Georgia Belle Nichols Johnson Tells About Her Life Up Until 1930
...My great great grandfather on my mother's side of the family was Benjamin Lester and his wife was Georgiann Mitchell. Although I have no information on them, I do have some information on their daughter May Retta Lester. She was born on November 7, 1881 in West Plains, Missouri and she died in 1969. Before the turn of the century, the Lester family moved from Kentucky (before May Retta was born) to Missouri and then to Texas because of land holdings. My grandmother Georgia Belle Nichols is, therefore, a third generation Texan. As a note, my grandmother's cousins' great grandchildren are now sixth generation Texans. My grandmother's father, Milford Lee Nichols was born in October 1877 in Seguin, Texas. He married May Retta Lester. Milford Lee's parents were Milford Riley Nichols and his wife Isabel Sowell. Isabel Sowell was one of the founders of Garza County, Texas and one of those who formed Post City, Texas. The museum in Post still has records of this account.
Benjamin Lester, a great great grandfather of mine, was a Confederate soldier. The unusual item of this was that his brother was a Union soldier because they were a border family. When Benjamin died the family moved to West Texas and homesteaded. Isabel, her older son Milford and wife May Retta and son, her oldest daughter and family, and six single children moved also. Isabel's husband Milford Riley Nichols was a merchant in San Antonio, Texas and also a veteran of the Confederate army but because his store ran on mostly credit, his customers tended not to pay their bills, causing him to go broke.
In 1903 Milford Lee and May Retta moved to Clifton, Arizona. In 1905, my grandmother, Georgia Belle Nichols was born in Texas. The reason she was born in Texas was because her mother, May Retta, wanted to be with her mother when she gave birth. Milford, May Retta, Georgia and the rest of the family soon moved to Coronado, Arizona where Milford was a deputy in a mining camp and a store owner.
In 1910 Milford received a job as a forest ranger at a station six miles from Metcalf. At that time there was nothing there and Milford road horseback to his job. To travel the family packed on burros and whenever there were injuries the family had to ride burros to receive help.
Through the Forest Service Milford was transferred to Nutrioso, Arizona, which was one hundred miles from the nearest railraod. While in Nutrioso, the family was sixteen miles from the closest store, which at that time, was an all-day trip. They lived there five years, from the years of six to eleven years of age for my grandmother. While the family lived in Nutrioso, many firsts were come upon, such as seeing the first car they had ever seen. It was owned by a man in business with Milford Lee. There was also only one time that a doctor was in town in the five years the family lived there. My grandmother, at a young age, and others did most of the doctoring. There was also a time when a man came and showed them a slide projector which he called a "magic lantern".
In 1916 the family moved to Groom Creek, Arizona because of the Forest Service job. In 1917 they moved on to Prescott because the children were to go to school. The Nichols lived in Prescott until 1921 when Milford was transferred to Flagstaff, Arizona. My great grandfather died in Flagstaff in 1923, a year after my grandmother graduated from Northern Arizona Normal School (now Northern Arizona University). My grandmother then transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico and married my grandfather, Jack G. Johnson, in 1930.... My mother, an only child, Lola Mae Johnson, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico on August 19, 1931.
Tempe, AZ. Sunday, April 15, 1984
I have decided to start a biography of the period before I began the journal I have kept since my retirement. I will divide this one into periods and in addition to a summary of the years included, I plan to record some of the incidents that stand out in my memory. I will just write now and then as I have the inclination, with no set schedule or goal.
I was born February 27, 1905, at my grandparents (Lester) farm near Grady, Van Zandt County, Texas. My mother, May Retta Lester, met and married my father, Milford Lee Nichols, at Weatherford Texas. The Nichols family, consisting of my Grandmother Isabel, her six unmarried children, Plemon, Rae, Iona, John, Claude and Henrietta moved to "west Texas" in 1901. My father and mother and my brother Leon, who was born at Weatherford, accompanied them, as did my mother's brother Lynn and his wife Ethel Nichols Lester, my father's sister. My sister, Lorena was born at the "Lake Ranch", as they name the homestead where they settled. I don't remember the name of the county it was in at that tie. It was included in Garza County when it was founded, and I only remember it as in Garza County. My grandmother was one of the founders of Garza County. Prior to my birth my father had gone to Arizona and was working in a mining company at Clifton. He sent for my mother and the children and they were all living there when my mother took the children and went to Van Zandt County, Texas, to be with her mother when I was born. The Lesters had moved there from Weatherford.
