Step back in time to 1876 when Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States, General George Armstrong Custer was just killed by the Sioux Indians at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Alexander Graham Bell invented the very first telephone and Utah was still a territory. Summer was just about over. There was a nip in the air. The birds were beginning to fly south and the leaves on the trees were changing colors. The people of the little Mormon community of Kanarraville, Iron County, Utah, were busy harvesting their summer crops, getting firewood, and making ready for the long, cold winter that was soon to come.
William George and Orilla McFate Williams were extra busy because they were preparing to receive a new little bundle from heaven, which would be their ninth child. The two children born just before this one had both died in infancy, so I’m sure they were both excited yet apprehensive for this birth. On Monday, September 4, 1876, they were blessed with a fine, healthy son that they named Jesse Franklin Williams.
During the 1870’s, Jesse and Frank James, the notorious outlaws, were thought highly of by many people because they were like Robin Hood of English legend, robbing the rich and giving to the poor, so they named their sixth son, Jesse Franklin, after the James brothers.
Jess, as he was usually called, was welcomed to this world by five brothers: George Alma, born April 26, 1862; John H., born June 8, 1864; Riley Garner, born July 20, 1866; James Wallace, born September 9, 1869; and Alvin Alonzo, born February 5, 1872. A girl born between James and Alvin, named Mary Matilda, was born December 2, 1870, but died at the age of one month. The two girls born just before Jess were Marcy Ann, born on May 11, 1874, and died at the age of one month; and Minetta Elizabeth, born August 8, 1875, and died at three months. Next came Joseph Sinith, born August 6, 1878, and three more children that died in infancy. Florence Lillian, born July 19, 1880, and died at age one month; Hannah May, born May 28, 1882, and died at age sixteen months; and Ira Clarence, born November 25, 1886, and died at age fifteen months. With Jess, seven brothers grew to maturity.
Jess was born in the home of his parents that was located on the west side of the block just south of the town square. It was a large two-story adobe brick house, large for those days. It had three rooms both up and downstairs and a two-room dirt cellar underneath. They cooked on a coal and wood stove and had to carry in their water from the ditch or catch the rain in barrels. They didn’t have a bathroom, but went to an outdoor toilet or used pots and then had to carry them outside to dump. Their clothes were washed on washboards and hung out to dry. Food couldn’t be bought but had to be raised and taken care of without the modern conveniences that we know. There were no refrigerators, freezers or electricity in their home. They had only coal oil lamps to see with at night.
Jess’ parents were both born in Illinois. George was born in Springfield to John and Marcy Lucas Williams who were probably from English descendants. His father died when he was two years old and he, his mother and sisters, became converted to the LDS church and traveled with the Saints to Utah and settled in Virgin, Utah. George was a big man, standing six feet tall and weighing around two hundred pounds. He had blue eyes and brown hair. He was a very hard worker and had a strong determination to be rich and be a landowner.
Jess’ mother, Orilla McFate was born in Nauvoo to James and Lucy Lisk McFate, who were Irish. Orilla came to Utah with a family she was working for and settled in Virgin, too. She was a small petite woman, only five feet tall. She had coal black hair and blue eyes and liked fancy things, but wasn’t known to be too ambitious. They married in Virgin and then moved to Kanarraville with their first four children. George came to Kanarra with only a shotgun to his name. When he died he was wealthy in the standards of those days and he owned a store, a whole city block, fields and mountain ground. His children soon used their inheritance unwisely and most of his sons were poor when they, too, passed away, except for John H. and Riley. But they had nothing to compare like George did. Jess inherited many characteristics from his parents yet was an individual with qualities of his own.
The first characteristic he started to develop besides learning to walk, speak and interact with others was to learn how to work. In those days, without work no one could survive. Jess’ first chores were probably bringing in water, carrying and stacking wood and helping in the home. Because Orilla had only boys, they learned to do inside chores too, like helping with dishes, washing clothes, sweeping and dusting. To just live, they had to raise their own fruits, vegetables and meat, and also to get extra meat they hunted wild game. So Jess learned to use guns as he grew older.
