Jesse Nile Washburn History
Contributor: Simini Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
Jesse Nile Washburn was born July 2, 1901 in Huntington, Utah. His father, Jesse Alvin Washburn, was a missionary and president of the New Mexico Conference of the Colorado Mission at the time and was not present for the birth. His mother, Luella, with infant son Verd, had just returned to Huntington from Franklin, Arizona where she had been teaching school. The trip home was through Denver, Colorado where Jesse remained to attend a missionary conference.
Luella’s short missionary journal provides some interesting insights into the birth of Nile. As recorded in the journal, Monday, July 1, Luella spent the day making a dress for her sister Maine and helping with other sewing. On Thursday, Luella arose at 5:00 a.m. feeling “quite rocky.” As soon as breakfast was eaten, she began doing the washing and stayed with it until noon. By then she was so sick she “had to give up and go to bed.” At 12:30 p.m., one half hour later, Nile was born. Luella spent the customary nine days in bed in what she described as the “hottest weather that I ever saw.” She reported that Nile had a bad cold and was quite sick for about a week.
In the spring of 1906, when Nile was four, the family moved to Duchesne, Utah to homestead. Nile remembers the “barrenness everywhere, and an attendant atmosphere of need. Only the cedars grew, seemingly without moisture, and moisture was hard to come by.” Both Jesse and Luella taught school in Duchesne. Initially, school was conducted in a small log room that had been previously used as a saloon. There were 22 beginners in Luella’s class, and Nile was one of them. Regarding his early school experiences, Nile writes, “. . . for much of my early school life, father was my principal and mother my teacher. It was by no means always a happy arrangement.” As he continues, “Father often said that every time I had a fight at school, or got into trouble with a teacher, I would get a flogging when I got home. The result was that nearly every time I had a fight, I got licked twice.”
“The first lights I remember were what were called bitches, or dips. It was a simple device. One took a button or an iron washer, (never a coin: we didn’t have any) or, if nothing better offered, a flat pebble, wrapped a piece of rag around it and tied it with a string. The weight was then placed in a shallow container filled with oil or melted grease, letting the tied portion stand up. The cloth absorbed the oil which by capillary attraction rose to the top. Lighted, it passed for a light. Then came the candle stage, and after that the era of coal-oil lamps. It was a great occasion I can tell you when the first gas-mantle lamps came along.”
Much of the family preoccupation during the Duchesne years was with livestock. Nile reports that the family had the usual “poor farmer’s supply.” “It was average stuff, some perhaps, a bit above average. The ones I remember most vividly, even with some nostalgia, were Pete, a brown male mule, and Min, a black mare mule. They were our standby as a team through bad times and worse ones for many years. They were tough, frugal, and friendly, and we all loved and abused them.”
Nile’s “most precious memory” connected with animals is the story of Billy. “Billy was a spindly, thin-skinned Jersey bull calf that we hoped to have for our winter meat supply. He was growing pretty well and was beginning to look as if he might be fit to chew on when, late in the summer, he developed some kind of bladder ailment. Since he could not empty his bladder, he began to swell, and his already gross body got bigger and bigger. Finally, Billy took to his bed, a gravelly spot in the middle of a salt-grass flat. For a day or two he lay there, groaning in pain and bewilderment, making two arcs in the grass where he threshed with his two underlegs. When he became totally helpless, the magpies began to get at his eyes, and one of us boys had constantly to be there to scare them off. Meanwhile, mother tried all the simple and ridiculous treatments and medicaments that a resourceful pioneer woman could invent, but all to no avail. Then she tried the ultimate resort. I remember distinctly that on the place that day were father [almost an invalid because of the throat constricture], mother, Verd, Albert Robbins, a neighbor pal of Verd’s, and I, to our amazement, mother called us all together at Billy’s bedside and told us to kneel down. I can see it yet. I was at the calf’s head to keep it still, the glazed and opaque eyes boring into me, and Verd took his place at the hind legs. Albert took charge of the front ones. Father knelt at Billy’s back, and mother by the monstrously distended belly. Then mother began to pray, begging for the life of a pot-bellied Jersey bull calf. She reminded the Lord of many things which he had certainly never forgotten--our large family, a sick father, the approaching winter, and the near-empty larder. It was a moving recital of genuine need. And even as she pleaded, Bill shuddered convulsively and rendered up his Jersey ghost. But don’t let anyone tell you that prayer was wasted. It helped to shape the life of at least one young man.” Nile further adds, “Ridiculous? By no means! I didn’t get to enjoy any of that beef; but that day there was flowering in at least one simple boy a deeper appreciation of his mother’s faith and nobility. She was some woman! I even began to understand something of the profound truth that ‘God’s ways are not man’s ways.’ It was, over all, a tremendously moving experience, for me at least.” Through this and other experiences, Nile developed strong spiritual convictions.
