CHAPTER I - BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS
My life on this earth began on March 8, 1913 at the home of my Robinson Grandparents on Arizona Street in El Paso, Texas. The reason that this auspicious event happened in El Paso was that the Mormon people had left the Colonies in July 1912 in a great exodus due to the Mexican Revolution. Most of these people never returned. Grandfather Henry Eyring Bowman tells in his short autobiography how he arranged for the trains to take the people out, and for a place for them to stay temporarily at a lumberyard in El Paso. This is another long story, and I will not venture to write more about it. My parents were not living with the Robinsons, but mother went there to have her baby.
My life has not altered history nor garnered fame or fortune. It has not been the life of a great originator of ideas, but rather that of a follower--of one who carried out activities and profited from knowledge discovered by some brighter spirit, finding, perhaps, some originality in the way the knowledge was adapted and the activities were carried out. The redeeming factor, and the source of a degree of success and a very much greater portion of joy, was that I was born of "goodly parents" who taught me from infancy so well that I elected early in life to "follow" the teachings of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the limits of my ability.
I grew up with great pride in my Bowman and Robinson progenitors, especially my parents, Claudious Bowman and Jennie Stark Robinson. It became a great blessing in my life to become well acquainted with my four Grandparents, Grandfather Henry Eyring Bowman and Grand- mother Mary Gubler Bowman, and Samuel John Robinson and "Minnie" Amelia Stark Robinson. Grandmother Mary Gubler Bowman was especially helpful to me and influenced my life more than she knew. More about this later.
My early childhood was a very happy time. There are memories of the family having to do without many things that are bought with money during the years following our return to Colonia Dublan, Chihuahua, Mexico in 1917. However, my parents were resourceful, and also taught us the true values in life, so that the material things were never even missed.
The first home we lived in was the little brick home just across the street south of the big two story Romney home that now belongs to Jerald and Sharon Taylor. Wesley was born there. When we climbed into the attic, we found, among other things, a number of beautiful china figurines that were real works of art eight or ten inches high that had been hidden there by the previous tenants before leaving in the exodus. We didn't appreciate their value at the time. I do not re- member what happened to them. Next, we moved one block south across the street to a bigger brick home where we lived for about six years. Keith and Donn were born there.
Dad bought the "family home", a two story typical brick Mormon home, in late 1925 from Peter N. Skousen. It was formerly the A.D. Thurber home. Kathleen was born there before we had fully moved in, on January 14, 1926. The young boys of the family helped to chip the mud plaster off the walls and ceilings so that it could be replastered with "hard" plaster and be more livable. There was not enough money left over to buy much furniture, so Dad made a kitchen table and enough four legged stools for us to sit on. This home was on the same block as the flour mill that Dad managed, which made it easy for him to slip home and see how the boys were working.
My brothers and sisters and I were taught to work very early in life. The family cows were turned out to pasture on the "flat" east of Dublan. There were no fences in those days and the cows could graze freely and go as far as they wanted to go. It was my job to find the cows every afternoon, from the time I was about seven years old. I also had to milk them. There were a number of painful sessions with Dad and a stick at the woodpile when this duty was neglected. The new home had a barn and a stable on the lot where the cows had to be fed and milked. Dad also always planted a vegetable garden, lawns, and flowers, which kept the boys busy hoeing weeds, and even watering with a bucket during the dry seasons.
However, there was time after the work was done for play--to run down to the river, a mile or so distant, for a swim, even when the river was in flood. There were cornroasts, using corn picked from the neighboring fields, and many other adventures that boys can think up. One day the older boys persuaded Bernard Done, who was always the "goat," to pull a skunk out of a hollow tree. They told him that if he held it up by the tail it couldn't spray. It could.