The first place I can remember was "our new house" in Coronado. My father had left his job in Clifton and went to my grandparents in Texas where my mother was. I think he stayed there about a year. When they went back to Arizona, the company put "papa" in charge of the company store at Coronado. They lived in at least one house before the one I remember. I think it was two. (I should say we lived in them.) I don't remember when any of my three little brothers were born, although I remember vivdly when "baby Plemon" died, which was before Herbert was born. I remember hiding under Mama's bed where she was lying and crying and hearing Papa come in and try to comfort her. I remember him saying "You wouldn't want to call him back and have to see him suffer more," and wondering if he could call him back if she wanted him to. Lester was the first of the three little brothers. Mama took him to Grandma Nichols when she thought he was dying and Granny "pulled him thru". He got so much better that Mama left him there and took we three older children to see her parents. On the way back she stopped for Lester, but was convinced she should leave him there a few months, as she feared he might lose what he had gained if she took him back. Grandma was going to bring him in the spring, but didn't make it until the next spring. In the meantime Plemon had been born and she was pregnant with Herbert. The other baby would have been an added burden, but the real reason they let grandma take him back was that they didn't have the heart to take him away from her. I don't remember any of this.
The things that I do remember at Coronado I'll just record as I think of them, without regard to the actual order of their happening. I remember when Leon was bitten by a Mexican's dog and Papa went in their house and pulled the dog out from under the bed and shot it. Papa was a deptuy sheriff and carried a gun; he also had a club under the counter at the store to take care of drunks without having to shoot them. I also remember Leon beating up a white kind that was visiting the school (Leon was the only white pupil) for calling him a half-breed. He had seen Papa at the store and heard him talking Spanish to the Mexicans; also Papa was small and dark. Mama said when he was "courting" her, her brothers called him (not to his face) Rettie's little black Dutchman. The only incident I recall just now involving sister was when we were taking a bath and I said I had to go to the outhouse. Since she was three years older than I, she got all the blame and whipping. We were so isolated I don't think anyone saw us, but the very idea of girls being "running around naked" was unheard of. Then I remember when I had chickenpox and I was playing out under the front steps when I saw the doctor coming and I ran in and got in bed before he got there. The two events that stand out most during these early years are Haley's Comet and my 5th birthday. We were taken out of bed, coats put over our gowns and walked out to the edge of the mtn. for a clear view of the comet. On my BD my cousin Val fell off a wall and broke his arm, so Aunt Ethel couldn't bring her children for my BD party, so we went to their house instead. They lived at Metcalf and we went down the incline in ore cars let down by cable on a railroad. We went the same way when we moved away later the same year to go to the Metcalf Ranger Station. Herbert was born in July after my 5th BD and I remember Mama carrying him in her arms in the ore car. Correction, I remember sister and I being sent to Aunt Laura's, but she left us with Lemmie and Glen and went to mama when we got back home we had a baby brother --Herbert Lee.
The ranger station was just six miles from Metcalf, but it was six miles by rail, not even a wagon road. I don't remember how we got there, but it had to be horseback. I know our household goods were packed in on burros. I presume they were hired by the Forest Service. We had two horses while we were at the ranger station, but I don't know whether we had them at Coronado or not. Leon had a burro, too, but I don't know when he got it. We moved in July I think. Herbert was born July 6, and I think he was just three weeks old when we moved. Aunt Ethel and Uncle Rae had moved to Shannon Hill, another mining camp, and Sister stayed with them to go to school and I think she just stayed on with them until we moved to Nutrioso. Leon went to Texas and stayed with Grandma Nichols for the school term, but came home when school was out. I played alone with imaginary companions and my beloved "Slow Poke", a stick horse, and do mean stick. There was a spring near the ranger station overhung by grapevines that I used to swing across the creek on. I remember one time when several couples from Metcalf rode out and were having a picnic at the spring. Aunt Iona, papa's sister, and her date were with them --the man she married. She worked in the post office at Metcalf I think. Must have, as I believe she stayed with Uncle Lynn and Aunt Ethel. (Still it seems like she was working in Clifton). Anyway, I was hiding in the bushes listening to their "silly" talk, when one of the men spied Slow Poke and picked him up and threw him on the fire. I let out an earthly scream, jumped out and grabbed him and ran "like a bat out of Hell," Leon's version when he told the story, which he did for years, although he wasn't even there at the time.