Nile reports that for the most part, the Washburn children were obedient to their parents, Jesse and Luella. “It at no time occurred to them to do otherwise.” However, it is obvious that Nile had his mischievous side. As Nile relates, “Len Nielson and I were fishing one day. We caught one little sucker, and that was all. Finally, in sheer boredom, we resorted to a sort of game to liven matters. Len dared me to swallow three big juicy grub worms, saying that if I did, he would bite the fish’s head off. We went through with it, and we suffered no ill effects.” One Halloween, Nile and a few friends “borrowed” a buggy from Brother Nielson, Lens’s father. “We pulled it to the schoolhouse, entered an unlocked window, threw open the door, carried the buggy, piece by piece, up the stairs, and through the trapdoor to the roof; where we reassembled it. Later we had to do it all in the reverse and beg Brother Nielson’s pardon to boot.”
Nile’s strongest attachment to any animals, “. . . was for a grand span of mules, old Pete and Min. Pete was brown and weighed about 950 pounds. Min, a black mare, was somewhat lighter. They were a marvelous team, dependable, willing, and hard workers. I am deeply chagrinned to have to tell the rest of the story though it is something that can be told. One day I was riding old Min along Center Street [Duchesne], from the river toward the center of town, when I saw some people camped in the bushes not far from the road. No boy can resist the appeal of Gypsies or anyone who looks like Gypsies. This group did. I rode into the camp and said, ‘Hello.’ A man appeared and looked me over. But he looked twice at Min for every time he looked at me. I suppose that he sized me up in a hurry. ‘Wanta sell the mule?’ he asked. ‘No,’ I replied promptly, so promptly, in fact, that it should have put him wise. But professional horse-traders are a hardy breed and don’t discourage easily. ‘Wanta trade?’ I don’t recall any more of the conversation, the negotiations, so to speak, but the upshot of the matter was that I traded Min for a huge bay horse that looked to me as big as a papa elephant. And he was in good shape, sleek and shiny. Furthermore, he was young. Even I could tell that who can’t tell a horse’s teeth from a pile of limestone pebbles. Well, I had the horse-trader boost me up, for it was like climbing a small mountain. I remember that my heartbeat was not quite normal as I headed for borne. As luck would have it, father was there, and Verd, and certainly a few others. I did my stuff before an interested audience. As best as I could I told about the deal I had made. I don’t think anybody said much while they all looked my acquisition over critically. Finally, father spoke. ‘Lead him over the bars.’ Now, bars are long straight poles, about five or six inches in diameter, which serve the same purpose as a gate. The ends are pushed through ladder-like contraptions, maybe fifteen or sixteen inches apart. When one end is let down, the bars are on a slant, the lower ends maybe eighteen inches above the ground. Well, I led him over the bars, or tried to. Everything went beautifully until the big brute got halfway across. But then he stopped. The hind leg that was supposed to go over first rose tentatively a number of limes but couldn’t make it. The simple truth is that my beauty was stifled, which means that he couldn’t lift one hind leg more than three or four inches off the ground. I fully expected to see father march me and Jim (as we called him) right back to that itinerant entrepreneur with his hands firmly gripping two ears, the elephant’s and mine. He didn’t. I have wondered about it to this day. So far as I know, all he ever said about the incident was a remark he made afterward to Verd. ‘I wish the kid hadn’t given that mule away.’ As it turned out however, it proved to be not so bad a deal. We had at that time an odd big bay male, Babe, that needed a mate. We matched her with Jim, and they made a tremendous team. So long as we operated on relatively level terrain, no one would have known that we did not have a span of the soundest horses in the Uintah Basin.”
“For years, I don’t remember whether it was all the time, we had to haul our culinary water. We had an ugly homemade sled-like monster big enough for two fifty-gallon barrels. When necessary we would go down to the Strawberry, fill the barrels bucketful by bucketful, and drag it back to the house, for bathing, washing, and other needs. I had reached practically my full growth before I saw my first automobile, and fourteen years old when I had my first experience with a telephone.”
