Wednesday, April 14, 2010

MEMOIRS: Chapter 18--"My red-haired cousin Stewart and Death Holler Trail were made for each other."


Chapter eighteen

I always thought my red-haired cousin Stewart was the most dashing figure on a horse of any of the Kings. He was taller than any of the brothers and with that shock of flaming red hair, white skin, and green eyes, and his hat perched rakishly on one side he was poetry in motion. I loved the story Mother told about him after the upper road over Hell's Backbone (photo) was done and they started carrying the mail in a two ton truck over the route from Escalante to Boulder. He bet the driver that he could ride a horse over the Death Holler Trail, estimated to be about twelve miles over one of the most rugged trails in the west, and beat the mail to town! Yes, they said Stewart won, reaching Escalante before the mail.
Well, Stewart knew that trail. He had probably ridden it any number of times after his father took over the Salt Gulch ranch in 1925, when Stewart was just six years old. I don't know what their living arrangements were in the winter but it was likely his mother, Aunt Hazel moved to Escalante so the kids could go to school there and his father rode back and forth over the trail to the ranch to take of things. Stewart might have ridden with his father, my Uncle Glen, on weekends.
I know one year the family rented the ranger station in Boulder and lived there so the kids could attend the Boulder school, but the family was back living in Escalante after that year. I never did know of them to live on the Salt Gulch ranch even in the summer. Just Uncle Glen and probably his boys rode back and forth from Escalante, either by horseback or in a car as soon as they got one.

When the family moved to Oregon Stewart and Park stayed with Grandma and Grandpa King for a while, until they could decide what they wanted to do.
I know Stewart played Santa Claus at Christmas at my parents' behest. I recognized his tall slim figure. I thought this Santa was just too skinny to be the real deal. I did not tell my parents I knew it was Stewart in order not to spoil their fun. I was only three or four but I no longer believed in Santa, being a worldly wise child.
I recall Stewart coming to Mother in great excitement to tell her he was going to get married. He had been going with Neta Alvey who was the sister of one of the hired men Grandpa had often employed, Cecil. Stewart and Cecil were great buddies, Cecil being a little older, but they were dashing cowboys, so they had a lot in common. Mother thought Stewart wasn't settled enough to get married with the family still upset over his father's enforced departure under a cloud.
Since Uncle Glen had never done anything but ranching for years everyone was worried that he would not adjust well to whatever job he could find in Oregon. He had been his own boss a long time. Working for someone else might not set well with a King. At that time I thought that a man named King never acted any other way than royalty nor have I had any reason to change my mind since.
Stewart said he might have to get married, so Mother said no more. He said that he and Neta and Cecil planned to go to Oregon where his family was, and they would try to find work there so he could be closer to them.
Stewart and Neta went out and got married. I thought it was a good match for Stewart. I thought Neta was very pretty and she came from a family of wonderful cooks, gardners, and housekeepers. She did not seem to have much of a temper in case Stewart had a temper to match his flaming red hair. She would make anyone a good wife.
Cecil left his wife, Alice, behind. I was quite fascinated with Alice as she read a great deal. In fact his sisters did not think she was as good a wife as Cecil ought to have because she did sit around and read too much, but I thought that was wonderful. She also liked to draw and paint pictures. Even more fascinating she wore English riding pants and high black riding boots. With her long blond hair, I thought she looked very fetching. I hoped I could persuade my dad to buy me some English riding pants and boots when I got old enough, but I doubted he would.
I just thanked God we didn't have to ride side saddle as they did in the old days and could wear pants to ride, even though as far as I could see Grandma King did not wear pants when she rode horses. She appeared to be wearing a dress, but there may have been some pants under voluminous costume I did not see. Perhaps the problem of what to wear kept her off horses.
Cecil had been one of a long parade of hired men that Daddy had hired on the Salt Gulch ranch in the summers. Alice even went over there and stayed in the ranch house one winter when we moved to Boulder a couple of months, but Cecil preferred to work for Grandpa King rather than Daddy.
Everybody, including Cecil, resented the fact that Grandpa King agreed to sell the Salt Gulch ranch to Daddy for $4,000 which was thought to be a steal even in those days. Cecil of course had a poor working Dad who did not own any ranches for him to buy. His dad was the road man, a very hard worker, but not a King. When Glen heard about his brother Clyde getting such a good deal, he was angry and asked his dad why he didn't sell him the ranch. Grandpa said, “You never asked.” Actually it was Mother who dictated her terms about buying the ranch before she would even move to Salt Gulch.
I wondered if Glen did not ask because Aunt Hazel disliked the ranching life. Well, really, I thought she did not like Uncle Glen's drinking. He probably got a bottle he could ill afford with eight children when he came to town, and then his boys, Stewart and Park, got old enough to get drunk with the boys, too. Aunt Hazel, a religious woman, must have thought she was going a little mad with such wild boys as the Kings to contend with. John King was a respected teetotaler but thought strange because he passed up church.
The neighbor girl in Salt Gulch, who was living in Escalante working for her board and room and going to school, asked Glen for a ride home and he had been drinking. He had probably provided rides before to a family without a car, but this time the ride proved to be a bad idea. They were seen by another rancher passing by where they were stopped on the road, who was so upset over what he saw, he called the girl's mother.
The CCC boys were romancing local girls at the time. It was rumored the girl liked one of those and she did indeed marry one later on when she came of age, as the CCC boys were to spend some time working on three roads into Boulder, which are today some of the most spectacular highways in the West known for their scenic beauty.