One of the most important qualities a child should develop is an awareness of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Jess’ parents were LDS and they wanted their children to be too. So he was baptized on September 27, 1885, by John W. Brown and confirmed that same day by Rees James Williams. Through the years Jess was involved in the church, but wasn’t as active as he could have been. He was ordained a Deacon on January 10, 1897, when he was 21, by William Ford; a Teacher on February 5, 1905, by James Wallace Williams, his brother. He was ordained a Priest on November 30, 1925, by John W. Berry and then on November 23, 1929, Thomas J. Jones ordained him an Elder.
In 1925 he was called to be the Ward Clerk. He held this position for nine years. He kept the records very accurately and all things were written in his beautiful handwriting. While he was the Ward Clerk, he must have felt the spirit that the Bishopric feels as they are serving in their callings. Heavenly Father’s spirit is felt more readily when a leader needs to keep the Ward in tune with the Gospel and the Church standards. Jess, in his meetings with the Bishopric, must have felt it too. He was not only ordained into the higher Priesthood during this time, but he and his wife went to the St. George Temple to be sealed together for time and all eternity, and had most of their children sealed to them. Later on all their children were sealed to them. The first sealings and marriage took place on November 29, 1929.
Jess served the Lord in other ways too. He was a Ward Teacher and the president of the Genealogical Organization. He and his wife spent much of their time and money trying to find information about their ancestors. He was given a Patriarchal blessing on April 5, 1931, by Alex G. Matheson. Jess tried to develop the qualities of a worthy member of the LDS Church. He believed in God and Jesus Christ. He was a strong believer that all people should be morally clean and those who weren’t upset him very much. He was a kind person to all, and honest in his dealings. He also believed in paying his tithing.
He had three problems that kept him from being as worthy as he could have been. He felt bad that he couldn’t quit cussing and swearing, and for a long time he chewed tobacco and drank liquor some, but he was able to overcome these habits a few years before he died. Through it all he still knew of the truthfulness of the Gospel.
Jess’ formal schooling helped to develop his character even more. He went to school in Kanarra and received all the schooling he could that was available there. His father gave him the chance to go to the Brigham Young Academy to study accounting. His father had given his other sons a start in life with property. He attended college with his brother, Joseph Sinith, but there is no evidence whether he graduated with a degree or not. After he came home, he worked in his father’s store.
Jess learned in an extremely hard way to develop the characteristic of obedience. When he was twelve years old he wanted to go hunting but his father forbid him to take the gun. Jess disobeyed and took it anyway. It was an over-and-under shotgun and he had fallen and gotten the barrels full of mud. When he was climbing a barbed wire fence, it accidentally went off and because the barrel was clogged, the gun exploded and shot off his left hand. He went back to his home with his hand hanging by threads. They sent to Cedar City for a doctor twelve miles away, and he had to come back in a horse and buggy. When the doctor arrived he was too drunk to operate, so they had to wait for him to sober up. Jess had to endure all this without any painkillers. Finally, the doctor cut off the arm halfway to the elbow and pulled over the skin and sewed it closed. Again, Jess went through that without any painkillers. Losing his hand affected his life in many ways, and he learned that parents really do know what is best.
Although he was handicapped, he showed determination and strength by learning to do things that required two hands with only one. Even though he could ride a horse and drive a team, he didn’t like to because it was hard with only the one hand. If they got out of control, there was no way to pull the horses to a stop without the even pull of two hands. He could hoe weeds and chop wood, using his hand and upper arm, and never needed any help to keep his yard and sidewalks free of weeds, which they were, and he always had a big woodpile that he chopped and stacked very neatly alone. In fact, he had chopped wood the morning that he died. Because Jess only had the one hand, his arm became very strong and he could do chin-ups with only one hand. However, because he used it so much harder than normal, in his later years he became so shaky that he could hardly eat. He did use his stump in two ways though. First - he would put it over his other arm to get it to stop shaking. The second way, which is most remembered by his grandchildren, was that he always had a “money sock,” as they were called, over his stump. This sock was a work sock, kind of brown-specked with a white toe and heel. People used to make stuffed money toys out of them. Anyway, with his sock-covered stump he would always poke it into the kids’ stomachs to tease them. Sometimes he got a little too rough, but the kids seemed to love him even more.