“On a Saturday, three of us, Amos Shumway, Etheredge (Etch) Johnson, and I were matching pennies. We would find a crack somewhere or draw a line and throw pennies at it. The one who came nearest the line took the pot. Suddenly my father appeared around a corner. I didn’t even know that he was in town. By virtue of his office as superintendent he was also the truant officer. He forthwith ‘arrested’ the three of us for gambling, and we held court right on the spot. He fined me $2.50. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’ll stay out of school next Monday and get a job.’ That threw him back on his haunches, so to speak. For me to miss a day of school was something he had not anticipated. We compromised in the end by his paying the fine. 1 don’t know whether he took money from one pocket and put it into another, or whether he wrote the school district a check. I don’t remember that he did anything about Etch and Amos. But his son had to toe the line (and not the penny line either).”
“In the year 1918, Tom and I went to Roosevelt to attend the Duchesne County High School. At first we lived with the Dillmans, Ray B. and Mildred (Billie) Miles, friends of my father. After we left the Dillmans for some reason I don’t recall, we moved into the attic (the landlady called it the upstairs) of a residence and began ‘batching’ it.”
Someone once suggested that as a boy Nile stole a lamb. Nile tells the story, “I emphatically deny it. I didn’t steal that lamb; just took it. I was up on West Bench, out close to Shelton (Meeks) Valley where a herd was lambing. (No boy can stay away from a herd of sheep at lambing time). As I was leaving, on the periphery of the herd I saw a young lamb resting in the shade of a bush. I just knew that it was an orphan. I could tell it by the looks of it. Was I to let it stay there and starve to death? Perish the thought! I got down off the horse (or mule) and picked it up and took it home. I told the folks that it was a bum lamb. (I might even have said that the herder gave it to me. I don’t remember). I named it Billy. Alas for all my pains, later in the summer somebody did steal it from me.”
“In 1919 or 1920 we moved back to Huntington where father was [hired] to be superintendent of Emery County schools. While I was in Huntington High School I started long-distance racing and won a number of honors in the four-forty, the half mile, mile, and two-mile races. I used to run against relays of young people, both boys and girls, especially Leola Grange, who was a wizard as runner. I used to trot from Huntington to Castle Dale and back, ten miles each way, to keep in shape. But the highlight of my winning came in the autumn of 1920, at the Carbon County Fair in Price. I ran five miles against ‘Racehorse’ Jones, the terror of the territory. It was said that he had never been beaten. We ran on the quarter-mile track at the high school, twenty laps. At about the sixteenth round my opponent give up and walked across the oval to join his family. Some days later a friend confided to me that father had given him ten dollars to bet on me. A number of people gave me money that day, knowing that I had been called on a mission to Canada. . . . it would never have occurred to me that they had won it on the race.”
In October 1920, at the age of 19, Nile left for Toronto and his first mission for his church. He spent time in Toronto, London, Hamilton, Brantford, and then Montreal. He enjoyed sixteen months of what Luella calls “splendid missionary work,” but developed a bad hernia and returned home for surgery in February 1922. As Nile states, “I could have received an honorable release at that point, but I wanted to finish the mission.” As soon as he was able, he returned to the mission field, and was sent to Winnipeg. There, the small group of missionaries “batched” in the basement of the chapel, “taking charge turn about, two by two, of the buying, cooking, cleaning, and the like.” Often in the evenings, the missionaries would go as a group to a street meeting or as pairs to various other assignments. Upon returning that night, they would meet and report the evening’s activities. In one such report a missionary stated, “Elder Abbott and I had a large and appreciative group. Brother Abbott was large, and I was appreciative.”
The Washburn family moved to Provo June 3, while Nile was in Canada, Nile completed his mission in March 1923, joined the family in Provo, and began school at Brigham Young University. In early 1924, while Nile was living at home with the family, he began dating Violet Hillas, a young lady he met at church. This relationship blossomed and on October 28, 1925, Nile and Violet were married. They continued to live in Provo where he attended college and drove a taxi cab all night to support the family. A son, Van Hillas, was born July 24, 1926. “On the day on which [Van] was born I was working on the [Denver and Rio Grande Railroad] section out of Provo, for forty cents an hour, and planning to continue my schooling at Brigham Young University in the autumn.” Nile eventually earned his degree from BYU in 1928. He later acquired a master’s degree in education from UCLA and did some work towards a PhD.
Their second child and first daughter, Beverlee Ann, was born in Provo August 10, 1928. Nile took a job teaching high school in Byron, Wyoming that fall. The following year, Nile was principal in the school in Tocquerville [Bunkerville], Nevada. The family lived in Mesquite in an old adobe house with no running water or indoor plumbing. Van does not recall where the culinary water was acquired, but he does remember a cistern where rain water was collected for washing clothes and other uses. The cistern was cleaned annually to remove the debris, children’s toys, and an occasional dead animal. While in Mesquite, Nile captured a desert tortoise. It was harnessed to a little wagon to pull Van and Beverlee around the yard. The family returned to Utah each summer to be with relatives. By Van’s report, these trips at times involved car problems, minor accidents, and getting stuck in the sand along the Virgin River.
