Donald Theone Adams (1907-1991)
Contributor: Todd Millett Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
Donald Theone Adams (1907-1991)
Interviewee: Donald T. Adams
Interviewer: Richard Swanson
Subject: Early Monticello settlement and development
Place: Monticello, Utah
S: This is an interview with Donald Adams for Charles Redd Center for Western Studies and the Utah State Historical Society Southeastern Utah Oral History Project by Richard Swanson on August 3, 1973, at Mr. Adams' residence, 2563 Maywood Drive, Salt Lake City. The time is approximately 7:00 p.m. Mr. Adams, could you tell me your earliest recollection of life in Monticello?
A: My name is Donald T. Adams. My family calls me Donald; most of my friends call me Don. I was born in Monticello, Utah, on April 4, 1907. I lived there most of my life. My father was George A. Adams. He was born in Paragonah, Utah, on December 9, 1864. My mother was born at Parowan, Utah, two years later. They were married in 1885 and were soon called to San Juan County by the President of the LDS Church to settle Bluff, Utah. My parents came through Dandy crossing of the Colorado River, not through the Hole-in-the-Rock, and settled in Bluff with one of my father's brothers. Later my grandfather was called to set up a co-op store. He brought with him my father's mother and his brothers. My father, after he was established in Bluff, moved to Verdure, Utah, which was a little green spot on the southeast part of the Blue Mountain about six miles south of where Monticello now stands. He and a few other residents of Bluff built homes and grew crops. During the summer time the family milked cows there and, in the wintertime, they would return to Bluff. Later on it was determined to build a community in Monticello and my father was asked to move there from Verdure which he did in 1886. He filed a homestead at Verdure and acquired irrigated and dry farm land in the vicinity. Since that time that land has been known as the George Adams ranch.
I have been told that I was born in a log cabin in Monticello. A year after I was born my father moved into a big two room brick house which is still standing. My brother who is two years younger than I, was born in that home. My earliest years were spent working on the ranch at Verdure, putting up hay and plowing the fields. In the summertime even my mother lived on the ranch. On Sundays and Primary days we would get a horse and a buggy and drive to Monticello to go to church. At that time my father was bishop of the ward and we always entertained the apostles and the visiting Mormon Church General Authorities who come into that country. It seemed like they always stayed at our home. In the wintertime we stayed in Monticello. When I was young I remember my father getting me out of bed to start wood fires in the house the first thing in the morning. Then we would go to school and come home in the afternoon and carry in the wood from the woodpile to the house so there would be wood to keep the fires burning at night. When I got a little bit bigger, my job was to milk the cows in the morning and in the evening and bring the milk into the house and help Mother do the work. We went to school in a little brick two-room school house across the street and a block west of where we lived. I went there until I was in the seventh grade. We had various teachers who gave us all the school that was available at the time when I was in the area. After I finished the eighth grade I went to Salt Lake City where I attended the old LDS High School.
In the wintertime until about the year 1925, we would always go out to the ranch on sleighs and ride the horses. I remember one of the first Ford cars to ever come into the area was owned by my uncle, Frank Halls. I was only about six years old and Uncle Frank would let me sit on his lap and steer that car. It was quite a thrill. It wasn't long until my father had a car and I remember riding with him. The roads were very rough and weren't graded. I remember going out to the ranch in the car. We came up to the gate and my father hollered, "Whoa," The car wouldn't stop so we went right through the gate,. I remember another time going to Conference in Blanding with Father. Brother Charles Nibley of Salt Lake was with us. A big rain storm had come up on our way back to Monticello. The roads were slick and Father didn't have the reputation of being a good driver. Many times the car slipped off the road. By the time we got about four miles from home Brother Nibley decided that he had had enough of that kind of driving. He got out and walked the rest of the way to Monticello.