The most memorable event and the last one I was the center of at the ranger station was fall and injury. I am attaching the story about it that I submitted to the Reader's Digest in 1962. The rough draft and their rejection notice are in one of my scrap books. I didn't go back to the ranger station, but stayed with Aunt Ethel's family in Metcalf until my family picked me up to move to Nutrioso. Sister was still with Uncle Rae and Aunt Ethel, and I don't remember whether she came down to join us in Metcalf for the trip or they went up there to get her. I don't remember much about those weeks, except that I went to school for the first time. I think it was only a week or two before we left. I have a picture of "my first school." The people are very small, but I was just looking at it with a magnifying glass and can see myself clearly with it. I had hair, very short. (My head had been shaved when the doctor was working on the wounds.)
We travelled in a covered wagon to Nutrioso. I don't remember spending but two nights on the way, one with a homesteader that had "A million" boys. Actually about a half dozen I think. We spent another night at a ranger station, but I don't remember camping out any. Maybe the trip just took three days.
When we arrived in Nutrioso we settled temporarily in a house next to the school, while the ranger station was being completed. I don't how long we stayed there, but am sure we were in the ranger station Xmas. The house consisted of two large room, the kitchen-dining room, where the family also spent most of our time, and the front room-bedroom where our parents slept. Herbert either slept with them or on a pallet in their room, probably the latter. The other three of us climbed a ladder to an unfinished attic, where we had pallets. I remember that Winnie Martin spent the night with us and she told the other girls not to stay at the Nichols', that she had to sleep with Leon. I don't remember the results, whether they stood in line to come or avoided us. (Actually, I don't think anybody paid much attention to anything she said.)
The log ranger station was beautiful. It had two bedrooms, so our parents had a private room and the other room had a double bed for we girls and cots for the boy. The kitchen-dining room was large and comfortable, with a range that had a "reservoir" which could be filled with water and heated from the stove. There was a bench by the back door with a bucket and basin, so we could wash our hands inside the house and then the well was right outside the back door and it had a pump, so we didn't have to draw the water, but even small children could pump it, and it was such a short distance to carry it back to the kitchen. The large "living room" had a huge fireplace, where there was always a backlog smoldering. I don't think that the fire ever went out. I don't know how the ashes were handled. I didn't have to do that; and I didn't have to bring in wood except when I lost to Leon at poker and had to do his chores. We had a beautiful carpet where we could lie and gaze into the fire for hours. We also had a "Davenport", which made into a bed for company. I remember one time when Papa was away and a couple of young Forest Service men came by. Mama gave them their meals and they sat by the fire after supper. She finally excused herself and went on to bed. Next morning she found a note saying they had decided to ride on over to Alpine, and realized that she had't thought about fixing them a bed. She was so humiliated and penitent that it melted Papa's anger when he got home and found out about it. (Probably some loud-mouthed kid told him before he got off his horse.) I might add that we still had to plod through the snow to the "closet", and wipe snow off the seat before we sat down. Even with lye, etc. to disinfect, it still had to be far enough from the well that no seepage could reach it.
We made quite a stir at school --three new kids at once. One was a tall, gangling handsome boy with insolent mischief in every glance and movement, not quite eleven years old, but a man in his own eyes and those of the local kids, most of whom had never even been to Springerville. One was a pretty, vivacious little girl of nine, already a little flirt who had all the little boys waiting on her almost immediately. The third was a shy, awkward, skinny little girl of six with close cropped hair and a speech impediment. (Also a scar on the forehead which was still "angry" at that time.) Hazel Maxwell took me under her arm immediately and we were close friends as long as she lived. She was Sister's age, but always played with me. I went to school there through the fourth grade, skipped the 5th and both Sister and I were in the 6th and Leon in the 7th when we moved to Groom Creek.
