Joseph Henry James (1855 - 1908)


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Life Story of Alfretta James Hurst
(Originally written by Alfretta’s daughter Delores, then re-written by Rex L. James to correct some spelling and punctuation)

 Retta was born the 10th day of October 1883 in Wilford, Arizona.  Retta was the fourth child of Elizabeth Salome Bloomfield and Joseph Henry James. 

When Retta was three years old her family moved to Mexico.  The Mormon Church bought a tract of land in Colonia Diaz.  The settlers were allowed to purchase the land from the church.  These families moved to Mexico because they were living in plural marriage.  Joseph James had three wives, Elizabeth, Mary Eliza and Orpha Amelia.  When the church issued the Manifesto, it became necessary for them to leave the United States in order to protect their families.  Previously Joseph had lived in Sunset, Arizona. He and other people were called there to colonize and there he met his wives. 

Joseph was called as a boy of eighteen to go on a work mission on the St. George Temple.  He was then called to help colonize in Arizona.  He met Elizabeth in Sunset and they were married the 12th of July in the St. George Temple.  They lived for a few years in a little place along the little Colorado called Sunset.  There they lived the United Order.  It was terribly hot and dry and floods washed out their dam and crops.  They decided it would be impossible for them to live there, and moved on to Wilford (near Heber), Arizona.  This is where the family was living when Retta was born. 

Joseph had also married Eliza and Orpha and the family moved on to settle in Mexico.  When they first arrived in Mexico they lived in the wagon box and caves formed by the water when it was high.  They surveyed the land and discovered it was not the property the church had bought, but belonged to a big cattle owner Tarasses.  So again they had to move, this time to Colonia Diaz. Joseph was the second settler there.

There first home was a crude adobe structure with a sod roof.  When it rained outside it rained mud inside.  Joseph farmed the land.  They grew cane, alfalfa, corn, melons and vegetables to eat.  The ground was fertile and with irrigation from the canal it produced abundantly.  Joseph had brought a few sacks of wheat with him so they could raise their own bread.  He tied the wheat high in a tree to keep the Mexicans from stealing it, but they discovered it and cut holes in the bottom of the sacks and stole the grain, leaving the empty sacks hanging in the tree.

A little later they bought a sorghum mill.  They built big vats to hold the juice from the cane and then a fire was built under it to make it into molasses.  Joseph built a big wooden tank to store the molasses in and it was drawn out from the bottom as needed.  This was their only sweets for quite awhile.  Every year the tank had to be scrubbed thoroughly, the kids got right down in it to do this chore.

One of Retta earliest recollection was running through the tall sacatone grass, which was taller than the children’s heads.  Joseph always took all of the children, who were big enough, to work with him to help plant the corn, The ground was ploughed with a hand made plough pulled by horses then the children dropped the seed.  One of the fond memories was the rest time when the kids were allowed to play along the dry riverbed..

They were close enough to Deming, New Mexico they could go there for supplies.  They raised a lot of huge watermelons.  When they began to ripen Joseph, who was an expert swimmer, would put melons into sacks throw them across his shoulder and swim the river taking his melons to sell to the Mexican in the old town of Ascensión.  The Mexicans dearly loved melons. 

They had been living out on the land, but built a nice home in Colonia Diaz a little later.  Adobe was used but other settlers had come in and built sawmills so lumber was now available.  Joseph took a contract on the Mañana Railroad, and hired other men to help him build the track.  The pay was like the name of the railroad, and Joseph had to sell most of his possessions to pay his men.  He was never able to collect the money for the contract.  Eliza went to cook for the men working on the railroad.  Retta went along to help with the meals and dishes.


The school at Colonia (Diaz; rlj note) was a one-room school, where the teacher taught three grades.  Later they got a better school, with three rooms and three teachers.  School was dismissed when it was time for the children to help on the farm.   

This was a good area to raise bees.  Retta worked helping to take the trays of honey from the hive to be extracted.  One day Retta and a friend decided they were tired of helping with the milking, so they let the bees sting their hands.  But their parents were wiser than they had thought; they had to help with the milking with swollen hands. 

Joseph loved to swim, and liked for his children to enjoy it also, so he built a swimming hole on the canal, so the water filled it and then just ran on through.  The whole town enjoyed coming to the swimming hole.  Boys and girls did not swim together, even though the boys left on their overalls, and the girls their dresses.  At least they did not usually swim together but, one day, a big bully boy whose last name was Black came along while the girls were swimming.  He tried to get them to leave so he could have his swim, but they weren’t ready to leave, and threatened to get help from Dad.  But he went upstream, took off all of his clothing, and came wading down the canal as naked as the day he was born. The girls needed no encouragement to make a very hasty retreat, but that was the last time he enjoyed the luxury of the swimming hole. 

Joseph always had a huge watermelon patch, when the young people wanted to party they would drive down in a wagon.  This particular time, he invited the boys to go into the patch and help themselves.  When they came back he had driven off with the girls in the wagon. 

As mentioned before, Joseph made molasses and supplied most of the community.  At the end of the season he would cook down the last vat till it formed candy that could be pulled into long ropes of molasses candy.  Everyone was invited to come and enjoy the fun.

