Erminnie Viletta Norton Lish



I guess all our lives we have heard older people lament not recording the facts of their elder’s lives while they were living to tell of them, but we find ourselves following the same pattern! There is much about the life of mother Lish that I wish we’d taken time to find out. As a case in point, I never knew how her second given name was spelled, whether Violetta, Vilatta, Voletta, or Valetta as we spelled our little daughter’s name whom we supposedly named after her. None of her boys know or knew how it was spelled nor could her husband Dell (daddy Lish, to me) ever tell me. In the family Bible record it is written Erminnie V. Lish, and that is the only way I ever remember of having seen it written.


We and most everyone else knew Mother Lish (as I always called her) as Minnie, and to know her was to love her. She was quite a remarkable woman, and as we think of “old age” she died a comparatively young woman. According to dates in a family Bible she was only in her 68th year at the time of her death, the 11th of February, 1935, at Pocatello, Idaho.


She was born the 1st of January, 1868, the 13th child of Alanson Norton and the 6th of Alanson and Julia Ann Williams Norton. Because of grandpa Norton’s employment in the woolen manufacturing industry, the family moved about considerably, but at the time of Mother Lish’s birth they were living at Brigham City, Box Elder County, Utah. At the proper time she was given a blessing by her father and the name of Erminnie Viletta. The family was a close and loving one, and young Minnie, as she was affectionately known throughout her life, thoroughly enjoyed her family associations, but as they grew older, she and her brother William, or Will, were especially close. [During the] Summers the two would hire out to the dairies in the surrounding mountains to milk and herd cows. Most of the milk was made into cheese, and stored for sale later in the various settlements. The two young people would stay at the dairy, and it was nothing for them to each milk 20 to 30 cows, by hand of course, morning and night, and often to herd the animals during the day. Probably it was at this time that Minnie acquired her love of outdoor activities. While the other girls of the family were engaged in helping their mother about the house Minnie could usually be found with Will doing the outside chores. She became an accomplished horsewoman, and could handle and shoot a six-gun better than most men. She usually had her own gun after she became old enough. This was true even after she was married. She also became very deft with an ax. All the years of her married life when the family lived out of town, she would rather chop up a pile of firewood than to sew or do any of the things females were supposed to prefer to do in their spare time for recreation.


As all enjoyable things usually come to an end, the close association between Minnie and Will ended when Will decided to leave home, and go out on his own in his 16th year. For a while this was a sad time for Minnie, but she was never one to mope over things of this kind for very long, and she soon formed a close friendship with one of her girl relatives, either a cousin or a sister as they enjoyed many of the same things. In fact, one fall after Will left home, their father was unable to get out the winter’s supply of wood, so these two young ladies went to the canyons, chopped down enough wood to last all winter, and hauled it home.


Time passed and Minnie developed into a particularly lovely young woman. She had naturally curly, auburn hair with a beautifully fair complexion, and big brown eyes. She was so active that she was slender and willowy, but did not lack for natural feminine curves. One older man told me that she was the most beautiful young woman he had ever seen. It is not hard to believe that she did not lack for attention from young men, but in her 17th year she was especially flattered when an older man, Hyrum Peola Lish, started paying her court. It wasn’t long until their relationship proved more than an infatuation, and the young couple was married the 2nd of December, 1885.


The following spring they moved by team and wagon, of course, to Albion, Cassia County, Idaho. There on September 7th, 1886, their first son, Hyrum Elmer, was born followed by their daughter, Mable, on the 11th of June, 1888. About this time they decided to move to Pocatello where the employment picture was better because of the coming of the new railroad. It was at Pocatello on the 24th of February, 1890, that their little daughter passed away. They buried her in the old cemetery on the hill east of the young settlement. This area is now residential and no one knows what became of many of the graves. As was not unusual there was not time to mourn the death of little Mable for long as on the 30th of August, 1890, their son Charles Lester was born.


Soon after this, since many of both Minnie’s and Hyrum’s folk were living at McCammon on former Indian land, they decided to move there. Minnie was especially happy to be again living near her family, and on the 24th of August, 1892, their third son, and fourth child, Robert Lee was born. Following Lee’s birth everything seemed to be going particularly well, but in the spring of 1893, a strange malady broke out which was thought to be typhoid fever. It first infected Hyrum’s mother and she passed away the 9th of June, 1893.


By this time the settlement was thoroughly frightened as others were infected and would die, so while Minnie and her family were attending Hyrum’s funeral, well-meaning friends and neighbors burned and buried most of her worldly goods thus hoping to put an end to the infection before it reached epidemic proportions. Minnie’s son Charlie distinctly remembers of he, and his older brother Elmer, later finding a buried bed and digging it up.


The method chosen to halt the infection may seem rather cold-blooded and wasteful to us, but remember that here was a thoroughly frightened community with no knowledge of fumigation, or methods of, nor facilities for disinfecting. It was this lack of deterrents to the spread of infectious diseases that caused them to take such drastic measures, and in spite of the precautions taken, Minnie’s baby son, Lee, contracted the disease and died about 3 weeks later, probably about the 29th of June, 1893.


