp I knew there was some kind of trouble.  Mother never came out of the wagon.  Dad and Mary each told me a little but I was so tired and I knew Mother and Dad would have to settle the troubles between them, I just went to bed and to sleep.

That was a long unhappy trip back to Moab.  For me it was a fight all the way with that Bronc, my arms were sore so was my hands but his nose was sore too and when he tried to turn back I hit him with a quirt.  He never did try to buck.  Mary helped sometimes but most of the time she stayed with Mother.  I was 11 years old and Mary was 13 so at times she drove the wagon team.

We did not know what to expect when we reached Moab, it sure was not what we did get.  We came onto the Murphy ranch through the gate on the west side, crossed the creek southwest of the orchard, passed by the logical place to stop, drove on south to a sand dune and there Dad stopped.  The sand dune was west of the ditch which had nice cool water in it and tall green popular trees bordering the ditch.  There was a grassy spot on the other side too.  Dad just drove up, unhitched the horses from the wagons, hitched one team to the buggy so Grandma could drive down to her house.  Dad took the other teams to the pasture and that is the last we saw of him for several weeks.

Mary and I got the tent set up for Mother and the little kids, rustled up wood to cook with.  Mary cooked on a camp fire, I carried drinking water from a spring.  It was a long dry August very hot, except the little kids could play in the ditch, when a little breeze came up there was sand all over everything.  Mother was so depressed for several days finally she would help Mary with the cooking.

Uncle Felix came up two or three times and looked around.  I heard chopping and pounding in a grove of young cottonwood trees then one day on my way to the spring I stopped to see what was going on.  There was a cabin about 12 by 14 feet nearly finished.  Those cottonwood trees were tall, straight and about as thick as lodgepole pine.  I suspected Uncle Felix was building that cabin, because he was the builder, but I did not know why.
Mary and I refused to go around any of Dad’s people.  Uncle Heber came up and talked to Mother but I was not there.  Just before school started Uncle Felix told Mary to get our team so we did, he hitched them up to the wagon and moved us to where we should have been all the time and into the cabin he had built for Mother.  We went back for the other wagon while he was unloading the first one, we had to help him with the cook stove.  He set up the big tent and made it secure by putting poles, like a fence all around.  The cabin had a floor, the cook stove, cupboards, table and in the back Mother’s bed were in the cabin.  In the tent there was a bed for Annie, Neva, and Margaret, another for Mary and me.  We fixed orange crates with curtains in front for dressers and a place to hang our clothes, we did have dirt floors in the tent but we knew how to cope with that.

Now the thing we did not have was money or where to get any.  Dad sold the farm in Blanding and the lot in town but he did not give Mother any, he gave it all to Heber and Tom plus he gave Heber 75 head of cows and 50 more for himself to form the Murphy Brothers Land and Cattle Company.  They made Grandma sign over her ranch and cattle to Tom and she gave them the money she received from the place she sold in Blanding.  Jack and Tom had about 60 head of cows between them so they put those in.  Jack soon withdrew, he did not like his bosses, Heber and Tom, but that was later.  The point is Grandma and Dad were the big losers.  Uncle Felix, Otho and Victor had nothing to put into the company.

Mary, Annie and I started school in hand-me-down clothes someone gave to Grandma, we did not like them but we had to go to school, Mother would not have it otherwise.  Then one day we came home and Dad was there, him and Mother acted very happy.  Mary and I said nothing, if Mother was happy then we could accept it that way.

We lived there until Uncle Heber and Aunt Nellie moved into their new house before Christmas then we moved into the old rock house.

I liked school in Moab even though I had to walk 2 1/2 miles from the Murphy ranch.  At eight the school bell rang and sometimes Mary and I were slow with our chores, we were seldom late.  We were active kids.  Annie had to start earlier because she could not run like we could.
I went into a class with the kids I had started school with, Mary went into a class with kids my age.  I had not started to go to school when I was 6, I had rhumatic fever.  We had no idea if we had been promoted in Blanding or not.  We quit school there about a month early to help Dad on the farm.  School work was easy for me.  We did not have report cards and the teacher did not ask for them.