Joseph was a counselor to two Bishops, both by the name of Johnson.  The family always attended church.  He was a happy even-tempered man who always had a witty comment to make everyone laugh. 

There was an epidemic of typhoid fever in Colonia Diaz.  Joseph’s family did not escape without having it also.  Joseph had it twice.  Two of his children died, Lot and Chloe.  Retta and Bash lay at the point of death for weeks, but both did survive.  Their hair and fingernails came out.  It was many months before they were well again.  Joseph was afraid to stay at Diaz because the land was swampy and he was afraid they would continue to have typhoid.  They moved to Galena?? (I don’t know where this  town is; rlj note), where they lived a few years, and then moved on to Colonia Dublan. 

The families seemed to live in complete harmony.  Joseph was always careful to treat every one with the same love and respect.  The women were quite different personalities, even though Eliza and Elizabeth were sisters.  Elizabeth was a very quiet reserved modest woman, Eliza a more demanding, fun loving person and Orpha a very mild, soft-spoken woman.  They each had their own home.  Elizabeth was Retta’s mother, and she inherited those same gentle, soft-spoken modest ways of her mother.  Retta went to school and graduated from the eighth grade in Dublan. 

Joseph built a rooming house and store in Nuevo Casa Grandes.  The train went by every other day.  They took in roomers and had a dinning room.  Retta walked about a mile each day after school and waited tables in the dinning room.  One day when Retta was waiting tables, an older man, who ate there frequently, came to eat.  He had something tucked in his shirt.  It was a beautiful doll he had brought to Retta for a gift.   

They built a big brick oven outside.  They would build a fire, and get it good and hot.  Then they would take the fire all out.  They could bake 25 pies at a time.  Retta and Mame were the chief pie bakers.  Retta never forgot this art, which she practiced all her life. 

Joseph bought a thousand acres of timber in the Sierra Madres Mountains.  He hired a man by the name of Webb to go up and fire a kiln of brick.  There he moved his three families and built each a nice brick home.  There was not a settlement nor school there, so he hired someone to come up and teach the children in school.  There, Joseph was working his timber and farming also. 

The Colonies, like all frontier people, had to make there own recreation.  They had dramas, picnics, dances, they did square dancing, drills, and shodish[sic].  They did not do the round dances, because the Mexicans would have been too interested in attending the dances and they mixed with the native population as little as possible.  The Spanish children did not attend their schools.   

Retta remembered many fun times at picnics under the big cottonwood along the Casas Grandes River.  They would leave early in the morning with provisions for their stay.   Sometimes they would stay over-night.  The children played games and ran races while the women visited and did hand work or mending.  The men played horseshoes and baseball, and visited.  They would always celebrate the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo).  They flew the Mexican flag with the American flag under it.   

Retta dated several of the boys in the Colonies.  Retta was engaged to a boy named Les Webb and they had gone together for two years.  Les used to go past the James’ taking the cows to pasture.  He would stop to see Retta, till some of the family was sent to remind him it was time to come home.  He was a year younger than Rettie and his Dad used to tell him, Retta would be married and have a couple of kids before you are old enough to marry.  He would say he didn’t care as long as they were his.   

Retta worked for the Paynes where she did all of the cooking and house keeping at the time of the birth of a baby.  She was an experienced pie maker, and Brother Payne would have her make him a custard pie every day.  He said if the Jones boy, who she went with a little, did not hurry and ask her to marry him, he’d ask her himself.  Brother Payne already had two wives, and Retta thoughts were that he couldn’t take care of two, say nothing of three.  There was another boy who used to watch Rettie pass every day.  He and his brother owned a blacksmith shop.  His name was Oscar; he chided Lee that he was going to have Rettie, which would make Lee fighting mad.  But as things would have it Oscar was sincere in his comments and seriously courted her.  Rettie was disappointed in Lee and decided he wasn’t honest with her and she didn’t want to marry him.  Rettie went into the Sierra Madres Mountains to help out with the cooking, etc. while they were building the homes.   

When she came back down, she was riding with her Uncle Joe.  When they crossed the Casas Grandes River, it was night and he didn’t realize that it was high from storm.  When he realized they were in peril for their lives it was too late to turn back.  They were in a buckboard floating in the river and the horses swam for their lives while they hung on and prayed.  They washed way downstream and found a place they could pull out of the river.  When Oscar learned of their close escape from death, he decided it was time she had someone to look after her, so he once again went with his plea for her hand.  He had asked her before she went to the mountains and tried to give her the money for her wedding dress.  This time he pleaded with such fervor she told him if he was going to cry about it she.guessed she would marry him. 

So on the August 31st, 1902 Afretta James became the wife of Oscar Parley Hurst.  President Antone Ivins had come by horseback to Dublan on business and Oscar asked him if he could marry them while he was there.  President. Ivins said he would marry them if Oscar would shoe his horse while he was in town.  Their wedding reception was a big watermelon bust with the entire town invited.

After Afreatta and Oscar were married, they made their home, in Dublan, where they lived until the Mexican revolution.  While Alfretta and Oscar resided in Mexico, four children were born, to them, Parley, Delores, Maggie, and Henry.