Well, Stewart, Neta, and Cecil had been gone just a few months when Neta came back to town. She did not say a lot to anyone else but told relatives she was upset by Stewart's drinking and had decided to come home to stay with her parents to have her baby. Alice, Cecil's wife, had gone up to Oregon to join Cecil. Cecil never did drink like the Kings who were known for drinking very fast and passing out. They just got really drunk. Such behavior would have upset any new bride not used to it. Arthur Alvey, Neta's father, did not drink it all.
In due course she went to the hospital and had a son she named John after his Grandfather King. Neta planned to go back as soon as he was a little older to join her husband. I don't know where Park King, Stuart's younger brother, was at the time. I think he might have joined the Merchant Marines I am not sure. I know he did that before he went into the navy to fight the war.
Then came terrible news. Stewart was dead! We could not believe it! Finally after a number of months, and Cecil coming back to tell the story himself, we were able to put together what happened. Cecil and Stewart were living in a town where they had work. I don't think Alice was with them. I think she was staying near Uncle Glen's family. Cecil and Stewart got to drinking after work and Stewart got a whole lot drunker than Cecil did by drinking so fast. Cecil tried to get him to go with him to find something to eat. Stewart would not go but lay down on the bed where Cecil thought he would probably pass out.
When he got back to the motel room it was in flames! Stewart smoked of course. Cecil said he must have passed out with a lighted cigarette in his hands and set the bed on fire. He did not wake up to save himself. Cecil thrust open the door and said he dragged him out, but it was too late. He may have lived a short time, but died of smoke inhalation and his burns.
Just like that, Stewart's life had been snuffed out in the most terrible way. At least the Kings could live with Max's death because riding in a rodeo in those days was always a risk, especially when the grounds were not entirely clear of rocks.
Stewart's death seemed clearly caused just from drinking too much alcohol combined with smoking cigarettes and setting himself on fire. The flame haired cowboy set a fire that could not be doused before his life was snuffed out!
It took months for the Kings to get over his death. I am sure his mother's heart nearly broke just like Grandma King's did when she lost Max, her youngest, her brightest hope. Max had vowed he was going to change his life so he would not have to quit college.
Neta's heart was broken, too, and Johnny King would never know his dad. Well, she did find a calmer husband a few years later and had another child. I think she was happy in this marriage, but Johnny was always kind of lost, a wild boy living up to his red headed father's reputation always. Driving through town a hundred miles an hour when he got married. That sort of thing, with the town cop calling everyone including us in Boulder to keep off the road, Johnny King was coming through! Johnny did not live to be an old man, but he had a little too much of his mother's calm in him to die from drinking, even though he did drink. That was a given.
The story of Stewart King and his wild ride over Death Holler in a race with the mail truck passed into legend. I rode a poem about it. I have read the story in other histories written about the Death Holler Trail. Most cowboys did not race across Death Holler Trail! But Stewart King did and that is why I called my poem “My cousin Stewart and Death Holler Trail were made for each other.”

Header graphic by Connie. Grandpa King always said Boulder was God's Country, but Stuart left us to go to God's Country. First photo Hell's Backbone bridge, Death Canyon in the distance. Stuart and Neta in a photo marked 1940, taken before Neta came home to have Johnny. A picture of Aunt Hazel and her daughters, Louise on the left (mislabeled) Ravoe (Ray's twin) and Roma, (right) the oldest daughter, taken not too many years after Stewart died. A photo in later years of Ray when he was the last brother alive, and sisters Louise, Ravoe, and Roma.


Nelishia said...

I read this with such enthusiasm today. I have much catching up to do with your memoirs. My family is much to alive and becoming more and more involved every day to write my memoirs the way they need to be told. But you have definitely been an intregal part of my desire to tell it all. I love reading your history. And seeing your pictures. Always an enjoyable experience. said...

Great entry. I enjoyed reading it and remembering Stewart. I am e-mailing you a picture of the three girls and one of Steward and Neta!

Connie said...

Again, I was enthralled from start to finish,but hon-you wrote a peom ya didn't ride it ...

Connie said...

now look at me I surely meant poem Ha ha -dang typos,LOL

Connie said...

The comment thingy is missing in your last entry the one after Chapter 18.....

Yes, when it comes to peoples addictions,no matter what the excessive may be, they do not look well on any sort of interference.
Makes them mad and worse for it....

Have Myelin? said...

The comment thing is missing on the entry about alcoholism in your family.

It has had quite an impact on mine as well and I will be talking about it later but not right now.

Lots to catch up on. I agree with your point about getting conversation going among bloggers. You do a good job with that now that I've thought about it.


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