1. Childhood

Go back to John A. Whetten

Chapter One - Childhood



My earliest recollection was in Showlow where my sister, Belle, was born two days after I turned four years old. I can remember that event. I was born in Kingston, Piute County, Utah Territory on August 23, 1879, My folks moved to Arizona when I was one year old. They went back for about a year to Utah where they lived in Grass Valley then returned to Snowflake, Arizona.

I can remember many instances of our journey, especially crossing the Colorado river at Lee's Ferry, which was situated just a few miles above where the big Navajo bridge now is. Uncle Erastus Huff, my father's step brother, and Aunt Josephine were with us. He and my father were about the same age and very fond of each other. There were several wagons in the company.

We arrived at the ferry toward late afternoon and had decided to camp on the North side of the river that night and cross the next morning. But as we were making camp, I remember Indians rode up to our wagons. Father gave them food. They told him not to camp there but to go on across the river. There were renegade Indians in the country planning to steal our horses and molest us during the night. I remember that we went on. I was walking when I saw the big river down in the deep canyon. I was frightened and asked my father to let me get in the wagon. He told me we would have to put the wagon in the boat in order to cross the stream.

We crossed one wagon at a time. The horses were unhitched and tied to the wagon wheels. I felt more secure in our wagon, I remember my mother and little sisters, Belle and Edna, sitting in the boat at the Ferry. The man guiding the ferry said, "If you (my brother Bert and I) will sit by me, you will be having a boat ride, but if you stay in the wagon, you will be having just a wagon ride." We stayed put in the wagon until we were safely across.

When everyone was across, the men filled the water barrels with the muddy water of the river. Then they drove the wagons up the steep grade on the other side of the river. The men had to hitch a double team to each wagon. My father drove the horses, and Uncle Erastus walked behind with a big rock to place behind the wagon wheel when the horses stopped. When we were out of the canyon and onto the mesa, we camped for the night. We saw the renegade Indians on the other side of the river but we were safely on the south side and they couldn't follow.

We settled in Snowflake, and my father found work in Flagstaff logging and lumbering. Our baby sister, Edna, became very sick with diphtheria and died June 23, 1887, when she was two years old. Her second birthday had been on June 6.  She was the only one who took sick. After she died, I found one of her little shoes. I hid it between the logs outside of the house and when I'd get lonesome for her, I'd go out and look at the little shoe, then hide it again. When father got word of her sickness, he came home. It was about sundown when he arrived. We were walking down the road to go to stay at Grandma Savage's for the night. I remember how my parents cried when they met. Bert and I climbed up in the wagon happy as we could be because papa had come home. He only stayed a short time, then had to go back to his work.

We three children got the whooping cough, but I had it worse than the younger ones. My Aunt (Adelaide) Laxton and her son Israel came to get me and took me to Showlow, It was a higher altitude in the pines, and they thought it would be better for me. I did not improve. They kept me in the house in a closed room. I coughed very badly and vomited often. They sent for my father. I remember that he brought a stallion horse, a big bay we called old Bird with him when he came.

The horse had been stolen when father came home when Edna died, but he had been returned. Old Bird was an outlaw horse, but my dad had gotten him in Utah and had tamed him. Dad knew how to handle horses. He always had the best teams in the country, I was too weak to walk. I remember my father picked me up in his arms and started outside. Aunt Adelaide said, "No! it is too late in the evening." My father sat me up on old Bird. I stroked his long black mane. That night he took me outside with him to sleep in a wagon. I remember Grandma Huff and Aunt Adelaide saying, “You will kill him, John.” But my father said, “We will have to get him out in the pines to get the night air.” My father fixed a tarp over the wagon and a bed inside. We would ride around the corn fields and lie in the sun under the trees.  I remember he roasted corn on a camp fire. I grew better every day. After about two weeks of his kind and careful nursing, the fresh air, and the sunshine, I was much better. 

That fall my father took a job taking care of the mail station on the Apache Indian Reservation that was called the Forks of the Road or the Old Milk Ranch. It was a very good place for our milk cows. I rode a little pot-bellied roan mare and had to help with the cows and calves. It was here that I learned to milk.

I turned eight years old on August 23, 1887, but it wasn't until November that my folks could take me to Snowflake to be baptized, I was baptized by Aliff Larson and confirmed by Apostle John Henry Smith.

We were living at the mail station when the U.S. Marshals captured Geronimo. My brother Bert and I climbed up in the wagon where they had him chained and shackled. They were taking him to Holbrook, the nearest railroad station to ship him and his band to Florida to prison.

