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