Stake Conference

Our stake was called Young Stake at the time and we held Quarterly Conferences at one ward or another. Mancos was 35 miles Northwest, Kline was nine miles north and Kirtland Ward was in New Mexico about 35 miles to the South. Kline’s Meetinghouse was too small for conference so the other three wards took turns having it. No matter which ward it was held in, the activities were the same. As for our family, we always cooked and cleaned for days before the people started arriving in their wagons and buggies, or at the meeting house where the bishop met them and assigned each buggy load to one of the homes to stay. It took all day in a buggy to travel to either Mancos or Kirtland and when conference was held in either of these places, we always had our favorite spot where we stopped for lunch, to feed the horses and let them drink from the river. On the way to Kirtland the LaPlata River ran down not far from the road. There were huge rock cliffs and pine and cottonwood trees to eat under. On the way to Mancos after we passed the Hesperus at the North end of the Valley and in the shadow of the beautiful LaPlata Mountains, there were many green and grassy places to stop.

If relatives came for conference, they usually stayed with their own family, but if not the bishop farmed people out here and there. My sisters and I used to stand on our front porch and strain our eyes to see people arriving at the meeting house and wonder who would come to stay with us. People came on Friday afternoon and that evening the host ward always put on a play. I’m sure that such plays set drama back at least a hundred years, but we thought they were wonderful. Our Meetinghouse had a curtain on the front wrapped on a huge log-like device that was rolled up and down with large ropes. I guess the curtain was canvas and had a forest scene painted on it. I thought it was the grandest thing I had ever seen. After I was older and went to the Paris Opera House and several other famous theaters, the curtain that swept down from the ceiling couldn’t compare with the wonder of that beautiful outdoor scene on our old canvas curtain that rolled up and disappeared from view.

When our guests arrived for stake conference, they were greeted and it was usually time for the evening meal and we began bringing food from the milk house. If cousins came, we played games with them out on the lawn, while the ‘oldsters’ visited and they seemed ancient. That evening we all trooped to the Meetinghouse to see the play put on by the ward. At one time I was cast to play a child in one of these plays. My mother had the lead and for some reason I got the idea that the leading man was trying to take my mother away from me and my family, so the only thing I could think of to do about it was refuse to be in the play. This was an awful blow to my Mother and she begged and pleaded hour after hour for me to go on with my part. But, I was adamant, and they replaced me with my cousin, Jean, who was thrilled with the part.

After the play, which was always a sell-out crowd (for free) because not only everyone in our ward was in attendance, but all the conference visitors also, everyone went home and to bed, but were up early the next morning (Saturday) because the cows had to be milked, a big breakfast prepared and all of us were in our best clothes and seated on the benches for Conference at 10:00 a.m. We often had a General Authority as a visitor and speaker, and we looked on them as being just a little less than God, and were very thrilled to have them there. I remember that once my parents invited a couple of Authorities who were there, over for lunch and they walked out into our apple orchard. One of the men was fairly young and I fell madly in love with him. (I was probably 10 or so), and I felt for years that our apples from that orchard were something special and almost too good to eat.

After two sessions of conference on Saturday, we always invited friends for dinner. Such invitations were usually extended by most of the ward members so that conference visitors were spread around and visiting was enjoyed. Sunday morning was a repetition of Saturday and by 10:00 a.m. we were all in our seats in the Church house ready for the morning session. For some conferences the ward engineered a community lunch in the basement during either one of the two sessions. Ward members contributed food. At other times, it was left for people to invite anyone they wished to their home, or to take the relatives staying with them home for lunch. After lunch Sunday was the 2:00 p.m. session of Conference, and again after this session, there were many invitations to dinner for the visitors.

