The Uintah Basin
In 1908, Sarah and her husband Charles Zimmerman loaded up all their belongings, five young children, a host of farm animals, and moved from southeast Colorado to the Uintah Basin in northern Utah.
The Uintah Basin ranges from about 4,500 to about 8,000 feet in elevation. It averages between 5 and 7 inches of annual precipitation. During the relatively short summers the sky’s are typically blue with hardly a cloud to be seen. Humidity levels are often in the single digits most any time of year. The natural landscape is relatively barren with more of a badlands or high mountain desert look but it is flanked on the north by the east west trending Uintah Mountain Range. Valley’s along the south trending drainage’s from the mountains aren’t necessarily green as we might imagine but today they are green because of dams, water tunnels, canals and irrigation water. There isn’t a huge variety of farm crops and an orchard is rare. The types of crops are limited for two reasons; the growing season is short and the desert soils are not that good for farming. Typical crops are hay and other grains grown for cattle or horse feed. Winters can be long. After snow arrives in the winter, an “air inversion effect” often takes place. The heavier cold air gets trapped in the basin with no way out and it can stay below freezing for weeks at a time. I have a feel for the area as JoAnn and I lived in Vernal from 1980 to 1985.
The cover image is from a historic barn located on the site where the Zimmerman’s built a log cabin just east of Roosevelt Utah a few years after arriving. The cabin sat on a bluff overlooking the city in the heart of the basin.
The pictures below was taken in the fall of 2016 when JoAnn and I were in the area researching the story of Charles, Sarah, and the family. The view below is looking north toward the Uintah Mountains from the Vernal area where the Zimmerman’s lived for a time when they first arrived.
Roosevelt (named for Teddy)
The Zimmerman’s moved onto land east or north of Roosevelt, then later lived in Vernal for about 2 1/2 years after arriving in the Uintah Basin in 1908. They subsequently moved onto their own homestead a few miles west of Roosevelt and finally moved into Roosevelt itself where Charles and Sarah lived for for most their remaining years. The homestead location below looking north is west of Roosevelt and a few miles north of the small town of Myton. It shows nearby irrigated valley’s today along with non irrigated lands and the Uintah Mountains in the distance. At the time they were here, it was probably mostly barren with some canal and ditch work going on.
After the family left the homestead, they moved onto undeveloped land owned by the city of Roosevelt. This land was later developed into the city park shown below. Charles, Sarah, and the family moved onto this site before later moving to a location where they built a log cabin just west of Roosevelt.
During the trip we had a chance to connect with Mrs. Joan Crozier, a direct descendant of Charles and Sarah. She and her husband Ferrell live in a newer home on the exact site where Charles and Sarah built the log cabin in Roosevelt Utah. The original cabin is now gone but there was an old barn to the right of the house with older tools and equipment and is likely something that Charles, Sarah, and the young ones built and used. A close up of the barn is the cover picture for the chapter.
Brigham Young sent out an exploration party in 1861 to see what the potential was for Mormon pioneer farmers in the Uintah basin. The party came back describing the area as; “entirely unsuitable for farming purposes…it was one vast ‘contiguity of waste’ and measurably valueless excepting for nomadic purposes, hunting grounds for the Indians and to hold the world together.”(Kendrick et al. 1989)
Its no wonder that beginning in the 1850’s native American’s from other parts of Utah started getting pushed into the Uintah Basin. They found themselves in the way and their lifestyle incompatible with ours. In 1861, a federal Indian agent requested President Lincoln set aside much of the Uintah Basin as a reservation. Although Lincoln was completely preoccupied with the war he wrote the words on an envelope that established a very large reservation in the Uintah Basin. Over time more and more native Americans were pushed onto the reservation, most notably in 1879 when White River and Uncompahgre Ute’s from Western Colorado were forcibly moved there. By 1881 all the Utes in Colorado had been pushed out. Two books discussing the sad story include; “The Utes must go! American expansion and the removal of a people” by Peter R. Decker (Decker, 2004) and “The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico” by Virginia McConnell Simmons (Simmons, 2001)..
Ute Indians in Canon City
Sarah and the Felch family grew up around Ute Indians in the Canon City area. This band of Utes were relocated about the same time as the White River and Uncompahgre bands who were pushed into the Uintah Basin. These Utes were pushed onto a reservation in southwest Colorado near the town of Cortez.
Loretta Bailey has written an informative “now and then” blog about the local Utes and how they were viewed by white settlers when they arrived in the Canon City area.
The images below are from a Ute memorial site located just east of Roosevelt Utah celebrating the Ute culture. Some of those Utes later fought and died as soldiers for our nation in various wars, something commemerated at the site.