Love is another quality Jess developed over the years. First, he loved his parents and brothers, then on to others like friends and relatives. As he grew to maturity, he longed for the love that only a man and his wife can share. Jess was a handsome man with blue eyes, brown hair, a medium build and stood about 5’7”. He fell in love with Frances Rebecca Pollock. She was the daughter of Joseph Henry and Malinda Elizabeth Roundy Pollock and was born February 25, 1882, in Kanarraville, too. She was a tall, lovely girl with brown eyes and dark brown hair. Two of Jess’ brothers, John H. and Joseph S. had married two of Frances’ sisters (Susannah Elizabeth and Mollie) and maybe they got together because of this, or maybe it was because they had grown up in that little town and were in activities together. Whatever the reason, they were married November 20, 1901, on the south porch of Jess’ parents’ home, by the bishop, Joseph S. Berry. From their love they produced six children. Lalif Dale was born October 18, 1903, and died when he was almost 19. Ethna Frances was born September 25, 1905, and married Wells A. Williams. They had nine children. Velma was born September 15, 1907, and married Sherald J. Peterson. They had three children. Chester Dunford was born August 31, 1912, and he married Carma Davis. They were the parents of four children. LaDene was born May 24, 1914 and married Nelpher Graff and had three children. He passed away and she then married Harlan P. Walker and they had one child. Last was Paul Ronald who was born May 18, 1920, and married Eva Stucki. They had three children. All of the 23 grandchildren were born before Jess died. He also had twelve great-grandchildren when he passed away.
Jess’ parents built themselves a new home on the northeast corner of their block, by the store, so they gave Jess and Frances their home. Just after their marriage, Jess and Frances added on to the house. They built a bathroom and kitchen on the north side. They still used the old “Majestic” coal and wood stove, but they had one of the first bathrooms in town. Their tub was the kind that stood on legs that were shaped like claws. It is still in the house along with the stove.
Jess worked hard to support his wife and children, which was hard to do with only one hand. Maybe if he had become an accountant and moved to a large city life would have been easier. However, it’s hard to move from the familiarity of your hometown and family. Many men that have left Kanarra for jobs know how hard it is to forget that little town. Jess worked at many different things to support his family.
First, he worked for Bishop Berry, pitching and pulling hay. Then he worked in his father’s store for many years. He and Frances took in boarders. They had the post office in their home and many people would ride in the mail truck from place to place. Sometimes they would stay overnight. President Lorenzo Snow even stayed there one night. Frances also took in washings and Jess and Chester took turns moving the lever back and forth on the old conventional washer.
They raised a garden, had chickens, pigs, dogie lambs and a milk cow. For many years they had a beautiful raspberry patch in the north lot. Jess kept it trimmed and free of weeds. Trimming bushes wasn’t an easy task with one hand, but he managed to use the pruners by putting the left side under his armpit. They sold the raspberries for $2.00 a crate, and sometimes they would pick up to 200 to 300 crates a year. For about six years Jess ran a coal mine on the Kanarra Mountain that he leased from the government. It was located on the north side of the mountain just before you get to the Coal Mine Spring. Dixie people would come up to get coal and trade sorghum and fruit for it. They would camp overnight in the south lot. They would sing and dance and have a real good time.
During Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration as the U.S. President, he started a self-help program for the poor called the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.). Jess was made a foreman of it in his area. They built dams and irrigation ditches, and dug outhouses for the government. Jess was also the janitor in the church house for many years. One time while he was cleaning the church, he felt something, or someone, trying to strangle him. He could feel the hands at his neck, yet he couldn’t see or touch anything. He fell to the floor, but because he prayed so fervently, he was released.
