Utah History to Go
UTAH STATE HISTORY
HOME
FACTS
LESSONS
PEOPLE
PLACES
SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
TIMELINE
BIBLIOGRAPHY
CONTACT US
SITE MAP
HISTORY FOR KIDS
Life Was Precarious in Turn-of-the-Century Utah
Lesson
Change and Creativity
Struggle for Statehood
Struggle for Statehood Chronology
In 1895 Utahns Wondered When Statehood Would Come
A State is Born
Party Politics and Utah Statehood
The Constitutional Convention is Called
Constitution Was Framed in City and County Building
African American Community and Politics, 1890-1910
The Broad Ax and the Plain Dealer Kept Utah's African Americans Informed
Clarence E. Allen Was Utah's First Congressman
How Utah Lost One of Its U.S. Senate Seats in 1899
Salt Lake Native Was Interred in the Kremlin Wall
The Shooting of Arthur Brown, Ex-Senator From Utah
Convict Labor Helped to Build Utah's Road
Strawberry Valley, 1st Federal Reclamation Project
Women's Suffrage in Utah
Woman Suffrage Dominated Politics in Utah
Kanab Residents Chose Women to Run Their Town, 1912
Ruth May Fox, Forgotten Suffragist
Soren Hanson's "House That Eggs Built"
Utah Arts Council
Utah State Historical Society
The Beginning of Public Support For Libraries
The Pasta King of the Mountain West
Celebrating the New Year in Salt Lake's Chinatown
Electrifying Utah-Engineer Lucien L. Nunn
A Brewer-Sportsman's Prairie Style Home in Ogden
Saltair
Saltair Village Was a Unique Place to Live
Boxing Fans Take the Plunge at Saltair
Castilla Hot Springs Attracted Many Visitors
Minstrel Shows
Utah State Capitol
Utah in the Spanish American War
Captain Richard W. Young and Spanish-American War
A Soldier's Life at Fort Douglas in the Early 1900's
Methodist Women Missionaries Worked Hard in Utah
Flour Mills
Guano Sifters on Gunnison Island
The Lehi Beet Sugar Factory
The Salt Industry Was One of the First Enterprises
From Free Salt to a Major Industry
Hospitals and Health Crazes in the Late 1800's
The Myths and Legends of Butch Cassidy
Butch Cassidy
Would the New State of Utah Go Metric?
A Look at Working Women in the Early 20th Century
Jobs in 1900
Explosion of Pleasant Valley Coal Company
The Lucin Cutoff
Southern Utah's First High School
Life Was Precarious in Turn-of-the-Century Utah
Salt Lake City Had Its Typhoid Mary
Vaccinations in Wasatch County
Promoting Physical Fitness
Woman's Home Association Tried to Help the "Fallen"
Juvenile Delinquency Posed Problems For Utahns
Traveling Gypsies Brought an Exotic Lifestyle to Utah
The First Large Factory in Utah
The Rise and Fall of Ogden's Packing Industry
Newsboys Claimed Their Street Corners in Downtown
The Bamberger Electric Railway
The First Cars in Two Small Towns
A Bicyclist Challenges the Great Salt Lake Desert
Daredevils of the Sky-Early Aeronauts in Utah
Ogden Defeats Salt Lake City in a War of the Wheels
Utah's Immigrants at the Turn of the Century
Boys' Potato Growing Clubs
Joe Hill and the I.W.W.
Socialist Women and Joe Hill
A Bit of Polynesia Remains
Justice Zane and Antipolygamy
The Salt Lake Valley Smelter War

Becky Bartholomew
History Blazer, August 1996

The autobiography of Florence Thompson reveals how precarious life could be for citizens of rural Utah at the turn of the century. Florence was born in 1891 near Lawrence, a tiny community a few miles north of Castle Dale, Emery County. Her first brush with death came at age seven when she contracted typhoid pneumonia. Her recovery was slow. That winter her father had to carry her to the LDS ward Christmas party. "On the Christmas tree was the most beautiful doll--I could not keep my eyes off it. You can imagine my happiness when Santa held it up and called my name," she recalled.

Florence's parents, Peter Alvin Johnson and Hettie Mina Staker, had been "called" by Mormon leaders to relocate from Mount Pleasant to across the mountains in Castle Valley. Florence's father farmed the bottomlands surrounding Lawrence, obtaining a bountiful crop the first year. But irrigating caused the alkali to leach up from the subsoil so that the next summer his crops all died.

To support his family he took a job in the Scofield coal mine and moved his family the 30 miles from Lawrence so as not to be separated from them during the week. Florence and her sister Hazel attended the mining camp school that winter.

One day Florence, eight years old, was playing with a box of cloth scraps someone had given her. She scratched her head and a bug fell onto the cloth.
"Mother, what kind of bug is this?" she asked.
"Where did it come from?"
"I scratched my head and the bug fell in my box."
"Come here--let me see."

Her mother discovered lice in Florence's thick hair. Sister Hazel was sent to the store for a fine comb used to painstakingly comb out the mature lice, after which Florence's hair and scalp were washed with coal oil to kill the unhatched eggs. It seems she caught the lice from a motherless girl who sat with her at school.

After a year Florence's father was offered a raise and a better position at the mouth of the mine. But her mother was uneasy and constantly coaxed him to find another living. Finally he obtained a contract to cut and haul timber props for the mine. He hired some help, bought several tents, and moved the family into the mountains for the summer.

It was a glorious vacation for the Johnson children. But one day Florence ran to her mother with a painful, egg-sized lump under her arm. Mrs. Johnson flagged down a passing wagon which carried them to camp atop a load of logs. The doctor lanced the lump, but the next day Florence broke out in boils all over her body. Fortunately, she overcame this uncomfortable and frightening ailment.

That winter Florence's father managed a sawmill in Sunnyside, 40 miles east. Here Hazel contracted scarlet fever. The following spring, after she had recovered, Hazel and Florence took to packing a lunch and spending their days "in the timber."

Nearby lived a woman eight of whose nine children had perished from diphtheria. She would invite the Johnson girls into her cottage and give them cookies, scones, and donuts. "She seemed to like us," Florence recalled, "and enjoyed giving us goodies."

One night their mother had a dream in which a lady all in white appeared and just stood by her bed. Mrs. Johnson shook her husband awake.
"Alvin, did you see that?"
"What?"
"A lady standing by the bed. She was here to tell me something. If I had only spoken to her."

The next morning Mrs. Johnson told the girls they were not to go into the forest any more. She believed "the spirit lady" had come to tell her the girls were in danger--from mountain lions, bears, or something else. "Thus ended our joyful trips into the forest--beautiful forest."

In 1900 the family was farming, again in Lawrence, when news came that a terrible explosion had rocked the Scofield mine. Their friend Robert Wilstead and his son Willie were among the dead. The body of the man who had replaced Florence's father had been blown clear across the canyon.

In 1904 the Johnsons moved to Idaho where relatives were having success dry-farming. The trip took a month because on the way Hazel came down with a serious case of the mumps.

Source: Autobiography of Florence Elizabeth Johnson Thompson, 1974, photocopy of typescript in possession of Becky Bartholomew.

 

UTAH CHAPTERS
The Land
American Indians
Trappers, Traders, & Explorers
Pioneers & Cowboys
Mining & Railroads
Statehood & the Progressive Era
From War to War
Utah Today