The Dawes Act
The Ute Indians arrived onto what early explorers considered waste land with no suitable purpose. Although not surprising when we look into our treatment of native American’s, this was far from end of the tragedies the Utes would incur.
The General Allotment Act of 1887 (commonly known as the Dawes Act) was set up to break up reservations that were owned collectively and redistribute the land to individual native American tribal members living within the reservation. They would be “awarded” parcels up to 160 acres in size. The concept behind the law was to assimilate native or indigenous Americans into our culture.
Two issues emerged in the Uintah Basin with this concept.
By the early 1900’s a significant percentage of the native American population had died off after their arrival on the reservation. If the Dawes Act provided the maximum amount of land to this population (160 acres per owner), the amount of land that would be redistributed to the Utes would be a small fraction of the original reservation boundaries.
The Dawes Act was designed to create parcels that could sustain an American style family farm back east but was totally insufficient to sustain a family in a high mountain desert. Even if irrigation water was made available in the Uintah Basin, the short growing season and poor desert soils would not support a family on the same amount of acreage.
The bottom line is that the individual parcels of arid land were far too small to sustain a family and additionally they had little interest in mimicking the way we live.
On the other hand, if irrigation water was developed, there was a lot of land that potentially could be sold off to white settlers and Presidential Proclamation 581 was the tool that made it happen.
Proclamation Number 581
The redistribution process of reservation lands (as envisioned in the Dawes Act) moved forward in somewhat awkward steps. The Utes fought back but couldn’t stop the breakup and “land grab” of the reservation lands. In 1905 presidential proclamation number 581 was signed in law by Teddy Roosevelt. It set up the specific steps to redistribute a large amount of the original reservation lands.
A relatively small amount of land was retained as reservation land with an equally small amount of land transferred to individual Utes. The remaining majority of reservation lands were then set aside for various purposes including over a million acres of land as National Forest and another million acres of reservation land was made available to white settlers. The Mormon Church strongly encouraged young farmers to consider moving into the basin.
In order to implement proclamation 581, a lottery process was developed and a land rush ensued. What little land the Ute Indians had been previously been forced to live on would be largely gone by the end of 1905.
The arid climate, short growing seasons, and poorly developed soils limited the potential for development but with the mountains to the north and a lot of creeks and streams flowing south, irrigation could be developed. Multiple irrigation companies developed reservoirs, canals, and ditches to enable the transition to a farming area. When JoAnn and I arrived in the basin water projects were still continuing at full steam.
Worthwhile source of information are the books; “Beyond the Wasatch: the history of irrigation in the Uinta Basin and Upper Provo River Area of Utah” (Kendrick, et al, 1989) and “The Reluctant Suzerainty: the Uintah and Ouray reservation” (O’Neil, 1971).
Sarah and Charles were not a part of the lottery nor the initial land rush. The land that Charles and Sarah Zimmerman acquired northeast of Myton Utah took place in 1911 or 1912. Its likely they purchased property from an owner who had acquired it through the lottery process. The land came with the assumption that water was going to be delivered or it was “irrigable” as listed in the ad on the left. Water developers had relatively good intentions for white settlers, they were just not fully aware of how difficult and time consuming the process would be. Water did not arrive in a timely manner for the Zimmerman’s to start a farm.
Ned and Sarapeta
Charles and Sarah had four children at the time of Marshall’s death in early 1902. Anna was six going on seven, John was almost five, Rosezella had just turned three, and Irene was a little over a year old. In the summer of 1903 Ned was born followed by Sarapeta in April of 1905 Ned died when he was six months old and Sarapeta died when she was a year and a half old. Francis was the last child born in Colorado in the fall of 1906.
The Zimmerman family had a professional photograph taken above. Francis appears to be less than a year old which would place the picture sometime in early 1907 when they would have been living in the Ordway area of southeast Colorado.
From left to right are: Rosezella (Rose), Charles, Emma (at the top), Irene Amanda (at the bottom), Sarah Ellen, Francis Moroni (baby), Anna Magdalene, and John Colburn. Missing are Ned and Sarapeta who passed away as infants.
Emma was not one of Charles and Sarah’s offspring. She was an orphan born in 1888 in Chicago then transferred to a Denver orphanage in 1892. She was later adopted by Charles and Sarah in 1897 about the time little John was born. Like the flood of orphans coming west in those days, Emma probably joined the family and worked as a nanny or in another capacity. (Montierth 2017).
Their final child Charles Othniel was born a few years later in Utah.
Looking for Answers
Two young Mormon missionaries or elders arrived at the farm home of Charles and Sarah in the lower Arkansas Valley of Colorado in 1906. One of them was very ill. Possibly they stopped at the Zimmerman home because they heard of Sarah’s nursing skills and medical training.