Following their time in Mesquite, the family moved to Lehi, Utah where they were to stay for many years. While in Lehi, Nile had a great interesting gardening. Van remembers having vegetable gardens in many vacant lots around Lehi. They raised cucumbers, tomatoes, and potatoes. In addition to family gardens, Nile worked for the local farmers during the summer. They also grew flowers and they usually built a fish pond for gold fish. Nile also raised canaries. Nile was also athletic and enjoyed athletic activities. Van reports that the neighborhood boys liked Nile to play ball with them because he could hit the ball so far. Van remembers him hitting a ball out of the baseball field and across the street into the lot that housed the local church tabernacle.
In the spring of 1933, Nile departed from family and completed a six-month church mission to the Central States Mission with headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. Once the mission was completed, Nile returned to Lehi. Nilene, their second daughter and last child was born June 7, 1935 in Lehi.
Nile was a gifted writer. He and his father co-authored From Babel to Cumorah and The Geography of the Book of Mormon, In addition, they completed a long folding chart which they called, From Eden to Diahman.
In January 21, 1941, the family moved to Provo, but Nile continued to teach school in Lehi. In May 1944, Nile began what he refers to as his “war career.” He took a leave of absence from teaching at Lehi High School and became an “ambulance driver and first-aid man” at Geneva, Utah, where a steel plant was being constructed. He then joined the American Red Cross as Assistant Field Director. Initially, he spent time at Kearns, Utah, one of the two replacement depots to which men were sent pending shipment overseas. Finishing the Kearns assignment, Nile and others sailed from New York City on the Queen Elizabeth for England, reaching the mouth of the Clyde River on the night of D-Day. They boarded a small British train and headed for London. As Nile records, “During the night we stopped at Edinburgh, where another train, headed inland, was sitting on the siding. We were told that it was filled with the first casualties from the Normandy Beaches, being taken into Scotland to hospitals there.” He was in London one week before the first “buzz-bomb” fell. He reports that one of the first hit a chapel in which the wives and children of British servicemen were worshiping. It killed 197 of them.
Following the London assignment, Nile was transferred by the Red Cross to Paris, France. “I reached Paris by bomber on a flight from London on November 1, 1944, and was lodged, with others, in an old stone hotel, not far from the Louvre. The winter was bitterly cold . . One of the first things I saw there was the sight of little boys climbing the bare trees on the Louvre grounds, breaking off dry branches and twigs, and throwing them down to be taken home for fuel. It became commonplace to see French people regularly visiting the eating establishments where wasteful Americans dumped their leavings, tenderly carrying them away in buckets, baskets, boxes, even a two-wheeled cart, to sustain life.” Nile worked in the Central Machine Records Unit, an organization that maintained the records of all of the military personnel in Europe. Nile concluded his Red Cross assignment serving four months, from April to July, 1945, in Germany. While there he visited the German salt mines filled mile upon mile with goods confiscated by the Germans from all over Europe,” and Buchanwald, “one of the wickedest and most infamous of the German concentration camps.”
In 1946, Nile accepted a teaching position at Carbon College in Price, Utah teaching English literature, grammar and journalism. He constructed a home there and the family remained in Price until 1955, when Nile took a position teaching at the high school in American Fork, Utah. He was to remain teaching in American Fork until his retirement from teaching.
Nile and Violet divorced in October of 1966. Despite the divorce, Nile had nothing but kind things to say about Violet and took responsibility for the marital problems. “I unhesitatingly make this brief acknowledgment to Violet. She is without any doubt one of the most compassionate women I have known. I have seen her a number of times in the hospital [she was a licensed practical nurse] take charge of little Indian and Mexican children, whose migrant parents were toiling in the beet fields, wash them, care for them, love them, when other nurses would have nothing to do with them. Like my brother Clyde, she was a natural healer.”
