Life History of Dora Merrill Packer
Contributor: SouthPawPhilly Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
Life History of Dora Merrill Packer
(Written by Dora Packer/completed by her husband, Clyde, after her death)
One beautiful summer morning the stork was hovering over a small cottage in the hills with a precious bundle for the good people who lived there. And so I was born on the 14th of June 1892. This little home was on a farm in Franklin Canyon. The little settlement was called Mapleton.
My father’s name is Samuel Adam Merrill. He was born to Samuel Bemus Merrill and Elizabeth Runyon Merrill in Springfield, Illinois on 2 April 1846. My great-grandfather was Samuel Merrill and my great-grandmother Pheobe Odell. He belonged to those “forgotten pioneers”, the section of the Mormon Battalion who entered Salt Lake Valley on July 29, 1847. He was a man of rugged constitution. He lived to be one hundred years old—all but three days.
Samuel did a great among of labor in that century which was a time of establishing one home after another. Great-grandfather was living in Smithfield, New York. He and his wife joined the church and came to the frontier to be with the Saints then on to the West, enduring all the hardships that frontier life entailed.
I am the youngest daughter the sixth child of Samuel Adam Merrill and Alvira Elizabeth Tidwell Merrill. My mother’s father, Peter Tidwell, was a pioneer also. My mother’s mother was Sophronia Hatch, a daughter of Josephus and Malinda Durfee Hatch.
My progenitors joined the church in its infancy, enduring the persecution that the church went through and so far as I know, not one of them was ever disloyal. My grandfather’s brother, Philemon C. Merrill, was a bodyguard to the Prophet Joseph Smith.*
I was the fourth daughter in my parent’s family. My oldest brother, Peter Ernest, passed away when he was ten years old, more that a year before I was born. When I was born, there was only one son, Leslie Vinton. Mother said she was hoping I would be a boy. There were three brothers younger than I so she never regretted my being a girl. I was the baby daughter, until Helen was officially adopted. As I’ve grown older, I have appreciated very much what my parents, brothers, and sisters have done for me. For instance, Bertha was so anxious for me to realize my desire to go to school and have the opportunity she did not have that she paid my board and room for one whole year. That was when I went to the Oneida Stake Academy.
*A miraculous incident happened which might be faith promoting to my children. While at Nauvoo, Philemon, as a bodyguard, chose to accompany the prophet after he had been put under arrest by U.S. Marshal Ronalds. The purpose of the arrest was to take the prophet back into Missouri to face trial. The party stopped at an inn for lunch and afterwards they climbed to a little knoll to rest themselves and their horses. While there the marshal got a couple of stones and marked the distance he could jump upon the green grass. No one offered to jump against him as he made several impressive leaps. Finally the marshal bragged, “I can out run, out throw, and out wrestle any man in the state of Illinois.” No one challenged him, so he repeated the statement using the name of deity.
The prophet, lying close by, told Philemon to accept the challenge. Philemon was a tall, slender youth of about twenty-two years and still unmarried. The marshal was a large man weighing over two hundred pounds, who was noted for his prowess and skill. Philemon hesitated at attempting to throw such a powerful opponent for he knew he was no match for such opposition. The prophet then said, “Philemon, in the name of Israel’s God, get up and throw that man down.” Philemon arose and spread both arms out to meet the attack of the foe. The marshal advanced and grasped Philemon’s right hand with an unfair hold. The prophet said it made no difference, that any way he wanted to do it, Philemon would still throw him. The prophet counted three. On the count of three, Philemon caught the marshal and threw him over his hips and into the air and when he came down he lit on his head and shoulders about fifteen feet from where they were. The prophet ran to him and finding he was not dead, asked him if he wanted more. The marshal, rubbing his bruised head, replied, “ Not by a ____ sight!”
I was baptized by Stephen Byington when I was eight years old, in June 1900. We were baptized, several children who were eight years old, in what we called Byington’s Big Spring. Rather a lovely spot, as I look back on it now—a deep pool of perfectly still water that was surrounded by trees. There were smooth round stones at the edge, which we stepped on as we stepped into the icy cold water. We each went hurrying into Grandma Byinton’s kitchen to get dressed. I was confirmed the next day by the bishop of the Grant Ward, J. Frank Hunt, who was also speaker of the House of Representatives for the state of Idaho. I did not receive a patriarchal blessing until I was a woman. It was given to me by Patriarch Alma B. Larsen, at his home in Rexburg, Idaho.