Sarah was a Presbyterian. She openly expressed to the missionaries that she had no interest in their religion but at this point in her life she must have been seeking answers about life and death, particularly with the recent loss of her two young babies and a question and answer session took place over the next couple of days.
Within the next few weeks Sarah converted to Mormonism. Charles, a Lutheran, soon followed and they were both baptized in the Mormon faith in August 1906. Francis who was born in October of 1906 was named Francis Moroni Zimmerman in honor of the angel Moroni from the Book of Mormon.(Rasmussen 2018) (Zimmerman 1991)
When the Mormon leadership became aware of the opportunities to acquire land in the Uintah Basin (particularly in 1905) they encouraged young church members to pursue opportunities to acquire land and help establish Mormon communities within the basin and the newly formed state of Utah.
Its doubtful that Charles and Sarah would have ever heard about land opportunities in the Uintah Basin without such encouragement directed toward potential Mormon settlers. They probably would have remained in the lower Arkansas River valley the remainder of their lives where today there are many multi-generational families.
Much of their story that follows is told through the family history written by Francis Zimmerman and oral interviews with Rosezella Rasmussen later in her life.
The Wedding Vows
According the Francis, Sarah had questions for the missionaries about her wedding vows (Zimmerman, 1991).
One of the most questions pertaining to wedding vows rotate around the phrase “till death do us part”.
The official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint Website states: “Unlike marriages that last only “’til death do you part,” temple sealings ensure that death cannot separate loved ones… For marriage relationships to continue after death, those marriages must be sealed in the right place and with the right authority. The right place is the temple and the right authority is the priesthood of God”
Assuming discussions of life and death continued between Sarah and Mormon missionary, it’s logical that questions pertaining to the death of Ned, Sarapeta, Marshall, Amanda, Emerson, little Willie also came up.
The website continues discussing eternal family relationships; “the divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave…and for families to be united eternally… The sealing power also extends from parents to children, across all generations from the beginning of the world.”
Not One More
One thing for sure. Sarah was not going to lose another child. She was going to take every step possible to make sure of this.
Francis; “In the summer of 1907 I developed a disease called SUMMER COMPLAINT(this is a severe case of diarrhea). Inasmuch as Father and Mother had lost the two children who were born to them just before me, they were fearful of losing me also. Mother took me into the mountains near Colorado Springs. High in the Rocky Mountains I became well. (Zimmerman, 1991).
Rose; “My mother recalls having to take Francis into the mountains because he had very poor health and my mother had lost her last two babies. It just made her panic and so she had taken Irene and my brother Francis and the gone up into Canon City and they was there for the whole summer”. (Rasmussen, 1989)
Lets Not Have That
While Sarah was away for the summer, financial times were tough and her husband Charles took action to shore up family finances until the fall crops came in. This became known to Sarah when she returned with Francis that fall.
Rose; “Well, my father borrowed some money and he put up a real good stallion for collateral and my mother when she came home and found that he’d put up that stallion, Mother said; ‘well, I’m going to the bank’. Father then said; ‘well we could pay it off at this fall so let’s not have that’ and so she went to the bank with her coat on and with a [illegible, possibly a leather band] wrapped around her arm and she told that banker if he didn’t give her that note, that he’d get the licking of his life, and she unwrapped that [illegible] and I think he knew that she meant what she was talking about so he gave her [the note] and mother said”; ‘you can come and you can look at the cattle. You can look at anything and you can take it if you want some collateral but you’re not taking my stallion’ and she just figured that that was hers. She had raised it and Charlie didn’t have anything to do with it. The banker said something about putting Charlie in jail and she said” ‘go ahead.‘
My mother was a strong determined woman and when she made up her mind she was going to do something she did it…” (Rasmussen, 1989)
Surviving the First Winter
In the spring of 1908, the family loaded up everything they owned including horses, cattle, and other stock, loaded it up into one or more box cars and road the train with some transfers to Price Utah.
There was no train that went into the Uintah Basin so they unloaded everything probably into one or more wagons they brought with them and continued the journey from Price to Roosevelt Utah.
They moved onto a piece of property either just east or north of Roosevelt and attempted to pick up where they left off in Colorado.
They never owned their own farm and they did not pick up where they left off. They lost pretty much everything they brought along and were forced to make many adjustments to survive as is told by Rose below.
Without some strong gritty determination they would have given up and moved on.
Where Did they Live?
Its sketchy on exactly where the family lived when they first arrived. In the family history there is a reference to land just east of Roosevelt.
A separate search of general land office records shows that there was a 40 acre parcel located a few miles north of Roosevelt that Sarah received title to in 1924. The land was purchased from a Joe Emily Quitchapoo who initially acquired it most likely as an Indian Allotment on August 9, 1905. It is possible that Charles and Sarah moved onto this piece of land without full title when they arrived in 1908. They may have held onto some rights associated with the land and eventually obtained a title to the land in 1924.
