Let’s take one last look at the history Edith Johnston left for us when she finished her 36-year effort to write her memoirs in 1996. I consider her stories worthy of this column since she grew up in various little places across the Cisco Desert along the base of the Book Cliffs, and that is what this column is really about; telling the stories of the people who spent time in the Book Cliffs country.
Edith grew up, married and worked, mainly between the Colorado River and the aforementioned mountains, for a good portion of her life. Eventually, her husband Wayne moved them to Carbon County where they built a chicken coop to live in while they started an auction house business, selling livestock etc. Prior to that time Edith and Wayne spent their lives doing anything they could to keep body, soul and a family that kept getting larger, together. It was the Depression era, times were way tough! Edith tells it like this:
Our son Von was nearly a year old when we moved into a little one-room log cabin, down on the river, the old Humphrey place. We lived there for four years, then bought it for taxes, for 99 dollars. There wasn’t much farming ground, but a spot big enough to raise hay and corn enough to feed our horses, and a milk cow, and a few pigs.
We tried our luck at a garden, and didn’t do too bad for the first time at gardening. I bottled lots of garden vegetables, meat, fish, and when we could get it fruit. The cabin just had a dirt floor in it, we thought. It hadn’t been lived in for years, so it was a mess. While digging down to shovel out the mud, cow dung, and etc. from years of no one using it, we found a wood floor about six inches down from the door jam. We cleaned and chinked up the cracks between the logs and moved in.
It was February when we moved there. It was a cold winter. That summer we built an ice house out of railroad ties. We hauled saw dust and coal slack from Cisco and Whitehouse with a team and wagon to cover the ice so it would keep through the summer.
When Von was about three years old he was helping with putting up the ice, riding on the sled, but he got sick and developed pneumonia. We hired Mr. King to take us to Grand Jct. to the doctor. We didn’t have a car and we didn’t have any money at all. I stayed with Winnifred till I could bring Von home.
I nearly worried myself sick at night because I couldn’t have a light so I could see Von when he would cough or move. We had coal oil lamps. The oil cost about ten cents a gallon, and we couldn’t afford to burn the lamp all night. So I worried. Just because I couldn’t see to know if Von was all right or not. I’ve always hated the dark since then.
Wayne didn’t stay there with me. He was at the ranch taking care of the chores and all. I don’t know how long I was there, but I think about a month. Seemed like a long time. I know it was a hardship on Winnifred, as that made more mouths for her to feed. Even though it was in the better part of Grand Jct., there were no street lights. So at night it was really dark.
It was really cold that winter. Wayne rode horse back into Cisco to see if he had word about Von (a letter). He sent me one also, and it was 20 below zero that morning at the ranch when he left. He had walked part of the way to keep warm. He said the cold air blowing through the hole of the cantle on the saddle, he froze a very important spot. He had to take snow and pack it to thaw it out. Guess that part wasn’t too bad, or the snow worked good because it all seemed to work after with no ill effects, ha ha.
Bud and June were married in 1934 and they stayed up Thompson Canyon. Seems like Bud and Wayne had some cows up there that Bud looked after. We traded and got hold of a few cattle as we could. At one time we had a pretty big bunch. So even through the Depression, we nearly always had plenty of meat. If we couldn’t afford to kill one of our own we’d kill some of Uncle Sam’s deer.
After Von was born Dr. White had a big Stutz car. I guess he had insurance on it. He hired my Dad to steal the car and do away with it. So Daddy stole it, drove it down to our place, and we dismantled it. We took all the parts off that couldn’t be used for something and threw them in the river. We chiseled the serial numbers off the motor, and we used it to pump river water with.
I took the upholstering out of it and made Wayne a shirt out of it and also made Von pants. I don’t think either one wore them out. It was really good material. The car never was found, and Dr. White collected the insurance. I think all my Dad got was his doctor bills paid. That was a hard job for all of us to do, such a nice car, better than any of us had ever owned.
Well, guess folks did what they had to do to get through the Great Depression. It may not have always been the right thing to do, but I suppose we would have had to walk in their worn-out boots before we could make that call.