Another thing we liked to do was to take the little flat cars that ran on the rails and that were used by railroad repair crews to go out and repair the rails. We would ride on them down to Corralitos, a few miles north of Dublan to where the U. S. soldiers camped while they were looking for Pancho Villa and his troops. Dad and the other men knew General Pershing well. He was a special friend of Bishop Call. They also knew Lieutenant Patton, who wore a pearl handled pistol, and who became a notorious general in World War II. A movie was made about him. We would search in the trash dumps they left and find Bayonets, canteens, belts, bullet shells and perhaps other items we liked to play with. Later, when we visited Columbus, New Mexico, we saw bullet holes left from Pancho Villa's raid on that town, which was why the U.S. army was looking for him. Dad Taylor had a contract to supply beef for the army. My dad remembered riding in with the negro drivers over the Pershing highway in the big White trucks that had solid rubber tires.
It was a red letter day when Santa Clause brought Bob and me a single-shot 22 rifle. It gave us many happy hours roaming the countryside hunting rabbits, ducks, quail, or doves. We had previously had BB guns, and I well remember the day that I learned never to point a gun at anyone. We had been playing with our BB guns, and I ordered my brother, Bob, to stop or I would shoot. I didn't think the gun had any BBs in it, and so I pointed it at him and shot. The BB hit him very close to his eye on his nose. I was lucky; how sad I would have been it had hit him in the eye and blinded him. I learned my lesson. A gun should always be handled like it is loaded.
Later, with Dad's help and supervision, we constructed a rolled dirt tennis court. It took constant upkeep, but we did it willingly, and it was as smooth and hard as cement when freshly rolled. We had many happy hours playing tennis. Dad would never let his boys beat him, unless some did later when they grew older.
During our last year at the J.S.A. two or three friends and I constructed a 16 ft. lumber rowboat under the direction of Moroni L. Abegg in the school "shop". This contributed to many happy hours at the lakes with all the kids and also with the scouts. It was really too heavy for us to handle. We had to lift it up on a hayrack wagon to take it to the lake, but we did it at every opportunity, at community parties and scout outings, etc. After I went away to college, they must have let it get leaky and abandoned it. I cannot remember what happened to it.
I was active in scouting during the periods the leaders kept it going. It was an on and off affair, and so I only got to Star Scout. I enjoyed many trips to the mountains, lakes and surrounding country. We had trips with Uncle. J" and Uncle Lee Robinson to hunt and also bring home wood. On one such an occasion we had over stayed our food supply. Uncle Lee whipped up some gravy with a little flour that was left and water to go with whatever else we could find. As we were eating it, Fahy, his small son remarked: "I 'on't like gravy what mans make."
Uncle Harvey took us to the mountains on horseback to go hunting. Dad had let me take his 22 high power deer rifle. Mennel left his shoes and pants too close to the fire and they burned up. They went to Meadow Valley where the Garcia boys were milking cows and making cheese to find some clothes. The boys there were about ready to kill each other fighting over the small supply of tobacco they had left. We were glad we had been taught differently. On our return trip, we were ahead of Uncle Harvey and so we stopped in Strawberry by the creek to have some lunch. We saw some fish in the stream and decided to shoot them. Orin Romney took his Uncle Wilford's 30-30, put the barrel an inch or two under the water, and fired. It split the barrel two inches and bent it. It had to be cut off to be used again. There are many ways to learn many things.
I also remember Uncle Harvey sending me to the mountains with Isidoro (Lola) RiDs to bring wood home. We each drove a wagon with one team of horses each. We camped at the Park on the road to Pacheco. I was quite young then and, of course, still small. It took us a day or so to fill the wagons with oak and juniper wood. The wagons were so well loaded that we had to hitch both teams on one wagon to pull it up the hills. We had a brake to go downhill. I well remember how delicious the beans, potatoes and chile, etc. were that Lola cooked. We had a great time.
March 8th, 1921 was a day long anticipated. It was when I was baptized by my father in the river at the head of Memmott's lane. It is engraved in my memory as a very important occasion.