The young widow was left little time for grieving with 2 small sons to support. The members of the community took from their meager possessions, and helped the young widow to again set up housekeeping. She valiantly gathered up the scattered and broken threads of their lives and set to work. How could she earn a livelihood? H.O. Harkness was employing many young and unmarried men who had come to McCammon to find work so when she decided to start what would possibly now be known as a shirt laundry service, she had little trouble soliciting the laundry work of these men. It was hard and back breaking work, but she never faltered. She quickly became an expert at laundering and ironing the shirts particularly. Of course there was other laundry to do, but the men’s dress shirts with their heavily-starched and polished bosoms, collars and cuffs were her specialty. I never saw her equal in doing up shirts in particular. Throughout her life she continued to starch the bosoms, collars and cuffs of the shirts, even the men’s work shirts, as she had done when she did them for the Harkness employees. When she ironed them, every wrinkle had to be smoothed out and when one considers that this ironing was then done with the old “sad-irons” of that day, which were heated on the cook stove after it was polished clean of soot and ash dust, one can perhaps realize to some extent the hours of hot, sweaty work she put in. When she first started her laundry service, she even distilled her own lye from certain kinds of wood ashes, but a little later she was able to get commercial lye.


It is interesting to note how the laundry was done. In the evening, young Elmer and Charlie dipped up the water from the stream and poured it into barrels where it was allowed to settle overnight. Minnie very carefully dipped off the top water so as not to again stir up the settled mud. After each washing the barrels, or containers, had to be entirely emptied and cleaned out before re-filling. When the water was dipped from the barrels, it was heated on the stove in large containers. Eventually Minnie was able to procure a wash-boiler which she prized very highly. While the water was being heated, lye was added which softened the water and further separated any remaining dirt. The minerals in the water that caused it to be hard and any remaining dirt would rise to the top as a scum and was very carefully skimmed off. Then the actual washing could begin. The heated water was poured into the wash and rinse tubs, and the heating process was again followed so there would be water for boiling the white clothes. This was done by adding soap to help bleach them and the sun and air in summer, and the freezing in winter, completed the bleaching process. When the laundry was done the water was not wasted, but was used to scrub a floor or scrub out and disinfect the privy. I never recall hearing her say whether she made her own soap, but she may have done as many did, but I doubt she had enough unused fat. Minnie’s white clothes were always dazzlingly white. It was said that she put out the whitest washes in the settlement, and there were usually clothes on her lines. All the days of her life she was just this particular with her wash. Of course the clothes were scrubbed by hand on a washboard with soap, then rinsed in at least two clear waters. When she could get it, the white clothes were rinsed finally in a cool blue rinse, and those that had to be starched were starched while wet, usually with a cooled wheat flour starch which Minnie of course made herself. If you’d ever have made it you’d know there was quite an art in getting just the right amount of flour then cooking it to the correct consistency so it would neither discolor the clothes nor scorch too easily when ironed. Of course the correct heat of the iron was a factor in this also. The men of the community made it their responsibility to see that she had wood for her fires, but she did most of the chopping of it into stove lengths herself.


Life continued for Minnie and her two boys. She was too busy to mope or mourn unduly and was so grateful for the means of earning a livelihood. Not only had she to provide for herself and her two sons, but for a time her mother’s brother, her uncle, Lemuel Williams, who was so crippled up with lumbago that he could scarcely get around, lived with them. Minnie still wasn’t too busy to join in the life of the growing community. She took an active part in church work, being the first president of the McCammon Branch Primary of the Garden Creek Ward. She held this position from October of 1893 until sometime in 1902, probably after her son Earl was born, as she suffered quite a serious illness from infection at that time, and it was then her lovely auburn hair turned grey, and lost most of its natural curl. The McCammon Branch was made a ward on the 7th of December, 1894.


At the same time she was Primary President she was also teaching a Sunday School class, and it is interesting to note that on the first recorded “nickel day” (which later became Dime Sunday) of the McCammon Sunday School, October 4, 1894, Minnie and her two sons, Elmer and Charlie, contributed their share of the $1.15 that was collected. During part of this time she acted as treasurer of the Young Ladies Mutual in the McCammon Branch also.


Church activities did not claim all of her attention as she was an active participant in the McCammon Dramatic Club, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This group traveled to many of the surrounding settlements, presenting theatrical production, and contributed much to the entertainment and enjoyment of the people and their visits were much anticipated.


Living in the McCammon community was a young nephew of Hyrum’s, Dell Ray Lish. The young couple enjoyed many of the same activities, and Dell became interested in this lovely energetic, fun-loving widow. Eventually he began an active courtship which culminated in Minnie’s acceptance of him, and their marriage the 8th of December, 1897. They traveled by team, and wagon, to Logan, Utah, where they were married for time in the Logan Temple since Minnie had already been sealed to Hyrum on the 5th of June, 1895. The trip to Logan took the greater part of a week, and this was their honeymoon.