I started planting a garden early in March after I came home from school and Mary had to hunt for hen’s nests and fix up coops for hens that had hatched baby chickens, that besides our regular chores.  Mary had to milk the cows and feed them also, feed the pigs and chickens.  I had to carry water from the spring and get in the wood.  If the cows did not come in then I had to catch a horse and go find them.  Yes! we were busy kids.  Saturday we washed the clothes, did some ironing and mopped the floors.

When school was out there was plenty of work for Mary and me.  I had my garden to take care of and I hated weeds and especially sandburrs.  I hoed weeds when I was not riding a pull up horse at haying time.  Mary and I took turns at that because there was haying all summer.  The first cutting on the Murphy ranch was soon after school let out, then up to Uncle Jack’s place.  He owned what is now the 4M ranch and he had big hayfields.  When we finished there we went up to the South Mesa ranch which Uncle Heber had.  They paid us a dollar a day to ride the pull up horse and help their wives, Rosie and Nellie in the kitchen.  They always hired several men at haying time.  We were up at five in the morning and got to bed about nine at night after helping with the dishes, etc.

Mary and I took turns on these summer jobs.  We could not both be away from home at the same time.  Dad was working away from home and the garden and chores were too much for Mother.  We saved our money to buy school clothes.  When school started I had no more paying jobs but I did miss some school when the cows were brought off the mountain.  The calves had to be weaned and the steers drove to Thompson for shipment.  That year they were sold at Chicago.  I remember that because Victor went with them and he bought me a wrist watch.  He never let me keep it however.

I missed school until all the cows were brought in and those they were going to keep close to the ranch were separated from the ones to be driven to the winter range down below Island in the Sky on the White Rim between the Colorado and Green Rivers.  I had to herd those cattle for about two weeks before they were put on the winter range.

Mary had other jobs, she could babysit for three different women that I remember.  Anyway she got paid for her work and she needed it more than I did because she could wear out a pair of shoes in a month.  I could wear a pair all winter.

When it rained on the cliffs across the valley pot holes in sand rocks filled up; then I helped Dad put some of the cows over there.  There are little valleys with good grass and other vegetation good for cattle but no living water so we had to check the water holes often.

That winter Uncle Felix started teaching me how to play the guitar so I could cord for him when he played his violin.  He knew the old tunes and he had a phonograph, and he bought the new dance tunes, he only had to hear them a few times so he could play them.  Dancing and music was the best entertainment at that time.

That winter Dad was gone a lot, he worked on the Shafer Trail with John (Sog) Shafer and then him and his brothers built up the Murphy Trail.  Even that was a rough trail to drive cows over.

I was 13 years old April 1, 1918 and a few days later Dad was ready to go after the cattle that had wintered on the White Rim between the Colorado and Green Rivers.  We got as far as Seven Mile that first day just before noon and Dad said he wanted to see a man who was helping guard the convicts who were working on the Seven Mile bridge.  He left Otho and me back about a mile away to keep the extra horses we had to have on that cattle drive and we had two pack horses.  Dad and Otho each had three saddle horses, I had two.  Dad did not hurry back so Otho soon followed him and I started driving the horses toward some trees I could see up the canyon.

When Dad got back he was real happy with himself, he had bought me a bridle with long braided leather reins and a martingale to put on little Buck to keep him from tossing his head and rearing up.  It was late and we went up a side canyon toward the knoll.  It was dark when we got there, a cowboy was there and he told Dad the coffee was good and hot so Dad cooked a good supper and drank coffee and talked to the cowboy.

We went a round about way down the Shafer Trail which was so narrow in spots the sturp would rub against the cliff on one side and you could look about two to three hundred feet straight down on the other side.  I had to ride Flax down that trial, she was short, fat, lazy, and very spoiled but safe on a bad trail.  All day I rode her which was very tiring.  The next day I rode Little Buck.  We saw some Big Horn Sheep, they are beautiful animals and I chased them right by Otho so he took some pictures.

Dad was checking out some cows to see if we had any cows in that bunch, we didn’t, when he saw me chasing those sheep he hurried back and he was mad, he really told me off for running a horse in that kind of place.  Well, Buck jumped a big wash, and over rocks and brush.  He was fast and wasn’t long from the wild bunch and he liked to run.