During the summer of 1922, Dad and his brothers, Demar and Devereaux were planning a trip to Kanab to visit the other members of the family. I do not remember whether or not one of the brothers was planning to stay there. Tom Jones also needed to go to Utah and had asked permission to go along. They had a stripped down Model T Ford. They had built boxes on the back to hold food, tools, etc. and to sit on. They cover the back with quilts and canvas so they would not get full of dirt. I begged to go along, and Dad finally let me. My Uncles and Tom Jones gave me a bad time, kidding and pinching me to see how much I could take. But it was a great experience and we got along very well. There were very few paved roads at that time and, since the Ford had no roof or sides, we were always covered with a layer of dust. When we stopped in a town or city to buy food, the people would gather around to see us. We went by Bisbee and Globe, where the Superior Highway is now, but at that time the roads were so steep that the gas would not run from the tank to the motor. The Ford did not have a gas pump. The gas was fed by gravity. So, on the steep hills we had to turn around and back up. We also had to get off and push occasionally. On one of these occasions the Ford ran off the road on the edge of a deep canyon. Fortunately there was a tree there that stopped it, and we were able to get it back on the road.
The Model T Ford had three pedals, one for low gear, the brake, and the reverse gear. Going across the desert to Lee's Ferry the brake wore out, and Dad used the reverse pedal as a brake. He was going quite fast when there was a rather deep rut. He pushed on the reverse too hard, and broke the differential. We were stranded, but luckily a truck came along later and towed us to Lee's Ferry. We stayed at Lee's Ferry a few days while Uncle Devereaux went horseback to Jacob Lake where there was a telephone. He called Uncle Bernardo in Kanab and told him to bring the parts and provisions. He told him not to spare the expense because the people were millionaires. When Bernardo arrived and saw Devereaux, they had a ring-tailed fight. Watermelons were in season at Lee's Ferry, and we ate them until we almost busted. They hauled their water from the river in a barrel on a sled. Then it had to settle for a day or so, and the bottom foot or more of the barrel was soft mud. I got to drive the mule and take the sled to the river and fill it with water. We took a lot of watermelons along when we left. They had blocked the rear end of the Ford up when they took it apart to see what parts were needed. When we went back to fix it, there was a rattlesnake among the blocks. Uncle Dev. shot it with his little 25 caliber automatic.
When we got to Jacob Lake, Uncle Devereaux wanted to kill a deer, even though it was out of season. He had a 30-30 along. We all walked out together until we came on some deer. They passed the gun to one another and nobody could hit a deer. Finally Uncle Devereaux thought it was his turn and killed one. We took it to Kanab. Uncle Dev. had gotten us kids to climb on the train boxcars and jump off, and he would catch us. So every where we went that had a high spot I had to get up and jump off for him to catch me. They put me up on a light at the Roosevelt Dam and I jumped off. At the Grand Canyon, Uncle Devereaux climbed down below Bright Angel point and had me jump to him. I guess I am the only one who has jumped off Bright Angel point. When we finally arrived at Kanab, I was all dirty and looked like a ragamuffin, but they sent me over to Grandmother Bowman's to beg for a handout. My memory is dim about what happened in Kanab. On our return as we were crossing the river at the lower crossing, where the highway crosses now, it seemed to me that we had been away forever, and I said, "1 wonder if we'll know the old place."
My formal schooling during the years 1919 to 1925 was in the Dublan Elementary School. I was considered advanced enough to skip the third grade. My cousin, Ben Taylor, skipped two grades and so we were in the same class. School was held in the same building as the church services which at that time was the old "Relief Society Building," constructed of brick with a cupola for the town bell as was the custom in small Mormon towns. The bell rang out to prevent tardiness at school and Church meetings. Aunt Lucille Robinson Taylor gave me a good start in learning, and Sister Bertha Wilcken Pratt further inspired me in the seventh and eighth grades. Both were great teachers who dedicated their long, useful lives to training the young people in the community.
