The End of a Generation (and some Reese history)

Aunt Ruth passed away a few days ago at 97. Actually, Ruth Reese Dahle wasn’t my aunt; she was my mother’s aunt, but as she was only a couple of years older than my mother, she functioned more like my mother’s cousin.

Because I grew up in California, and Ruth lived in Utah, I didn’t know her well. I do recall seeing her at various Reese family reunions, always smiling and friendly. A few years ago I met her again and we talked about family history. Then I did one of those things you always wish you had done, but more often than not, you don’t. I set up an appointment to visit her in her home and interview her on camera about her father and how it was to grow up in the Reese household.

Ruth Maurine Reese Dahle (1914 – 2012)
I took this photograph on January 9, 2008 in Ruth’s Ogden home.
She was 93 years old at the time.

The day I arranged to visit Ruth turned out to be one of the worst snowstorms Utah had experienced in years. I drove from Park City to Ogden and it was quite an adventure, especially for a California driver. Fortunately, I had an SUV, but I saw many cars that had just slid off the road, or become stuck on an inclined street, wheels spinning, unable to continue. I pressed on, however, and somehow sloshed and skidded my way to Ruth’s house. When I got there she seemed genuinely surprised and said, “I can’t believe you came in this weather!”

But she was expecting me. Ninety-three years old at the time, but she had dressed in a cheery red blouse, white knit sleeveless sweater, and slacks. She had made up her face and she looked great. She was also as mentally sharp as any nonagenarian I have met. I interviewed her for two hours, which can be grueling, but she held up like a champ. I was mostly interested about her growing-up years because that is where our relationship coincided—her father was my great-grandfather. I also obtained copies of some photos of Ruth when she was younger—a beautiful and classy-looking woman then, as well.

Here is Ruth’s short obituary:

Ruth Maurine Reese Dahle, 97, passed away peacefully at home on February 20, 2012. Ruth was born on November 2, 1914 to William Griffiths and Karen Andersen Reese.

She married Norman DeVell Dahle on July 23, 1935 in the Logan LDS Temple. They were married for 62 years before his passing in December of 1997.

Ruth had very fond memories of her childhood growing up on a farm with 12 siblings in Cache Valley.

She was a wonderful hostess, a marvelous cook, and loved entertaining. She was a math whiz and had a keen mind up to the very end. While some count sheep when they can’t sleep, she thought that much too boring and would instead recite the 13 Articles of Faith all the way through from beginning to end and then start over again. Ruth had many talents including playing the piano and organ. She made beautiful hand-crafted items as gifts which she knit or crochet for family members and friends. She was a champion bowler in her day and thoroughly enjoyed playing games of any kind. Her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even many of her great-great-grandchildren will long cherish the times they played “Hot Dice” with Grandma Dahle. She also loved to play cribbage.

Mother was very proud to be an original Daughter of Utah Pioneers. Ruth is survived by her children, Norm (Karma) Dahle, Clinton, UT; Pat (Frank) Clark, Clinton, UT; Elden (Sharon) Dahle, Malad, ID; and Reese (Patsy) Dahle, Taylor, UT; 13 grandchildren; and 22 great-grandchildren; and 25 great-great-grandchildren.

I wish circumstances had permitted me to travel to Utah to attend the funeral because I know I would have heard many other great stories about Aunt Ruth.

I titled this post, “The End of a Generation,” because Ruth was the last surviving child of my great-grandfather, William Griffiths Reese, who left Wales with his parents and infant brother in 1860, Mormon converts going to Zion. Willie (as the two and a half-year-old boy was then called) was the son of Charles and Sarah Griffiths Rees of Amroth Parish, Pembrokeshire, Wales. (The family changed the spelling of their surname to Reese after arriving in Utah in order to avoid confusion with Rees families already living there—I will use the Reese spelling.) Charles was 29 years old; Sarah was 27. Like many men in the area, Charles was a coal miner in Wales, a dreary, draining occupation that left many dead long before their time.

A few years ago I took a trip to Wales and visited Pembrokeshire and the churches in which our Welsh ancestors were baptized and buried. It is a spectacularly beautiful place, located along the south coast of Wales (its “Riviera”), with beaches, cliffs, and green, rolling hills further inland. The countryside is criss-crossed by winding, narrow lanes, bordered by hedgerows, and you can always see some sheep grazing in the fields. Today it is a favorite place for wealthy Londoners to vacation.

Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales

St. Issells Parish Church is in Saundersfoot (next to Amroth), but many of our Welsh ancestors were christened and married there.