I went to high school in Salt Lake for two years, stayed out of school for a year and finally graduated in Midwest, Wyoming where I was staying with my sister. I went to work in the oil fields then. I had played basketball for the high school and I was offered a good job if I would play for the company team. It was quite a lot of money it seemed to me. I worked for about fifteen days. Father wrote and said that they needed someone on the farm and I had better come home. My brother-in-law said that no man was a man unless he rode the freight trains and hoboed his way. So I decided that I had better be a man. I took my paycheck, shipped my bags to Denver and my brother-in-law and my sister took me from Midwest to Casper.
When the first big passenger train came along about six in the evening, I finally got on the those rods and rode until I came to Glenrock, Wyoming. From playing basketball I knew all these little towns very well. It was there that the conductor kicked me off. I decided that was just part of the way of hoboing. I waited until the next freight came, caught it and rode to Sunrise, Wyoming where I had breakfast with the hobos who were there. Just then a train load of iron ore came along on its way to the steel mill at Pueblo. I got on and rode all day and all night and got all in Denver. Because of the ore all my skin and my clothes were red. I decided that if I were ever going to be a man, I was one of then; I was through with hoboing. I got a hotel room, cleaned up, bought a ticket to Thompson Springs and went home to work on the farm.
I wanted to go to school to study law at the University of Utah, but the farmers were having a pretty tough time financially. Father said that I could have all the money I got from raising oats. We put in two or three hundred acres of the most beautiful oats that year. Finally it was ripe and we were ready to go out and cut and bind it when along came the biggest hail storm that I have ever seen. It just ripped the oats down. I thought that ended my finances for going to school that year. But my mother and my sisters put up a little money, I came to Salt Lake and found a job and that way I went to school. I worked for the next three years and graduated from law school two years later, right in the middle of the Depression.
When I was in high school there were only about five or six hundred people in Monticello. Before there were cars in the area, the mail was brought in by freight wagons and the passengers were brought in by buggy. Later the Moab Garage Company had a passenger service from Thompson to Monticello that ran every day or every other day. Because of the poor roads it wasn't very certain whether they could get through on time or not. In the wintertime the road crew would push the snow off the roads with big "V" shaped plows. I remember one year my dad was really put out that they had scrapped too much snow off the road to the south of Monticello, toward our ranch. The snow had melted on the south slope so much that we couldn't use sleighs to haul the grain in from the ranch. Later when the roads were graded and built up, in the winter the snow was pushed off completely and sleighing was done away with except on ski runs. Road development really spoiled sleighing.
In those days all planting was done with horses, usually with a sulky plow. We used two plows with six head of horses pulling the plow and three horses on a hand plow. Where we had six head the driver would ride on the plow horses and those who were walking with the hand plow would change off with the other driver. Harvesting was done with binders and later headers. A thrashing crew of maybe twenty or thirty men would come in after the grain was cut and stacked and work for two or three days trashing the grain that had taken us thirty days to cut and stack. It was quite an organization of resources. But by the Depression combines and small tractors were replacing the work horse. We haven't had a work horse on the "George Adams Ranch" for thirty years except during the winter months when we have used them to get around in the deep snow.
After World War One we had what we called the great farmer's depression. All of the cattlemen went broke and lost most of their cattle. The farmers and stockmen were also plagued with droughts that meant no water or feed even if the prices were good. Later when they got trucks and good roads, drought was less of a problem; hay and feed could be brought to thirsty and starving livestock. Another problem was bad weather. I remember a big snowstorm in November, 1919, that killed thousands of cattle because the snow was so deep that the cattle couldn't dig down to the grass. I understand that the last winter it was almost as bad in some parts of the area. Today with Caterpillars, trails can be opened so that there isn't the major loss like there use to be to livestock on the open range.
Also after World War One the government passed a law allowing that all those who had served in the army could file on homestead land with the time they spent in the army counting toward the amount of time they had to live on the land to prove up on it which was the procedure of procuring title. Between 1918 and 1921 nearly all the better land in San Juan was homesteaded. However, the soldier boys just obtained title to the land; they weren't farmers. When the Depression came in the early 1930's they were unable to pay their taxes and vacated the land. The land was then sold for delinquent taxes for a dollar an acre to livestock men for grazing land. This is where most of today's "tax title" land came from.