On Monday morning a large breakfast was served, a lunch made (mostly from leftovers from the two days of meals) and the horses hitched to the buggy or wagons and fond farewells were said, and our wonderful conference time was over. I always loved to have our relatives come to stay and I especially like to have my Uncle Will Evans and his wife, Sarah, come and stay with us. I felt that Aunt Sarah was a very elegant lady and I often sat and watched her get dressed and put on her makeup, that seemed so much better than anything my Mother had. I was fascinated and thought she was the most wonderfully turned out lady I had ever seen.

I loved conference time, but was probably bored to death during the sermons of the church session, but I loved all the other activities of the week-end.

The following reminiscences are of a time approximately 1915 or so that is complete gone now. Cars were just coming in and at one point when my Uncle Will, who had an Indian Trading Post at Shiprock, New Mexico, about 35 miles south of Redmesa, came driving up in a hump-back Ford, we were agog. But for several more years the horse and buggy were our means of transportation.

I remember another play we did in the ward when I was a child. It was a Primary play about the forest and fairies and the fairy Queen, etc. This I played in and stayed until the end, both Vera and I. It was an enthralling experience and for months afterward as we were herding cows over a section of our land we called the ’V’, we acted out this play in the pines over and over again, acting out all the parts and sitting or standing or jumping over fallen trees, or whatever the script called for. We lived the magic of the play over and over for months.

One thing that happened when I was about six or seven was that my cousin, Jean Burnham’s, house burned down. At that time they were living in a house directly north of us about a half a mile, past what was later the mailman’s home and on through the trees. I remember someone came rushing in to tell us that the Burnham house was on fire. Soon the entire neighborhood was there, but only to watch because no water was available except in a small ditch, so the house burned to the ground. The family was able to get only a few things out of the house and Jean came to stay with us for a time. I remember Jean and I setting under our dining room table talking about the fire. The family stayed with other families on the ’Mesa’ and it was not long after that when my Uncle Louis Burnham (Jean’s father) started building the brick or lumber house that was across the street and East of the schoolhouse.

This same Uncle was a tall black-bearded man that I disliked intensely. He never did provide for his family very well, as I remember it, but was always taking care of the widows in the ward. I don’t mean he had affairs with them to my knowledge but he seemed to be doing things for them when he should have been taking care of his own family. As I grew older, he became mentally ill (although not much was known about such things at that time, and we didn’t realize what was wrong with him). Jean was always telling me atrocious stories about things her father knew that were going to happen. She said that he knew when the end of the world was coming and that it was not too far away. In fact, this was one of his favorite subject and for years when I was just starting my teenage years he came to our place on Christmas morning and went on and on about the end of the world. It practically ruined my Christmases for years because I didn’t want the world to end. I wanted to grow up and have boyfriends and get married and have a family, which he almost made me believe would never happen.

One of the activities I enjoyed as a young girl was to accompany my Mother along with all the girls in our stake, to a campout near Hesperus at the foot of the LaPlata Mountains. Mother was Stake President of the MIA and she always organized these outings to the ’nth’ degree with activities such as hikes, swims in the river, programs, firesides beside the campfire, etc. These campouts were one of the highlights of my young years.

When I was about 12, I remember being invited down to the Davenport’s for a party Uncle Will and Aunt Sade who were my great uncle and aunt. Aunt Sade was one of the six Barker girls told about previously. They lived west of the town site where the Meetinghouse stood–in fact, almost directly west, but down a gentle slope. Their daughter Bertha was my ideal from the time I was a small child. I can remember being invited to stay overnight with her at times and it was a great adventure for me. I loved Aunt Sade but was deathly afraid of Uncle Will, although he was actually a kind, loving man. I think the fear may have been because of his long black beard and flashing dark eyes.

Bertha was very beautiful and I think I was rather jealous when she met the young Roberts boy and married him. On their honeymoon while driving in a buggy, the horses became frightened because of something and bolted. Bertha’s husband was pulled under the horse’s feet and was killed. I can’t remember now whether the horses stomped him or whether the wheels ran over him, or both, but he was killed. This was a terrible blow to the valley because everyone loved Bertha and admired him. After his death, she went to Provo to Brigham Young University, and little money and was often hungry, but she was bright and a good student and finally got a job on campus. When she graduated, she taught French and Shorthand, and I believe typing at the Y. She saved her money and went to Europe.

