Wednesday, July 13, 2011



Leo Rolando  Rena Smith Holt
Anna Laurina (Rena) Smith was born in Richfield, Sevier County, Utah 14 November, 1873. was a daughter of Mette Marie Johannesdatter Villadsen and Jorgen Smith.  She was born in the rock house that her father built to house his large family and the drugstore.  Rena's father was a polygamist with three wives.  So, she had many half-brothers and sisters as well her brothers and sisters.  The Black Hawk Indian War was over and Richfield was being built.  So, her life would be much easier than her other brothers and sisters.  This was not to say that she lived without a scare or two when she would look up to see an Indian looking at her through the window or hiding behind a door while the Indians tried to enter.  Rena's mother had great distrust and fear of the Indians that was passed down to the children.  Her half-sister, Mary who was killed by the Indians was buried here in Richfield.  There were no conveniences, drinking water came from a ditch running near the house.  Bedtime meant a trip outside to an out-house, a climb up a ladder on the outside of the house to the attic where the children would sleep. 

Rena would have the opportunity to go to the Richfield schools until she was thirteen years old.  This would be about all the schooling she would be able to receive.  Most children those days only went until they were fourteen years old anyway.  Many of her brother and sisters received much less. 

She had to learn to work and do her share of the many chores that was expected of pioneer children.   Except for Sunday she had little leisure time:  Gardens had to be planted, cared for and harvested.  Wool was gathered, washed, carded and spun on a spinning wheel and then woven into a cloth or knitted to make clothes.  Animals had to be fed and watered.  Then there were the never ending household chores of cleaning, cooking and caring for her younger brothers and sisters. 

Their house was Richfield's first drug store.  Her father had immigrated from Denmark with many skills.  He had a knowledge of drugs and how to use them.  Many people would come to the house seeking his help.  A very valuable asset in a remote settlement.  Her fathers third wife was a very well educated woman would dispense drugs while Jorgen was away.  This must have made Rena feel a great desire to be needed as her father was.  Helping and caring for people became one of her main goals in life.  Having a calm cheerful disposition and unusual skill in treating the sick, she was often called to help in cases of illness and trouble.  She delivered fifty-five babies alone and assisted doctors at other times, afterwards nursing their patients.  She did ask for a small fee for her service but mostly she got something from the garden or many times just gratitude.  She felt this was a calling and did this until her health and age forced her to quit.                  

In 1886 her father had been asked by the Church to leave Richfield and settle a very remote area of the State many miles to the south.  Separating from his first wife Jorgen would take Mette Marie and their children down through Grass Valley and Rabbit Valley beyond the Capitol Gorge to a place on Pleasant Creek in the Waterpocket Fold.  Rena was thirteen years old when this took place.  Richfield was never forgotten as soon as she was old enough she left the farm life in Notom for the big city.  She did have a half-sister, friends of the family and relatives here.  But it is believed she worked in the home of some Jewish family for a while.  She later worked as chamber maid in some hotel there.  About this time she met Leo Rolando Holt.  After a short courtship they left for Rena's mother's and father's homestead in Notom where they were married by her father, Jorgen Smith on the 14th of February, 1892.  Her father was Justice of the Peace of Notom at that time. 
Leo Rolando Holt was born in Ogden, Weber County, Utah.  He was a son of Sarah Wardell and William Alma Holt.  Rena's half-brother, Joe Smith married Estella Holt, Leo's sister.  I know little about the Holt family except that, the father, William was one of the very early settlers of Torrey.  He and Peter Brown in 1885 were the first to begin building ditches from Sand Creek to the flats to irrigate their farms.  William was also Torrey's first Postmaster.  But I know little else about the Holt family including Leo's brothers and sisters. 

Rena and Leo statred their life together down in Notom or Aldridge.  But it was in Thurber where their first child, Myrtle Ivy was born in Thurber 18 November, 1892.  Then it was decided it was time to find a better and a more permanent place to live.  They then took up what they called Squatter's Rights on a piece of land in Junction, Piute County Utah (later named Fruita, Wayne County).  Fruita is a beautiful oasis in the Capitol Gorge with its towering sandstone cliffs at the Junction of Sulfur Creek with the Fremont River.  Fruita is in an area we call the Lower Valley, 2000 feet lower than the Upper Valley, Grass Valley--Torrey etc.  Fruita, warm with good soil was an ideal place to raise fruits of all kinds.  While they were building their house on a hill and clearing the ground of brush and rocks they lived a very humble life in a boarded up tent.  Three months after her birth the baby was bitten by a scorpion while living in the tent.  Myrtle died, 17 January, 1893.  I don't believe they lived for to long of a time this way.  I only know the house that was built is known today as the Holt House.  It was reportedly finished in 1898, five years after they moved there.   It is still in existence today and The many black lava rocks carried by the glaciers during the Ice Age and deposited on the land were pulled up from the farm area to make a wall that still fronts this small country lane to the house. 

The Red Rock of Eden by George E. Davidson states:  Leo Holt was an accomplished stonemason, as well as a carpenter, and introduced the use of adobe for buildings made from the local soils.  It also states that they were some of the earliest settlers to apply for their homestead.  Squatter's Rights had been the law of the land till then. 

More important than the building of their home was the clearing of the ground and planting of their orchards and gardens.  Orchards takes a few years before they begin to yield their fruit.  Rena and Leo felt a great pride in planting these little trees and watching them grow.  The main problem the farmers in Fruita had was to get the fruit to the people in the Upper Valley.  Oh, there were a few travelers and a few people hauling freight but it was difficult.  These were the horse and buggy or horse drawn wagon days.  After the house was built people would come from the Upper Valley to her home and board while they harvested and dried fruit.  The roads were poor in those days and remained so for many years.   After a time and much determination they found a much better life.  As near as I know the river water their sourse of drinking water. 