When we came to the brush fence between Shafer’s range and Murphy’s range it had been knocked down and Dad figured by the tracks that about 50 head had gone through.  He would have to go back next day to round them up.

He had time before dark to check out the water.  There were three springs, one was arsenic, no tracks there.  In the second draw was a soda spring, grass and brush grew around it but it was not fit to drink.  The third spring had some alkali in it, not enough to hurt animals, it was running quite a lot of water and there were about a hundred cattle along the stream bed.  We came to a little water fall and I wanted to get a drink, the water looked so clear and cold, Dad said no.  We rode up the wash and turned a corner and there in the middle of the stream was a dead cow.  Dad put a rope around her legs and pulled her out of the stream.  On up the wash we came to the spring it came out of a rock ledge and Dad had built a rock wall in front to keep the cows away.

At the campsite nearby Dad unpacked the horses and started cooking supper, he told me to take some of the horses to a cove north of camp and hobble them.  Otho hobbled the rest.

Before daylight Dad went after the cows that had broken through the fence into Shafer’s range.  Otho went looking for the horses he had hobbled.  They were gone up the Murphy Trail.  I caught my horse and started rounding up cows, and starting them toward the water.

Dad came back with about 50 head of cows.  Otho told him the horses were gone.  Otho was twenty but being the youngest in a big family he had never had to anything he did not want to do and this was his first time to rough it.  He did not know how to hobble a horse with ropes.  He had left them too long between the front feet and had tied the ropes too loose.  Dad did not even scold Otho he just went after the horses, he found some of them that still had hobbles on.  I was thirteen and was glad none of the horses I had hobbled had got away or Dad would have been pretty cross with me.

It took a few days to round up the cattle and cut out those too weak or ready to have calves.  Dad would make another trip for them.  We had about seven hundred head ready for the drive and started pushing them up the narrow trail about daylight.

When the lead cows were out of sight Dad started working his way up, making lazy cows move faster.  As soon as Dad was out of sight Otho took off after him as he had done each day, always keeping Dad in sight.  All afternoon I was up and down that trail, to get where the cows had stopped, and start them moving again.  Otho was supposed to be along that trail.  I never saw either Dad or Otho until after sundown.  Dad asked, what took us so long?  I just said “Us?  It was just me.”  He said, “I was afraid of that.”

We camped there that night at the head of the Murphy trail and Dad rode herd most all night to keep the herd from scattering all over Island in the Sky.  We had the herd on the move at daylight.  When we reached the Neck the stock had been two days without water and there was barely enough to fill our waterbags and water the horses.  The fourth day the cattle had no water there was a low moan coming from the whole herd, it was the most pitiful sound I ever heard.  Late afternoon of that day we reached the Knoll and the cows smelled water and started moving faster.  Dad went with the leaders to stop them at the water in Seven Mile Wash.  Otho was leading the pack horse and he followed Dad as fast as he could.  I stayed with the drags as I had done all along.

We camped at Seven Mile that night.  The next day we drove almost to the head of Moab Canyon and put the cattle on the bench in a natural correl.  The next morning Dad and Otho went after the cattle, leaving me to keep them bunched close by.  About half the cows were off the bench when a cow fell down in the narrow trail blocking it.  Dad and Otho worked to get her up and tried to get her to a place so the rest of the herd could get by but she got on the fight and they could only get a few cows by before she would fall down again.

Every time they turned a few cows loose they headed for the Arches and I had to run my horse to head them off and bring them to the herd, as the herd grew it was harder to keep them bunched.  I had only one horse to ride since part of the horses got away and I had been riding him every day on the roundup and then on the drive.  I rode drag.  It was hot and dusty and that horse had to trot back and forth behind those cows to keep them moving and now this, it was too much, even for a horse like Little Buck.  Dad finally noticed.  He shot that cow, and sent Otho to help me.

When the cows were all together again we drove them down Moab Canyon toward the river bridge.  The first mile we picked up what was left of our camp outfit.  That pack horse just rubbed against a tree until the pack was loose enough to turn underneath him then he kicked it to pieces.  The bridge was narrow but traffic was slow, when we got the herd across the river we drove them through the town and up to the Murphy ranch.  The valley was fenced off and that was the only way we could go.