The young Reese family sailed on the ship Underwriter, chartered by LDS Church authorities. Also traveling in the company were Charles Reese’s brother Thomas (and his wife, Mary), as well as their sister Margaret (and her husband James Davis or Davies). The Reese family had been members of the LDS Church for several years (Charles was baptized in 1852), but the three siblings had promised their widowed mother Mary that they would not leave Wales while she was still living. Mary Morgan Reese passed away 1859 and the following year Charles, Thomas, Margaret and their families left for America.

Mormon immigrants congregating in Liverpool awaiting the trip to America.

There were 596 Mormon immigrants crammed into the sailing vessel—70 from Switzerland and the rest from the British Isles. They sailed from Liverpool on March 30, 1860, and arrived in New York Harbor on May 1. There were four marriages on board and four deaths.

One of the Swiss immigrants, a young man named Johann Lebrecht Baer, was married to his betrothed on board and wrote later of the experience. Apparently, before he converted to Mormonism, Johann belonged to a religion that frowned on frivolous activities such as dancing (perhaps Methodism?). Of course, the LDS are known for their love of dancing, but Johann had quite a different reaction to the onboard frivolity:

Underwriter was the name of our boat with 600 passengers, all Mormons, so called, from the British Islands, except us Swiss. After all was settled the ship did plow its way over the briny deep and what did we the Swiss hear and see? Hand organ, violin music and then dancing! We did not like that and asked one another what kind of people is this?  One of our elders … went to England sometime ago and could now speak English fluently, told us they were all Mormons. We were horror stricken in hearing this. We never expected that Latter-day Saints would indulge in such worldly pleasures. We were disgusted. I always abhorred dancing. I said: “Mark now, we will have a storm on top of this. Remember what is written in the Book of Mormon when Nephi’s brethren and the sons of Ishmael and their wives began to make merry inasmuch as they began to dance and so on—and there arose a great storm and the compass did cease to work. Now we did get a storm so they had to quit too. [I modified some punctuation for clarity—MAT.]

We can imagine the difficulties in assimilating such disparate backgrounds and customs into a unified group. The problem would be multiplied in Utah, which contained even more varieties of ethnic backgrounds and customs.

Most of the passengers on the Underwriter continued on to Florence, Nebraska (near present-day Omaha) where they were outfitted with covered wagons and continued on to Utah. The Reese party, however, had spent all they had just to get across the ocean and needed to earn more money in order to purchase their outfits. They stayed in Bevier, Macon County, Missouri. Today, Bevier is a small, sleepy town of 700 people, the coal mines all played out; in earlier days, it was quite the opposite. A recollection of a slightly later time:

[When I used to visit my grandparents there,] Bevier… was a bustling coal town, with active coal mines all around the area. I loved hearing the big steam engines pulling the heavy coal trains from the mines through town…. Miners would gather at the Bevier roundhouse each morning to catch the 4 a.m. passenger train and ride to work. [Larry Vaughn, Surviving God’s Woodshed.]

The Reese men found work in the mines and the women worked as maids. By the next spring Charlie and Tom and families had earned enough money to purchase their ox teams and wagons and so they set out for Utah. Jim and Margaret Davis, however, stayed behind in Missouri and never went further.

The Reeses apparently travelled across the plains with either the John Murdock or Milo Andrus companies. Both companies arrived in Salt Lake on September 12, 1861, so perhaps they mingled during the crossing. However, in Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel website, the Reeses are listed among those whose company is “unknown.” Perhaps this is because part of the company (including the Reeses) had forged ahead of the rest after leaving the Green River and they arrived on September 6. For some reason it pleases me that my ancestors were part of a group who took the initiative to move ahead on their own.

Willie (Aunt Ruth’s father), although only three years old, walked most of the way across the plains. After a brief stay in Willard to earn more money, the family moved on to Hyde Park, in beautiful Cache Valley, Utah. As land became more scarce, some residents of Hyde Park took their cattle and horses down to open fields west of town near the Bear River. Bears, cougars, coyotes and deer were abundant in the area and the streams were well-stocked with fish. It seemed a good place to farm so, in 1870, the Reese family relocated to an area known as Upper Benson and homesteaded 160 acres of land. They and another family became the first settlers of Benson. Soon others followed.

The Reeses settled in Benson, Utah, an area where streams and wildlife abounded. This is a modern Benson scene, with an LDS meetinghouse in the background.

