A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Maggie Belle Tolman Porter
[p.181] Maggie Tolman’s family moved to Star Valley, Wyoming, in 1889, leaving Rush Valley, Utah,1 probably to escape the wrath of anti-polygamist federal marshals. In the party of travellers was “Aunt Jane,” who “drove her own wagon.” Border settlements in Wyoming and Idaho offered some security during the federal marshals’ hunt for “cohabs,” the term for those living in “unlawful cohabitation.” As Dredge notes, Franklin, Idaho—the oldest town in the state—”became a regular community of women living under assumed names” (135).
Even though Star Valley was an isolated area, it offered Maggie her first opportunity to attend a public school at the age of thirteen. Four years later Maggie was teaching second grade in Wyoming and getting married. Her teaching career lasted for twelve years, “sandwiching in” the occasional baby.
Maggie’s autobiography, covering the 1890s-1910s, focuses on motherhood: her grandmother’s, her mother’s, and her own. As evident from her reminiscences, the menfolk were often absent, leaving the women to get the family through the hard times. Just how hard those times could be is illustrated dramatically in Maggie’s words. By the time spring 1890 rolled around, the family in Star Valley had lost everything it owned except a [p.182] cow and two horses. The diphtheria epidemic of 1891 took a harsher toll: twenty of 150 residents died, including her favorite brother, Orson.
These memoirs, directed to her own children, include themes of hardship, faith, and perseverance.
We went through Logan, Cache Valley, on our way to Star Valley [Wyoming], through Logan Canyon and on to Bear Lake Valley, Idaho. In going through the narrow canyon, it was quite dangerous with a big load and a four-horse team to pass the long lines of wagons hauling lumber. Frank [her brother, seven years older] drove the big wagon. He was a young man of about twenty years at the time. Father drove the carriage we rode in, and Aunt Jane drove her wagon.
That morning after camping in the canyon, Orson [her brother, four years older] went on driving the cattle ahead. Frank started with the big load ahead of our buggy. Just ahead, a few hundred feet was a very narrow dugway.2 Frank met four or five loaded teams hauling lumber. He had the upper side which was his right. The men demanded that he pull onto the lower side next to the river. He refused. They had words. He left his outfit standing on the upper side and ran back to camp for his rifle. Mother would not let him take the rifle. While they were arguing about it, the teams of lumber drove by. They had moved Frank’s outfit down on the lower side and had left it, standing with the bank crumbling away under the hind wheels. When he spoke to the horses, they moved the wagon, and he said the whole bank gave away, but it seemed the wagon hung in mid-air long enough for him to jump to safety. Our load of furniture was upside-down in Logan River. We lost most everything we owned in the way of furniture. The trusty, old New World cookstove, the only stove my [p.183] mother had ever owned, was smashed and lay visible in the river with our crockery for some ten years.
We simply had nothing left but a Singer Sewing machine which was not paid for. It had been taken to pieces and packed in a box for the trip. The box broke and Frank would stoop down and dive under the clear water and pick up each piece and pass it to the bank where Mother dried the pieces carefully, not daring to hope that all parts would be found. Not even a bobbin was missing. She dried and oiled the parts so carefully, they never rusted one particle.
During the second night [of camping], a big grizzly bear came sniffing about the camp and walked right over our bed.
[Winter 1889 in Star Valley was harsh.]
Nineteen head [of cattle] were dead. They kept my mother awake all night bawling. In three days, there were none alive. Thirty-two head of dead cattle and no way to get rid of their carcasses.
Still, things looked brighter. It was early March, and a chinook set in and melted the snow on the south side of the hills. When we awoke on the morning of the tenth of March, we could not see out the small window. Forty inches of fresh snow had fallen.
The men dug their way to the stable where Old Rose was kept. They found she had a little calf, and so they had to kill it. I cried. The mother was so weak she could not stand, but that undying faith of my mother told us she would live and give us milk. And she did.
About noon on the tenth of that March, we saw a dark object wallowing through the snow up at the top of the field. It came very slowly, staggering and lunging along. John was watching, “It’s old Mud!” he exclaimed. “As sure as the world.” And so it was—one of the horses of our only team left. A fine sorrel mare she was, ready to foal any time. She was so weak she was trembling. The next morning when John went out, she had a lovely little sorrel colt. He said he’d have to knock the colt in the head, and how he hated to do it. But the mother was so weak, the only possible chance for her life was to never let the colt nurse her. And there is where I come in. I set up the biggest howl you ever heard. I promised to give the colt all the milk that would be my share. In the end, John gave me the colt.
We emptied the straw ticks, and we slept cold and the slats just [p.184] about broke our backs. Also we fed them all the straw from under the carpet. In two or three weeks, we were able to buy a little grain to feed them, as the whole valley turned out and broke the road through the canyon. Father, seventy-five years old at that time, worked his way out of the valley. He was so anxious to get to greener pastures in Idaho. He didn’t return until some four or five years later. Then we had things much better.
I never attended any school until I was thirteen years old. The girls my age had a lot of fun at my expense, but when school began I was ahead of all the girls my age. I was in the highest class in the little country school. I cannot remember when I began to read. My sister3 gave me a private, well balanced, and most instructive program of learning. I taught my first school before I was seventeen years old. I held a second grade certificate in the State of Wyoming at that time. I was married that winter.
I had been called as a Sunday School Missionary from the Star Valley Stake along with Harvey Allred, a married man with a family of four. I was married when I got down to Salt lake. I went on to Provo to take the Sunday School course and your father, O. M., went to Porterville and worked bailing hay. After twenty-four hours of married life, I did not see him again for four months. I had quite a time convincing the students and especially one of the teachers that I was married.
When I returned to Star Valley, I taught summer school at Auburn, Wyoming. I raised my second-grade to a first-class certificate that August and held it thus for several years. All told, I taught school (sandwiching in a baby occasionally) for about twelve years.
2. A dugway would be literally a portion of road that had been hand-dug. This is a common term in Utah with its mountainous landscape. Early dugways were thrilling parts of a journey as the road went along a steep dangerous bank.