This biography was printed in March 1980 by the William Halls Family Organization in its family periodical,
Through the Halls of History, Kristine Halls Smith, editor.
© 1980 William Halls Family Organization
James Lewis Halls was the seventh child and second son of William Halls (1834-1920) and Johanne Marie Frandsen (1855-1913)
JAMES LEWIS HALLS
From information provided by Grace Halls, Nina Halls, Harry Halls, Florence Gerdel, LaRue Reese, and Fern Decker Ellis
Edited by Kristine Halls Smith
James Lewis Halls was born to William Halls and Johanne M. Frandsen Halls in Huntsville, Utah, June 23, 1883. His parents left Huntsville on May 2, 1885 with their children to help build the San Juan country in southeastern Utah. This was about five years after the Hole‑in‑the‑Rock trek, so traveling was still slow. Lewis was not quite two years old. When he was almost three, the family moved from Bluff, Utah, to Mancos, Colorado, settling in a small community called Webber a couple of miles south of Mancos.
Lewis' wife Alvira Burnham was born on December 15, 1881 at Moab, Utah. She moved with her family to Mancos, Colorado where she grew into young womanhood. James Lewis Halls met and fell in love with her and they were married in the Salt Lake Temple on October 30, 1907. After they had been married several years, they bought the Fielding place in Mancos, 120 acres, where they lived the rest of their lives. Lewis bought the farm for $2800, and almost lost it during the Depression. In fact, he had to take on a second mortgage, and finally got it paid for when pigs got to be a good price. Besides his farm work, Lewis did a lot of trapping, mostly for coyotes. His daughter, Grace, even had a pet coyote for awhile.
Alvira, or Vida, as she was called, suffered most of her married life with asthma. At one time, in about the middle 1920's, Dr. Trotter suggested that she go to a lower climate to see if her breathing would be easier. So Lewis had Leon and Louise Halls take care of the farm while he and Vida and Grace went to Salt Lake City. Vida worked as a cook in a hotel on North Temple between State and Main Streets. Grace attended South Junior High School, and Lewis went on to Wyoming to find work with the cattle ranchers, hauling feed. But that work was too heavy and cold for him, and Vida's asthmatic condition became no better, so they moved back to the farm in Webber, where Lewis continued to raise crops and hogs and where Vida and Grace raised turkeys, some years as many as 200, The year the Depression hit, they lost their turkey money because the bank went broke.
Vida's sister‑in‑law, Nina Halls, wrote her thoughts about her:
"Lewis and Vida's only child, Grace, was born six years after their marriage. Vida adored this daughter and made plans early for her to become a gifted pianist and Grace did not disappoint her mother.
"Vida was a tall, stately woman with a beautiful soprano voice. She was in much demand at church functions and enjoyed being a member of a quartet singing group. Family members, Lily Halls and Bill Decker also sang in this chorus with a fourth member varying from time to time
"Vida was a victim of asthma and this condition was worsened when her husband decided to become a college boy and enrolled at Fort Lewis College to learn the art of blacksmithing. While he was away from home, it fell upon Vida to feed the stock on their farm. That year the hay was put up wet thus becoming musty and this aggravated her asthma.
"Vida visited me often and I appreciated her visits. I was always very fond of her and she returned my affection. She loved my little girls, also. Because of health reasons following the birth of my third child, I became a 'stay‑at‑home.' However, my daughters, Dorothy Mae and Beth attended Sunday School and took parts on the program. One Monday morning I received the following note from Vida. She had mailed it at her mailbox, and as we lived farther down the mail route, our accommodating mailman simply crossed out the stamp and delivered it to our box.
The tears I shed in Sunday School this morning were for you too. The tears came and I couldn't help it. To see your two girls do so wonderful with their parts. I wish you could have seen and heard them. You had heard them, but you didn't see how sweet they looked standing up there before a house full. You could well have been proud of them for I sure was.
I wish you and Florence would come up and spend the day. Come up and you can drive the car and we will go over to your mother's. Tell Florence we have four white puppies.
