Autobiography of Alonzo Cecil Fitzwater
Contributor: syohchooch Created: 3 years ago Updated: 3 years ago
The Mormon missionaries were in Liberty, West Virginia during the early nineteen hundreds. They stayed at Grandfather Buckalew’s home as he was about the only one around there who would accept them. They made his home their headquarters. They were instrumental in converting my parents, William Henry and Lucretia Buckalew Fitzwater to the gospel. Grandfather Jonathan and Alice Buckalew and their family were also baptized. Grandfather made a trip to Idaho and Utah in about 1908 to look the territory over before deciding to move his family out West. He sold his home and all his belongings and put his family on the train heading for Utah. My father and mother and their six children were in the group leaving for the West. I was six years old at that time, having been born 20 February 1902 in Liberty, Putnam County, West Virginia.
We first stopped at the train station in Colton, Utah where we were met by Church authorities. We stayed at Colton several days. Eventually, the Mormon Elders got teams and wagons for us and informed us that the Uintah Basin was open for colonizers and settlers. We headed out over the Indian Canyon pass, traveling approximately four days and covering fifty miles. We stopped at a little settlement called Theodore, which was later named Duchesne. There were about ten families there at that time, with more people coming in all the time to settle and build homes.
We first stayed in a little one-room log cabin. Father bought a tent which he boarded up. He put a big potbellied stove in it and this is where we slept. We cooked and ate in the log cabin. We lived there about one year. Then we moved to a frame house over by the Duchesne River where we lived for a time while father was having a house built for us. He bought some land from Al Murdock. The brush and squaw berries, currant and bullberry bushes had to be cleared from the land before the house could be started. Father went up to the Petty Sawmill on the Yellowstone River and got some lumber. The foundation was made of big logs laid on the ground and the house was framed up from there. It had three rooms and a kitchen downstairs and an attic with room for two beds. When we moved into this house, it seemed like a castle.
Father obtained work in Al Murdock’s store, keeping books and records for him. He worked at this job three or four years. Murdocks were the first family to settle in Duchesne. Mr. Murdock’s daughter worked at the post office. When she quit, dad got the job. A little post office building was built next to Murdock’s store. Dad was Postmaster in Duchesne for twenty-nine years. We were more fortunate than most families in that area as we had money coming in from his government salary.
We always had a garden, a cow, pigs and chickens. Father was a great one to put things away in fifty gallon barrels—pickled corn, sauerkraut, salt pork, salt pickles and salted fish. After the fish were set up, they were smoked in the smokehouse. In the fall we picked the wild currants, gooseberries, bullberries, and chokecherries and made delicious jams and jellies. In the spring we picked wild asparagus from the river banks and pulled dandelion greens. The greens tasted so good after the long winter months. We also had rhubarb plants.
Father bought some more property from Uncle Joe Lewis which had two big crabapple trees on it and some black currant bushes. Everyone around came to get apples and currants to make jelly.
We had long hard winters with temperatures twenty below zero. The rivers would freeze over. The water would back up and flood the main streets. We kids would put on our skates and skate to school and back. In fact, in the winter months we skated from morning ‘till night. We’d have skating parties—build big bonfires around the edge of the pond. We’d take ladders and use them for sleds. We’d go up to the point of West Bench and come sliding down. Our mothers would make us sandwiches and lunches and we’d go up there and stay all day.
The roads would get snow-blocked in the winter and supplies couldn’t get through. People would all have to share what food they had. Mother would always share flour, sugar, coffee and salt with neighbors. Most families had their own meat as there was plenty of game available—elk, deer, ducks, geese and rabbits. Everyone had a 22 or a rifle. Sometimes it would take ten days to make a round-trip over the mountains to Helper to get supplies. Men would take their teams and sleighs over the snow, sometimes fifteen feet deep over the pass. The elevation was 10, 000 feet up there. The men would use as many as six head of horses on one sleigh. There was no way to remove snow in those days; they would just have to go over the top of it.
In the spring, the heavy snow would melt and flood the town. The men would haul trees and rocks and put them on the river banks to hold back the water. Men, women and children would work day and night to try to keep back the flood waters. The women would make sandwiches and hot drinks for the men to keep them going.
Big families in those days seemed to be the rule rather than the exception. My father and mother had eleven children, four boys and seven girls. One little boy, George Albert, died when he was but two weeks old. I had five sisters before I ever had a brother. My sisters fought my battles for me, especially my sister Leva. She was always looking out for her little brother. Our family consisted of the following children: Gladys, Leva, Alonzo Cecil, Nora, Verda, George Albert, Bessie, Sarah, Georgia, Wm. Homer, Jack and Doris.
One of the neighbors was the Abplanalp family. Mr. Abplanalp was one of the freighters who brought our supplies to us. They lived in a log cabin with a lean-to. They had an attic which could be reached by climbing a ladder on the outside. This family had fourteen children. Their boy, Bill, was always beating me up. One day the table was turned and I got the best of him. From then on, we were the best of friends and we grew up and joined the army together.