In San Juan there has been certainly a lot of boom and bust. One thing that raised the hopes of the people in 1920 was the oat crop that was raised on Summit Point. It won the national prize for the greatest amount of oats raised any place in the United States. That brought a lot of attention to the country and a lot of speculation. But the crop was only the result of a lot of rain falling that particular year on that piece of land.
There were also mining booms such as the vanadium boom in 1918 or 1920. Before that, it was gold along the San Juan River. The masons and the carpenters who built the old rack houses in Bluff came into the area because of gold fever. They didn't find any big deposits and they didn't add too much to the permanent development of the country, but they left a lot of money.
With the Depression things were really down in the dumps. I guess it was the government dole to a certain extent that kept part of the people alive although most of the residents had their homes, their ranches and their livestock. Cash was hard to get. It was then that Charles Redd, being farsighted and being able to borrow a little money, bought land in Colorado and elsewhere when it was cheap. Of course, he wasn't the only person to buy land then; other Utahns bought land in Colorado like Judge Hughes and also a lot of Colorado people. But when the Colorado people came into Utah to buy land, the county commissioners as I remember wouldn't (this needs to be check for accuracy would or wouldn't) sell land to them. Judge Hughes was an attorney and a large sheep man. I think he is dead now. But he did the same thing that Charlie did or Charlie did the same thing he did. I don't know who was first. A lot of big outfits were built then as a result of the unfortunate circumstances of others.
In the 1940's a lot of Texas people came to San Juan County to explore for oil. They spent a lot of money, drilled several wells and finally located an oil field south of Bluff. The seismograph crew that found that field were staying in my office at the time and first told me they had good readings down there. But that didn't seem to mean a whole lot. They just happened to be working in that area and I was working with some other people at the time.
The vanadium people had been in the area all during the war. The Defense Plant Corporation built the mill in Monticello, bought new ore and processed the tailings from earlier vanadium mill sites in the area. They had one secret group, kind of like the CIA, who went all over the country trying to locate anything radioactive. Sometimes these fellows would come by my house. One time Harry Goulding from Monument Valley who was a friend of mine had tried to get the Navajos to look for this yellow uranium. He had shown them a piece of ore and told them it was hot stuff, to go find some. These fellows had heard that Harry had been talking too much about uranium. So when Harry was at our place the Bureau of Investigation came there looking for him. He had been leaking confidential information (laughter). He admitted he had told the Indians but he said that that was the only way he knew to get them to look around for uranium.
During the war the miners were paid for the vanadium but not for the uranium. A law suit was brought in Denver against Union Carbide and Vanadium Corporation of America to recover the money owed the miners. But all of a sudden it was squelched and finally dismissed on the grounds that it would have been a violation of national security. After the war it was reactivated and the companies were sued for violation of the anti-trust laws. They were required to pay triple damages to all the miners who had sold them ore. Sometimes a lot of things are hidden away under national security and I guess that is proper at times.
I guess that is about all I can tell you.
S: Could I ask a few questions? Why was your father called San Juan?
A: He was just to settle the country, really to squelch the Indians and keep them from coming over to his side of the river. They were carrying out acts of violence on many of the inhabitants. The settlers were to set us a barricade against them and to be their friends.
S: What can you tell me about Posey?
A: I knew Posey, although he was a little before my time. I had one personal experience with him. My dad had given me a kind of bucking horse. I got on him out behind our house and he started to buck. But I rode him all right. Posey was there and said, "you pretty good rider." Other than that I don't know too much about him, I just knew him as a little Indian. Judge Keller knows about him. Have you interviewed Judge Keller?
S: I am not sure if he has been interviewed or not.