Regardless, wherever they arrived to in the Roosevelt area, it initially did not work out and they were forced to move to the Vernal area where for a few years, they worked intensely to get back on their feet.
One in the Morning, Two at Night
Rose tells the story of their first year after they arrived in the Uintah basin and the question of how they were going to survive their first winter;
Rose; “We came to the Unitah Basin on the 28th of March in 1908. My father had a land grant from and he had taken up some land which proved to be just just nothing but sand and my parents made a real big mistake when they brought high-bred horses and cattle into into the Uintah Basin because they just about lost everything. Oh, yes, they couldn’t live because they was used to Silo feed. They was used to green and things and they just died.
My mother just wondered what she would do for fruit in that coming winter weather and she received a letter from an elder Mendenhall told her that if she could come she could have all the fruit that she could put up and I can remember her arguing with father and father said ‘No, you better not try to do that’ … As your mother went out he gave her a mule and old Kitty, a faithful horse, and she took my sister Magdalene with her and the youngest boy Francis and they they went out went to Springfield [about 130 miles, just south of Provo on the shortest route today].
Now, that’s a long ways when you travel by mule and a horse and a sheep wagon… they was out there and dried apples and peaches and bottled them and when they was time to go and she had all this and they was going up Nine Mile Canyon … and the Jack mule decided not to go … He just would not go and just shook his head and when you go and mother said, well, there’s only one other thing we can do. We’ve got to kneel down and pray. I’ll pray first and then you pray and she they knelt down and prayed and my mother’s could say the most beautiful prayers and then she said now you pray and my sister said I don’t have to there’s a man looking in. And he said anything wrong in there and my mother said we have a stubborn mule and he said ‘well, we’ll fix that’ and my mother [put on a brake to keep the wagon from rolling backwards] and the man put his rope through this particular place where the brake was and he wrapped it around the horn of the cow and he laid that across the mules back and mother said he said the most horrible swear words, and she said that mule just about pulled that wagon of the hill by itself.” (Rasmussen 1989)
Rose continued with the story of the man and his wife helping. They provided food and shelter during a severe rainstorm and then helped them get on their way home. Magdalene and Francis recalled having an apple, the first they had seen in two years. They also came away with a lot of additional dried apples. When they arrived home everyone, including Charles, cried.
Rose; “I was so grateful to see her and my mother knew just every bit of that fruit that was in those bottles. You could have two peaches in the morning and one at night. Or you could have one in the morning and two at night and that took care of the family”. (Rasmussen 1989)
The Baby Brother you Prayed For
The family spent the next two and a half years living in the Vernal area. Francis recalled returning to Vernal following a trip to Salt Lake City in the fall of 1910.
Francis; “The first thing I remember, of importance, after returning home is the birth of my little brother, Charles Othniel. He was born Feb. 20, 1911. I had prayed for a baby brother for so long that it seemed impossible now that he had arrived. There was always lots of babies around our home and when mother showed him to me, I did not realize that he was ours. Then mother said to me, ‘This is the little baby brother you have been praying for.’ I then became very excited. We enjoyed Charley as a little baby but it seemed to me such a long time before he got big enough for me to play with.”
Francis also recalled that his brother John and sister Magdalene went to an academy in Vernal in 1911.
Charles Othniel Marsh Zimmerman
Charles Othniel was named in honor of Charles Othniel Marsh, the great paleontologist. Marsh led a paleontology expedition from Yale College to the Uintah basin in 1870 and met with Brigham Young in 1873.
Sarah knew Professor Marsh personally. She met him on four occasions, three in Canon City, and one “Royal Visit” at the Yale Peabody Museum.
One of the more prominent peaks in the Uintah Mountains is Marsh Peak, named in his honor.
Two (or Three) in the Folding Bed
Francis; “At the age of five years, when we moved from Vernal, Utah to Lake Fork until I was about fourteen years old, we lived in two tents. A large tent about 15 feet wide and 30 feet long and a smaller tent about 9 feet by 12 feet. The two tents faced each other. A door was in each end of the tents that faced each other. Each tent was placed on a board frame about 3 feet high built around the base of the tent. This made the tents higher than they would have been. The small tent was used for a kitchen. It contained a large wood stove upon which the meals were prepared. There were cupboards built around the tent where supplies and utensils and dishes were kept. There were also built in tables or work benches used for those to work on who were preparing the meals.
All of the food was prepared in the kitchen or the small tent. The meals were all served in the big tent. As one went into the big tent, to the right was a folding bed. In front of the folding bed was a round table upon which the meals were served and where the family sat to eat. At night when it was time for bed the table had to be moved back far enough for the folding bed to come down for sleeping. In the middle of the tent was a large oak stove. The stove pipe went up through the middle top of the tent. The stove burned wood or coal. We used wood almost exclusively. The stove was used only in cold weather.