Alfretta and Oscar were sealed at the time of their marriage by President Antone W. Ivins.  But after they had two children, they made, a trip to Salt Lake City, to the temple, and received their endowments.  They were accompanied by Alfretta’s father, one of Oscar’s sister and her husband, who hadn’t received their endowments.  Alfretta and Oscar also made a trip into California before returning to Mexico. 

When the revolution broke out in Mexico.  Oscar, and all of the other, people there left.  They had to leave their new brick home that Oscar had built for them.  The women and children were taken out on the train and arrived in El Paso on the 28th of July 1912.  The men came out horseback after getting some of their affairs in as good a shape as possible.  They came by way of Hachita, New Mexico arriving there by horseback on the 8th or 9th of August 1912. 

After arriving in the United States Oscar made his way to El Paso to find Alreatta and the children.  Oscar found and rented a house for Alfretta and the children who were living in an abandoned lumberyard where the families had been placed after arriving on the train.  When they left Dublan. They only had what they had on and one small trunk. 

After Oscar had gotten Alfretta, and the children settled in the house he had rented he went back into Mexico to work on the job he had.  Oscar was a water serviceman for the Morgan Cattle Company at Corralitos.  Oscar remained there until he could see that there was no chance of being able to return with his family back into Mexico.  Oscar finally came out in late November or early December.  He had enough money to make the trip from El Paso, Texas to Ogden, Utah.  They arrived in the dead of winter.  Alfretta and Oscar and four children took shelter with one of Alfretta’s uncles, a brother of her father. 

Times were hard, and little work available.  Oscar finally obtained work and was able to move Alfretta and the children into a house owned by Alfretta’s uncle Will.  They moved several times while in Ogden Utah each time to get a little closer to Oscars work. While Alfretta and Oscar lived in Ogden three more children were born to them, Beatrice, Wanda and Melvin. 

By now Oscar had been able to build the family a four-room home, with a full basement, in it.  In the spring of 1920 Alfretta and Oscar, having sold their home in Ogden moved their family to Blanding, San Juan County, Utah. They came by train to Thompson Spring, Utah.  Then with two teams, two wagons, a buggy and five head of horses they made the trip from Thompson to Blanding by team, and wagon. 

Alfretta was a very good cook also a good seamstress.  With this she was able to help Oscar provide for their family by keeping clothing made and mended and also keeping the family fed. In Blanding Oscar went into farming, blacksmithing and also into the harvesting business.  While in Blanding, Utah four more children were born to them, Ethel, Devon, Joan, and Joseph James. 

When the war with Japan broke out.  They took into their home three young Japanese children.  A boy about 18, a sister about 12 and a niece about 8.  They were just about run out of the country, for this kind act.  After, a few months, the F.B.I. came and took them away, to a safer place.  Alfretta and Oscar at this time had three unmarried children.  One son Melvin was on a Mission in England.  When the war broke out he was returned to the United States to finish his Mission.  Another son, Devon, was in the Air Force and also a daughter Joan was at home. In order to help their country they moved to Layton, Utah and Oscar, Alfretta and Joan went to work at the Hill Field Air Base. 

   After Melvin finished, his mission, he joined the Air Force.  Alfretta and Oscar remained in Layton at the Hill Field Air Base until the war was over, then they returned back to Blanding.  Oscar and Alfretta took up where they left off when they went to Hill Field.  Oscar was not too well by now , but he did what work he could. 

Oscar and Alfretta celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary on August  31st, 1952.  They held an open house at their home.  Most of the people in the area came to visit them.  They had friends in all of San Juan County.  They received congratulation letters from prominent people in Federal Government. 

Oscar sold his ranch property to his sons who were interested.  This provided him enough to see he and Alfretta through to the end.  On December 1st. 1954 Oscar passed away, leaving Alfretta alone.  Alfretta writes her number of posterity at their Golden Wedding Anniversary as 9 living children and 72 grandchildren.  She also bore her testimony to the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

   After Oscar’s death Alfretta, spent three winters in Salt Lake City, Utah doing temple work.  She also spent two winters in Mesa, Arizona, doing temple work.  And a winter with her daughter Joan, in Phoenix, Arizona.  Alfretta, all her life, was thinking more of others welfare than of her own.  In July 1973 Alfretta was disabled with a stroke.  After leaving the hospital she spent two years in a nursing home.  Her children paid for her care.  Alfretta always wanted to go home but was unable to do so because she was not able to care for herself after her stroke. 

On September 1st,  1976 Alfretta was moved into the home of a daughter.  Then she is moved each month to another daughter, having three living in Blanding.  One day a week each member of Alfretta’s family take turns going into the home to feed and look after her needs.  Alfretta is now in her 94th year, her health is in good a condition, as can be expected, after having a stroke.  Time remains to be seen, what the future holds for her.  She is still concerned about the welfare of all around her. 

Alfretta has been a wonderful mother.  Maybe deprived of many of the worldly goods but a long way from poverty.  She always had a clean house and something in it to eat and wear.                                                                                             


 (Alfretta passed away 22nd December, 1979 at the age of 95; rlj note)



this biography is all on one page