Florence May Hall 1893-1924
I, James John Nielson was born 23 April 1924 in Winter Quarters to Florence May Hall and Joseph Henry Nielson. My mother died shortly after I was born (20 July, 1924). My sister, Veda was then taken out of school for year to take care of her younger brothers and sisters. About a year later my dad remarried. It was one of his former sweethearts, she had come to Winter Quarter after her husband died. She now worked in the post office in Winter Quarters and this was where our family was living. I don’t know whether it was to pursue our dad or not because she really loved our dad. They had been dating and everything but it was a surprise when he brought her home with him without telling them they were married. Veda said that one night Dad just brought this strange woman into the house and went to bed with her. Boy, that just shocked all the kids. Her name was Jennie, Jennie Johnson by a former marriage so now she became Jennie Nielson, our dad’s wife. I was taken to my grandma Hall’s home to live with her on Depot Street on what we called the Rows at Castle Gate Utah. This was close to the Beech home.
were six of my dad's children and one of hers in my Dad’s home. We now had a stepsister, her name was Louise. So, now in our family there was Louise, Veda, Helen, Sonny (Joseph Henry Jr.)., Ethel, then Jack and myself, I being the youngest one.
I didn’t have any contact with the rest of the family that I can remember of until I was five years old. I lived with my grandma at that time. Grandma seemed kind of tall and stately to me. I remember how she would share with me a pint of milk we drank every day. She would share and then share some more until I would end up drinking most of it. She had this habit of scaring me with her false teeth. She would pop them out and I just knew they were going to bite me. I stayed there until my grandma couldn’t take care of me any more. She was quite sick and ready to die. So, they decided the best thing they could do for me was to take me home to live with my dad. One Sunday my dad sent my sister Veda up to Grandma’s to get me but I did not want to leave my grandma. It was about a half a mile from grandma's house to where our house was next to the hotel in Castle Gate. I fought her all the way down the street. I tore her beads off and tore her dress. She was a good-looking girl and had nice clothes. I was not very nice but I was just a little boy who was losing his grandma who had been my life. Anyway she finally got me down to our house and now she had to take me up the steps and into the house. That's where my dad intercepted me at the top of the steps and took one of my tennis shoe off and gave me a good whipping. I learned never to cross him again. I remember I went in the kitchen where there was a kitchen sink there and turned on the water and washed my eyes out. At that point I still didn’t know much about our mother. She died a few months after I was born (three months-Jim was born 23 April 1924 and she died 20 July 1924).
So, now we had a new mother and we called her, “Ma”. Our dad was Dad and she was Ma. That's the relationship and we established. From here on out I will call Jennie, Ma because of what she did for us and what she was willing to for us. The thing that I appreciate about Ma was the rigidity she had and the ability she had to raise such a large family and how well she handled it, she did a beautiful job. Dad took up the habit of drinking after he lost our mother. Veda and Helen said he wasn’t much of a drinker until our mother died because he loved her so much. This was Florence May Hall my real mother. The loss made him a perpetual drinker for the rest of his life until just a few months before he died. But there was value in his life that he shared with other people. Walt Donaldson who lived in Winter Quarters remembers Dad and tells the story of how my dad run the team for the Company Store (Wasatch Store). Dad was the store’s deliveryman and his job was to deliver the groceries to the homes and what ever else was needed. The horses were matched Bays with white foreheads and white feet. He loved them and cared for them at the barn. He remembered the color of the candy that Dad would give the kids for helping deliver the groceries. He tells about walking on the tracks down to Scofield in the winter and if there was a train coming they had to hurry and cut a hole in the snow bank to stand in and standing up erect so that they didn’t get clobbered by the train. Bishop Donaldson went on to say; “Don’t you ever look down at your father because of his short comings. He was a man you should all be proud of. In the eyes of those families and those kids he was the greatest. He was a wonderful man.
1924 was quite a year in our lives: #1- It was the year I was born. #2- It was the year of the Castle Gate Mine explosion. My mother’s sister’s husband, Jack Thorpe was killed. #3- it was the year Grandpa Hall died. #4- it was the year that Mother became so sick and died. She went to Castle Gate in the hope that the company doctor, Doctor McDermott who had moved from Winter Quarters to Castle Gate could help her but he couldn’t. Mother died in her sister’s home (Eva and Jack Thorpe’s home), the superintendent’s home. They called it the “Big Boss’s House”; it was a nice house. But now that Jack was dead Eva had to move out. Bishop Stapley later lived there.
In about 1926 or 1927 we moved from Winter Quarters to Castle Gate, where Dad went to work at the company’s store at Castle Gate, at the same capacity as a deliveryman. He used to have runners on wagon in the wintertime and pull it in the road in snow and ice with a team of horses. He loved horses. They first lived in a house in Willow Creek for awhile. Then they moved to a big house in Castle Gate next to the hotel. This was the house that Veda brought me to when I started living with the family. I remember we had a pot in each bedroom what we called a slop jar that we could use at night and the next morning we took it outside to a two-hole toilet to dump it and then we had to clean it. It was a little embarrassing but it was a way of life. The rest of the town didn’t have it any better than we did, they did the same thing.