Circling the tent were various beds, cots etc. for sleeping. Drawers, or chests of various sizes were placed in between the beds. In the back was a window to provide for more light. By this big window was a large bed where mother and father slept. The children would sleep in the smaller beds around the tent. ‘Two or three could sleep in the folding bed. We lived in these tents for about eight or nine years.
Life as I remember it was pleasurable and interesting. It never seemed like any kind of a hardship. Now that I am grown and have had the experience of raising a family, I’m sure it must have seemed very difficult for mother and father and perhaps some of the older children.
Both tents were on the ground. The dirt floor would have been a problem with lots of dust etc. However in the big tent mother took cold water and a small amount of fresh cow manure and mixed them together to dampen the floor. This created a hard crust which would last a long time. It could be swept, all dust would disappear and we would lay rag rugs around the room. The process would have to be repeated about as often as we would normally scrub and clean our present day kitchen floors. Each time the crust of the floor would be a little thicker and harder. The rag rugs would be taken out and hung on the clothes line and also cleaned each time we would rework the floors. It would take about three hours for the floor to dry. The floor was so nice that it was amazing to many people who would come into our tent to visit and would see how nice mother had this hard dirt floor made. It seemed to me that it was a frequent topic of conversation.” (Zimmerman, 1991)
A Hay Rack
Francis; “It became apparent that the promised water was not going to come on the Lake Fork claim. Because it was time for the children to go to school, my parents with the children moved from Lake Fork to Roosevelt, Utah.
The big tent was left in tact and placed upon a large hay rack on the wagon. The small tent was disassembled and placed in the larger tent along with all of our earthly belongings. The total distance of 16 miles was made at a very slow pace. We arrived in Roosevelt about nine o’clock in the morning. Not too far from the school house our parents found a place to locate the tents. The place where we located was on a lot owned by the City of Roosevelt, Utah. This lot later became the City Park.
During the summer of 1913, my parents bought an acre of land just a mile west of Roosevelt. The acre of land was upon a bench about a hundred or perhaps two hundred feet high… The tents were moved once more from the downtown city lot up on the bench to our new home. This was a permanent home for as long as we lived in Roosevelt.” (Zimmerman 1991)
Francis; “In the early days while living in Vernal, Utah, he [father] was one of the freighters who hauled supplies into the Uintah Basin from Price, Utah.
Late Summer and early Fall I would go with my Father or my brother, John up into the Uintah Mountains to the saw mill for lumber. These trips were more of an outing than work. Each trip took three days and two nights. I always enjoyed camping out in the mountains.
During the Summer months I would spend a lot of time working on the farm with my Father. Planting the crops, irrigating the ground, mowing the hay, raking it into bunches, hauling it from the field into the barn yard hay stack, and harvesting potatoes, oats, corn, etc. There was always a lot of work connected with these activities and a lot of fun also.
During the Winter when we could no longer work the land, my Father would resume the lumber hauling for the sawmill to the town lumber company.” (Zimmerman 1991)
I Regained Consciousness
Francis; “One interesting experience I had while hauling hay from the field into the barnyard. My Father would pitch the hay from the field upon the hay rack. My job was to place the hay equally level on the rack and stomp it down solid. It should then ride safely from the field into the barnyard. One load of hay was completed and I drove the team toward the barnyard. As I approached the haystack, I pulled on the reins of the team to stop right in front of the haystack. The bunch of hay I was sitting on slid off the load of hay behind the horses. My pitchfork was beside me on the bunch of hay that slid off. It jabbed the horse on my right. I was directly behind the horse on the left. The horse on the right lunged forward pulling the horse I was behind, crushing me between the horse and the hay rack. The accident excited the team into a runaway condition and the team started off.
I fell to the ground unconscious and the wagon ran over me. It was lucky for me the wheels did not hit me. The team ran away with the load of hay back into the field. My Father was walking not far behind following me into the barnyard. He did not know what had happened. He only saw the runaway team. He found me passed out on the ground and took me over to a near by creek. He bathed my face in the cold water with an attempt to bring me to my senses. When he failed, he left me there and started for the team and wagon. He got them and placed me on the hay rack and started for home which was about a mile and a half away. It was while we were on our way home that I regained consciousness.
I was hurting in so many places I could not tell where it was the worst. At home my Mother quickly took over. She called the Elders first and then the Doctor. He said I had some internal injuries and would be a week or ten days in getting well…in two or three days I was as good as new.
Caught his Foot in the Cogs
Francis’s older brother John wasn’t as lucky as Francis was. He was working around a long gasoline powered machine that was apparently separating cream. This may have been one of many unique pieces of industrial farm equipment being developed in those days and often modified by the farmers themselves.