With love, Vida'
"Vida was very helpful to me. In 1933, when my daughter Florence was five years old, I was scheduled to be in the hospital for ten days. Upon learning the news Vida mailed me the following note:
If you would care to leave the girls with me, I will keep all three of them and will be very glad to do it. If you want to leave Florence with your Mother, I will keep the two. We have plenty of room. Vida'
"Vida kept the two older girls and my mother took Florence for the scheduled ten days, which turned into forty days. Vida was so good to me and so concerned about my welfare.
"In the spring of 1944, my two oldest girls were in Provo attending BYU Bert had gone to Oregon to work when Vida took to her bed, desperately ill. I closed up my home and took my other children and went out to take care of Vida. I surely had my hands full, but Lily helped out by doing all the laundry. Lily's granddaughter, Quincy Dean, who was staying with Dave and Lily while she attended school, did the ironing.
"Weeks passed and finally Dave could not bear the situation any longer, so he strongly advised Lewis to call the ambulance and get Vida into the Cortez Hospital. Vida kept calling for Grace, but her plea fell on deaf ears for Lewis was determined not to have Grace's last year of college interrupted. After consulting with the doctor I prevailed upon Lewis to make the call. Grace arrived on the early morning bus.
"Although Vida's mental condition improved greatly and she seemed very happy that she had Grace with her, her physical condition showed little, if any, improvement, Finally, Grace took her to Albuquerque, New Mexico to consult doctors there. Many tests were given, yet she was not benefitted.
"Grace was in her last year of college and although she had very understanding teachers, she was not able to graduate on schedule. After her graduation Grace married William Mincher Halls, a second cousin, who had served a mission to his mother's native land, New Zealand, and to this union five lovely daughters were born, Nadine, twins Mary and Margaret, Sharlene, and Barbara. They came to Salt Lake City to live and Vida, now improved enough to travel, often visited them. Her oldest granddaughter, Nadine, often came to Mancos to visit in the home of her grandparents. They were a joy especially to Vida as she had always wanted more children and now she had them.
"On May 10, 1954, while Vida was visiting Grace's family, she came downstairs to get a drink of water and take a glass of water up to her room. She was in good spirits and feeling as well as possible. At the top of the stairs Vida suffered a stroke. The condition of her enlarged and weakened heart had yielded to the Eternal rest it was seeking. Her body was taken back to Mancos for burial. Those lives whom she touched have the sweet memory of this devoted mother, grandmother, and friend "
Daughter Grace said,
"Dad was born of goodly parents and he, in turn, lived a good life. Grandfather Halls in his writings said, 'The Lord had blessed me spiritually and temporally, and I acknowledge his goodness to me a1l my life. And my desire is that I may be faithful to the end, and that my family will be faithful, pay their tithing, attend to their prayers, especially in secret, keep the Sabbath Day holy, obey the Word of Wisdom and listen to the counsel of their inspired teachers.' To my knowledge Dad did as his father desired. He was a strict observer of the Word of Wisdom even though he did say the reason he didn't smoke was because he didn't figure they had that much money to burn. He didn't hesitate to pay a full tithing or help in the Mancos ward as much as anyone else toward the building fund when the new chapel was erected.
"He was very active in the church all his life. He was baptized by his father in the Mancos River on June 23, 1891. He was ordained to all offices of the Priesthood. One of his teachers, Moiselle Halls, rewarded him with a book, on the fly leaf of which she had written:
'Mancos, Jan. 20,1901 Presented to Lewis Halls by his teacher in Sabbath School, Sister Moiselle Halls, for having the best record in punctuality of any in the class.'
"According to his personal records he was president of the deacon's quorum, a ward teacher, went on a mission in 1907 to the eastern states, but because of ill health wasn't able to finish the term. He was superintendent of the YMMIA, Sunday School secretary, ward clerk, stake clerk of the Young Stake for over thirty years, and the last position he held was as Bishop of the Mancos Ward. When he was stake clerk, I remember his yearly records occupied most of his time, as well as much of the space in the house, while he finalized them to be sent to Headquarters in Salt Lake City."