(This story, told by both John A. Whetten and his brother Bert, doesn't exactly square with history. Geronimo was held captive in 1877 at Fort Apache before the Whettens lived in the area. In the fall of 1886 he surrendered to the U.S. Army at Skeleton Canyon, in South Western New Mexico, was taken to Ft. Bowie, Arizona for a short time then placed on a train at Bowie Station for Florida, not transported to Holbrook to start his journey. In 1886 several Apache groups were sent to Florida, and the incident reported by John A. and Bert was undoubtedly part of that government activity. Another story, this one related by Mae Hamblin, is of an event that occurred at the mail station. "One day some renegade Indian was brought through chained to the bottom of a wagon. John A. saw this and told his mother, who fixed a big plate of food and took it out. She demanded that the guard unchain the Indian's hand so he could eat, John A. watched the man eat. He didn't use a spoon but ate it all with his hand.")

We continued living there until February 28, 1889, when we left for Mexico in company with John Kartchner. It snowed a foot the first day out. We drove 125 head of cattle all the way. Some friends helped us as far as Fort Apache, then we were on our own. My father had two wagons trailed together with four horses. Kartchner had one. It was necessary for us to move to Mexico. My father had married Emma Nielsen as a plural wife. People were beginning to be very hostile, and men were being persecuted for living in polygamy.

I rode my roan mare, helping to drive the cattle until we got to the Gila Valley. There my father traded my mare for an outlaw horse which he broke to help pull the wagons, so I had to ride a lazy mule. But he also bought me a good pair of boots and a pair of brass spurs which I really had to use on Molly the mule. She was a pretty animal but very lazy. When we arrived at the Gila River, it was so high that we had to swim the cattle. While we were traveling up the river to a good crossing place, an Indian stole one of our cows. Brother Kartchner got on his tall mare, swam the river and got the cow back. When we reached Mexico, the cattle were in good shape and a lot of little calves had been born in route. We had to leave one old spotted cow about where Lordsburg, New Mexico, is now. She got lame and couldn't travel with the herd. We settled in Cave Valley. We were almost exactly two months on the way, A Nelson family was living there, a big family of boys.

They were older than I. Also there was a Campbell family which had boys my own age. They were great hands to swear, and they were the ones I had to play with. I never knew swear words until I met them.

The times were hard and it took all one had to make the move. My father rented a farm from E, L, Taylor. We planted a crop, and we had a little patch of cane which raised a good crop and made a lot of molasses. I had to go right on being the cowboy.

I took care of our cows and one evening I couldn't find one; she laid out all night. The next morning she didn't come in. Indians were around so we had to keep the cows close and bring them in every night. I hunted for her every day for a week. My father was real aggravated and told me to find that cow or else! The next morning I was real befuddled and didn't know where to go. So I got off my horse, knelt down and prayed. I got back on my horse, turned in the opposite direction, and found her on Moffet Creek with some dry cows. I hiked her home. Pa was surprised when I came so soon. He was also surprised where I found her. He asked how did I happen to look there, so I told him, “I just didn't know where to look, so I prayed.” Pa apologized, and he was impressed by my faith.

My father went to work on a sawmill and met Jesse N. Smith. He came to visit us. He saw the mules, Dick and lazy fat Molly. She had thrived well on the trip, and Brother Smith wanted the mules. He gave Pa three cows and calves and a big mare. The mare was worth as much as both the mules. In about three or four weeks, Pa traded the mare to Helaman Pratt for four calves and a dry cow. They were just Mexican cows, but good ones and they increased our herd. My brother Bert had to help with the chores. He tended the calves. I herded the cows and milked. Aunt Emma was a Danish girl. She always helped me with the cows and the milking.

My brother Charley was born July 5, 1889. I was sent afoot in a big hurry about a mile for Sister Moffett, the doctor woman. Before I left, Pa gave me a note to give to Sister Moffett, then he told me to stay at Kartchner's and play for a while. Sister Moffett had her horse ready and left at once. I remember telling Brother Kartchner that mother wasn't feeling too well so Pa sent me for the doctor lady. Brother and Sister Kartchner gave each other a knowing look and smiled a little. I didn't see why they smiled when my mother was so sick. I was very surprised when I got home and found a baby brother.