During the summer months, kids went barefoot the whole time. We wore bib overalls. We’d play baseball and then head for the river. By the time we hit the banks, our overalls were shed and we’d dive in. We enjoyed a lot of sports. I was pitcher for the town baseball team by the time I was fifteen. We ran a lot of foot races. We always looked forward to the 4th and 24th of July so the Fitzwater kids could run races and win a quarter. We’d ride horses and fish the streams. We brought home so many fish mother told us to stop bringing anymore.
One day when I got home from school, I found a little wild pinto pony tied to the fence outside our house. His mane and tail dragged the ground. I asked my mother whose pony it was and she said “I guess it’s yours.” Chief Red Cap of the Ute Tribe had brought him up and tied him to the fence. Dad used to do all Red Cap’s legal work for him and they got to be real good friends. A week later, Chief Red Cap brought us a load of hay to feed the pony. Bill Abplanalp and I broke the pony and trained it. He got to be the fastest pony in Duchesne; outran all the kid ponies.
Ray Odekirk was the first boy in Duchesne to own a bicycle. We kids would follow him all over town and would trade our pocket knives, marbles or anything we had just for a ride on his bike.
When I was seven or eight years old, the outlaws would come through Duchesne and stop at the saloon for drinks. When they were in town the mothers gathered up their families and kept the children in the house. These outlaws headed for their hideout—Robbers’ Roost in Bookcliff country, down on the Green River.
Perry Grant and I got to be real good buddies. I used to go up to his ranch and stay with him in the summer. We’d ride all over the hills together, chasing coyotes and shooting rabbits with our 22s. We’d herd sheep and take the cows to pasture. There were swinging bridges over the river for people to cross over on. Perry’s brother, Reilson, was chopping drift wood loose from the swinging bridge one day when he slipped and fell in the swirling waters and drowned. His big black dog swam out to him, but couldn’t save him. Reilson was swept downstream and his body wasn’t found until the next spring.
Ralph Murdock and I were also good friends. I used to spend a lot of time with him up at the Murdock’s Bar Ranch. One day his dad sent us after the cows in the pasture up north of Duchesne, over the river. The only way we could get to the pasture was over the swinging bridge. We were late getting back and when we arrived at the swinging bridge, mother and all the townspeople were there waiting for us. The water was high and nearly touching the bridge. Mother had feared for our safety and had everyone out looking for us.
As we were growing up, I had my chores to do. Father assigned me a number of rows to weed in the vegetable garden. I’d get my pals to help me with this task. I also had to keep the wood box full. Since wood burning stoves were our only source of heat, wood was a most important necessity. Men hauled wood from the mountains in wagons or sleighs after which it had to be chopped by hand. I spent many hours every day chopping wood. I milked the cow and fed the pigs and chickens; all in the day’s routine.
Indians from the Ute Tribe would come into town. They would stop by our house and, if we happened to be eating, they would come in, sit down and start to eat. When they finished their meal, they would get up and leave with only an “ugh.” I became good friends with an Indian by the name of Louis Apparatus. He owned some horses and one special race horse. He got me to race this horse for him and we won many races. The Indians took part in all of our celebrations. They had their ball teams and squaw wrestlers, usually winning out over the white kids. The Indians would make camps over by the Strawberry River, under the cottonwood trees. They’d make fires, catch prairie dogs, roll them in mud and throw them in the fire. When they were roasted, they’d break the mud and skin off and would eat the clean meat. In the evenings they’d sit in a circle around the campfire, wrapped in their blankets. There would be a big cast iron pot on the fire, filled with tripe. They’d eat the tripe, chew on peyote herbs and chant. This religious intoxication ceremony from the peyote herbs lasted many hours. We kids liked to go over and watch them, but we stayed our distance and never got too close.
All our social activities were held down at the church house. We used this building for everything—basketball games, dances and meetings. All the carpenters in town worked together to build this church. One day some boys were playing in a barn and they built a fire next to it. The fire caught onto the haystack. A light wind was blowing, causing the fire to go from the haystack to the barn, burning a big pile of lumber as it went. Three pigs were burned, but we got the horses out. Then the fire caught on some wood piles back of the buildings on Main Street. It burned down the hotel, the old saloon and several small buildings. Everything on the south side of Main Street burned to the ground except the Post Office. Several years later a fire got started in one of the buildings on the north side of Main Street. This spread to other buildings along the street. Our only means of fighting fire was by a hand-operated pump. The hose of the pump caught in a door upstairs in one of the buildings and burned up. The only way we could fight the fire now was by buckets. A hand brigade was formed with a man dipping water in buckets from the ditch and passing it on up the line of men, but to no avail—the buildings all burned to the ground. Perry Grant’s father, Jim Grant, started a brickyard at the mouth of Indian Canyon. The floods had washed down clay, which was perfect material from which to make bricks. When the Main Street buildings were rebuilt, they were made of bricks.