I don’t know what my parents did except have a home full of love and kindness for us children and everyone else who came their way, because there was always room for one more. But we, everyone, love the farm and look back on those childhood days with warm and happy feelings, and gratitude to our parents for so many lovely memories.
We went to church at the Grant Ward. The church house was about three miles away, but it wasn’t the schoolhouse. We went in the white top buggy or a bob sleigh. We were about the furthest away, so when we got there the vehicle would be packed with children we’d gathered up along the way. I don’t remember much about primary in those days, but I do remember MIA. That used to be held after school and my sisters who were MIA age used to stay, so I had to stay too so we could go home together. They say I embarrassed them plenty by wanting to take part right along with all of them. One time I volunteered and sang all the verses of “I Will Take You Back, Kathleen’.
My brother, Leslie, was always thoughtful of me. I remember him pulling me behind him as he skated. He felt sorry for me because the skates were his and there wasn’t enough money for two pair.
My first memories are connected with our home in Mapleton. We left there when I was about four years old, but I remember very vividly when we had the east wind.
My father seemed to know it was coming. Uncle Orrin Merrill had a sturdy big log home about a mile from us at the foot of the hill and not far from the Cub River, while ours was higher up on sort of a bench. I remember the whole family going down the hill and across the meadow to Uncle Orrin’s and Aunt Libby’s so we would be safe. Part of the time I walked holding to father’s hand and part of the time he carried me. We were safe with the shutters closed tightly and had so much fun, all the cousins together. Next morning when we went home, a large tree had been blown over and the branches were against the house. I don’t know what other damage had been done, but I vividly remember the fallen tree. I also remember the sunshine on my brother Demar’s golden hair as father took him from mother’s arms to help them from the wagon. I remember too the night my youngest brother, that lived, was born. It was on Jan. 19th. I sat by the fire with father, part of the time with my feet on the hearth but mostly on his lap. I remember Aunt Molly, as we called the midwife, hurrying in and out of the bedroom and the feeling of anxiety and waiting that was there. Funny how memories of so long ago are so vivid!
I began my schooling in a little rural school called Calvin School. It was a few miles south of Downey, Idaho. For many years it stood as a sentinel on the hillside.
Just prior to this father had sold his home and farm at Mapleton and had purchased a farm in Swan Lake. That put us in the Calvin School District. We attended school in a little yellow school building with a tower and bell, cloakrooms, and closets and heated by a central round stove.
While I went to school at this little yellow schoolhouse, I received certificated for being neither tardy nor absent for a school year and one for having 100% in spelling every day. I was to get a certificated another year for perfect attendance but the last eight days of school I missed because I had the mumps.
We all helped to get things done in our home. I guess because I was the youngest girl and had older sister I surely didn’t have many of the responsibilities. One thing that I do remember having to do was weed the garden. I also had to clean the lamps. The house was all lighted by lamps in those days. I usually had help. They had to be filled with kerosene, trimmed and dusted and the chimneys washed. We didn’t have detergents and the only waster softener was lye which was dangerous for a child to use so I had to use good old homemade soap. Sometimes it took a lot of shining to have them pass my mother’s inspection.
Many memories of my childhood are associated with the little schoolhouse. We used to go to school in the winter in a sleigh, a little one with shafts for one horse. In the spring, it was a one- horse buggy and at time we would ride horseback. The good horse, Pal, was used for all these purposes. Father said when she quit going to school and completed her education, she could live in the pasture the rest of her life, which she did.
Another companion of my childhood was a little black pony we called Topsy. My brother Leslie and I used to ride her to school. He was in the front in the saddle and I was astride behind the saddle. She had one bad habit and that was to run away when we headed toward home after school. Each day she would run like she was racing and we couldn’t stop her, so we flew along the road with dinner bucket, books, braids and bonnets flying out behind. She would run right up to the yard gate and stop so short that we had to cling on with all our might to keep from going over her head and over the gate too.