That winter my brother Bert and I took a lazy Mexican mule to school to the Williams ranch. Our teacher was Annie Williams. She was a young married woman, Pleas Williams's wife. She held the school in her house. John and Bill Williams lived there. Carl and Ira Pratt from the Pratt's ranch and Bert and I were among those enrolled. I had attended a school a little in Grass Valley. I also stayed with Grandma Savage in Snowflake while attending school. We called our mule Buster, and he was lazy as the one Pa traded off to Smith's. This one he got from John Rencher. We only went to school during the winter, but I still had to look after the cows because Pa was away a good deal of the time working on a sawmill. The next year the families got together and hired John Rencher to teach in a lumber room about 12' x 14'. They had seats and a board built all around the room so when we were seated we had our backs to the middle of the room. John Rencher was a very strict teacher. He used a willow to whack us over the head.

That spring we had a big crop. I had to cultivate. Bert used to ride the horse while I held the cultivator. After harvest that year, Pa sold out and we bought a home from Baileys in Pacheco so we could go to school there. We lived in Pacheco in the winter and would move above Corrales above the old Lunt home in the summer. The Spencers, the Haws, and the Smiths lived there. We bought the Staley place for a summer house. The Spencers and the Smiths made cheese. We could put our milk with theirs. Bert learned to milk there. Pa took real sick. He got some kind of throat disease that settled in his legs. He was never well for years. Then I had to be a man, ride after cattle, and take care of the crops. I can remember hitching up oxen onto the wagon and walking beside them to Pacheco while Ma and Aunt Emma and all the kids rode to the church, I was confirmed a deacon in Pacheco by James Sellers.

While we were living at the ranch above Corrales, the Indians killed the Thompson family. It was at the Pratt Ranch in September of 1892. I was old enough to carry a rifle then and I was a pretty good shot. I had to save all my shells to make more bullets. I was thirteen years old. On the morning of September 19,1 had to go hunt a cow which we thought had had her new calf. I remember being nervous all day. Twice I had my rifle ready to fire at a strange sound. I hunted all day for the cow but didn't find her. I returned home to find the pigs out of the pens and the calves and cows together, I couldn't see a soul. I rode to the house and went in. Everything and everybody was gone. Also Hyrum Cluffs family, who were neighbors, were gone. I was sitting on my horse very, very puzzled when I saw my father come riding out of the trees. He was very glad to see me. The Thompson family had been killed by the Indians at the Pratt ranch early that morning. He told me that all families had been told to move to town. He said, "Son, go as fast as your horse can go to Corrales, and tell your mother you are all right. Then come back and help me gather the cattle."

My folks were sure I had gone to the Pratt ranch in search of the cow I was looking for. They were terribly worried and anxious for fear the Indians had captured or killed me, too. Late that October we had roundup. We started at the Pratt ranch. I took my saddle horses and pack and went with the rest of the boys. As we walked around that place I remember seeing blood on the pigpen logs where one boy was killed. A boy Elmer was wounded and crawled into the chicken coop. The mother was killed, but Elmer lived and also his little sister.

(From a letter written by Hans Adolph Thomsen (Thompson) we find; "In 1892, 19th of September, my wife Karen and my son Hyrum, 18 years old, were killed by Indians and a younger son of 14 years got badly wounded, but his life was spared. The Indians plundered the house of all the clothes, all the bedding, the gun and ammunition, provisions, a wagon cover, two saddles, and four good horses, to be short, they took everthing they could. Only a little girl 6 years old got left—with the terror of one of the most awful scenes. This took place at Helaman Pratts' Ranch. That day I was working in Pacheco on the threshing machine"

The boys Hyrum and Elmer, assisted by the little girl named Anna (Annie) Strate who was Hans Adolph's granddaughter, were feeding the pigs when the Indian attack came. Hyrum was shot twice and fell behind the pigpen. Elmer, trying to get to the house to retrieve a firearm, was shot but not killed. He hid in a weed thicket, then crawled into the chicken coop. From there he viewed the unfolding events. Karen and her granddaughter had barricaded themselves in the house. The Indians succeeded in breaking down the kitchen door. Karen and Annie fled the house, only to be caught in the yard. The Indians shot Karen, then crushed her head with a rock. For some time, an Indian amused himself by toying with Annie, triping her with a leather strap, then swatting her with a scabbard until she got up and tried to fight by hitting and scratching or attempted to flee. When her tormentor was momentarily distracted, Elmer had a chance to beckon her into the chicken coop with him. There they hid until the Indians finished their looting and rode off into the forest.

Elmer and Annie, after the attackers had left, tried to walk the nearby Williams Ranch to spread the alarm and seek help. Elmer fainted from lack of blood but Annie and her dog Rover continued on until they were discovered by Sullivan Richardson, a rancher from Colonia Diaz who had cattle in the area. Richardson left Annie at the Williams Ranch, then rode at a gallop to Cave Valley to alert the colonists.