When they returned home they were prepared to resume their life and start raising a family. Minnie’s two young sons, Elmer and Charlie didn’t know whether they were going to appreciate having a “father” or not, but to Minnie’s relief, Dell so endeared himself to the two fatherless boys and they grew to love, and respect him as the only father they had really ever known. Dell proved to be a wonderful father to the two boys after he won their love and respect. It is everlastingly to his credit that there was no difference in his boys after he and Minnie had their family as he loved them all equally, and impartially.


Of course Dell would no longer consent to Minnie doing laundry as he felt it would be his responsibility to provide for his new family. You can be sure that the men for whom she had done laundry were sorry to lose their most excellent shirt laundress, but they were happy for her at the same time.


Dell Lionel, the first son of Minnie and Dell was born the 3rd of September, 1898 at McCammon, and he was followed on the 15th of February, 1902 by Edwin Earl. Minnie was a busy, happy woman during these years with her growing family. Their son Cecil Verl was born on Minnie’s birthday, the 1st of January, 1904. On the 20th of January, 1906, Minnie and Dell’s son George Alanson, named for his two grandfathers came to bless their home.


As was so often the case in those days, sorrow was not far removed from the family as Minnie’s father Alanson Norton passed away the 20th of August, 1904, but these hardy pioneers had to learn to live with sorrow and accepted bereavement as life must and did go on. Minnie and Dell’s beloved son Cecil Verl passed away from strangulation caused by the rupture of a lung abscess which was an after effect of whooping cough. He died the 21st of may, 1908, in Pocatello where they had taken him for medical attention. They had an undertaker prepare him for burial. This was an unprecedented occurrence and didn’t often happen as the sisters of the ward usually “laid out” the dead.


It was just a month and one day after the death of Cecil that Minnie’s and Dell’s last son, Arley Delmont, was born on the 22nd of June, 1908. All of Minnie’s and Dell’s boys were born an McCammon.


Dell had acquired property at Onyx, on the Portneuf River between McCammon and Inkom, Idaho. Eventually he moved his family to his ranch. After the bustle and companionship of relatively close neighbors at McCammon, one might think Minnie would be lonely, but with her family, and household duties, she found plenty to do so she didn’t have time to feel lonely. If she completed all she desired to do in the house there was always a pile of firewood to be chopped into stove lengths, and this she thoroughly enjoyed doing. There were also quilt blocks to piece, and of course mending for 6 boys, and Dell. Much of the time there were nephews and nieces around too. She even on occasion mended farm equipment on her Singer sewing machine. By now Minnie had a hand operated washer and of course the younger boys took turns providing the motive power.


In the summer of 1911, Minnie’s mother Julia Ann Williams Norton passed away at McCammon, and on the 23rd of November, 1912, Minnie and Hyrum’s first son, Hyrum Elmer, was married to Susie Girrard, and the young couple made their home with mother and daddy Lish (Minnie and Dell). It wasn’t long until a new era commenced for Minnie and Dell, that of grandparents.


In the fall of 1914, Minnie and Dell and the younger boys moved to Pocatello, where Dell was chief deputy to sheriff Earnest Lowry. Charlie stayed on the ranch with Elmer and Susie. Following this first move to Pocatello, for some years the family would move to Pocatello during the winter and back to the ranch at Onyx during the summer. War was declared in the spring of 1917, and Charlie went into the service and was released just as his company was preparing to go overseas as the armistice was signed before his boat set sail.


After the family moved to Onyx, although they still belonged to the McCammon ward, it was too far to go regularly to attend church, so they sort of dropped out of activity until they were made members of the Inkom ward some time later.


As time passed, the other boys married and started families of their own. All of Minnie’s daughters-in-law loved and respected her. She was a wonderful woman, a good mother, and an exceptionally good cook. One never came to her home without finding cakes, pies, and plenty of good home-made bread. This bread with her Spanish pickles or peach preserves was an especially memorable treat. Her soda and baking powder biscuits were just “out of this world.” All her nieces and nephews loved her and looked forward to visits at Aunt Minnie and Uncle Dell’s home.


I never remember of seeing mother Lish that her prematurely grey hair wasn’t neatly combed and her house dress and apron freshly and crisply laundered. Although she was quite a heavy woman after I knew her, she was never “sloppy” as so many heavy women are. Her formerly auburn hair was now grey and the natural curl had tamed down to a pleasing natural wave.


She loved baseball and the only times I ever saw her postpone doing a batch of dishes were when there was a baseball game that would start before she’d have time to do the dishes first.


Her grandchildren loved her dearly. When she passed away, and we were trying to explain her passing to our grief-stricken young son who wasn’t yet 3, we told him that Heavenly Father needed her, and he replied “I need her too!” and he did. He will never forget her, her kindness to him, nor the love they shared. None of her other grandchildren who knew her will forget her either, and of course neither will her living sons and daughters-in-law.