I graduated from the eighth grade from that little school. My brother-in-law, Leo Beckstead, was the teacher that year when I was thirteen years old, fourteen in June. That fall I went to Preston, Idaho to go to Oneida Stake Academy for my high school work. I lived at the home of Mary Dalley. She was a second wife, married at about the time of the manifesto. It was a peculiar family relationship to me, as her husband came to see them only once in a while. She had two daughters and I wondered many times how the girls got along without their father. My father meant so much to me. I heard the younger of the girls say one evening, “Here comes papa. Shall we let him in?”
Mrs. Dalley taught school and had four girls live with her also. We had a good time at home and the school was just a delight to me. Those teachers and friends are lovely memories to me. I sang in the school choir, Henry Otto was the teacher. He was a fine teacher of music. He came from the old country—Germany, I think. Believe it or not, I sometimes sang the solo parts.
How lucky I was to go to a church school! The lessons on the restoration of the gospel; the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; the songs we sang; the spirit of the school and its teachers I have never forgotten. These things all had such an influence on my life. One teacher, George D. Costo, was such a well-informed man, I used to think if I could just know as much as he did it would be worth any effort. Others I loved were John Johnson, Ethel Cutler, and W.K. Barton. John Johnson said once that I was the best student he had ever had.
I would like to tell a little story that happen while I lived at Mrs. Dalley’s. We were assigned a big lesson in algebra. The problems were what we used to call written problems. I could not get them. After struggling with them until about ten o’clock, I kneeled down by the side of my bed and asked the Father in Heaven to show me how to do them. He answered my prayer immediately because I started in on them again and did every one o f them. I knew they were correct and the next day in class proved that they were.
I spent four happy years at the Oneida Stake Academy. The second year I lived with my brother Dell and his wife Mame ( her real name was Mary). Mame became ill so I went to stay at my cousin Frank Merrill’s home. Frank and Emma had a home much closer to school and they wanted two girls to live in a room separated from the main house by what we call now a days a breezeway. While there, I got the measles. I was very sick. I can still remember some of the delirious dreams I had about gypsies, etc… When I became ill, I was moved over to aunt Lil’s and Uncle Orrin’s home, so the little kids at Frank’s and Emma’s wouldn’t catch the measles. When I was well enough, I went home on the train. Father and mother were at the depot to meet in a sleigh with hot bricks among the quilts. They shouldn’t have sent me home so soon I guess because I was very ill for weeks. Mother and a practical nurse, Mrs. Barger, kept watch over me night and day for a long time. I didn’t go back to school again that year. It was in February that I got the measles. The next year, however, they let me take the junior years work.
I was valedictorian of my class when I graduated in 1910. Only six were graduated, five boys and me. I was nearly eighteen years old and since my brother was on a mission, it would be impossible for me to go to college. (May I digress briefly and say that years later I learned that a young man in the audience saw me and heard my address and vowed that one-day he would marry me. He never requested my attention until two years later. When he did, we had a beautiful courtship and were married September 9, 1914.) Since college was beyond the limits of our finances, I decided to teach school. In those days everyone, no matter what kind of a degree they had, was required to take a teachers’ examination. So with many misgiving I took the exam. I went to the county seat of Oneida County, Malad. There was another young girl, the rest were all older men and a few women. I went back home not knowing how I came out. Bro. John Johnson was one of the men who gave the examinations. He was principal of Oneida Stake Academy all four years I was there. I had taken many exams from him so I didn’t feel quite so strange. The papers were all sent to the county superintendent for grading. In about a week or ten days, I received word that I had gotten a second grade certificate. I was so pleased! I already knew where I was going to teach—at Glenco, Idaho. It was a school with all the grades. That year there happened to be no fourth grade. When winter quarter came, the older boys entered school. Some of the boys were older than I was and much taller. I would stand by them at the blackboard explaining arithmetic and would have to look up to them. I think I grew from a girl to a woman that year. I took my responsibilities in that little school very serious that year. I lived with a Swedish family by the name of Walgren. They were so good and kind to me. My bedroom was icy cold in the winter. Brother Walgren had a couple of small rocks which he would get hot in the evening, then wrap a piece of blanket around each one and give them to me to put in my bed. He had a little cushion and began calling it my prayer cushion. He always insisted that I kneel on it when we had family prayers. Sister Walgren was a very good cook and housekeeper. Even the boardwalks connecting her summer kitchen and cellar with the main house were scrubbed with sand until they were white. Bro. Walgren wasn’t very well the latter part of the year so they took him to Salt Lake for diagnosis and treatment. They found he had a tumor. Now I know it was malignant and couldn’t be removed. He came home and in a few months passed away.