I'll just record the events that stand out most in my memory during the time at Nutrioso without trying to get them in order. When Aunt Ethel ("Uncle Lynn's Aunt Ethel") died Grandma Nichols went out to Metcalf and took Henrietta and Lester with her. After the funeral she and Uncle Lynn got the children's things ready for her to take them home with her, but Papa persuaded them to all go to Nutrioso first. I don't know whether he went after them or they hired someone to take them. That is the first Xmas I really remember much about. It was super. There was the four of us and Lester and Uncle Lynn's three and we really had a merry (and very noisy) Xmas. I don't know how long they stayed, but Henrietta and Hazel went to school while they were there. Thurston must have gone too, but I can't remember him at school. Henrietta said that was the only time she ever went to a "graded" school. I don't remember how they got back to Clifton to take the train home. I remember Henrietta played Santa Claus for our home tree (she also went to the big one at the schoolhouse) and Herbert started crying and saying "Santa Claus has my cap." Mama had used his red "toboggan" in outfitting Henrietta for the part.
In 1913, when I was eight Mama took "us kids" and went to Texas for a visit during the summer vacation from school. We went on the train from Clifton to Dallas, where Uncle Herbert met us with a wagon to take us to Grandma Lester's home in Van Zandt County. She was still living in the house where I was born. It was fun being on a farm, but I soon found cotton picking wasn't any fun. I wanted to try, but barely made it down a row. Leon and sister did better. They got enough to weigh and the uncles paid them by the pound. I don't know whether either of them ever got enough for a dollar or not. When we were ready to leave Uncle Herbert took us to the State Fair in Dallas when he took us there to get a train to Post. I don't remember much about it except that it was very exciting and thrilling. I don't know how long we stayed with Grandma Nichols, but it was fun. Uncle Lynn's kids were still there and of course Lester. There was a camp meeting going on and we got to go to it, the only real camp meeting we ever went to, where we actually camped out and stayed there. We were really heroes when we got back to Nutrioso. We had ridden on a train and been to a big city.
During the years at Nutrioso there were births and deaths and many illnesses, but the only time a doctor was in town was when Papa had pneumonia. He came horseback from Springerville. I think his home was in St. Johns and don't know how he got to Springer, but probably horseback, also. I remember how scared I was, thinking Papa would die and how I lay awake at night in the dark praying he wouldn't. Mama soon earned a reputation as the person everyone called on when there was sickness. I remember her walking all over town, and the 1 1/2 miles from the ranger station to town, with Herbert trudging along behind her; he was such a precious little brother.
I must have gotten over my speech troubles rather quickly, as even the first year I was in school I always had a "speech" at all the entertainments, and read aloud in reading class more than anyone in the clas. Leon and Sister were in the middle of everything at recess and after school; she played anything the boys did. Hazel and I had a favorite ditch at the edge of the school ground where we played with our rag dolls or paper dolls. Sometimes we entered into the games, especially when it was cold and wet and we couldn't play in our ditch. I remember being hit in the head with the ball once when playing "Ante Over" and falling on the ice once on the way to school. The reservoir froze solid in winter and we went straight across it, had to follow the dam when water in reservoir.
Vacation days were delightful. Shoes came off when the snow melted and stayed off until it fell again. We waded in the creeks and tramped the mesa, looked for bird nests and caught fish with a string and bent pin. Hazel and I spent hours playing in the hay loft in our barn or hers. I always loved to read, and had favorite hideouts to settle down for hours at a time with a favorite book.
I remember Maggie May. I thought that she was the most beautiful girl in the world and was so shocked when I overheard Mama and Papa discussing her wedding. Mama said "I certainly will not go. It is ridiculous to make such a big to-do over a shotgun wedding." Papa said "that's up to you; but you can't refuse to let the girls go. They are so excited about it and there's no point in disillusioning them." So we went to her wedding and to her funeral. She died in child birth. I can still remember my shock and horror when her sister and her husband (Maggie's, not her sister's) passed us going back from the funeral laughing and talking. They were on horseback and I don't remember whether I was in a wagon or buggy or walking, just they passed and were in such gay spirits. And the most horrible part of it to me was that his name was Noble.
I remember when the Sharp girls came by the station on their way home from a dance in town and Laura was hysterical and her sisters trying to calm her. it seemed there was a rumor going around at the dance that Laura was going to have a baby. I didn't see why she was so upset; it was so silly because she couldn't have a baby, she wasn't even married. There were many other instances that come to mind, but I guess this is enough for Nutrioso. Should have mentioned our buggy tipping over on the rim of the canyon.