I remember going to Conference in the same building just mentioned when President Heber J. Grant attended. I remember his famous stories about learning to sing, play baseball, and write beautifully, etc., and his statement that if we persist in doing something it becomes easier to do, not that the nature of it has changed, but that our ability to do it improves.
I think that what got me into the reading habit and furthered my education more was that Aunt Lucille had quite a library down at Grandfather Robinson's home, including a set of the "Book of Knowledge", an encyclopedia that had many pictures and very interesting explanations. I went down there a lot and would read for hours at a time. I also remember going there when they were rebuilding the home that had been burned by the revolutionaries. There was a sack of white lime that I thought was flour, so I took a big mouthful of it. They had to rescue me from choking by washing my mouth out.
I began to have impressive experiences with prayer when I was a young boy. Dad had a gold watch. He didn't carry it to work, but left it on the dresser in their bedroom. It fascinated me, and I would take it to the farm occasionally. One afternoon we went swimming in the river at the Riquena (our farm). It began to sprinkle, preparing for a summer rain, so we grabbed our clothes and ran across the alfalfa patch to the barn. When I dressed, I noticed that I had lost the watch. After the rain stopped, I got the boys to help me find it. I knew that there would be serious consequences if I didn't return it to the dresser that night. We searched back and forth across the alfalfa patch for a long time, and the other boys decided it was hopeless and quit looking for it. I found a place where no one could see me and prayed to God to help me find the watch. I was sure that he would. Then I went to the alfalfa patch again. I found the watch the first time across.
I graduated from grade school on May 18, 1926. The certificate is signed by Ralph B. Keeler and Bertha W. Pratt.
My Father ordained me a Deacon on February 1, 1925, and a Teacher on December 23, 1928. I served in the presidencies of the Aaronic priesthood Quorums, and also as Patrol Leader in Scouting.
Dad was ordained a Seventy by B. H. Roberts, a man he very much admired, one of the Seven Presidents of the Seventies, a General Authority, who was instrumental in keeping him active in the Church at a critical time. (See Dad's story.) In 1928, he was set apart as Counselor to Ralph B. Keeler in the Stake Presidency. In 1933 he was made Stake President, with Moroni L. Abegg and Harold W. Pratt as counselors. When Harold W. Pratt was called to be President of the Mexican Mission, Wilford M. Farnsworth was set apart as Dad's counselor. They served until 1953, when Dad was called to be President of the Mexican Mission.
The years 1926 to 1930 were profitably spent at the Juarez Stake Academy. The Dublan students rode the dusty, smelly school bus over the rocky, bumpy, twisting road to Colonia Juarez, an hour in the morning and another at night. It was only eighteen miles, but the bus often had flat tires or broke down, and we had to walk in. Sometimes we did not get to school, or get home at night after staying for a dance. However these were happy hours of singing, clowning, visiting with friends, that fostered a closeness of friendship seldom known elsewhere. It helped keep alive the strong rivalry between “Turkey Buzzard Flat" and the "Posthole", as the towns were known in opposing camps.
Here are some typical entries in a small diary I began:
Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1930: Everybody is sleepy--got home last night at 3:00 A.M. Tonight I stayed up until 11:30 studying.
Thursday; Had trouble with the bus this morning and were late for school.
Saturday: Chopped wood all day. Got blisters.
Friday, Jan. 10: The bus stayed up for a dance, but I didn't go. We got home at 3:00 o'clock in the morning.
Saturday: Papa took sick last night and he stayed in bed all day. Sunday: Papa is getting worse, he vomits blood, etc.
Monday: Papa is very sick. Tonight six or seven men held a prayer circle for him.
Tuesday: Papa felt worse, so Mama, Papa, and Grandfather Robinson went to El Paso on the train to get medical aid.