Other than having a place to live and the garden in the summer, they (my folks) didn’t actually make a dime on the farm, so my Mother finally gave up and they moved to Durango where Dad could work year round in the mines. However, two or three times we moved to Durango only to decide to move back to Redmesa.

Soon after my parents moved to the ’mesa’, they also took up 100 acres of land (homesteaded it) on what was called the ’dry side’ on a rising stretch of land along the west from Redmesa. Nearly all the family did the same. I can remember Aunt Belle and Uncle Clarence Slade having land there, building a small house on it and living there for several years. I believe that my Dad and Grandpa Willden and the boys went in together on the land on the dry side. I can remember going over there in a wagon with all the ’troops’ helping to clear the land of sagebrush and trees. The men built a little cabin-one room with bunk beds built into the wall on three sides. In the other end was a wood stove without a warming oven, a table and some shelves to put the food on. Quite often Aunt Ethel went over to cook and Vera and I would help her or we helped clear the land and sometimes just play—picking up collections of bugs that were everywhere-non-biting ones. But, a great deal of time we worked. I can always remember working hard when I was a child, but at the time it is what everyone did to try to make some sort of living. I never remember rebelling. My parents also made sure that we had play times, and parties, picnics, etc., so I can’t remember feeling that I was a ’child labor’ product.

Somewhere along about this time a tragedy happened to the Hadden family. Aunt Nell Hadden was my Grandfather Willden’s sister. The children of this family were rather a rebellious lot, not very strong in the Church, and just the type that were always getting into fights (the boys) and the girls weren’t much better. In fact, one of the girls got pregnant. At this time, this sort of thing rocked the valley and I can remember how my Mother and Grandmother talked about it in hushed tones, and how they tried to keep the details about if from the children. All I knew was that was ‘ruined.’ And it was a terrible feeling. (This girl’s baby was a son, who was sort of shunned in the neighborhood. The girl married later and on the day of my Mother’s viewing after her death, Afton, this son, was there and is a delightful person and doing well with his life. I hadn’t seen him for at least 35 years.

Another traumatic happening in the valley was when one of the Warren family committed suicide. At the funeral some members of the family threw themselves upon the casket screaming and crying. This, along with the tall tales I listened to from my Grandmothers, great aunts, etc. made me have a terrible fear of dead people. Not dying, but those that were dead. I hope that my children and grandchildren do not grow up with this. I don’t believe they are, considering the small grandchildren at my Mother’s funeral a couple of years ago. They all went up to her casket and said, “There’s our sweet great-grandmother.” They wanted to touch and feel her face.

My Aunt Belle married when I was quite small…ages definitely seem to escape me. But, I can remember Grandma Willden and my Mother sewing on her trousseau, which I thought was the most beautiful in the world. I even remember that there was a brown satin dress and one with white lace on it. Considering my grandparent’s tight financial situation in this barren and money-less valley, I think it was a miracle that Grandma was able to get together what she did for her. She married Clarence Slade and they had about 8 children. They lived over on the town site and Uncle Clarence raised bees besides farming, but they never did have very much. Their home was about four rooms along in a row and the furniture wasn’t the best, but I never heard my Aunt Belle complain.

She was very much my idol during my growing up years and I was very close to her. She worked very hard but took time to enhance her artistic ability, which she used mostly in hand-painting china. I wish that I still had some of the china cups and saucers she painted. They were beautiful. She always worked to have a good garden. And I especially remember in early summer, small round new potatoes and peas from their garden creamed together for meals at her home. I was also close to their first two children, Ralph and Doris. They were a little younger than I, but we were good friends and spent many hours playing together.