Nile acknowledges that being a father and husband was difficult for him. He at times experienced depression and feelings of inferiority and reports that his father, Jesse, also had problems with depression. “My father, Jesse Alvin Washburn, was a strange combination of contending forces. One of the best of classroom teachers, he has an empire of admirers, almost, one might say, of worshipers, scattered at least wherever I have ever been, men and women whose lives he helped to shape for good. Sad to relate, he did not achieve the same success with his family. He had almost infinite patience with his students, so much so that sometimes he had little left to bring home with him. There was, as I see it now, too little reciprocity in our family. We were too stiff and formal, one might almost say too ill at ease. And father was at the center of it. He was a good writer. That is, he was strongly imaginative and inventive, largely the outcome of his study and teaching. Incidentally, he left the composition to me. He was not good at spelling, punctuation, or grammar. I write and think feelingly of him for the sufficient reason that I am a carbon copy of him. . . Like an identical twin I could sense his thoughts and moods. While I am at it, I must assert that there was a pronounced strain of depression in him, of melancholia. In fact, there was some of it in the Wakefields too, which surfaced perhaps most noticeably in Uncle George. I got it going and coming . . .”
Although retired from teaching, Nile was not ready to retire from working. For many years he worked for Boley Realty, selling real estate and working in the office. In addition, he purchased property and moved houses from both BYU and from Dragertown, Utah. These houses he renovated and sold. He lived alone in such a house on the west side of Orem, Utah for many years. He continued to garden and write, and was frequently asked to speak on the Book of Mormon. Finally his health worsened, and Van moved him from Orem to an apartment house in Springville, Utah where he could be closer to family. Nile died Friday, July 11, 1986, at the age of 85.
 The quotes from Nile are taken from his history. Actually, it is less a history than a compilation of stories. Nile was a story teller. As one reads his stories, Nile’s sense of humor is apparent. It is also possible that some of Nile’s recollections may be a bit exaggerated in the telling.
 Violet Hillas was born March 22, 1906, the daughter of Frederick and Esther Hepworth Hillas. Although a nurse, she did not always practice nursing in a hospital or doctor’s office. Later in life she had older people live in an extra bedroom in her home in Provo while she cared for them. She loved to garden and had beautiful and flowers and plants all her life. Nilene reports that she had a wonderful sense of humor and that she wrote poetry about her world and family. Following her divorce from Nile she married Matt Girot, and they resided in Arizona. She died January 18, 1983 while in Arizona, and was buried in the Provo City Cemetery, Provo, Utah. Her children and children remember her as a kind, caring individual.
 Van Hillas was born July 24, 1926. Van married Nellie Mecham June 22, 1950, shortly after both had returned from church missions. Van and Nellie had nine children: Van Jr., Michael, Gary, Janiece, Jeffry, Mark, Kathie, Lara, and Brian. Most of the children reside in Utah with the exception of Jeffry and Mark who are in Kansas. Van worked for the United States Postal Service and retired in 1989. Nellie died November 3, 1990 from heart failure. Following Nellie’s death Van married Marilyn Morley Fonoimoana on August 10, 1991. His hobbies include restoring old cars and airplanes. Van and Marilyn are currently serving a church mission in American Samoa.
 Beverlee Ann was born August 10, 1928 in Provo, Utah. She married Henry “Hank” George Mathis II on May 8, 1947. Beverlee and Hank had two sons, Wesley, a retired school teacher who now operates a swimming pool cover business and resides with his wife in Draper, Utah, and Randy who is moving to Salt Lake to live with his father. Hank and Beverlee lived most of their adult lives in the Salt Lake area. Following retirement from his work at the post office and her work as a secretary, they traveled extensively visiting family while maintaining a residence in Yarnell, Arizona, and more recently in Ivins, Utah. Beverlee passed away on August 5, 1998 at age 69 after several years of poor health, Hank recently underwent heart bypass surgery and is doing well.
 Nilene was born June 7, 1935 in Lehi. She married Raymond Anderson September 3, 1955. Raymond’s work included considerable travel and the family lived in Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil as well as in the United States. They had three children, Leslie Lynne, Terry Evelyn and Allison Rey. Terry and Allison reside in Tucson, Arizona. Leslie has recently moved to Hawaii. Nilene and Raymond divorced in 1976. She married Joseph Ryan in 1980, and they lived in Kansas City, Missouri fourteen years. Joe died in 1991. For a short time, Nilene lived in Ivins, Utah, but recently returned to Arizona to be nearer to children. Nilene has worked as a secretary and as a message therapist and is currently substitute teaching in Tucson. She has two grandchildren. Nilene Washburn died 23 July 2010, and is buried in the Provo City Cemetery.
 Nile always loved the Book of Mormon and was a prolific writer about the same. His publications include: An Approach to the Study of Book of Mormon Geography; An Army with Banners; Book of Mormon Guidebook; Book of Mormon Lands and Times; The Contents, Structure, and Authorship of the Book of Mormon; From Babel To Cumorah; I, Mormon; The Miracle of the Book of Mormon; and A Critical Study of Poetry from the Book of Mormon.