This biography was printed in November 1979 by the William Halls Family Organization in its family periodical,
Through the Halls of History, Kristine Halls Smith, editor
© 1979 William Halls Family Organization
Sarah Halls Decker was the 6th child and 5th daughter of William Halls (1834-1920) and Johanne Marie Frandsen (1855-1913)
By Kristine Halls Smith
with information provided by
Nina Carroll Halls (sister-in-law), Floyd Decker (son), Florence Halls Gerdel (sister), LaRue Lyman Reese (niece), and Louie Smith Koho (niece).
Late October, 1879 ‑‑ A large group of Mormon pioneers left Parowan in Iron County, Utah to travel south and east in response to a call from their Church leaders to settle the area along the San Juan River near the "Four Corners" area of Utah. Among them was a young woman whose clothes at that time no doubt still hid the treasure growing within her. Emma Morris Decker probably felt confident that she and her husband, Nathaniel Alvin Decker, and their young daughter, Sarah Jane, would be safely located in a new location long before the expected birth of this new child, for Church leaders predicted that their trip to their new home would take only about six weeks. Little did they know what lay in store for them, for the six weeks actually turned into six months before the group finally made their way across some of this nation's most inhospitable land to their new home. Building roads all the way through country that grew progressively worse as they proceeded southward into the desert, the pioneers eventually arrived at a point above the towering sandstone cliffs overlooking the Colorado River where they were forced to camp for several weeks while a road (if that is what it could be called) was blasted and built through a narrow crevice leading 1800 feet down to the river. This crevice became known as the Hole‑in‑the‑Rock and these people became known as the Hole‑in‑the‑Rock pioneers. By the first part of February most of the wagons had made it across the river, but even then the time required for their trip was only half gone. The worst part still lay ahead,and so it was April 6, 1880 before they finally arrived at the San Juan River. One report of the journey says: "As they rested in exhaustion from the last intensive strain, for the first time they began to see themselves for what they were: weary, worn out, galled, both teams and men. For so long they had walked and slept and eaten and lived on sloping uneven ground that the thought of level bottom‑land was extremely sweet. Yet one woman spoke for the whole group when ... she said later, 'I was so tired and sore that I had no desire to be any place except where I was…' When they began to sing . . . she had to sing to keep from crying." (Charles Redd, "Short Cut to San Juan", 23-24, recorded in David E. Miller's Hole‑in‑the‑Rock, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1966, p. 140.)
Such were the conditions of the trek that Emma, Alvin, and little Sarah Jane made as Emma's unborn child grew within her. How grateful she must have been that they had finally reached their destination when on Monday, April 12, she gave birth to a son whom they named Alvin Morris (after an older brother of William). It can probably be truthfully said that, because of her condition, Emma's journey to her new home was one of the most difficult of any of those Hole‑in‑the‑Rock pioneers.
Five years after their arrival in Bluff, Utah, Emma gave birth to another son on November 21, 1885. This son they named William. Sometime after William's birth, the family left Bluff and moved to Mancos, Colorado.
By 1885, the Hole‑in‑the‑Rock road to the San Juan country had been abandoned, and new settlers moving into the area traveled by way of Moab. In that year, William Halls, a pioneer living in Huntsville, Utah, was called to help settle that wild region, and so, taking his second wife, Johanne, with eight of her children, and two sons of his first wife, he also traveled to Southern Utah.
One of Johanne's children was little three‑year‑old Sarah, who had been born in Huntsville on November 21, 1881. Sarah shared the month and day of birth of the man who would become her husband, but at the time she made her journey to their new home, William had not yet been born for she was four years older than he.
Sarah's family stayed in Bluff for one year, then they too moved to Mancos, Colorado. Sarah Halls and William Decker grew up as neighbors, attending school and participating in the various activities their community and church provided. Their son Floyd recalled that William's father "used to run a freight wagon from Durango, Colorado to Utah when the railroad only came to Durango. I remember my dad telling about riding with him on the freight wagon with six horses pulling it." Floyd also said that his father "did not like school, although he studied books all his life when he could." His sister‑in-law, Nina Carroll Halls said "Will was self‑taught and a deep thinker. He served a mission for his church. He was a student of the Book of Mormon and a great admirer of B.H. Roberts, whom he often quoted. He was the best Sunday School teacher of the adult class that I have ever been privileged to have."