Lewis' youngest sister, Florence Gerdel, had these memories of her brother:
"Lewis was the seventh child in our family; he was the second son. Farmers were always glad to have his help in the fields. He was not as strong in his youth as the others, so Mother was solicitous in her care of him. I remember she used charcoal in his treatments and I never could imagine what good it would do. He helped Dave with the farm work, but never liked to milk cows. He would become impatient if a cow moved or switched her tail; he often answered her with a swift kick. Otherwise he was a good, constant worker and helped with everything that needed to be done. Lewis was a cheerful person and could usually see the humorous side in every event. Most times at our house were a lot of pleasure, and dinner at noon always brought a good break in the day's work.
"In the summertime the boys would stop in the orchard to eat cherries before coming to dinner and would also stop on their way back to work. When Lewis and Frank were young, Mother's brother Pete Frandsen lived with us and worked with the boys. Mother said, 'If you have three boys, they are as good as nothing and if you have two boys, you have half a boy, and if you have only one boy you really had a boy.' Lewis was the only one who went to school in Fort Lewis, for the others all went to Provo, Utah to BYU. Lewis's wife Vida had a lovely voice and often sang solos for church and entertainments. The birth of Grace, their only child, made Vida's life complete, as she always wanted to be a mother."
Lewis was a very good neighbor. He was always willing to help people with their hay, threshing, etc. A very close friend of the family, Fern Decker Ellis wrote a few of her memories of Lewis as a neighbor:
"As a child, my parents taught us children to call a number of our favorite neighbors 'Aunt' and 'Uncle,' such as 'Aunt Lily and Uncle Dave' and 'Aunt Nina and Uncle Bert', though they were no relation to us. Mother and Dad were on such friendly terms and so near the same age that they always called these folks by their first names. They tried to get us to say 'Brother and Sister Halls' etc., but that was not too easy for us, hence the title 'Aunt and Uncle.' It was so easy to say 'Aunt Vida' because we knew her in Primary and she taught us singing and lessons and we felt close to her. But we seemed never to be able to call Lewis 'Uncle' very easily. He seemed rather austere sitting up on the stand and taking the minutes as ward Clerk in the old meeting house. We knew that he was on the High Council of the Stake and as such we looked up to him as a good church man but we never had occasion to get to really know him. And then I married the son of Lewis and Vida's neighbors and it wasn't long until my idea of Uncle Lewis changed dramatically.
“I learned to love and appreciate this man. So many memories of him in so many ways come before my eyes. He came to our home several times to help with administration when someone was ill. We lived with my husband's parents until their deaths, and Lewis came to our house often to spend a few minutes with the folks. When my husband's father became very ill and we knew he was not long for this life Lewis was there every day during the last week. We appreciated this very much Then a few years later when Vernon's mother was down in bed and we knew she would not make it, Lewis again was there, giving a blessing, comforting us, and returning again and again, often twice a day to see if there was anything he could do.
"Through the years he was in our home so many times, After his dear wife, Aunt Vida, passed away, he often would come over in the evening about supper time and we'd ask him to eat with us. Always he would say, 'I have had my supper, but I'll sit down with you.' And he always enjoyed the meal with us. Often he would offer to do the dishes for me, telling me over and over how he had learned to do dishes when he was going to school at old Ft. Lewis. He came and helped us put down linoleum tile in our kitchen one time, and that was a big help as the old kitchen coal range was so heavy.
"In later years after our sons were off to college and school in the fall, we would still have hay to haul. Vernon and I would go out with the tractor and start on the hauling, but it would not be very long until Lewis would be there beside us working along with us. Sometimes he would come and eat lunch with us, and then again sometimes he would go home and eat a bite and rest awhile, and then he would come back and help us again in the afternoon. Never would he take any pay, He loved to help and received a great blessing from offering and doing all that he could.
"He loved our boys and especially our son Jede. He talked to him as if he were his own son and was always so interested in his successes and accomplishments. Bits of advice were often tucked in with his visits in between his jokes. 'Go on to school and get an education,' he was always telling the boys. Yes, Lewis was our neighbor and he was one of the best. We loved him dearly and really missed him when he moved to Salt Lake City to be with Grace.
