Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chapter 1

Author’s note: The first portion of this narration is strictly hear-say. I was there but can’t remember a thing about it.
            It all started in a small log cabin one block east of the school in Woodruff, Rich County, Utah. On 28 May 1920, a son was born to Luella May Eastman Bryson and David Hyrum Bryson, a sort of booby prize to replace the two sons lost during the influenza epidemic of 1919. The package was delivered and cared for by Sister Cornea, the local midwife who was the deliverer for all nine of the older brothers and sisters, as well as everyone else born in the south end of the county for 20 years either side. It wasn’t that Dad needed a substitute for his basketball team—he had never heard of the game—it just happened that way.

Vern's Birth Certificate
            The fist know event of the yet uneventful life occurred as #2 brother, Merlon, who had been out celebrating his graduation from the local school, stuck his head in the bedroom door and said, “Name him Vern.” The "Elrick" was tacked on by an aging maternal grandmother who lived with the family. It was not recorded whether father David attended the affair or not, but probably not. He was a foreman on the huge Deseret Livestock Ranch and it was spring and the cows had to be put on the summer range, and the grain had to be planted and the hay had to be irrigated and it is just probably that another son was the least of his worries.

            The brothers began with Erlon (“Dick”), 18, six feet tall, good looking, black curly hair, already a good horseman and cowboy. Merlon (“Cotton”) was number two. He ran more to other things. He was the first and only one to graduate from school because he was not large enough to whip the teacher, which was a criteria for quitting school. After putting a tag on little brother, he was off to become camp cook for a notorious old outlaw-turned-sheep herder names Moses Critchley, and never returned home again except for visits.

            Lorrell (“Doc”) was the third brother—big, powerful, growing out of his boots even then. A hare-lip distinguished Doc. Otis (“Joe”) was fourth. Short and stocky, with a distinguished pug nose with no bone in the tip that branded him as Dave Bryson’s boy. Then came three girls, Etta, Angie, and Luella, to spoil and pamper the new baby between school and other chores. Then, of course, Max and Keith didn’t live there anymore.

            Woodruff was rough country, situated in southern Rich County at the convergence of the Woodruff Creek and Bear River. A few small farms were situated along the creek and the river, but mostly it existed as a hub for a series of large ranches scattered about the valley between the Wasatch Mountains and the Red Desert. It was above 6000 feet altitude, cold and windy in the winter, and swampy and mosquito-ridden in the spring and summer. Nothing much could be raised except sheep and cattle and the hay and grain to feed them and the horses it required to provide the energy to fight the environment. Most men had stopped carrying guns at their hips, but many men could still use them and papa David was one of the best. Certainly the best in this part of the Country. Men worked from daylight to dark doing what needed to be done. In winter they hauled hay to the stock from the many hay stacks dotting the Valley floor. Then they spent all summer putting the new crop back in the stacks only to haul it out next winter. In spring, the stock had to be taken to the summer ranges high up in the mountains, and on the way, the sheep had to stop long enough to be sheared and lambed in the lower foothills.

1921 brought many changes to the lives of the Bryson family. Father David, after 20 years’ service with the Deseret Livestock Ranch, had been given a lease on several sections of the irrigated hay and grain producing fields. After observing the inefficiency of the big ranch operation, he became convinced he could operate part of the big ranch at a saving to the company and at a profit to the family. So, in the spring of 1921, Bryson and Sons was created with a sole asset of a few carefully chosen horses and confidence in themselves. They took over the operation of the Blue Grass, the Selbratis and the North Fields. The contract briefly called for the company to provide the land, the water and the horsepower and the Bryson’s to provide the manpower, for which they were paid one half the value of the crops they produced.

            The only buildings on the place were an old log bunk house, where the former haying crews slept in the summer, a long log barn with a willow roof, waterproofed with straw, and a distant pump house. The pump house was a log covering for a surface well, hand dug about fourteen feet on a side and down well below the water level, which at that point was only about four feet below ground level. There was a hand pump for small boys and sisters, and a big, old, on cylinder stationary gasoline engine which provided power for pumping water for the stock—when the men could get it running.

The cabin where Vern was born in Woodruff, Rich, Utah.
           The first year, a new house was built around the other farm labors. It really was quite a modern home for that time and place. It had a real concrete foundation made with concrete hauled from Evanston, Wyoming, fifteen miles distance by horse-drawn wagons. The house was about twenty feet wide and forty feet long. It was built of native logs hauled from the mountain on the ranch with a sawed shingle roof. There were two rooms, each 20 x 20 feet. One was the kitchen, living room, and the boy’s bedroom during winter. The other room was reserved for the girls and the parent’s bedroom. This also included small boys. The loges were even clinched with real plaster instead of adobe, mud, or cow dung, as was commonly used. There were two doors and one window in the kitchen and two windows in the bedroom. One door led to the front where all good things came in. The other led to a path to the two holer and other long, long path to that pump house. It’s only heat was a new wood or coal burning kitchen stove with a water reservoir and warming oven. In the winter, it was fired with coal hauled up from Alnig, about 12 miles distance and in the summer with wood hauled from the mountains—which small boys were expected to learn to cut very soon. In the winter the boys slept in two corners of the kitchen, but in summer, the bunks were moved to the old bunk house so the haying crews could be fed in the kitchen.

            The leased land held by Bryson and Sons was generally called the Blue Grass. It lay in a large horseshoe shape around a long rocky ridge which protruded into the valley from the desert to the south. The Blue Grass meadows lay to the east of the ridge and were about two miles long and a half to a mile across. The north fields lay in the big valley bottom where the Salbrates and the Blue Grass creeks came together and extended northward toward Woodruff, seven miles away. From East to West, the north field and the lower Salbralis meadows must have been three miles across and extended to the north fence which was barely visible from the house. The Salbrates meadows completed the horseshoe up the west side of the rocky ridge. The house was located on the north east lip of the ridge overlooking the Blue Grass fields in the distance. Perhaps three quarters of mile was a shallow alkali lake too badly affected for even the cattle to drink.

            Most of the land was marshy. However, there were several hundred acres of the higher ground that had been plowed and was available for growing hay. One large strip out back of the barn had been seeded for alfalfa. Some of the better ground on the upper edges of the meadow was still infested with greasewood and sagebrush.

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