The next three years I taught in Preston, Idaho at the Central School. I taught the third grade for two years and the fifth grade for one year. Those were happy days. I enjoyed being a teacher. I’ve always been sorry that I didn’t know more about it and hadn’t had more training. The day I left the schoolroom knowing that I was not going back again was one of the sad days of my life. During one of the years the teachers all met together to ask for a raise in pay. I signed my name to the petition to the school board. I found out that I was getting more than anyone else. The regular wage was $55.00 and I was getting $57.50 I thought everyone was getting what I was. I felt a little foolish but as I remember it we each got a $2.50 raise. And teachers think they are poorly paid no days.
During these years of grade school teaching I had some wonderful experiences in the church. I taught a kindergarten Sunday school class in Preston 2nd Ward and can still remember the thrill I got trying to teach the gospel lessons to these little children.
I was called to be on the MIA Stake Board of the Oneida Stake when I was seventeen—to be the literary leader. That was a lovely experience. I’m sure I didn’t do so brilliantly with the lessons but I had an association with some wonderful women, among them Luella P. Cowley, who was the president. The board meetings were real spiritual experiences. I marvel that I could undertake a responsibility like this one was. I guess that more than one has marveled at the confidence and exuberance of youth. It was a fine development for me. I taught an MIA class in our ward, Preston 2nd, at the time too. I was then asked to be the play or activity leader in the stake primary. From there I was changed to the secretary of the primary stake board. Marinda Skidmore was the president. When I wet to Glenco to teach, I was released from this position. I worked again on the primary stake board of Oneida Stake when I taught in Preston. Sister Bertha Larsen was president. I was released when I went with my husband to Salt Lake City to go to school.
Everyone said I would be an old maid if I taught one more year. Especially my oldest brother Sam used to tease me about it, so I decided I’d better quit. I had been writing to a missionary for some time but I was not engaged to him, so when Clyde Packer began asking me to go out with him I accepted. On September 9, 1914 I was married to Clyde in the Logan Temple. Perhaps the Father in Heaven was watching over me. I like to think that He was because if I had married the young man that I thought I might I’m sure I wouldn’t have been happy. My husband is a religious, good man, bringing into our home the blessings of the priesthood, because he has been worthy of it.
Going back a bit—I went a couple of summer to U of U to learn more about teaching. My cousin Gwen McCann went with me one summer. She studied music and I went to school. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I lived one summer with Mrs. McMaster, a daughter of B. H. Roberts, who kept a boardinghouse for girls and kept her husband in the basement. I had been there about half the summer before I knew she had a husband. Gwen and I lived with a young family who let us do our own cooking.
We began our married life by going to Salt Lake City to live, where my husband went to school at the University of Utah. I enrolled at the L.D.S.U. which was in downtown Salt Lake. They had an especially good department in Domestic Science as we used to call it. I started to go to school taking cooking and sewing. I went to the first two quarters then decided that I had hurried to get to school all my life and if I was ever going to have any time to relax, I must do it now, so I didn’t go spring quarter. It was a pleasant six months that I spent there. The teachers in my departments, I can still remember very vividly but have forgotten their names. I still have a piece or two of work I made that winter. At Christmas time I made a bathrobe for my husband. It was long since worn out.
In addition to this experience, when spring came my husband decided to go to summer school. We had moved into a large old house on eight east with Edna and Henry Stokes. Edna was Clyde’s sister. When school finished in June, they went home and I decided to fill up the house with boarders—students who came to summer school. It was quite a lark. There were five men from Ephraim among them Archie Anderson. I was sick of my bargain many times and, of course, it didn’t help out much financially as I had thought I would. We perhaps got our meals out of it. Clyde had charge of a playground in Salt Lake. He went to school in the morning and to the playground in the afternoon. It was a happy summer. I had never lived in a city before and Salt Lake was beautiful to me. We lived in the 9th Ward and I was asked soon after getting settled to teach in the Sunday school in the second intermediate department. The other teacher in the department was Herbert B. Maw who later became governor of Utah. I taught there until we moved into the house where we had the boarders which was in the 10th Ward. The teaching was a challenge but it was also a thrill. We had a whole room full of boys and girls—thirteen to fourteen years of age. There were thirty to thirty-five in attendance each Sunday and it was a task to keep them interested. I will never forget those lessons. We studied the Old Testament and I really did some studying.