Sarah's youngest sister, Florence Gerdel, recalls their years at home before Sarah's marriage: "Sister Sadie – as she was usually called -- was the oldest of the daughters at home during my early school years. I think of her as a second mother as she was the one who was solicitous of my welfare, making my clothes and getting me off to school on time and telling me the facts of life and the things I should know about the way of growing up. One time she made a dress for me which a neighbor playmate admired, so she made a duplicate dress for her. So many other ways she had of making me happy.
"She managed the cooking of all the meals, helped with the canning and preserving of fruit, and helped Mother with the many other duties of the house. There was the washing to do by hand, and as there were no bleaches or detergents, the clothes were boiled on top of the stove. On wash day our dinner was cooked in the oven; it usually consisted of baked potatoes, squash, and rice pudding with raisins. With no thermometer in the oven, it took a fine perception to know how to regulate the heat for baked food, especially bread. The floors of our house were bare, painted boards, and they had to be scrubbed on hands and knees. There were no carpets except for one in the parlor, which had a green rug with clean straw for padding which had to be renewed every fall house‑cleaning time. There were lace curtains at the windows, a beautiful hand‑carved center table with a red plush album with pictures of relatives, and a small wood stove for heat, which was used when the room was used for entertaining friends.
"Sadie was of a more serious nature than any of my other sisters, although she liked to have a good time, such as going to the dances with her friends. The church gave a dance quite often in the hall, which was only a few yards from our house, so we all attended. We all attended church on Sundays and other amusements which were frequently given there."
Sarah Halls and William Decker were married in the Salt Lake Temple on April 3, 1912. Sadie, as she was known, was 30 years old; William was 26. He was called Bill by everyone except Sadie, who called her husband Will.
Nina says, "Their first home was way down Webber Canyon at Mancos, and I remember the deep and scary ravine or gulch they had to negotiate in order to get to the main road. Sadie was never robust, and this was a hard life for her. Later they moved to an acreage up in the Webber Community. The place was barren, but they bought a three room house from her brother Dave and had it moved. Will soon had it fenced, and they started right in to plant what turned out to be one of the very best orchards in the community. They also soon had producing raspberries, which required relatives and friends to pick on shares. I surely remember my own stint at this picking and taking my share home, and in spite of the ravishing appetite of my husband Bert, I managed to bottle many half gallon jars of the delicious fruit for our winter enjoyment. All of Sadie's sisters‑in‑law, as well as her sister Anna, helped out in this endeavor. People from town would come out to buy the surplus. They also had alfalfa acreage, which provided enough hay for their livestock.
Florence recalled that "Like all farmers of that day, they went through many hardships making a living." Floyd recalled many jobs his father worked at to provide for his family through the years. He managed a large farm with range cattle. later sold, then a smaller farm of about 30 acres where he had planted about 100 apple trees and raised other fruit and vegetables as well as field crops. He worked driving a team of horses two summers at Mesa Verde Park, skidded logs for saw mills, and worked in mines.
Nina adds, "In spite of her poor health, Sadie was a tireless worker and a good manager. From time to time I would help her with her canning and the cooking for harvest hands. They still had producing land at their canyon property. Sadie's dishes shone beyond description. I remember holding up a drinking glass or a canning bottle and marveling at the sheen. She was an excellent cook. In the summertime she would say, ‘Aunt Nina, let's give a family dinner.’ Our house was large, so the dinners were always held there. Oh, the work that went into those meals, but we both loved it, She would bring the fried chicken and help out with other foods. I would arise extra early and have the two‑gallon ice‑cream freezer frozen and packed. No one ever seemed to be available to help turn that freezer, but without exception, Bert showed up in time to ‘lick the dash’. By setting the kitchen table for the children we managed to accommodate the twenty‑five clan members. One time Dave mentioned that he was glad to see that the kids got to eat at the same time as the adults, as when he was a kid he hated company, for the kids always had to wait for the second table, and the adults were never in any hurry to leave the table."
