Chills, a Nudge & Footsteps

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Hyrum C & Isabella Murdock Nicol Homestead Uintah  County, Utah. Settled 1906

Five years ago I was in Duchesne (pronounced Do-Shane) Utah over the 4th of July on a fire assignment … before in-briefing I spent a couple of hours in the county records office researching the homestead my great grandparents had near there. I was able to get a copy of the ledger page showing the final patent they received and the sale of the homestead. Just before we left for another assignment, a few friends and I drove up Sower’s Canyon and found the old place which is now inside the Uintah-Ouray Reservation. We took pictures, Dick made a video and at home I found a photo of my great-grandfather and grandfather outside the door of that cabin. It gave me the chills.

Well, lately the “Indian Ranch” has come to mind more than a few times; I don’t know why, but I have learned that when something comes to mind without a reason it’s something I should pay attention to. The attention I’ve been paying to the nudge has lead me to read old newspapers, searching for my great-grandfather’s name. Eureka! There were more than a few articles and advertisements found; one or two with my great-grandmother’s name also. So I’m on a hunt. For what, I’m not sure, but I’m certain in time it will be revealed.

In the meantime I had a wander through old newspapers. They’re fascinating, filling the bulletin board of a frontier and homesteader’s life: Who is traveling, who is sick, who changed jobs, who built a barn, bought a cow or a horse, put up fence in record time, or bought a murder house cheap. The insights into the world of frontier homestead towns and people had me thinking of the hard life and many sacrifices they made to build a country from nothing but raw materials and their hands. A big box store wan’t around the corner to pick up an extra board, saw blade, or food. They cut the trees, forged the iron, plowed the fields and built canals and dams in the desert to water those fields, their cattle, their gardens and themselves. They were no strangers to government greed and graft, religious contention, migration and immigration problems, financial market fluctuations, divorce, and violence.  I highly recommend a perusal through the Utah Digital Newspapers project if you have Utah ancestors or even just want to peer back in time.

So as I sit here, hooched up in my air conditioned room, on a comfy couch, sipping a smoothie after an early morning golf game peeking into the windows of my ancestors lives and I’ve decided I’m grateful that it’s not the time I was called to live in … because I know that I’m soft, and expect water from the tap, commodities in the store just down the street, instant communication, and stuff to do, places to go, access to everything I could ever want or need at my finger tips and once ordered they’ll show up on the doorstep tomorrow.

I also realize I live under the same sun, watch the same moon and stars each night, and by walking (figuratively or not) their trails and holy places, I follow their footsteps and I’m grateful for the realization and knowledge that I am part of an eternal chain of life; mother and father to child, as far back as life itself.  Now it is I  who is great-grandmother and I ask myself, what story will I leave behind? Where are the prints of my footsteps heading?

 

 

 

 

First Novel … It’s Published! Cool huh?

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Hello? Anyone out there?

I don’t know if anyone is still checking in to read wanderingkeri  … but I’m going to tell you my personally excellent news!

On November 8th my first novel 20th Century Utah Pioneers, Homesteading “The Basin”, Uintah Valley Indian Reservation 1906 – 1922 was published! I did several happy dances, cried a bit, and can hardly believe I am looking at the results of where those  Chills, a Nudge, and Footsteps that I shared in July of 2017 have led me.

As I started retracing their footsteps, researching their places in time, the nudge became persistent pushes to capture the lives of Hyrum Chase Nicol and Isabella Crawford Murdoch. My writing urges were redirected to write and share with you their determination, faith, perils, and joy. Here it is … cool, huh?

I want to share my greatest thanks for my family and friends who listened and read ad nauseum to excerpts and research and offered me encouragement when I wanted to just ‘go on vacation’. To Jill, Lisa Anne, and Bailey who edited the final copy during their very busy lives I am sooo indebted! To my Sweetie, who endured my marathon research sessions, and road trips and never complained when my face was stuck in my computer. And to my daughter Angie De, for her unfailing support and cheerleading.  Love You All!

And with no further ado I present

20th Century Utah Pioneers, Homesteading “The Basin”, Uintah Valley Indian Reservation 1906 – 1922

“With the opening of the Uintah Valley Indian Reservation in Eastern Utah to white settlement, an unofficial call went out from local ecclesiastic leaders in Heber City, encouraging young men and families to move to the reservation and build homes and lives to offset the influx of gentiles who won the land lottery in the fall of 1905. 

In the spring of 1906, Hyrum and Isabella Nicol loaded two young sons, and their belongings into a wagon and ‘moved east’ in answer to that call. They brought with them faith, determination and a willingness to sacrifice their good lives for the promise of a better one yet to come. Together they battled nature, financial peril, and man-made disasters bound together by love for one another, humor, and their faith in God.”

It’s available on Amazon.com

 

The Shooting of Len Nielson

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If you’ve been reading Wanderingkeri for a while you may remember Chills, a Nudge, and Footsteps when I talked about starting an unknown journey to learn the stories of my great-grandparents and by extension their family. That nudge has become an obsession to learn and tell their stories because we need to see how much their trials and experiences may teach us, lead us, and guide us in the days of our lives.  The following story is about my grandfather Tom Murdoch Nicol.  What stories are hiding in your family?

 

(Tom, Upper Right)Written on the back of the this picture is the following: “This is the Children’s play tent they have a good time. Tom is always making something. I wish you could see it. The boy standing by Tom with his hat on one side, the little girl and the boy by her are neighbor’s children also the one just back of John with the paper in his hand. The rest are mine. Can you tell them by their looks? All well hope you are. Don’t think that house is ours. Ours is a little bigger than that. I wish I could see you all but don’t know when that will be.” Love to all Tressa

The Shooting of Len Nielson

Heat mirages wafted across the desert ahead of them, dust softly puffed from beneath their horse’s hoofs as the boys rode south and back north, east then west looking for cattle strayed from their ranch. The air carried the occasional morning meadow lark song and the two boys kept an eye out for rattlesnakes that may stretch out or worse coil up beneath the sagebrush or in the rock filled outcrops throughout the ranch.