After the summer school was out we moved into a house close by the large one where we had a real nice situation. An elderly couple had moved in a small bedroom and shared the kitchen with us. They were from the south and she cooked the funniest things. We had the living room and dining room and a small bedroom. The furniture was a Corcasion walnut.
We went home for a few weeks at the end of summer school when the playground was closed and before the university term began. Our son, Clyde Dean, was born the following spring, March 11, 1916. And what a time, for my husband was a member of the U of U basketball team. They were to go to Chicago to a tournament since they were the winners in this part of the country, to decide who would be the national champions.
We were so anxious for the baby to be born before he left. In fact, he stayed home two days after the team left hoping that his baby would arrive. He left late on evening-Thursday-and on Saturday morning at 4 o’clock Dean was born. Mother had come to stay with me and in those days it was unusual for anyone to go to the hospital to have a baby so there we were, all by ourselves, to go through that long night from 7 o’clock until 4 in the morning when Dean was born. My husband didn’t get home until Dean was 10 days old. People were surely thoughtful and kind to us while he was away. The student body president, the dean of women, some of the faculty and many others came to see the new baby and offer their help. The teammates each contributed a dollar and they gave dad a $10.00 gold piece for the baby. He still has the original one but it came in handy a lot of times as security.
Mother got word that my sister Ruby was to have an operation. She asked mother to come and stay with the children so she had to leave. I will never forget how worried she was at leaving me before I was around and worried about the serious operation of my sister. I appreciated mother so much. What would I have done without her!
When mother left, Clyde’s mother came to stay a few days. Then we were on our own. Our baby was so precious and I was so fearful that I wouldn’t take the best care of him that I didn’t enjoy him as much as I should have. I’ve often thought that I made him fretful watching after him so much. His father used to get up when the baby wakened in the morning at about five o’clock and take him up. He talked to him and played with him as much as one can with a tiny baby. Then with a book in one hand and the baby in the other arm, he studied and I got a few winks of good sound sleep knowing that someone else was responsible for a while.
I had a very dear friend in Salt Lake City who was at least ten years older that I was. She was a friend of my sister Bertha and a sister to my brother-in-law-, Leo Beckstead. Her name was Aberta Beckstead Douglas. She took me under her wing and everyday all through the winter she came and took me out for a walk. She had a baby boy nearly a year old. She brought him in a baby carriage or on a sled and insisted that I walk a few blocks with her. She also came everyday before my husband came home to see how she could help out. I wonder now how I would have managed without her. She initiated me into motherhood and taught me many worthwhile lessons.
The foregoing was written by Dora herself, I rewrote I all, inserting marginal notes and some other material she had written to make it a unified whole. Now I shall attempt to finish her history. It won’t be as detailed as hers has been but I hope it will have great value to her posterity as they read. If they read this full account, they will know they are descendent of a very wonderful woman.
It is now March 4, 1966. On April 4, 1963 Dora passed away. We have had a marvelous association from September 9, 1914 to the time of her passing, April 4, 1963.
I should like to write of her life first in relation to the farm. Dora referred to some of the things we did on the farm but I would like to overlap a little. We left Rexburg on April 17, 1918 as school closed early that year. We rode in a one-seated buckboard, no top, two horses and two of us and we had two children. Clyde Dean was two years old and Claire about eight months. We had intermittent snow and sunshine as we traveled those eighteen miles to the farm. Dora had never seen the house and I had told her it was a little cabin in the trees on the edge of Canyon Creek. My idea of a cabin and Dora’s
seemed to be very different. I didn’t mean to misrepresent the house but I’m sure Dora was greatly disappointed when she saw it. It was made of three sections, about ten by ten feet, making a home of about ten by thirty feet. The west end was the bedroom, then the dining room and the kitchen. I have wondered since why she didn’t turn around and go back.
Dora was a true and courageous partner. She no doubt knew as I did that it was just the beginning and that if we persisted with faith and determination, a brighter future awaited us. For indeed it did. She immediately went to work and made a lovely home out of it. She used magazine pages to completely paper the inside of the house. The stove that was there didn’t work very well and so I well remember of buying a new one to fit the little house and brought it home on top of a load of hay.