A; Judge Keller and I were district attorneys and he was the district judge. He was county attorney before I was. Yes, I knew Poke and Posey.
S: Did Indians ever visit your cabin?
A: Yes, they worked for us all the time. They would always come around wanting usually food and then everything else. My folks would usually find something for them to do. We kids were glad to have them hoe the weeds for our parents so that we wouldn't have to do it. We thought it was better for them to work. But that was the general policy of the pioneers: to feed them, rather than fight them. They got along with them most of the time.
S: What was the relationship between the local people and the cattlemen or the outlaws or later the oil explorers?
A: The cowboys were in Monticello before the Mormons came. They thought the Mormons were infringing. When the Mormons set up a county government with my dad as the first county assessor and started to collect taxes on cattle, they didn't like it. The cowboys liked to drink and the Mormons weren't suppose to. But the cowboys would tell stories about the Mormons stealing whiskey and getting as drunk as they were. (Laughter) Some were good fellows and some were bad. The Carlisles were English and not Mormons. A little friction developed. Outlaws like Butch Cassidy came through that wild country after robbing a bank. Others would steal horses and come into the area but they weren't part of the regular cow outfits which came later.
S: Did mining fever grab the people of Monticello during the uranium boom of the 1950's?
A: I did a lot of them. But the natives didn't give up their businesses like the people who came in. They would prospect in their spare time. Many of these people were in the mining business for years before the boom ever came. They knew what to look for; these outsiders didn't. A lot of people would find a rich sample and then peddle it as soon as possible as a rich claim.
S: Did you father ever mention any experiences on his journey down to Bluff?
A: He had a large family and I was the next to the last. I have heard him tell about it but not in detail.
S: What can you recall about building the house in Monticello?
A: It is still about the same as when it was built except when my wife and I bought it we tore down the wooden porch that use to be all the way around it. When my mother lived there we closed off the upstairs and we lived there. Because the downstairs was a little too small without the upstairs, we added another couple of rooms on the west side. Now it is kind of a duplex.
S: Was life difficult in Monticello?
A: I guess the Bluff Mission was difficult. Even the church leaders decided it was difficult because the finally released all of those that were called so that they could go back home. A lot of them did move on.
S: Why did some stay?
A: Because they were involved in the cattle business and I guess they didn't have anyplace else to go. Everything that they had put work into was right there.
S: Why did you go back to Monticello after you graduated from law school?
A: I had worked hard going through law school with my job on the side. I had a little stomach trouble and I went back and was elected county attorney during prohibition days. Then I was elected district attorney.
S: Were there more opportunities there than in Salt Lake?
A: No one seemed to have a job. The Depression was a pretty gloomy time. I remember one time I was subpoenaed to go to Ogden. When I got up there they had the Bank Holiday and I couldn't get any money. My government voucher was the only thing that I could travel on. People were lined up for blocks and blocks trying to get every penny they could out of the banks before they closed their doors like for instance the Deseret National in Salt Lake. It if hadn't been for First Security Bank coming in and taking over a lot of the others would have too.
S: Were the people in Monticello as hard hit by the Depression as the urbanites of Ogden and Salt Lake City?
A: Yes, they didn't have anything.
S: Were they able to raise their own food?
A: Yes. For a long while I got a little work in the county, but the county couldn't even pay my salary. They would give me a warrant that the banks would take on a discount.
S: What experiences stand out in your mind when you worked as the county attorney?
A: I was going day and night in these bootleg days. I went out with the sheriff looking for stills when I was county attorney. When we found them we would dump the stuff out and burn them up. They were located in the canyons. There weren't many roads like there are now. To get into Utah you had to go through Colorado and then back in. The bootleggers were mostly Colorado people that would come into Utah. There wouldn't have been any good Utah people doing that, I am sure. (laughter) There might be some Utah people who went into Colorado (laughter) but no good Utah people did that in Utah.
We had lots of horse thieves. I had a fellow in here one time that I felt sorry for. I took him out on the ranch on probation and gave him a job. But he stole one of the horses off the ranch.