The area had been such a haven for wildlife that it was also a hunting ground for Native Americans. Apparently the Reeses were friendly with the natives, but there were moments of stress and concern as well. Years later the story was told of eight-year-old Willie being home alone with his two younger brothers when they saw a group of Indians approaching. He stood his brothers up against a wall, told them to be silent, and struggled to get the bar in place on the only door to the house. He eventually succeeded and the Indians banged on the door for awhile, but decided to go on to the next house to demand food. Perhaps there was no real danger, other than the loss of some food, but young Willie remembered it for years afterward.

Charles Reese prospered in Benson. As related by William’s second wife, Carrie, “Grandpa Charles was quite a good businessman …. He drove an ox team for years, finally trading for a span of horses. Some of the people thought he should have been excommunicated, because he drove horses when even the bishop did not, but the bishop soon quelched [sic] that feeling, he being a broadminded man.”

The family of Charles and Sarah Griffiths Reese as adults. Top Row, L-R: Alma Victor, Moses Martin, Thomas Heber, Richard Ohsman, Andrew James. Bottom Row, L-R: Charles Albert, Sarah, Charles Sr., William Griffiths.

Charles and Sarah Reese had twelve sons (although four died as infants and one died at age 12), but no daughters. As we have already learned, William Griffiths Reese (called “Willie” as a child and “W.G.” later on) was one of these. William was a bright young man so his family sent him to Brigham Young College, in Logan. That school, established by a grant from Brigham Young, was opened in 1978, with Miss Ida Ione Cook as principal. William would have been in one of the first classes of students. Some of the subjects taught at the BYC were  rhetoric, natural philosophy, physiology, United States history, ancient history, book-keeping, and algebra. The deed of trust from Brigham specified that “no book should be used that misrepresented or spoke lightly of the Divine mission of the Savior or of the prophet Joseph Smith, or in any manner advanced ideas antagonistic to the principles of the Gospel as it is taught in the Bible, Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants.” [“Establishment of Brigham Young College,” from An Early History of Cache County, compiled by M. R. Hovey, 1923-25.]

William interrupted his schooling to teach at Mendon, but returned after a year of saving money and gaining experience. Then, in 1882, he received a letter from Salt Lake City (“Box B”) issuing a call to serve a mission for the LDS Church to Great Britain. During his two-year mission he had the chance to visit Pembrokeshire and many of his relatives still living there.

William Griffiths Reese as a young man at the time of his first mission to England and Wales.

Before William left for England he had become serious about a young woman, also studying to be a teacher, named Mary Maria Rees. William loved poetry and throughout his life he composed poems for many occasions and moods. About Mary he wrote:

But here was one – a classmate, too,
One of the truest of the true,
Whose soulful large brown eyes expressed
More sympathy than all the rest.
As weeks and months had passed along
And we had joined in work and song
My heart with love for her grew warm
Her every action had its charm,
And as her hand I gently pressed,
To say goodbye, I felt distressed
There was a light’ning round the heart
To think I know from her must part.
And travel far by sea and land
E’re I again might clasp her hand.

Mary’s father was a Welsh immigrant named John Rees (no relation to the Charles Reese family), and her mother was a child in the large Molen family (thirteen children) who had lived in Nauvoo and had crossed the plains with the first wave of pioneers in 1847. Shortly after William returned from his mission, he and Mary were married. The date was July 2, 1884; the place was the Logan Temple. Marriner Merrill, then Logan Temple president, later an apostle, performed the wedding.

The marriage photo of William and Mary Reese

At the time they were married, William was not quite 27 and Mary was 19. They settled in Logan, where both obtained a teaching positions, William at a nearby grammar school and Mary at Brigham Young College, where she took over the teaching duties of Ida Ione Cook. The newly married couple bought a home and over the next decade had four daughters (including my grandmother, Sarah Wanda). In 1894 the Reeses moved to Benson, where they had purchased a farm. A fifth child, a son named William Grover Reese, was born there.

The family of William and Mary Reese in 1892. The children (L-R): Sophronia Ione, Sarah Wanda (my grandmother), Mary Naomi, Anna Eliza. All of the girls except Anna went by their second names. The Reeses’ youngest child, William Grover, had not yet been born. (Mary’s hair was short because of an illness she had suffered. I need to research what it was.)

Then, in June of 1898, a terrible tragedy occurred. As related later by William, he had returned home from closing exercises of school in the Hyrum District, where he was teaching, and was met by “my dear wife was standing on the porch awaiting my arrival.” Later they went to his parents’ home and Mary complained “of being chilly.”

