Oral Histories

Mitch Williams

b. 1916

Mitch Williams

J .N. was also a lawyer and built the first phone company in the area. He started the line in Dad’s drugstore and ran the line to Thompson out on the Railroad. Dr. Williams was the first subscriber.

Dad was a cowboy, so travelling on horseback didn’t bother him. When he would go to Paradox from Moab to visit patients, he went right up through South Pass in the La Sal Mountains, which is very steep. He travelled to see patients in Paradox Valley , Monticello, Hanksville, Thompson and Cisco and many ranches, cow camps, mines, etc.

Papa had special saddlebags made to go on the saddle to hold the medicine bottles on each side. They are now in the Moab museum.

J.N. Corbin asked Dr. Williams to come over to Moab to “look the place over”. He caught the train to Thompson and found out that the stagecoach only ran from Thompson to Moab 3 days per week and Dad was there on the wrong day, naturally. Dr. Williams ran into a salesman who also wanted to go to Moab. They hired Arthur Ballinger (Ballard?) and his light spring wagon to take them in. It was 35 miles, so they could make it in one day. Heavy freight wagons took two days to go from Thompson Springs to Moab. They had to stop at the halfway house at Courthouse Wash to feed and water the horses. They ate dinner there, too.

When Dad got to the river on November 30, 1896, the river was low because of the time of the year .There was a ferry on a cable that was used to cross the river, but a sand bar had formed under the cable making the ferry unusable. They had to ford the river instead (ride their horses across). It was a very cold time of year to be fording the river, but they had a lot of experience fording rivers and streams since there were very few bridges in those days.

At the time, there were 400 -500 inhabitants in the Moab valley. There were many ranches further out and there was mining in the mountains and surrounding areas. J .N .Corbin was one of the first people Dad met in Moab. There are still many descendants of J .N .in Moab.

Dad was told about a sick baby that he needed to see immediately. The baby’s name was Helen Marie Taylor. She turned out to be my English teacher and she was a very good teacher. A school is named after her and she lived a long life.

Utah had just become a state in January 1896. The County Commissioners met with Dad almost every day during his first trip to Moab. Many people wanted a doctor, but many people didn’t. They figured they hadn’t had one, so they didn’t need one. Dad travelled all over the valley and talked to as many people as he could. He wasn’t sure he could make a living in Moab.

The County Commissioners held many meetings among themselves and decided to create the position of County Health Officer to keep Dad in Moab and help him through the rough spots financially. They offered Dad $150/year. Dad couldn’t turn down big money like that, so he took the job !

The railroad had only been in Thompson for a few years. In 1883 the narrow gauge was finished. It was converted into a wide gauge (standard gauge) in 1892. On November 30, 1896, Dr. Williams arrived in Moab with a suitcase full of medicine. He dated his drugstore and practice from 1896. After he had been in Moab for a week, he returned to Ordway, Colorado to dispose of his business there. He sold his equipment to another doctor “on time” for payments of$12 per month. I still have the list of equipment he sold.

Dad returned to Thompson by train, then by stage to Moab. He rented a tiny house. The house was made out of boulders from the creek beds. It stood for many years, but was finally tom down. Papa’s sister, Lily, came out from Missouri to keep house for Dad. She stayed 2 or 3 years or so before she went back home to Missouri. After Lily left, Papa started taking his meals at the hotel. There was no such thing as “short order” cooking in those days. The food was served in big bowls and everyone sat at the same table and ate together. This was called the “American plan” of eating.

My mother was born in Ephraim, Utah. Her parents both came from Norway when they were very young, but they never met until they came to Utah. My grandfather bought a wagon from “Johnson’s Army” (or from someone who purchased it from “Johnson’s Army”) at Camp Floyd. The Army sold all of their equipment because they were called back to help the Union Army fight the Civil War. The wagon was a war surplus wagon and it was a great big thing!

Brigham Young called on people to settle the East Wasatch Mountains. My grandparents got married so they could go help settle that part of the world. One of the things they took with them in their wagon was dried cherries. They saved the day on the way there! I have a list of the other things they took with them in their wagon. Two other wagons went, also.

They left Ephraim and went to Salina Canyon. There was no road and they turned the wagon over several times. They had to make their own road. Then they went to Ferron Creek in 1876, which was named after a surveyor. I firmly believe that my grandmother and Caroline Petersen were the first white women to settle east of the Wasatch Mountains.

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