Tom, the oldest, had his pistol holstered at his side. He prized his pistol and was proud of it and proud of his ability to hit what he aimed at almost all the time. Hyrum, his father, had taught him to shoot at an early age as he had taught each of his boys to use weapons for protection, especially riding the ranch; rattlesnakes weren’t the only varmints that would and could injure a man or animal.  When his parent’s first came to the desert country to homestead, Tom was only two and Chase, riding next to him now, was just an infant. They’d moved onto the “Rez” when it was first opened to white settlement in 1906, and though Duchesne had grown the Nicol’s ranch was about 15 miles from town and was as desolate an area as when the Indians were first confined to the newly designated Uintah Valley Reservation in 1863.

Stopping on the top of a hard packed sandy hill searching for tell-tale signs of the wandering cattle, Tom lifted his hat and wiped his forehead wet from the persistent sun pounding down. He pulled his pistol out and shot at a rock a fair piece away; the dust popping just below the target, his steady black mare not twitching when the pistol fired. We haven’t seen a track of those cows Chase. Let’s take a break, why don’t we ride over to Len’s and see if he’s seen any strays out his way. It’s been a while since we’ve been over. Besides, the horses could use some rest and water before we move on.

Spotting Len out in his yard, Tom and Chase hallo’d as they trotted their horses next to the barn, and climbed down from their thirsty mounts. Might we water our horses Len, Chase asked? Sure boys, help yourselves.  What are you doing this far out in this heat? Searching for some cattle that wandered away from the herd. You haven’t seen any strays up this way have you Len?  Not up here, but I haven’t been out in the back acres for a while, they could be up there, but it’s pretty dried out, not much water over that way.

While the horses drank, the boys and Len leaned against the barn in the shade. That’s a nice pistol you’ve got there Tom, can I see it? Tom reached down and pulled the pistol from its holster, flipping it over to hand the butt of the gun to Len when the pistol fired mid-flip and it was pointed right at Len! As if in slow motion Tom saw where the bullet entered in the front and exited the back of Len’s neck and then watched as Len dropped to the ground.

What should they do? They were just boys, he didn’t want to go to jail, it was an accident; all these thoughts raced through Tom’s mind as he  grabbed his horse, flew into the saddle and galloped away leaving Chase staring down at Len. Pushing his horse as fast as she could run through the miles between Len’s cabin and theirs Tom was certain Len was dying or even dead and what was he to do?

His litttle black horse was lathered and on her knees when Tom jumped from her back and ran to his mother,  he blurted out “I by accident shot Len Nielson”! Being the mother of seven boys Isabella had developed nerves of steel where the actions of her boys were concerned, but at this pronouncement she collapsed to the ground.  Tom was breathing hard and tears dry on his face, the twins Alva and Alma were yelling Tom’s going to jail, pandemonium had broken loose for a minute and just as suddenly stopped when Isabella said, Stop yelling.  Let’s kneel down here and say a prayer. Isabella turned to one of the youngest boys, John Murray and said, John you say the prayer please.  As they knelt there in the yard, John prayed harder than he had ever said a prayer before. Please bless Len to be alright. Please bless that Tom won’t go to jail. Amen.

After the prayer, Isabella turned and said, Kenneth, take care of Tom’s horse.  I hope you didn’t ride her to death Tom, she said, as she and Tom hitched the wagon and then whipped the horses into a cantor as they turned back up the road to Len’s cabin.

Stretched out on the ground Len closed his eyes and knew he was going to die. Chase, yelled Len! Len! What should I do? But Len was clutching at his neck blood oozing between his fingers, slowly dripping to puddles beneath his head. At once Chase knew what to do! He pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket; stuffed one end in the front bullet hole and the other end into the back bullet hole and held on tight. Slowly the blood stopped running out onto the dirt, but Chase was also afraid Len was going to die.

Looking toward home Chase saw a rolling cloud of dust and knew help was on the way.   Isabella and Tom were off the wagon seat hardly before the horses had stopped. Bending over Isabella said a prayer of thanks that Len was yet alive, and that Chase had known what to do to stop the bleeding.   It was a miracle that the track of the bullet missed all of Len’s major arteries, missed his larynx and missed his spine and major muscles.  If Chase hadn’t stuffed his handkerchief into the holes he would probably have died from blood loss.

Over the next weeks life on the ranch returned to normal; Tom’s horse didn’t die, John Murray at age five was certain that it was his prayer that saved Len’s life, and Tom and Chase found the stray cattle.  Stopping over to check on Len the boys were grateful that Len didn’t hold any hard feelings; him saying it was an accident, but he was glad he wasn’t dead and he supposed that with that kind of thing between them that they’d always be friends.[i]

 

[i] Author’s Note: This fictionalized story of the shooting of Len Nielson is based upon the true experiences of Thomas M. Nicol (age about 14) and H. Chase Nicol (age about 12) as told to Tom’s son Keith Nicol and recounted in the James and Mary Murray Murdoch Family History.  Additional facts of the prayer given by John Murray Nicol (age 85) given to author Keri Nicol Vest-Vergari (Tom’s oldest granddaughter). As to who actually went to Len’s aid is unknown from family lore, but taking author’s license, as a mother I could not imagine that Isabella would stay at home waiting, but rather go as quickly as possible to offer aid to what may have become a tragedy.