We had no car but I left occasionally to get hay or grain but Dora never left the farm from April 17 until July 4. At that time we had purchased a Model T Ford for $400.00 and were so happy and we went to the Fourth of July celebration.
Water was a problem for the house as well as for the horses. We tried melting snow. It didn’t work so we fixed up a wagon and a water tank. We hauled water from Canyon Creek about five miles away. We used a bucket bolted to a long handle and bucketed the tank full of water. It took hours to dip the water and four horses to haul the wagon. When we got the water home the dozen horses would about drink it all in a day. That hampered the work so much that we decided to drive the horses down to the creek three times a day. That was half-mile trek and six hundred vertical feet in a zigzag on the side of the canyon. That was hard on the horses and men so next we tried cisterns. We first dug a well thirty-five feet deep, no water, so we excavated a cistern and cement plastered it. After a season or two the cement began to crack and leak, so we dug another and this time made strong concrete walls, floor and ceiling. Then we caught snow water as it melted and ran into the cistern. That sufficed as long as we long as we had horses.
Farming was a hard and lonesome experience for Dora but she never complained. We would get up at five a.m. to tend the horses, have breakfast and work everyday. There were no conveniences in those days like we have today. No bathroom, outside toilet, washing, bathing, ironing all requiring patience and hard work for a woman.
We enjoyed our family life on the farm. Dora was an excellent mother always-- maintaining a clean, lovely home, good meals three times a day. We drew close to our children and they to us. The children loved the farm and they all learned to work.
On Sunday we would all clean up and drive the eighteen miles to Rexburg to attend church in our ward. I recall one time while in Sunday School William. E. Gee was stake superintendent and was visiting our ward. In his remarks he complimented the Packers for attending Sunday School when they had to go so far. So that was another habit the children acquired largely because of the persistence and constant teaching of their mother.
Then Dora would have the problem of moving twice a year-out to the farm in the spring and back in the fall for school. We had about twenty years of depression years but I have no memory of Dora complaining about it. Then the last twenty-five years of Dora’s life we had sufficient money to live as we liked. We were able to take trips that we had always wanted. We went on the train to South Carolina when Allan was born; we traveled east with mother and Alley in our car and visited all the church points of interest. We had a nice trip to old Mexico with Dave and Zell Manwaring. Next we toured Europe when Alden and family were there and later visited the scenic beauties of Canada.
A history of a woman’s life would be incomplete without reference to the houses she lived in. When we moved to Rexburg we registered at the St. Johns hotel and I canvassed the town for a place to rent. We finally rented an apartment on the second floor of the Bassett House. It was hard for Dora as she had Dean and Claire both needing help to get up and down the stairs. 1918 was our first year on the farm and a good on so we had the Rexburg Home Builders build us a house. It was to have cost $4000.00 but it cost $6,000.00. 1919 was the driest year in the last fifty. We had very little crop and the monthly payments on the home were high, as were the taxes, so we decided after two years to trade the Home Builders for a smaller house on the hill on second east. Then in 1927 Dr. Merrill (Uncle Leslie) owned the Bitter house, later known as the maternity home, and he wanted to sell so we bought it. Then after a few years we sold it and rented the Austin Watts home just east of our first home that we built. After a year there we moved to the Fowler home on third east and after five years the Fowlers wanted to live in it so we bought the white Blunck house on second south-the only house on the block. In a short time we purchased the entire block from the county for $25.00 and after completely remodeling the white house, we living in it for about 10 years. We sold it and built a beautiful brick home on the corner of second south and Harvard and lived in it for twelve years. Now the children had all married and the house seemed too large for us and very reluctantly we sold it and built up on 321 E. 3rd S. in our present home. While building this last home we rented Jay Slaughters house for a while and then we lived with Dora Lee and Rex until the house was completed. Dora lived in it about four years before she passed away.
I mention all these houses because every move is a big chore, especially for a woman. However, Dora liked to plan houses and to decorate them. And I must say every house we lived in was made to be a real home. They were kept immaculately clean and decorated to make them a bit of heaven. Dora said many times if she were a boy she would like to be an architect or an engineer.