I missed about ten days of school and had to work hard to catch up so I could take my tests, school would be out the first week of May.  I also had to finish planting the garden.  Mary and Annie missed the last week of school because Dad needed Mary’s help to get the remainder of those cows we could not bring on that first drive.  It did not take them as long as it did us because they went straight to the Murphy trail and the cows were feeding closer to the water.  There was about 200 head and many of the cows had calves but Mary and Annie working together kept them on the move up the Murphy Trail.  Even with the small calves they made it to the Neck on the first day.  The excitement of the trip was when a herd of deer almost ran over the girls who were stationed at the mouth of a big canyon.

Mary and I helped round up the cows, herding them while the calves were branded then helping to get them on the mountain to the summer range.  After that it was back to the hayfields, taking turns being away from home as we had the summer before.  We saved the money we earned to buy school clothes.

Annie, Neva and I started to school the first day of school but Mary was still working for Aunt Pearl who was cooking for a road crew.  Nick was born Oct. 4, 1918 and I had to stay home, Mother was very sick.  Dad stayed with her all day and worked with that baby to get him to come right but Nicklos was cautious about coming into a world he knew nothing about.  It was like testing bath water with your toes, that is what Nick did only when Dad saw those toes he grabbed them and Nick had no chance to change his mind he came into this world screaming mad, feet first.  There was a Doctor up at Grandmother’s drinking coffee, he was there to help Mother, he never did but he came when he heard the baby and he cut the cord.

Dad hired a woman to do the washing, she just brought it all to me, I did it and she got paid.  I was a little peeved when I heard Dad had paid her.  I did not mind taking care of Mother and the kids but I sure wished Mary would come home and do the cooking.  She did come before Mother was up and able to do anything but tend her baby.  She was so proud now she had two little boys.  I went back to school.

Mary started school as soon as Mother was on her feet enough to look after her other little ones.  Then they brought the cows off the mountain and I had to ride herd on them until the steers were cut out and taken to Thompson and the others moved from the ranch to the winter range.  Well I liked school and it did not take me long to catch up on lessons missed.

We were not the only kids that missed school at planting time or harvest and when help was needed with the stock.

When the first snow came I helped Dad put about a hundred cows into the hidden valleys on the cliffs across Spanish Valley from the Murphy ranch.  There is no living water over there but pot holes in the slickrock that fill up when it rains or snows.  Most weekends I checked on the cattle to make sure they had water.  Dad showed me some hidden trails over the rock fins and in one little valley was a beautiful Arch with a pond under it and lovely flowers all around.  I explored in some rather scary places just to look for a flower or rock formation.  I finally went too far and scared myself.  I decided not to tie my horse and go on foot if it was some place he could not go then I wouldn’t go.

When I return home in the evening and the sun is setting, lighting up the Majestic LaSal Mountains sitting on their purple pedestal with the red sandstone cliffs of many shapes reaching out toward them.  Well!  I wish I was an artist or had a good camera.

As I ride closer to my home I begin thinking of the fireplace hoping Mother has enough wood to build a good fire.  I still must carry in the wood, and I hoped Mother had something special cooked, she usually does.  After I helped Mary with the chores we go into the house and get warm by the fireplace.  The younger children fall asleep and all is quiet.

When Dad is home it is a pleasure to watch him and Mother begin their day.  He would build the fires then milk the cows and care for the horses and pigs.  By the time he came back in, Mother was up, her hair combed and she was making biscuits, she loved biscuits.  Dad washed his hands and face and combed his hair.  It was important for both of them to look nice for breakfast.  He sliced and fried the bacon, Mother fixed the cereal and together they set the table.

Usually the kids were all asleep and I pretended to be until it was time for all school kids to be up.  The evenings were wonderful too, when Dad was home.  He would read to Mother and I always listened.  The other kids soon went to sleep.

There is nothing better than two, a man and a woman who walk together.  When they walk right together there is no way too long, no night too dark.

Read the previous installment of Verona’s journals here and here.

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