Rose; “John caught his foot in the cogs of this gasoline engine. My father went in and he was trying to see what was stopping it and John said ‘why can’t you see me’. My father then had to carry him into the house, his foot was all bleeding, and it was mixed with leather and stalking and everything.
My mother had to send many miles to a doctor and the doctor had to get on a train and come and my father had to pick him up and by the time he got here he had to amputate his leg because gangrene set in… I can remember the awful look on my mother’s face when the doctor said it had to be amputated.
This was a real trial to my mother and I’m sure it was to my father too. But my father was quiet consuming man and my mother had a lot of emotions… And it seemed that all our lives we’re either saving money to get an artificial limb for my brother, or sending it back to have it lengthened.” (Rasmussen, 1989)
No doubt that Sarah grew up hearing the stories from both of her parents about amputations in the Civil War. She probably saw veterans growing up in Canon City or traveling back east with missing arms and legs. Worst of all, she saw her brother Emerson die from a terrible farming accident. She probably wondered if John would even survive.
Five Mothers and Five Babies
Francis: “Father secured a permit to cut trees and would bring a few big logs each time he came from the mountains. We stacked these on our place for the purpose of building a log house. In time we acquired logs and other materials and some money and started to build the House. It was a large house with five large rooms downstairs and a large attic up stairs which we used for storage. We could have had more bedrooms upstairs but we never did.
For many years in this house my Mother ran a maternity home. It was the family home also. Many little babies were born in this home. One summer during this period we had five mothers and five babies in the home at one time.
We also had a large cellar adjacent to the house where we kept our canned foods, and bottles fruits, potatoes, carrots, and many other items of food for our winter supply. We kept anything that needed to be kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer in this large celler. Our large home was built except for the roof, plastering on the inside and putting in the floor.” (Zimmerman, 1991)
The Nurse, the Undertaker, and the Dentist
Francis; My mother, Sarah Ellen Felch Zimmerman, and wife of Charles, was a trained nurse. Mother was known where ever she lived for her nursing ability. Especially was this true in the Uintah Basin when Doctors and Hospitals were scarce. She did much in those early days in the Uintah Basin caring for the sick. She was very handy in laying out the dead. She was also the town dentist.
Her family remembers one busy day when she delivered two babies, laid out a dead man, and arrived home to find a man that had ridden five miles on horseback to to have teeth pulled by her. In the town of Roosevelt, she was the nurse, the undertaker, and the dentist. During the Flu epidemic in 1918 and 1919, she nursed many people back to health. Mother developed a remedy of her own mustard plasters which she made and placed on the back and chest of the patient. She never lost one patient with the flu.
Rose; “I always remember this one girl that had been real jealous of her husband because he had danced too many times with this one woman … and when she got home she took a dose of strychnine and died… she had vomited so much it run out of her chin and I thought oh, I wonder how mother is ever going to fix her. And … of course she did and you never know anything about it. I remember a lady said we have one of the best undertaker’s in the whole country.” (Rasmussen, 1989)
Two – Fifty Pound Bags
Rose: “My mother, Sarah Ellen Felch was born in Denver where the Union Pacific Depot now stands…her father because he was a doctor and a dentist and they they went many places and a lot of the things that they found went to the Peabody Museum in Connecticut…my mother went …to a military school… I know she was able to go because of the affiliation of her father and her mother both being in the Civil War… she got her degree as a nurse in this Academy… she came home and she helped her father in his doctors work and until he decided to retire…my mother could break any horse on the place and she had her horses. So trained that when she put the reigns down they stopped when she picked them up they started. She was a very strong woman physically because my mother could hold hold two fifty pound bags of flour, one in each hand … there was nothing she couldn’t do. I remember she could run and jump over any fence on the place…she was a mother of eight children, six she raised, two have died in infancy…
Mother was a very strong-willed person and she gently went out and got her way. My father was a peaceful man, and he wanted peace, and he just give in to my mother. (Rasmussen 1989)
Sarah is well documented at attending the Colorado Collegiate Military Academy in Canon City. It was not a nursing school she would have received a far superior education than would have been available to students in any standard school at the time. There is no record of Sarah obtaining training in Boston but, it is possible that additional training in nursing was obtained when she traveled to New England in 1889. In a letter Marshall wrote to Professor Marsh in 1991 he mentioned that Sarah was going to school in Kansas which very well could have been a reference to additional training in nursing.
Sarah refers to her father as a doctor and dentist which probably applied to the knowledge Marshall acquired working as a hospital steward in the Civil War which would have put him in charge of the pharmacy. Like many a good pharmacist, Marshall could probably diagnose most common illnesses and any skills he had would have been shared with Sarah.