"One of my favorite memories of him is the picture of him in late fall or early winter walking behind his team of horses, following the old walking plow with the first snow of the winter just beginning to fall. Bundled up in heavy overcoat, gloves, and overshoes, he would trudge along, urging the team on so that as much as possible could be done before the final thrust of winter made the work impossible. Truly a beautiful picture of a dedicated man with a purpose of caring for his small part of God's vineyard and doing it cheerfully and with small recompense. Yes, we loved him and will look forward to the time when we can see him and visit with him once again."
Lewis was not blessed with sons, but one of Dave's sons, Harry, seemed to help fill the void in that part of his life. Harry had this to say about Uncle Lewis:
"Lewis was very sociable and liked crowds. He would go to the bars in town just to be with crowds. They would try to get him to drink whiskey even though they knew he didn't drink. One time they decided to trick him. He always drank orange juice from a bottle, and one time they poured out the orange juice and poured in whiskey. They never found out whether or not he would know the difference or how he would react, because the bartender and he were good friends, and the bartender would not give the booze to Lewis.
"He saved everything including egg shells. He came to my wife Marjorie and wanted to know what to do with the inside wrappers of dry cereal boxes. He didn't much like her advice about just burning them. No matter how small a piece of meat was, he would always say, 'Isn't this piece of meat too big?' He was very careful with the way he spent money, but every so often he would give my son Keith some coins when he helped him on the farm. Sometimes it was as much as a silver dollar. He carried an old leather money bag with a drawstring. He would always pick up nails in the parking lot and toss them aside so people wouldn't get them in their tires. He would patch anything he could. He would never spend money on himself unless he absolutely had to."
The wife of Lewis' brother, Bert, Nina Halls, added these memories of Lewis:
"Bert often said that Lewis was a 'card,' but nevertheless he was a man proud of his accomplishments and he loved his farm. When our first daughter was very young, barely able to pull herself up to the window, Lewis brought her a puppy. I took her to the window and she stood and watched the dog, which was barking furiously. Dorothy Mae laughed with glee and called out 'Bow,' so that is what we named the dog. When Dorothy Mae and Beth were quite young, Lewis brought a pony over for their use. He told them that the pony was named 'Wildly' which turned out to be very correct, as no one, not even Bert, could catch her. I called Lewis and told him that he had forgotten to leave instructions on how to catch the pony. He went into peals of laughter and said he would tell Bert how to do this. Soon Wildly had a chain attached to her neck with a log tied at the other end. This slowed the wild creature down considerably and we had no trouble catching her. Once caught, she was as gentle as a kitten and the girls had a lot of fun riding her around the ranch However, I never got over feeling a little distrustful of such capers.
"When my son, Robert, was about four years old, Lewis brought a pair of eyeglass rims, minus the glass, mind you, and asked Robert to see if he could read as well with the glasses as he could without them. Very solemnly Robert donned the frames and after considerable studying, decided he could see as well with them as he could without them. Another time he brought Robert an empty cigar box and told him it was a treasure chest, and that he must keep all his treasures in it. Robert called it his treasure chest and he really did treasure it. Bert laughed and laughed and said, ‘That Lewis is really a card. It hasn't cost him a cent and see how much pleasure he has brought to Robert.'
"In 1949, when I was in Utah for surgery, Robert stayed with my mother, but Vida and Lewis had him a lot of the time. They took him to Sunday School and to town with them. Robert had such a good time, that he wasn't in any hurry for his mother to return and spoil his good times."
A niece, LaRue Lyman Reese, had these memories of Lewis and Vida:
"I had a lot of personal contact with Uncle Lewis and Aunt Vida as I spent a lot of time with Grace. I was invited to go with them several years to Uncle Lewis' reunion at Ft. Lewis Agricultural College. Grace and I would help with chores or just hang around the shop while Uncle Lewis was working. If we asked him a question he didn't want to answer, he would say, 'It sounds like a frog a‑croaking a long ways off.' Another of his sayings was 'Wash it down with a little branch water.' In the evening Uncle Lewis, Aunt Vida, the little dog Fritz, and I would sit in the living room and listen to Grace practice her piano lessons. Even when she just played the scales, it was music to our ears. Aunt Vida made delicious bread. I would rather have a piece of bread made by any of my aunts than a piece of cake. Sometimes when I stayed overnight with Grace, Aunt Vida would serve us breakfast in bed. I remember that she made yellow cornmeal cereal with cinnamon, sugar, and cream, and poured it over toast."