Next day she went with me to Logan and seemed so well and happy. Sunday she observed fast day and went to meeting. She prepared supper for the family and a number of our relatives. In the evening she complained of being tired and chilly. Monday I insisted upon her staying in bed and having a good rest. She rested very little Monday night. She complained of having trouble with her breathing. I built a warm fire in the dining room and she got up and sat by the fire. After bathing her feet in warm water and giving her what remedies we had at hand, she said the felt better. However, I sent for Bother and Sister Martineau, Sister Thompson, my mother and her mother, and my brother Andrew and wife.

She now began sinking, her pulse grew weaker and weaker, and at 9 o’clock Tuesday morning her sweet spirit took its flight and my darling had gone. At first I thought she had fainted, but no! She was dead. O! What a dark cloud overshadowed my sad heart, and I felt:

The form of my darling will never be seen
Gracing my home like a beautiful queen.
Her loving spirit had taken its flight
And left me alone, life’s great battle to fight.
My dear little children have lost their sweet mother.
To love them as she did, they’ll ne’er find another.
When troubles come to them, Oh! where can they find
Such a loved one to treat them so good and so kind?

William, then 40 years old, was left with five children to care for. He hired a young Danish immigrant, Karen Andrea Andersen, to serve as nanny while he taught school. Although at 22, Karen was only ten years older than William’s oldest daughter, she did a marvelous job. A year later, she and William were married.

William Griffiths Reese and Karen Andrea Andersen Reese

Karen (or “Carrie,” as she was called), went on to bear eight more Reese children. By every account I have heard, she was a wonderful mother, not only to her own children, but to Mary’s five children as well. They grew to love her as their own mother and I have never heard anyone suggest that she played favorites. My mother, who was a daughter of Mary’s daughter, Wanda, always spoke glowingly of “Aunt Carrie.”

 

Here are some of the Reese kids and cousins playing in Benson in about 1920-21 (with year of birth in parentheses). Aunt Ruth is in the center. Standing top: Lowell Reese (1912), Norma Reese (1909), Weldon Reeder (1913), Evelyn Reeder (1911). Sitting center: Barbara Ashcroft (my mother) (1916), Ruth Reese (1914), Will G. Reese (1917). Sitting bottom: Cleve Munk (1918), Reese Andersen (1918).

As illustrated by the photo above, when my mother was a child she often went to Benson to play with Aunt Ruth, who was close to her age, and with cousins from the older Reese children. When I was young our family would visit my mother’s family in Hyde Park every summer; we would always make the trek to Benson to visit Aunt Carrie and the other inhabitants of the Reese homestead.

When I visited Ruth in her Ogden home, she had the above painting hanging on her wall. It is her childhood home in Benson, along with inset portraits of her father and mother, William and Karen Reese.

William was called to serve another mission, this one to Australia, in 1906, when he was 49 years old. He left Carrie at home to tend the farm and their children. I’m sure it was a challenge for her. On W.G.’s fiftieth birthday he wrote a long poem that served as a history of his life to date. About Carrie he wrote:

From earliest times this truth was known,
It is not well to be alone,
A wife is man’s protecting guide,
‘Tis well to have her near his side,
And He who knoweth all our need,
And to our prayers giveth heed,
Provided me another wife,
To share my joys and griefs of life.

As wife, how well her part she takes;
A loving mother, too, she makes.
My faithful wife of days of yore,
Beholds the one who fills the space
Of wife and mother in her place.
Her noble spirit does rejoice,
Because I made so blest a choice.

In holy wedlock come the joys
Of darling girls and precious boys.
Three boys are added to my home,
One darling little girl has come,
The children of my noble wife –
Companion of my later life.

William Griffiths Reese, Welsh pioneer, died on October 13, 1938 at the age of 81. He had been a life-long school teacher and farmer. William kept a journal most of his life. While he was in Australia he sent letters to the Logan Herald that were published on a bi-monthly basis, providing a fascinating look at the Antipodes through the eyes of a rural Utahn. I am working on a book that will contain all those letters, with an introduction, an epilogue, and many footnotes and pictures.

My mother was twenty-one when William passed away. She remembered him as being sometimes stern, though never unkind. He prided himself on using correct grammar and punctuation.

Carrie lived to age 81, passing away in 1958, mourned by a large posterity of her own and Mary’s. She filled in some of the gaps that were left by W.G. in his written histories. Aunt Ruth was her seventh child and third daughter.

This is a photo I took a few years ago of the old Reese home in Benson.

Ruth was the last of the thirteen Reese children to pass from this life. She was the last of the children of a father who walked across the plains to Utah and a mother who immigrated from Denmark. Her passing marks the end of a generation, the end of an era.