My father had a bleeding ulcer. Doctor Stell could not do anything to stop the bleeding. Uncle Harvey had the train held up while they got him packed in ice on a cot, and they put him in the baggage car to go to El Paso. Mother and Grandpa Robinson went with him. Friends met the train and took him to a hospital. Members of the Priesthood had held a prayer circle and had given Dad a Priesthood blessing. They promised him that he would live until he could get proper medical attention. The doctors at the hospital said that Dad did not have enough blood left to keep him alive. It was a miracle. They gave him blood and other treatments. That Sunday the whole stake fasted and prayed for him. At about meeting time, Dad sat up in bed and said, "I am well, could I have something to eat?" My diary entry for Thursday was: Mamma wrote a letter and said papa was healed Sunday.
I was very small for my age and rather on the plump side physically. The men on the farm called me "El Gordito", and the kids nicknamed me "Fatso". I suffered uncomplainingly the rheumatic pains in my legs. It was embarrassing to always come in among the last runners in the annual "Cross-country Race". All the boys had to run it every year. However, I always finished the race. I played some tennis, but didn't compete in the other sports that brought popularity. Thus, it was a great satisfaction to win the Heber J Grant Oratorical Contest, speaking on: "Why Observe the Law of Tithing". I treasured the prize, a leather bound Book of Mormon, inscribed with an inspiring letter from President Heber J Grant. Since coming to Utah, I seem to have misplaced it. I played the Alto Saxophone in the Academy Band, and participated in the Operettas and other school activities.
I graduated from High School on May 23, 1930. The certificate is signed by Ralph B. Keeler, Superintendent, Claudious Bowman, Stake President, and Joseph C. Bentley. At our graduation, a picture was taken in which I am standing under the outstretched arms of my cousin Ben Taylor.
During our years of Elementary and High School education, my brothers and I, along with Uncle Harvey's boys worked some Saturdays and during the summer holidays on the farm, "La Riquena." At an early age, we drove the horse teams to freight the wheat to the mill about six miles distant. The wagons had wooden wheels with steel rims, and a long box bed covered with a tarp so the wheat would not leak out. Upon arrival at the mill, we had to wait our turn to unload the wagons with a shovel or skoop. At times, we also drove the "header-beds" which were large hay-racks on which the sides were formed with a framework of lumber and heavy chicken-wire, high on the left side and low on the right, to catch the wheat cut by the "header" pushed by four horses.
We also cultivated corn and beans with a horse-drawn cultivator. It had foot pedals to quickly adjust the position of the cultivator shoes so as not to cut down the plants if the horses got a little out of line. We also cut the alfalfa with horse-drawn mowers. The mowers had iron wheels and seat, and a tongue between the two horses. It had a cutter bar on the right side that was seven feet long or so. One day while cutting alfalfa, the cutter bar caught a skunk, leaving him minus his front legs. The next time around the little fellow was waiting with revenge in his heart. He didn't spray the horses as they passed first. He knew who was responsible. I felt the sting and great burning sensation of his unerring spray to my face and eyes. It was necessary to bury my hat and shirt, and I was "persona non grata" for a time, in spite of a number of baths.
Then came the first John Deere tractors with iron-spiked wheels. They speeded up the work. We cranked them by pulling on the fly-wheel on the left side of the motor. We spent countless days sitting on the steel seat or standing by it while plowing or disking, or planting.
During my teen years I had the privilege of going on deer hunts with Dad, Uncle Steve Farnsworth and his son, Joe, who lived in Garcia, and sometimes Uncle Harvey and others. I still remember the thrill it was to kill my first big buck. One time, I was hunting with Joe, and he let me shoot a deer that he pointed out to me. We dressed it and had the problem of putting it on my horse, Old Flax. I was trying to hold his head so he wouldn't kick while Joe lifted the deer up behind the saddle. But Flax kicked him in the groin, and he nearly passed out with the intense pain. After a long time, the pain became slightly less, and we got the deer on the horse and returned to camp. Joe then started for Garcia.
Once while hunting with Uncle Steve, he said. 'Ten years ago, I killed a deer just around this point and left my pocket knife there where I dressed it. I think I will go and pick it up. He went without hesitation to the place and picked up his knife. He knew the mountains as well as his own back yard.