The Indians central to this incident and those referred to subsequently were Apaches. The Apache depredations were severe in Chihuahua for a long time, quieting down somewhat after the defeat of Victorio, an Apache war chief, by Mexican troops on the site of what would become one of John A.'s ranches, Las Cuatas. For years bounties were paid on Apache scalps by the government in Chihuahua City and the scalps were exhibited at the governor's palace.)

We moved to Garcia in November of 1894. Lon Farnsworth and Orson Cluff and also Byron H. Allred were there about the same time. As young people we went back and forth from Garcia to Pacheco. My friends in Pacheco were the Hardy boys, Able and Aaron, and Wallace Haws. Wallace was killed while a young man in Cananea, Sonora, Aaron and I used to go with the Farnsworth sisters, Ida and Mae. We would ride horseback to dances, and the girls would ride behind us. Geneve Cooley was one of my first girl friends, too. Erin Hardy later lived in Ogden, Utah. He married Maria Porter. Abel Hardy married Maria Cooley. I always stayed with Abel and Maria when I went back to Pacheco after I married Ida Jesperson. We were very good friends. Phoebe Stevens had a case on me, but she was too silly. I wouldn't dance with her, and when it was ladies choice I had to run.

I was a big gawky kid when we moved to Garcia. Edner Allred and Lester Farnsworth were my age. We didn't have much to do one day, so we decided to break a yearling steer for an ox. Oxen were used a great deal then to do the plowing. But we only had one yearling, so we decided to hitch Edner up with the steer. Edner was a good old boy—slow as molasses in January. So we tied the steer up to a post, put the ox yoke on him, bent Edner over with the yoke over his neck, fastened it down good on both, and then untied the steer, who had become uneasy. We had a rope on the yoke between them. As soon as we untied the steer, he started to run, right down the main street, taking Edner faster than he had ever run before, or even faster than he had ever moved in his life, with Lester and me holding onto the end of the rope. This excited all the dogs, and they followed behind us barking, which didn't help the situation. With all our might we held back on the rope, finally pulling the steer down to a walk. But as we eased up the rope to loosen Edner, which was most on our minds now, the steer broke loose again and made another wild circle, taking Edner at a terrible pace with us close behind, trying to stop the steer. Each time we would get close to him, the steer would break loose for another wild run. Finally, we halted it. Each of us was out of breath because of the anxiety about Edner being dragged by the steer. This time as we attempted to release Edner he said very calmly, "Unhitch the steer; I'll stand."

In Garcia we had three big work horses—Dime, Mag and Buck. After the crops were planted we turned our horses out. Especially when the rains started there was plenty of feed and water, so all the horses ran loose except a saddle horse or two. These we used to ride when we looked after the milk cows. When fall came, it was harvest time and Pa sent Bert and me out to get the work horses. We rode north and west to town and there was no sign of them. Old Dime had such a big flat round foot; I looked for his tracks, but no sign.

We had traded for Buck from Josh Stevens, so we went to Hop Valley to see if the horses had passed by there working back toward Pacheco. No one had seen them. We got old Dime from Chuichupa but I had cut for sign and no tracks could I find, and no one around town had seen them since we turned them out two months before. I came home real discouraged. After turning my horse out, I walked passed the house and went down in the lot in the dark and prayed to Heavenly Father to help me find the horses.

That night I dreamed I went straight east across the creek and climbed the ridge. As I came over the ridge there was Buck in lead with Mag close behind. Back a ways was old Dime eating on a bush. The next morning I was getting ready to leave. Pa asked me where I was going to look, so I told him my dream. He said, "The scriptures say old men shall see visions, young men shall dream dreams." I went across the creek and over the hill. There were the horses. I was much relieved and grateful.

When I was about 16 my father sent me to work on the railroad grade below Dublan. I had scrapers and five teams. I hired my own Mexicans, fed my teams and worked a good while on the grade. My brother Bert went with me, but he got homesick and soon went home. Pa sent him back with another team, I stayed about two months. We had bad water to drink. Brother Isaac Pierce was the boss; he was very hard on us boys who worked. We had to get up before daylight and we fed on bread and beans. Consequently, I sent word to Pa that I was not treated very well, so he came down and made arrangements for me to work under Jimmy Mortensen and Ras Jacobson who were also contractors, I boarded at their camp. It was much better. Ras told me to hire a Mexican to drive my team and he hired me to be dump boss. I think I left home January 1, 1895. After I went home the last of March, I started hauling bridge timbers for their bridges. The road went down the old San Diego Canyon. About the first time Ida and I came to the Mesa Temple, who should be sitting there, but old bald-headed Ras Jacobson.