I started hunting with my father when I was twelve years old. He was an expert marksman, having learned this skill when he was in the Spanish-American War. We’d go rabbit hunting, father killing the rabbits and me carrying them. We’d only kill those we needed—six or eight at a time. We never wasted any meat. On these hunting trips we’d kill sage hens. They’d fly up in big flocks, hundreds of them. We’d bring a few of them home too. There were also willow grouse, ducks and geese on the rivers, ponds and fields. I killed my first deer when I was fifteen. I started taking my brothers, Homer and Jack, with me when they were sixteen or seventeen years old. Their friend, Delwyn Goff, was like one of the family and always hunted with us. We still look forward to these annual deer hunts and reunions, which we have had for the past forty years. We’ve hunted the Currant Creek, Red Creek, Sandwash territory, west slope of the Duchesne River, Lake Canyon and Indian Canyon, in the Uintah Mountains. There were two different trips when we were snowed in but everyone in the party pitched in and helped, never leaving anyone stranded. We set up camp and stay until everyone gets his deer. We used to have two large tents, one to cook in and one as our sleeping quarters, but, in the last few years, we just use one tent to cook in. Most of us have campers on our trucks now which we sleep in.
Time for a story of how I got my first car. I worked two months for a neighbor, Mr. Bower, cleaning his yard and chicken coops, and in payment he gave me the body of an old Model T Ford. It was minus tires and many vital parts. Bill Abplanalp and I borrowed his father’s horse and pulled the old hulk over to my place. I worked in a garage after school every night at 25 cents for three or four hours work and earned enough money to buy the parts needed to get the car in shape. We found some old tires at the garbage dump and around the garage. Bill and I finally got the Model T in running order. She sputtered, but we rode down Main Street with all the kids in the neighborhood hanging on. This experience started me on the road to being a mechanic. I worked at Duchesne Motors for one dollar a day and became a pretty good mechanic.
Bill and I joined the U.S. Army 10 September 1920. While in the service, I was active in sports and excelled in boxing. Upon my return home, I married Fern Gordon and spent my early married life in Duchesne. During this time I was a member of the Voluntary Fire Department and was on the town baseball team. I spent two years playing professional baseball as a pitcher. I also belonged to the Lion’s Club. I later moved my family to Salt Lake City where I obtained employment with the local garages there as a mechanic.
In the year 1927, Sanford Stevens and I were working together in a garage in Salt Lake. Sanford had a commercial pilot’s license. There was an airplane which had been wrecked out at the airport. The two of us bought this plane, which was an old Eagle Rock, three-passenger, open cockpit, bi-plane, made in Colorado. We worked together for about three months to repair the plane. When we got it fixed up, Sanford flew it back to Colorado to get it inspected and re-licensed. He then taught me to fly, and after fifty hours flight time, I got my private pilot’s license. We barnstormed around the country. We’d go to rodeos and give people rides, two at a time, charging them two dollars apiece. Other times we’d charge them by weight. If a man weighed one hundred and fifty pounds, the ride would him $1.50. We gave everybody in Duchesne County a ride. We kept that old plane for two years; then traded it off for a Waco F which had a radio type engine and more horsepower. We barnstormed for a while with this plane; then Sanford took it up to Twin Falls, Idaho, where he ran a flight training school.
While in Salt Lake, I was also a swimming instructor at the Municipal Swimming Pool. We now had two children, Donna Nell, born 27 March 1925 and Jay Gordon, born 23 August 1931. In 1943, we moved to Tooele where I worked at my same trade. I was active in the Scout Program as a leader and took the boys on many camping trips.
My wife, Fern, died 13 August 1948 and was buried in Tooele, Utah.
In 1949 I met Louise C. Gillespie while attending MIA. We later were appointed dance directors in the Mutual. On 3 September we were married and I became father to her three children and accepted them as my own. Patricia was seventeen, Nedra thirteen, and Dan seven years old. We were happy together as a family and enjoyed outings and camping trips and had a congenial home life. I became active in the Elders Quorum and served as a counselor to Roger Nielson in the First Quorum of Elders in the Tooele First Ward.
I went to work at Tooele Army Depot August 1950 as a Combat Vehicle Mechanic Foreman. After twenty years in the field of government work, I retired from the depot on 31 July 1970.
Activities which give me the greatest pleasure are hunting, fishing, and horseback riding. I have always loved animals and have owned horses until this year. I also enjoy working the soil and have had gardens which produced enough vegetables for my family and all the neighbors. My hobby is photography. We enjoy many home movies, taken over the years. I love children and especially my grandchildren—nine direct descendant grandchildren and six grandchildren through marriage.
Many incidents and bits of history of the early days remain fresh in my memory. I have admiration for my ancestors as they were seekers after truth and were true pioneers in coming to Utah.