Saturday was bath day. I can remember it well. Our bathtub was a #3 washtub it really wasn’t that big and we had to take turns from the oldest to the youngest. I often wondered how Veda and Helen were able to get in it. The water was heated from a reservoir on the kitchen stove. This would give us about four inches of water in the tub to start with. After each bath a pot of hot water would be added. When my turn finally came the water wasn’t to clean anymore but I had a full tub. But that’s the way it was in those days nobody had it any better.
Ma was a stickler for punctuality and if we were going to Salt Lake or somewhere, she would say what time we were going and if we weren’t there at that time she would just go and leave us. She believed in discipline but no physical discipline never in her whole life did she ever touch one of us. She had a system, if we had something we wanted to go to Ma would scratch her chin and say remember a few nights ago you had something to do, well you didn’t do it. She said I think you better pass by and not go tonight. This was her way, it was denial . When she said something she meant business. Sonny used to try to skirt around it but it didn’t work. Ma was never much for hugs and kisses but she was good.
A little later on Veda got married then Helen got married. Veda married Lafe Rollins and Helen to Bill Houghton. Veda moved to California, Lafe was a college graduate and a schoolteacher. Helen stayed in town where Bill worked in the coal tipple. During all this time Dad still pursued his little curse. So, Ma sent for these little pills to stop his drinking. She would put them in his coffee. She thought it would work on him but it didn’t. He would drink his coffee all right but the minute he drank his beer he would throw up and get sick but he would never let this slow him down and he never stopped.
There was a man of Greek descent who was staying at the hotel, we called him John the Law. Anyway this problem of him staying in the hotel created this problem in my dad’s mind and they would argue about it. We as a family knew that Ma never messed around with him or did anything wrong. We as a family all knew that it was just a monstrous problem in our dad’s mind. We tried to protect her and we all stood up for her but finally she taken all that she could and put him in jail for 30 days for abuse in the hopes that would straighten him out. But as soon as he got out he started drinking again so they separated. The Judge who handled the divorce case put Jack and me on the stand. We were just two young kids, 10 and 12 our bread and butter was with our mother, Sonny and Lois were living in the old house and dad went to live with them. Lois wasn’t that good of a cook so we were not going to take her for anything. I remember she would take the potatoes out of the oven and drop them on our plate and they would just shatter. Jack and me would just look at each other but eventually we had to live there because our mother had no money to feed us. We divided the house in two, Dad, Jack and myself in three rooms and Sonny and Lois had three rooms on the other side. We had the kitchen that didn’t work out to badly our dad didn’t demand much of a variety of food. For breakfast we ate boiled eggs and Polish sausage with toast. All three of us liked that. We would fix our dad’s lunch and take one to school. Jack and I would come home and boil potatoes and put bacon in it. We called it slum-goullion I don’t know if that was the right name but he loved it. We learned to like it too anyway we survived.
Bishop Donaldson told me one day, “Don’t you ever say anything about your dad and the problem he had because the charity he did over shadowed everything else like the drinking habit he had. They had an accident in the mine in 1924 that killed 170 and he was on the rescue team that went in the mine. He helped bring the bodies out. I remember one body that was brought out and buried. His name was Hardy. It was buried headless two or three days later they found the head and put it in a box and give it to the family. Somehow they blamed the Mormons for this but it wasn’t the Church that did it, it was the company.
Dad made his home brew beer and we made homemade rootbeer. We had a cellar on the house and it was cool in there so we would store it there. But none of us would ever wait until it was ready to drink. Sometimes we would have it drank before it was cool. But want to leave a testament that I forgive my dad. I want to say that I have put everything behind me for all the inconvenience he caused the family. It was a little rough at times but then I have to weigh that against the kindness he extended to the people who were widows in Castle Gate, Winter Quarters and Scofield and what he did for them. As the old chicken said, “When I take it out of my craw”.
I have nothing but praise for mother I know our original mother Florence Hall owes her a debt of gratitude for taking care of her children. . She always cleaned. During the Depression she cleaned houses in Castle Gate so we could eat. We had a good woman as an alternate mother. Later on she went down to Price to get a job. There she met this old sheepherder, Menal Taylor. He was a nice man and a gentleman. Well they got married and moved down to Salina, Utah. They had the nicest romance to which they were both entitled. They made a good life they would go hunting rocks and they would crochet together and this and that. She still cooked an excellent dinner. I remember all us kids would still go over there and having one of her dinners. Somehow she always had money to put good food on the table and her house was always clean. We appreciated her, al of us. When she was in the hospital Ethel would wash her clothes and bring her a newspaper. Helen would come to see her most every day and see if she was all right. At 91 she began to have some problems so we took her to the hospital in Intensive Care one night. She had the nurse send for me so we went down. She said, “Jim, I’m not going to lay here like this. You tell them to take me back to the Rest home. I want to die there. I’ve had my life and I am contented now.” The next day she died. I had the honor of conducting her funeral and giving her the praise she deserved I hope someday to see and praise her in Heaven standing with Florence May Hall my birth mother receiving me and thanking her for her service to our family.
This is a story that I felt compelled to do because of the spring conference of 1999. The conference was all on the family and I hadn’t told my story of my family.