Postscript: Someday I hope to publish a history of William Griffiths Reese, his ancestors and descendants.

16 thoughts on “The End of a Generation (and some Reese history)

  1. What a treasure you have written. You have made history come to life. I well remember your dear Ashcroft grandparents. There was no one kinder. Thank you so much for sharing, We look forward to that History of William Griffith Reese. Thanks again. Linda

  2. Thank you so much for all the work you have done. I have some early memories of Aunt Wanda and was in her home once at least although most of the time we kids played outside while our parents visited. Your mom also was very kind to my mom and to the rest of the family. You have certainly done a beautiful job of putting this together. I m not good on websites at all–my activity has been more in research. Thank you again!!!!!

  3. What a great gift you have given the Reese Family! Everyone I spoke with who received it expresses the same joy and gratitude, as I felt – a priceless surprise. We all look forward to your book and if there is any information we can help with please let us know. The oldest living grandchildren would be JoAnn Gunn and sisters, Vern Ashcroft, then me. I am reading my copy of ”Long Trail Winding” again and will show my family the quality of the work you do March 18 at the family gathering for Gillette’s missionary farewell, and any others interested.

    Gratefully, Mona Reese Bunting

  4. Thank you for sharing the history of Aunt Ruth. I also wanted to tell you that your mother and father were very good to our son about 20 years or so ago. Our son was newly married and living in Carpenteria and your mom had them to dinner. I have great memories of playing with my Reese cousins growing up. Aunt Ruth and Uncle Cecil took care of me for several weeks when I was 13 months old because my Mom (Norma) had my sister Elaine. I have always remained very close to Aunt Ruth.

  5. Thanks for the information about my mom and dad, Karen. Mom was very good about trying to keep in touch with extended family members. Every summer we would spend a month or so in Hyde Park and make many trips to visit folks. Of course, Dad was always friendly with everyone. I wish I could remember more details about who we visited, but I know the Reese home in Benson was always on the agenda.

  6. “Aunt Ruth” is my great grandmother. We named our first child Reese (daughter) in honor of such noble heritage. Grandma passed on Reese’s 2nd birthday but not before she prepared a special birthday present for Reese to open on her 16th birthday. Ruth was such a joy and as I thought of her today on what would have been her 99th birthday, I was thrilled to come across this treasure that you have created. Thank you for sharing our family history. I am so grateful to be a descendent of such exemplary people. May we all continue to honor them.

  7. Ruth was my Great Grandma and I loved going and visiting with her and listening to her stories. This article is amazing. Thank you so much for it. Benjamin Todd Call thank you for finding it and sharing it. I have really been missing her lately even went to her grave yesterday this really helped.

  8. Our daughter Jan sent us this link our grandson Ben found. What a wonderful post & it was timly since she is so close in our minds & heart this last few days. Thank you so much for all your knowledge & research. God Bless
    Sister Dahle

  9. What a treasure you have prepared and so tastefully done. Some folks are just talented in good ways. Thank you so much for your effort. Just for information, the oil painting of Ruth’s childhood home was done by Doc Christensen while we were living in Oregon and has become a family heirloom.

  10. I came across this site by accident. I met a funny old man in an antique store in Logan yesterday and his last name was Reese. He told me his family was from Benson and we figured that we were probably related. I had some interest today to see if I could figure out exactly how, and I ran across this wonderful treasure. My great grandmother was Anna Eliza Reese Reeder. Her son, Weldon Reeder was my grandpa. I have never seen these pictures and I was especially excited about the picture with Weldon as a child. I was also touched by the poetry. I’m wondering if my dad or any of his siblings have this information. I don’t know a lot about the Reese side. Great grandma died at a young age, but my dad tells stories of how smart she was and very proper. Education was very important to her and she taught my dad to read when he was four. She also taught at the school here in Weston where I still live. Thanks so much!!!

  11. It is nice to hear from you, Camille. I’m glad you enjoyed this story. My mother and your grandfather would have grown up near each other and known each other very well. I keep promising this, but sometime this year I’m definitely going to have the book of William Griffiths Reese’s letters from his mission in Australia published. I have almost everything ready to go, just need to find some time to do the finishing touches.

  12. Weldon, my husband Steven’s father, was the only son of Anna Eliza Reese. We would surely love to have a copy of what is listed on facebook, along with photos copied. We love the little one of the cousins which shows Weldon as a boy. We have very few pictures of him at that age. I also have info on William Reese written by him, I believe. I would be happy to share if you want this information. Please contact me. My phone # is 208-747-3504 Thank you

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