The trip from Nutrioso to Groom Creek was a great adventure. We stayed the first night in a hotel in Springerville --the hotel, probably. And that very first day, coming to Springerville from Nutrioso, Papa cried out "Look kids! Look! there goes a car." Leon liked to tell about it in later years as "a little old Model T chugging along." We were in our buggy, drawn by Govt. mules, and went on to Holbrook in it. A covered wagon with our household goods led the way and we followed in the buggy. I think Leon rode one of our saddle horses and mama rode the other one at least some of the time. It was a 100 mile trip and we camped out at least three nights. The man who drove the wagon took the mules back, tied behind the wagon. We had a box car with our buggy, our household goods (furniture, etc.), two horses and a dog. Leon slept in it, on his bedroll. The rest of us had a section in the pullman. Sister and I slept in the upper bunk and Mama, Papa and Herbert in the lower. I don't think we ate in the diner, just bought food from the "butcher boy" and ate in our seats and Leon came in to eat with us. I think he went back and forth to the box car, or maybe it was baggage car, during the day, but stayed with the animals all night. I think our cars were switched at Ashfork from the AT&SF (Prescott & Phoenix). I don't think we changed cars. We did on later trips.
The Groom Creek ranger station had three bedrooms, and so there was one for parents, one for boys and one for girls. It also had a sink and a pump on it, so water could be pumped from the well without going outside. The "closet" was still outdoors and seemed miles from the house on a winter day. The school teacher was single and had her sister living with her. She was in the 7th or 8th grade. We went right on in the grades we had started in Nutrioso. The next term we again had a single woman teacher. She had a "gentleman friend" from Prescott whom she later married. His name was Day and the kids use to "sing" in very loud voices during recesses and after school "It's never night at Miss Shemmer's on Sunday because day is always there." The second term there were 16 pupils in the school and seven of us were in 7th grade.
The Groom Creek postmaster was a Civil War veteran, originally from Boston. On his birthday he invited all the women in the community to dinner, no kids and no men. He cooked Boston baked beans and brown bread. After we had moved to town he was retired and went to an "Old Soldier's Home" in Calif. On Halloween we put a "tick-tack" on his window and nearly scared the poor old soul to death. So on May Day we fixed a nice May basket for him and were going to knock and leave it at the door, but he heard us coming and we were greeted with buckshot from his shot gun. No one was hit, but we sure left in a hurry.
I remember an Easter picnic and egg hunt that the whole community took part in, and a night when we all went up a mtn. trail to rob a bee tree. It was scary and exciting, and of the whole crowd I had to be the only one who was stung. There was plenty of honey for each family to fill their bucket. We roamed the hills and played in old abandoned mines where we could all have been buried alive and nobody would have known where to look for us. Leon was fire lookout on Spruce Mtn. the summer of 1917. He had a cabin at the foot of the tower and I went up and stayed with him. We spent our evenings playing poker for matches. One night we had a terrible storm and next morning Leon looked out and said "I told you not to throw those biscuits over there." I went to see what he was talking avout and lightning had felled a huge tree right across the creek from our cabin.
Groom Creek was fun, but papa asked permission to move to town before the fall school term started so Leon could go to high school. He had to pay his own rent, as living quarters were furnished only at ranger stations.
Another thing I remember from Groom Creek was my first visit to a dentist. I saddled my own horse, rode the six miles into town, left the horse at a friend's house and walked downtown to the dentist. He filled my tooth. I got my horse, saddled him and road back home. There were still a couple of hours of school, so Mama made me go on to school, and the teacher made me stay in for talking --telling the kids around me where I had been. I was twelve years old.
Perhaps the best memory of Groom Creek was the warm summer nights when we sat our on the front porch and Mama sang for us. She knew so many songs, some sad, some funny. We never tired of listening.