Not One Lazy Hair
Rose; “I can see rows and rows and rows and rows of pies, great big crocks of donuts and many loaves of bread, our table was beautifully decorated on one end of it was a great big turkey and on the other end was a suckling pig with a great big red apple in its mouth… I can see all these elders and I can remember when she gave him a piece of mincemeat pie. My mother was used to using rum and oh things that made it real nice and I can remember seeing the elders wink hit each other and they ate it and they really relished it.
I can remember even standing on a stool before we got our cream separator that I used to have to watch Croc that they’d strain the milk in and to have the cream raised and my mother who had not one little lazy hair in her head. She had 45 butter customers and she delivered all these to her customers. She’d wash the buggy and horses and my mother would lay down the reins and they’d stayed till she come back and she pick them up and they start going.
I can remember one time. She just went to the store with me and she bought me a cute little red velvet hat and a coat to match and I remember how jealous I was when I outgrew that and my sister Irene stepped into it.(Rasmussen 1989)
Charles and Sarah were living in the Vernal area in early 1908 not long after they arrived in the Uintah Basin. During their time in Vernal, the paleontologist Earl Douglass discovered eight the tailbones of a Brontosaurus. This was the beginning of one of the greatest dinosaur quarries of all time and why we have a Dinosaur National Monument today. During the years of 1909 to 1923, Douglass and his team supplied over 700,000 tons of Jurassic dinosaur bones to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh helping establish it as one of the greatest natural history museums in the world. All of this was something that would have been a regular topic of conversation in the community in Vernal and something Vernal is well known for today.
Horses in America
Earl Douglass was not the first paleontologist in the Uintah Basin. In 1870, the first of the famous Yale Paleontology expeditions under the leadership of Professor O.C. Marsh came south from Fort Bridger Wyoming through the Uintah Basin where they found an abundance of mammal and other fossils.
Marsh’s fossil collection grew very large to say the least following three additional western expeditions in the early 1870’s and this enabled many paleontology discoveries including his ability to assemble the story of horse evolution over a fifty million period in North America. His research did not go unnoticed.
Brigham Young invited Professor Marsh to a meeting in Salt Lake City in the fall of 1873. Brigham Young was concerned because critics challenged the assertion in the Book of Mormon that horses existed at the time of the Mormon biblical stories here in America. The critics pointed out that the horses in America were not present when explorers first arrived and that they were introduced by the Spaniards. Marsh and substantial additional research since has demonstrated that there was a rich diversity of large “mega fauna” living in North America fairly recently and horses only recently went extinct until sometime in the 8,000 to 12,000 year time period.
The biblical stories in the book of Mormon take place from about 4,000 years ago to around 1,500 years ago so the but at the time Marsh was conducting his research, such a precise date of horse extinction did not exist. During the meeting between Young and Marsh, Marsh could simply confirm that horses had been here for a very long time up to a few thousand years ago.
Brigham Young embraced paleontology and the universities in Utah today have strong programs. Sarah may have felt a sense of hiding the story but with Brigham Young’s interest she could proudly tell her fathers paleontology story and that she was a part of that. It also meant that she should hold onto those letters Professor Marsh had mailed to her father.
When Sarah and Charles found themselves living in a tent in the Uintah Basin there must have been some incentive to hang on to the letters many Marsh had mailed to her father in the 1880’s. It would also not have been possible not to be aware of the work of Earl Douglass. With the interest of the church, Sarah probably felt comfortable telling the stories of her father’s work digging up dinosaurs. When the tent blew open one night during a severe windstorm, Sarah went out searching and recovered all she could find and then held onto them for many more years.
After the bulk of excavation work had been completed at the great dinosaur quarry, Earl Douglass moved to Salt Lake City and went to work at the University of Utah in the 1920’s. Sarah’s daughter Irene Amanda was grown and living in Salt Lake City on October 5, 1925 and Sarah arranged for a meeting with Earl Douglass that took place at Irene’s house. A year later Sarah met Douglass at his laboratory on the college campus on July 21, 1926. Earl Douglass took notes of both of these meetings. (Douglass, Earl 1926)
The meetings were timely, Sarah would pass away in 1928 and Earl Douglass passed away in 1931.
The recognition of the importance of her fathers work is most remarkable considering everything she dealt with in her life in the Uintah Basin.
Ned Weld Felch
Ned Weld Felch was the second child of Marshall and Amanda. He was born in February of 1869 at the ranch. Unlike his older sister Sarah, we don’t know very much about him. When the military academy was opened, Marshall and Amanda worked to get Sarah in. Maybe Ned didn’t show the promise she did. There was nothing to indicate that he was anything other than a thoughtful young man who helped Marshall with his work, collected fossils, and seemed ready to lend a helpful hand.