Rena took a great pride in her garden also.  If the garden was lost due to livestock, floods or some disaster the family would suffer much hardship.  There were no stores to buy from.  Money was scarce many items were just traded or given to a neighbor.  Bartering was more in use than money in those days.  In Treasured Trails by Adelia Mott Pierce, LaVee said,  Rena was always busy keeping the large crocks of preserves,  chow chow and chili sause for winter use.  She dried corn and other produce.  Leo had made a large clay-roofed root and fruit celler that is still there today. 

There was a need to educate their kids.  So, they built a one- room square-cut log school house under a perpendicular cliff on the north side of  Sulfur Creek (it is called Sand Creek in the Upper Valley).  Leo and other towns people built it.  They build it originally with a flat clay roof that was later rebuilt with the roof we see today.  They did not have a church building.  So, it was held in the school.  It was also the social hall and meeting house.  The school house was restored and still stands today as a historic marker.  

Rena was religious and became involved in many different positions in the Church:  President of the Relief Society and many positions in the Primary.  At one time she was assistant post mistress.   And then there was her nursing practice which kept her busy.  According to one of her children, who said,  "Too busy for us, Father did much of the caring for us." 

In the fifteen years the Holts lived here six more children were born here.  Leona (20 November, 1895), Ruby May (10 August, 1897), Claude McLaine (23 May, 1899),  Nora Irene (30 October, 1900), Florence Thelma (6 September, 1903), and Leo Raymond (27 February, 1907). 

The first time I visited Fruita was about 1945.  We came down a different road via another canyon.  It was so green and beautiful.  They wanted me to help them pick apricots for them.  I will always remember how friendly and accommodating the towns people were.  We called it Wayne Wonderland then.  It was like going back in time.  The outside world had moved on and left them behind.  It is now called Capitol Reef National Park and was supposed to be preserved but to me they destroyed almost everything I remembered.

The Holts like many pioneer families moved for various reasons.  This time it was for their children.  They would have a better education in the Torrey schools.  So, they moved to Torrey.  This is where her last two children were born.  Ida LaVee (15 July, 1911) and Fern (19 September, 1913. 

AUNT RENE  by Jay C. Smith 1 January, 1997
Now about my the daughter of my Great Grand parents, Aunt Rene:  She was the voluntary practicing nurse of the town of Torrey for many years.  Sort of the unofficial RN and very voluntary on her part and most always without pay.  Maybe at times, she would be given a dollar bill or a silver dollar, or as much as a five dollar bill by some who could afford it and wanted to justly recompense her medical service.  Over a number of years she must have delivered half the babies in born in Torrey because doctors were few in Wayne County.  Travel was slow and the roads were rough.  And many times the baby would be born before the doctor would arrive.  Even if the doctor arrived in time for the delivery Aunt Rene was already there to do what ever was needed and the doctor would have her stay and assist him with the delivery.  And then she would always make follow up visits very voluntarily as needed.  She was very experienced and skilled in sewing up wounds and setting broken bones if the doctor was not available. 

Now, about her prescribed medication and treatment for childhood illness:  I received in my childhood treatment for about every illness I ever had.  (Please don't think I am trying to make fun of her treatment or trying to belittle it because I am not.  It was just the way it was in those days)  The Torrey grapevine communication system was very good about letting her know of any illnesses in town.  And if she knew of any illness she did not have to be requested to come.  She would just take off on her own to see if she could help.  So, I was treated many times by her for every childhood illness I ever had.  For a head-ache or a stomach-ache or a fever.  It seemed the first wave of medication was either:  an enema or some kind of physic.  There were three kinds of physics:  milk of magnesia, castor oil or epsom salts.  I got so I hoped that milk of magnesia would be prescribed and lastly castor oil.  I hated castor oil.  As I grew older I heard from talk around town that if a kid showed resentment or disrespect they always got castor oil as the first wave of medication.  What really counts with me was I know her nursing service to the town of Torrey was very valuable and needed and was not appreciated as much as it should have been.  I heard her claim that she learned from her father (Jorgen Smith) much about her nursing ability. 

Anna Laurine Smith Holt was a practical nurse and mid-wife.  The pioneer conditions under which she lived tended to push her into this type of activity.  Nearly half of her married life was spent in Notom and Fruita, places away from doctors or other nurses.

Having a calm cheerful disposition and unusual skill in treating the sick, she was often called to help in cases of illness and trouble.  She delivered fifty-five babies alone and assisted doctors at other times, afterwards nursing their patients. 

The material rewards were not great, for she often received no pay, and in some cases she herself supplied the sick with necessities.  Through such work required sacrifice, she loved to help others and in so doing found joy and satisfaction. 

The many hours of community service it seems was a hardship not only for Rena but for the family as well.  When Rena was out caring for the sick Leo would be left caring for the girls who resented her going. 

I know little of there life in Torrey and what Leo did for a living.  I do remember that he was custodian for the school.  Children still remember how he kept the little pot-bellied stoves burning so that they would be warm and comfortable during the cold winter months. 

Leo Rolando Holt died 12 November, 1936 and was buried in the Torrey Cemetery on the 15th. 

Rena lived alone for the next 14 years.  Her health became worsening as the years went by until she died 2 August, 1950 of lingering illness.  She was buried on the 6th by her husband in the Torrey Cemetery. 

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