Two of Sadie's nieces also remember her good cooking. LaRue Reese said, "Aunt Sade made the best bread, and she was very generous with it. She also made delicious gooseberry pie, or she would have cooked gooseberries for us kids to eat." Louie Koho says "We used to go visit her on occasion, always unannounced, because no one had telephones. She would cook a chicken, make soup and dumplings, and a good white cake, put together with whipped cream. It is still my favorite cake." Louie also remembers that "Aunt Sadie taught me to crochet one summer while I was staying with her. I was supposed to be helping her after a child was born."
Nina adds: "Then there were the quiet times, when Sadie would come to my home to talk over a matter with me. She told me it always seemed so nice to enjoy the atmosphere of my home. We missed our talks after I had moved to town." However, later, "After they had finished their shopping in town, they would drive around and have lunch with my small son, Robert, and me. By that time the rest of my family were gone, as Bert was working on the west coast. I always saw them as they drove into town and hurried to have a delicious meal ready for them."
LaRue has other memories of her aunt and uncle: "She loved flowers and had quite a variety of them, but the ones I especially remember were the hollyhocks. There were double and single ones in a variety of colors." She adds, "Uncle Billy was usually working, but whenever he was around, he would tease us."
Sadie and Will raised three children. Floyd William was born January 11, 1915. David Alvin was born September 17, 1917, and Elna was born July 19, 1921. Nina says of these children, "The parents saw their two sons go into the Armed Service during World War Il. Men seldom talk about these things, but Sadie told me that we must win this war, and if her sons had to give their lives to help accomplish this, then she was willing to make the sacrifice. This shows the caliber of Sadie's character.
"I enjoyed a good correspondence with both boys. Floyd was stationed in Hawaii and also in Japan. He fell in love with a lovely Japanese girl and went back to Japan and married her. Kiyoka was not permitted to accompany Floyd back to the states due to government red tape, but eventually she was able to join her husband. Kiyoka is a charmer, and we are all very fond of her. We see them occasionally at the clan gatherings which John Smith and Louie Koho have hosted. They lived at Ogden, Utah, and Floyd was employed at Hill Air Force Base.
“Al served in the jungle and had such a good sense of direction that he led his troop out when the commanding officer was hopelessly lost. As long as I lived at Mancos, I knew Al suffered terribly from the results of malaria fever. Al and his wife, Sybil, lived in the Decker home. Al and Sybil had a good marriage. I shall always be grateful to Sybil for the many kindnesses she showed me while I was a patient at Southwest Memorial Hospital at Cortez, Colorado. Sybil, a nurse's aide would arrive a full half hour before her regular working schedule to spoon feed me my breakfast, encouraging me in a gentle, soothing voice to eat. She did many other kind things for me over and above her line of duty. She has had a special place in my heart ever since. Al was always the closest to me because he confided his problems to me. He would sit on the kitchen stool and pour out his problems while I went about my duties. Al often took my advice, and it seemed things turned out right for him.
"I remember the beautiful hand work Elna did and how generous she was with this work for our Relief Society Bazaars. For some time Elna lived and worked in Grand Junction, Colorado. Elna took such good care of her mother during Sadie's last illness. One day when I was out to their home, Elna told me that her mother had pointed to a beautiful flowering plant that friends had brought her and said, ‘See those flowers -- they will last a month, and that's how long I will live.’ This was a most prophetic utterance. She never even got to see inside the lovely new modern home her husband and sons were building for her, but she could hear the building activities from her sick bed."
Sadie died on December 21, 1945. Floyd remembers that "I was only home from the Navy about three weeks when my mother died, and my brother Al had only been home from the Army a few months. Nina says, her funeral was beautiful. Her brother-in‑law, Morris Decker preached the sermon. He said that Sadie was determined to live until her sons returned from the war and how she ever did it was a miracle. She was buried in the new cemetery just up the hill from her home, the day before Christmas. I had the family to our home for Christmas dinner, I was proud and grateful to see each family member show such courage."
Will lived for sixteen years after Sadie's death. Nina recalls that "for a time after his wife's death, Will lived with his son, Al, and his wife. He told me that he thought the young marrieds should have the home by themselves, so he saved his money and had Al build him a small house nearby. Will was sick a long time before death mercifully relieved him of his pain on January 11, 1962. Sybil and Al were very kind to him and here again Sybil's hospital training helped her to give him the kind of care he needed. He was buried beside Sadie near their home in Mancos."
Florence concludes, "I shall ever think of Sister Sadie with a great love."