We moved to town sometime in the summer. As I said, the purpose of the move was to get Leon in high school. He got a job delivering for a general store, driving a Model T. I don't think that it was a pickup, but a one-seated car, not a coupe but I don't remember what they were called. Anyway, he decided not to go to high school. My father could never understand that. He thought it was wonderful that his children would have the educational advantages he never had. He was so well read that no one would suspect what a small amount of time he was actually in a classroom. Herbert entered 2nd grade at Lincoln School, which was first to fourth grades I think, and was near where we lived. Sister and I entered eighth grade at Washington School, where we had to walk clear across town on the main north and south street. I think it had the first thru eighth, but am not sure. We often talked in later years about what "hicks" we must have been. When we graduated from eighth grade World War One was in full swing and we wore Red Cross uniforms for graduation. We joined the Jr. Red Cross and rolled bandages and knit squares to make blankets. (My one and only attempt at knitting.) I have a certificate I got for the best speech to promote the sale of war bonds. (Later called defense bonds, and then just Govt. bonds.) Lottie and I became friends in eighth grade and still are. The Yeomans' moved on our street that year, too. They came from a ranch in Apache County and were as "country" as we were, but I don't think that was what drew us together. I have lost touch with Helen in the past years, but Edith and I are still corresponding. Something seems to always prevent our plans to get together since I left Albuquerque, but we are still trying.
This was our first rental. The house was large and Mama immediately started renting rooms to pay the rent. She rented one of the two downstairs bedrooms and made the living room into a bedroom and rented that. The owner kept one of the upstairs bedrooms for storage and it was always locked. There was a large hall where Herbert had a cot and we girls had the bedroom. When Leon was home he slept on a day bed in the living room. He worked out of town on Forest Service job a lot. Later sister and I slept on a "davenport" on the one end of the porch that went around three sides of the house, with a curtain across in front to cut off the view from the street. I think she had rented their room (my parents) and they had moved upstairs. (**Actually the dining room, but we used it for a living room and ate in the large kitchen.) The couple who rented the living room boarded with us, also. It must have been after they left that Mama started doing "home nursing." We had a barn, of course, for our horses. Papa still rode his district. We were still living there when the Armistice was signed. I don't remember just when Papa bought a little house and we moved. It had just one bedroom, a toilet and hot water heater for the sink, but we had to go back to bathing in a wash tub in the kitchen. We were living there when Grandma Lester died and Mama went to Texas. While she was gone Papa's transfer to Flagstaff came through and we moved up there.
I was a high school freshman when the Armistice was signed and the war was ended. We were in the idst of a bad influenza epidemic. Schools were closed and people were warned not to congregate anywhere, even on street corners. Clerks in stores wore masks. Some girl friends and I hiked out to the cemetery in Miller Valley and there were open graves waiting for the bodies and open graves with the coffin in that the gravediggers hadn't had time to cover, and literally dozens of new graves. When the Armistice was signed, the town went wild. I was downtown in the midst of the celebrating that evening and next day I was too sick to get out of bed. Mama had been nursing all over town, but came home to take care of me. There was really an outbreak after that. When it had got to where they reopened the schools we had to wear masks and when we took them off our Algebra teacher said she saw some eyes that looked familiar. Our teacher from the fall term, who I thought was beautiful and I loved her, had died.
During my Sophmore year and the part of the Junior year we were still in Prescott, the Ft. Whipple Veterans Hospital was filled with men waiting to be discharged, most those with TB, as this was primarily a TB hospital. We got acquainted with them at BYPU mostly. Some people were horrified that they had the run of the town, as they still thought TB could be caught just from being too near people who had it. We had had boarders with it, and mama had been nursing it, and the doctor had explained to us that it was the sputum that had the germ. Anyway, we received the new arrivals gladly, as personable young men had been at a premium during the war. Our BYPU parties were practically our only social life, but we also had picnics and outings that were not really BYPU, although most of us were from that group. Most of my dating was double dating with Sister, who always decided who she wanted and got him. If she preferred my date to hers, she just switched. I don't think I was supposed to be dating at all, especially when I was just fifteen, and I just had my 16th BD shortly before moving to Flagstaff. I enjoyed high school,but had few friends at school and took very little part in any activities other than class work. Sister endured it, and grabbed the excuse to drop out when Mama went to Texas and she said she had to look after the house and Herbert. Papa protested, but let her do it. So when we moved to Flagstaff I entered the high school dept. of the Normal school, as there was no high school there; and that was why the next year I was a Senior and she was a Junior. Mama went to Texas when her mother died. We moved to Flagstaff while she was gone).