My mother received her patriarchal blessing when she was fourteen years old. The patriarch told her she would be blessed by having the General Authorities of the Church in her home and at her table. This was literally fulfilled during the more than twenty years that Dad served as Stake President. All the visiting General Authorities stayed at our home, and we were privileged to become personally acquainted with them.
On one occasion, Elder John A. Widstoe was having breakfast with us. When mother asked if he would like some hot cakes, he asked what kind of syrup she had. She answered that she had just made it. (It was made by heating sugar until it was caramelized and then adding water.) Elder Widstoe then said that he would have some. While eating them, he said, “Oh, you can just taste the minerals in this syrup”. He thought it was made with cane molasses.
On another occasion when Elder George Albert Smith was with us, Dad asked the Elder that was with him (I believe it was his cousin) to offer the family prayer. At the end of his prayer the Elder said a blessing on the food. When we were again at the table, Elder George Albert Smith said, "Elder, you should not have done that, the blessing on the food should be a separate prayer."
Another of the Apostles we were privileged to become personally acquainted with was Elder Melvin J. Ballard. I remember how he would sing "I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go Dear Lord." I also remember him relating to the people in a conference in the Dublan Chapel his experience of seeing the Savior Jesus Christ in the Salt Lake Temple. He described how he felt and how he kissed his feet. Knowing that he was an honest man, and hearing the sincerity with which he told his experience, made a great impression on me as well as the whole congregation. I don't believe that there was a dry eye in the whole chapel. Our Lord and Savior truly lives and he has a resurrected, celestial, perfect body. This gives us the assurance that if we are worthy, we may be resurrected also and return to the celestial kingdom to live with our Father in Heaven and elder Brother Jesus Christ.
We had many enjoyable mountain trips. When I was very young, a number of families went to the mountains on a fishing trip together. Each family drove a wagon. When we got to the spring, we walked out on a long very high trestle over the canyon to a higher point on the mountain. I was amazed at the height and length of the trestle. The grade then came back around higher than the spring and around another mountain before turning south again. There were trestles over many canyons at that time, but they have now all been burned or taken down for the lumber. Grandfather Henry Eyring Bowman was a partner with Mr. Green, who was in charge of building the grade. He lost heavily when the revolutionaries stole his supplies and mules, including enough dynamite, hay and grain for the mules, etc, to have finished the job. Mr. Pearson, the man who built the giant lumber mill at his town, died on the Titanic. The lumber mill was finally abandoned, and the grade that was being constructed for a railroad to bring logs down to Pearson to be cut into lumber, was never finished.
I remember when Uncle "J" was President of the Mutual, and he took us all to Cave Valley for an outing. We took a group of boys and girls in a light wagon we had. The steel rim kept coming off one of the wheels. We kept it wet so the wood would swell and keep it on. It was a great trip, and great fun.
After I graduated from High School, my help was needed on the farm. During the winter and spring of 1930-1931, Taylor and Bowman planted an 8,000 tree orchard on the "flat" east of Dublan, We planted peach and apple trees. Bob and I worked together digging holes to plant the trees, irrigating, cultivating, and many other jobs. We always tried to do twice as much as the hired hands, finishing a row each while the others were only half through.
One time, when I was harrowing, pulling the harrow with a team of horses and riding on a board on top of the harrow, I looked down and a rattlesnake was riding on the board with me. Boy, did I jump off fast to pick up a rock and kill it. The trees grew marvelously at first, but died out slowly over a period of 10-15 years because of lack of water and Texas Root-rot. When we watered, the land had not been leveled and it was hard to control the water on parts of the orchard. The land was sandy, so when we opened the ditch to let the water out, it would wash quite a wide opening that was difficult to dam up. We used straw, but didn't have sense enough to use sand hags. When we replanted the orchard in 1960, we used siphon pipes. There are still about 3 or 4 of the original apple trees left in the orchard (1988).