Ned stayed with Marshall doing what he could until that fateful day in 1902. Marshall left Ned a farewell note at the time of his suicide. Maybe the note expressed some of Marshall’s love for Ned, possibly something he had not adequately done in life.
A few years after Marshall died, Ned sold the ranch and moved on. In 1910 he was reported in census data to be in Rawhide Nevada, a mining boom town with reportedly more shenanigans than ore, a major fire, and a flood. The town went bust not long after Ned was there. In 1920 Ned was reported in census data to be in Arbuckle in the great farming valley in central California.
Sometime in the early 1920’s Ned contracted tuberculosis; “By the beginning of the 19th century, tuberculosis, or “consumption,” had killed one in seven of all people that had ever lived. Victims suffered from hacking, bloody coughs, debilitating pain in their lungs, and fatigue.(“TB in America: 1895-1954 | American Experience | PBS” 2015.)
Ned probably could no longer survive without help and naturally headed for Utah to be with his sister Sarah and her family. They received him and Francis helped bathe and care for him at the end of his life. Before he passed away in 1924 he gave title to Francis Zimmerman to a piece of property in Fallon Nevada. Ned also gave Francis his ford automobile which the family sold and used the money to buy a piano and a washing machine. The piano seems a little bit odd but it fits in perfectly with the family where music was a part of family life, so in that sense it was something that made their cabin more fun than ever. (Zimmerman, 1991)
Ned died on January 28, 1924 and is buried in the Roosevelt Cemetery. His sister Sarah passed away four years later.
They All Had Been Helped
Like her mother Amanda, Sarah worked her whole life and like her mother she passed away not long after reaching the age at the age of 60. She died on Sunday, July 29, 1928, in the L.D.S. Hospital at Salt Lake City, one day after her birthday.
One of the largest funerals ever held in Roosevelt was that of Mrs. Sarah F. Zimmerman held at the Roosevelt hall. The hall was crowded with many friends and relatives.
Eight little grandchildren and two of their friends dressed in white walked before the casket when it was brought into the hall. They each carried a beautiful spray of flowers. The program included musical selections by a quartet and a soloist. The invocation highlighted the great service which Mrs. Zimmerman had rendered in the community.
Many of her friends gave testimony of her life of service and how they all had been helped by her in some way. The Bishop spoke of her value to the community both in helping sickness and in council to all who came to her for help.
Sarah was survived by her husband Charles who would live another 18 years. In attendance was Charles, their five children and their spouses, and eight grandchildren. (paraphrased from the Roosevelt Standard)
The picture to the right, courtesy of John Rasmussen, was taken in June of 1928 about one month before Sarah passed away. On the left is Sarah’s daughter Magdalene whom Sarah had a wonderful life long relationship with.
Decker, Peter R. 2004. “The Utes Must Go!”: American Expansion and the Removal of a People. Golden, Colo: Fulcrum Pub.
Kendrick, Gregory D, Craig W. Fuller, Robert W. Righter, and Charles S. Peterson. 1989. Beyond the Wasatch: The History of Irrigation in the Uinta Basin and Upper Provo River Area of Utah. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O.
Montierth, Phyllis. 2017. “Emma Gertrude Naylor Damron Black.” Personal records. Memories – Family Search. familysearch.org.
O’Neil, Floyd A. 1971. The Reluctant Suzerainty: The Uintah and Ouray Reservation. Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah State Historical Society.
Oral History about Sarah Ellen Zimmerman. 1989. Sarah Ellen Felch Zimmerman. familysearch.org.
Simmon, Virgina McConnell. 2001. The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. University Press of Colorado.
Zimmerman, Ruby Christensen. 1991. Life Story of F.M. and Ruby Zimmerman. F.M. Zimmerman.
Introduction to the Epilogue
The epilogue will wrap up the story of Marshall, Amanda, and Sarah and bring out the significant and unexpected aspects of their lives. Most importantly it will show how their lives had a more far reaching impact than any of them understood during their lives.
At the beginning, the story was initiated simply to gain a better understanding of how Marshall completed remarkable (and historically early) excavation work of Jurassic dinosaur skeletons. Along the way we discovered a more interesting and unusual man in ways that were not expected.
Amanda Felch was well known well before Marshall. The story of her remarkable legacy as a battlefield nurse in the Civil War had been published in 1895, but we knew little about life before or after the war. In the voyage to uncover her story we’ll learn how her life impacted the lives of women in an unexpected way.
Sarah carries on the legacy of her parents in ways that are remarkable and significant. We would not be able to fully tell their story if it were not for her.
Like any good story, this one is built on a series of questions. The answers did not always lead to the conclusions we expected (nor necessarily wanted) but it is those inconsistencies that make the story rich.