Around 1910, Jess homesteaded 160 acres south of the Old Fort Harmony. The Homestead Act passed in 1862 gave a person 160 acres if he lived on the land five years and put in improvements. Jess built a small log cabin there, and would take his wife and children to stay some nights. Later he sold the land to Al Thorley for practically nothing. He was also the mayor of Kanarraville for a few years.
Work and service are important qualities for a person to develop, but a person needs to relax and to socialize. Jess loved to dance, especially a square dance, which they called the Quadrille. He also loved to act in plays. During his teens, 20’s and 30’s, there were many plays put on in Kanarra by the town folk. Some of them were “Josh Winchester,” “Dot the Miner’s Daughter,” “Old Glory,” “Our Jim,” “Star Bright,” and “Dust of the Earth.” He and Frances took many lead parts in them. One play in particular Jess had to be killed. They were using real guns with blanks in them, and when he fell to the floor his little children in the audience thought he was really dead and started crying so hard that they had to stop the play and let Jess show his kids that he was still alive.
Jess and Frances held many parties in their home. They let their children have them and they also had many themselves. They belonged to a club called the “Elite Society.” It was comprised of married couples and they would meet together on a regular basis. One time they had a Halloween costume party for the “Elite Society.” They had a real frightening spook alley set up in the basement. When the people were going through it and stepped on a hidden board, they got really scared because it was like an elevator. They were pulled quickly up through the air and came out a cupboard in the bathroom. All the people really enjoyed the party.
Jess liked to play marbles. This was a very popular game for the grown men. He also liked to sing and listen to music on the radio on their old-time phonograph. He never learned to drive a car but he enjoyed traveling in them, especially to visit Velma and family, and Paul and his family who lived in Boulder City, Nevada.
Jess had developed many fine qualities over the years. He loved children and they loved him. He was very good to his wife and his own children. He didn’t have any enemies and was always good to help others. During the winter of 1919 and 1920 most of the townspeople got a very bad flu but Jess was very lucky and didn’t get it. He went to many homes and helped the people who were stricken with it. His mother died from that flu on February 9, 1920. Jess was always helping his mother. He would take meals to her and do her chores and see that she was okay.
Probably one of the hardest characteristics Jess had to develop was dealing with death. Jess was four years old when his baby sister, Florence, died; six when his sister, Hannah, died; and twelve when his little brother, Ira, died. This must have been very hard for a child to go through and try to understand why it happened. He lost his father, George, in 1914 when he died of a stroke. In 1920 he faced death again when his mother died of the flu. On September 8, 1922, he had to face the death of his oldest son, Lalif. Lalif was almost nineteen and had fallen off a loaded hay wagon. The heavy wooden wheels rolled over his head. Lalif didn’t die instantly but suffered a long time before he passed away.
There are always certain little characteristics that each individual has, and Jess was no exception. Some of these things were unusual. Jess got false teeth in his middle years but never wore them. He kept them in the secretary drawer. He would like to eat pie for breakfast, and loved bread, milk and molasses for supper. He loved to sit in his old wood rocking chair and he called his daughters “my girl.” He was also very scared of high places. All those who knew Jess were very saddened when he passed away on March 27, 1959, at the age of 82, but were relieved that he hadn’t suffered. He had been visiting that morning with company. After they left he got up and went into the bedroom to get some papers, came back and sat in his rocking chair that was in the dining room. Frances was talking with him from the kitchen. She heard him kind of sneeze and then she came into the room and he was dead. Jess was laid to rest in the Kanarraville cemetery on March 30, 1959, and thus ended the life of a very, very special man.
Jess, named after outlaws,
But didn’t do the same.
Jess, was handicapped,
And yet he overcame.
Jess gave of his love,
And was loved by many others.
Jess helped many people,
Especially his dear mother.
Jess worked at many trades,
To try to make a living.
Jess knew of going without,
But still was very giving.
Jess set good examples,
For each of us to see.
May we live with him again,
Through all eternity.