S: Did he escape?
A: Yes, but we got him back.
S: That sounds like such an exciting era.
A; I had my first case a few days after I was admitted to the bar but before I was the county prosecuting attorney. I defended a bootlegger from Colorado. I told him I wanted some money before I defended him. He said, "I haven't got any money right now but I'll get it for you." I said, "I'll take your car and your trailer over to the house and keep them until you get the money." He said that would be fine. They held the trial and found him guilty. Son of a gun, I guess he was. In a few days his wife came to me and said, "I can get the money now but I'll need the car to go there." I said, "All right, take the car but leave the trailer here." So she took the car, he broke out of jail and I didn't see them again. I kept the trailer and was using it when the authorities came and reclaimed it. He had stolen it too. (Laughter) They took away my first lawyer's fee.
S: How well were attorneys accepted in Monticello?
A: There has been a lot of attorneys there a few years before because there had been lots of crimes in that country. Everyone knew what an attorney was. Most of them left, however, when the Depression came.
S: Do you recall high school experiences, coming up here to Salt Lake, that stand out in your mind?
A: I went to the LDS high school where we always opened our theology class with prayer. To decide who was to give the prayer they would start at the first of the alphabet with the "A's" but it seemed like I was the one who was doing most of the praying. (laughter)
S: What about your social life in high school?
A: There wasn't much dating. It seems like they had afternoon dances and of course basketball which I was interested in along with football.
S: Where did you first get interested in sports?
A: In Monticello.
S: What did people do in Monticello for recreation?
A: I guess they did about what everyone did. They had Church dances or other dances or a play once in a while. Of course, there used to be a lot of sleigh-riding, skiing and bob-sleigh riding in the wintertime.
I can barely remember one experience. My dad was always trying to keep his large family in line on the Sabbath. My one brother used to make these old racing cars called "bugs." He had an old Studebaker he had made over. I am told on Sunday he was out in his bug. One of my other brothers was driving my dad's Buick and another brother our old Ford. My first brother came along in his bug. Dad went out and stopped the bug and told him to get off the street; it was Sunday. Just then here came my second brother in the Buick. Dad came out, stopped him and told him that he shouldn't be riding on Sunday. Then here came my third brother driving the old Ford. Dad told him that wasn't right. Finally a little later, here I came on the little old mare of ours we called Spencer. I guess we did a little horseback riding on Sundays along with riding around in cars.
S: Mr. Adams, do you recall the all-night dances in Monticello during the 1920's and 1930's?
A: Yes, they were held but I was away to school a lot during my dancing days. It has been so long ago that I don't remember. (laugher)
S: Were community and Church activities closely related?
A: Oh yes.
S: Did the Mutual Improvement Association supervise many of your activities?
S: What Church experiences stand out in your mind?
A: Oh, none especially. When Father was in the presidency of the stake I used to go with him to visit the various branches and wards.
S: You mentioned that often General Authorities visited at your home. Do you recall any in particular?
A: Heber J. Grant and I guess all the apostles at that time stayed there.
S: It must have certainly been an exciting time in your home.
A: We got quite used to them.
S: What did your father do for a living?
A: He was a farmer and stockman.
S: You mentioned you had a particularly good year with the oats that the hail ruined. Did you have other crops as well as oats?
A: Mostly wheat and some hay. My father also was engaged in the flour milling business.
S: While attending law school you mentioned you were working. What were you doing?
A: The first year I came to Salt Lake I drove a cab. Then I worked on sightseeing buses and then I drove a street car. This was during the school year. In the summer time I would go home.
S: Was it unusual for a person from Monticello to come up here to high school?
A: There wasn't any high school in Monticello. The young men either had to come up here or someplace else or not go to high school. A lot of them didn't go at all.
S: Did you consider yourself an exception?
A: No, not necessarily. I didn't even think about it; I just came.