Grace tells about Lewis' dry sense of humor:
"My dad was very faithful in writing letters to me after I was married and had our family of five girls. He would write such humor as, 'Dear Grace, When down in the mouth, remember Jonah. He came out all right.' or 'Under separate cover I am sending the Mancos Times. People know what everyone is doing. Every week, though, they read the paper to see if anyone has been caught at it.' or 'There are a number of things you might do to get your mind off the daily routine, and not cost you anything either. You might go to the Fashion Department at ZCMI and quarrel with them over the price of a mink coat. That's all they've got to do anyway.'
"My dad was a tease. During my teenage years the Webber gang met quite often for fun ‑‑ maybe bobsled riding, or taking a climb up the mountain, or for just a get‑together at somebody's home. Each year Mother would plan a party for me on my birthday. Dad loved to attend so he could cut‑up with the rest of us. One of these parties will never be forgotten, because the cocoa Mother had made for refreshments was so salty it had to be thrown out. Of course, everyone knew without question that Uncle Lewis had been the joker. Another time a group from the ward went to a grove a little ways south of Ft. Lewis School for an overnight outing. After everyone was bedded down in sleeping bags and nearly everyone was asleep, some cow bells started to ring loudly through the grove, What the gang did to Lewis the next day would take too long to tell. But I will say that there was a mock trial, plus a dent in his cherished '27 Chev ‑‑ the only one inflicted on his pride and joy.”
Lewis was a firm believer in education. Like a number of his brothers and sisters, he attended BYU in 1904‑05. And even after he was married, while Grace was about two years old, he attended Ft. Lewis College in Hesperus, Colorado, where his main study was blacksmithing. He made a number of tools which took ‘honorable mention’ and were put in displays. On the farm he would spend a lot of time working in the forge in the winter fixing things to get ready for spring.
He was also determined that his child should get an education, especially since that only child was a girl, and he knew girls couldn't just stay on a farm and get anywhere. So he saw that Grace attended BYU and graduated, even though she did have to take a little time off to go home and take her mother to Albuquerque to get medical attention. Lewis lived twenty years after Vida passed away. He lived on his farm in the summer months and stayed in Salt Lake with Grace and her family during the winter and did temple work. He passed away on September 30, 1974 at Grace's home at the age of 91 His life spanned from the time when there was no town of Mancos ‑‑ dirt roads, horse‑drawn implements, and coal oil lamps ‑‑ to such technology as computers and outer space flights, and he was fully aware of this up until the last.
Following is a poem that Lewis wrote and typed:
I'm tired of snow, I'm tired of sleet,
I'm tired of both together.
I'm tired of storms that freeze my feet,
I'm sick of wintry weather.
I strive to chort and chartle,
And hand some glee as I pass by
To every sighing mortal.
To find some joy in everything
Is always my endeavor.
But how can one rear up and sing
When winter lasts forever?
How can the minstrel swat his lyre
To glad and pleasing numbers
When he has naught to feed the fire
And freezes while he slumbers?
Each day I think the cold will break,
The winter be exhausted
And every morning when I wake,
I find my whiskers frosted.
Each day I see some hopeful sign
That spring at last is coming
And in the night, at half past nine,
I hear the blizzard humming.
I'm tired with chilblains in my toes.
I'm tired with influenza.
I'm tired with every wind that blows
From back of the McKenzie.
I'm tired of ice in sheets and peaks,
Of ash piles, large and dirty.
I'm tired of every wind that shrieks
From up around Alberty.
I'm tired with grates and easy chairs
When I'd be out Choo-Chooing.
This climate's built for polar bears
And hence, my loud Boo-Hooing.
J. Lewis Halls