S: Was your family quite well-off in wheat and oat farming?
A: He had had better times. In those years he didn't have bad health but it was a little more difficult at that time.
S: How did the people live through the snowstorm of 1919? Was all of their means of support wiped out? Was there government or Church relief?
A: No, not as such. There has always been a little Church relief from the fast offerings. People on the farms and in the country usually raised enough in the summertime and knew how to take care of vegetable to last them through the winter.
S: During the Depression of the 1930's did people in Monticello support President Roosevelt's attempts at reform and relief?
A: I and my family have been Democrats all our lives. I was involved in politics and always have been. I always more or less supported him verbally except when he tried to pack the Supreme Court.
S: When the Second World War finally struck and stabilized the economy, it must have effected Monticello. Do you recall the effect of the war?
A: We were all shocked, of course. I remember when Pearl Harbor was struck there was a great shock all over. There is no doubt about it.
S: After the war had been underway for a year or so, did the town still lend full support to the war effort?
A: Absolutely. I would say there was 99.9 percent support to the war. I was an appeal agent for the draft board and there were always a few that tired to keep away from being drafted. But the big majority, over 95 percent didn't oppose the war. After the way the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor there wasn't any one who opposed it.
S: How did the war effect the town's economy or daily life? I guess a number of boys were drafted and sent off. Do you recall their names or any personal experiences?
A: My wife's brother who had lived with us was a prisoner all during the war. He was based at Clark Field in the Philippines at the beginning of the war in the Pacific.
S: Was the town deprived of certain necessities because of the war?
A: We had rationing, of course, but I don't think it was effective. When price ceilings are put on, they were not ceilings. They generally become price floors.
S: To conclude our interview could you tell me how you and your wife met?
A: Her family had a store next to us. I have known her since I was five or six and she was three or four. When she was fourteen years old her mother died and her family moved to Ephraim and then later to Salt Lake where I knew her during high school. My brother married her aunt and I knew her father and brothers and the rest of the family very well.
S: How many children do you have?
A: We have two. We lost a son a few months ago.
S: I am sorry. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate talking to you. I certainly did enjoy it.
Following the oral Charlie Redd transcript:
During the period around 1944, I was the District Attorney of the area which included five counties in South Eastern Utah. On the 8th day of December, 1945, I was in the District Court in Las Vegas, Nevada, to compel a witness to appear for the District Court of Grand County, Utah, in a criminal action. On the 9th day of December we were driving from Nevada in a car to Utah, we turned on the radio and we heard the report that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
My wife's brother, in July of that year, had enlisted in the U.S. Army and had been sent to Clark's Field in the Philippine Islands. He was moved to other islands and Japan where he died from starvation at about the time the war with Japan ended.
After 8 years as District Attorney I ran for the Utah State Senate, I was elected and served for eight years in that body. When my Senate term was over I was appointed by Governor J. Bracken Lee as a member of the Utah State Commission of the National Commission of Uniform State Laws.
I served from on several national conventions of Uniform State Law. One was held in Florida, one held in Philadelphia, Penn, one in Los Angeles, Calif, and one held in New York City, N.Y. I also attended a law convention in London England, there I attended a party given by Queen Elizabeth of England in the Queen's Garden at Buckingham Palace.
A few years later at a convention of the American Lawyer Association, this was also attended by members of the British Legal Association which was held in Washington, D.C. in this Convention. I attended a garden party given by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the White House in honor of the British Bar Association.
In 1961 at the request of Governor George W. Clyde, I was appointed a member of the Utah State Tax Commission and a year later by Governor Calvin W. Rampton as Chairman of the Tax Commission. Four year later I was appointed as a member of the Utah State Public Service Commission.
I retired from service and law practice in the year 1972. In the summer of 1974 I sold our home in Salt Lake City and moved to our home in Monticello where our daughter and grand children live.
For the last ten years we have spent the winter months in Phoenix, Arizona, where we have a house trailer.