[The feedback I'm getting suggests that I should warn readers that the following article may be painful or disturbing, especially if you have lost or are threatened with the loss of a child. I chose it because it is so direct and candid, and because it memorializes the short life of a boy who otherwise would be invisible to our history. Do brace yourself, though, before reading it.]
These extracts from the 1884-85 diary of Lafayette Guymon have been selected and edited by his daughter Lucy.
Mancos, Colorado, Sept. 30, 1884
I believe I’ll try and keep a journal. Wish I’d kept one for many years past, but now I’ll try and record things as they happen to us.
My little Heber boy who is eleven years old does not act right. Phebe noticed it first. He eats well but acts so tired and, after I notice, he is pale.
I set him to gathering a few rows of beans this morning. In about an hour I found him asleep in one of the rows. I said, “Well, Heber, are you going to get lazy and leave everything for Pa to do?” I was so sorry soon as I had said it and asked him to forgive me and told him to go on in the house and lay on the bed. He just looked sad and said, “It’s all right, Pa, I guess I am lazy, only I feel so tired all the time.” He didn’t get up any more all day.
October 5th, 1884
I just can’t seem to find time to write in my journal every day, so will just write whenever I can. Lots of work to do in a new place with a big family to keep going.
Yesterday I took all the family to town to do some buying of things we needed. They had a pretty good time. Heber seemed a little better, but maybe it was just the excitement. He moaned in his sleep nearly all night. Guess he got too tired.
Phebe and I have decided to take him to Durango to see Doctor Winters. I met him once, and he seemed like a good doctor. Everybody says he is the best doctor in this part of the country.
George Bauer, the banker and storekeeper in Mancos town, offered to loan me his buggy to take Heber in, but I hate to take favors and be beholden to folks. Phebe has fixed her feather bed in the wagon so Heber can lay down most of the time.
There just couldn’t be no better stepmother than Phebe is to my children.
We have to take baby Lucy because she is nursing. Heber loves her as much as if she was his own sister.
What Doctor Winters told us is worse than we feared. He said, “Mr. Guymon, I could lie to you and go on doctoring your little boy and run you up a big doctor bill, but I just won’t doctor that way. I’ve got to tell you the truth. Your little boy has got sugar diabetes, and there is no cure for it.”
I told Phebe we must not let Heber know, but I am afraid he guessed it was pretty bad because Phebe could not keep from crying to herself on the way home. She tried not to let Heber see her tears, but he is a smart little man and knows something is pretty wrong. I had to go behind the wagon and get a grip on my feelings or I would have cried myself.
Oh, this is a bitter pill. The only comfort I can find is that his mother and little Mary will be over there to welcome him.
Heber was so tired after his trip that he slept most all day. I called Jimmie, Annie, and Enoch out in the shed and told them. They all cried awful hard. Even Jimmie who is deaf. He had to be told in the sign language that he and Phebe talk. I told them to cry it out so they would not have to cry before Heber. Poor children, they hate to part with their little brother.
I am afraid Heber knows because I caught him holding his hand up to a sunbeam that was coming through a crack in the wall, and he said, “Pa, it looks pretty pale, don’t it?” but he sure is a brave little fellow.
I been so busy hauling my wheat to Durango and getting our winter’s flour and digging the potatoes that I have not found time to write.
I don’t like the way things are going with Heber. He just gets worse all the time. He lays on the bed most of the day. We try to get him everything he wants. He eats pretty good but everything turns to sugar. We borrowed a doctor book from Aunt Hanna Perkins, and it says not to give them anything sweet, but it is pretty hard when he begs for a stick of peppermint candy.
The boys went hunting today and killed a little deer so Heber could have venison soup. He is mighty good and never complains but gets pretty hungry for something sweet.
Oh, dear God, I wish the doctors were smarter and could discover something to cure this awful disease. They will some day, but it will be too late to save my little boy.
Today was mighty hard to bear. Heber begged us to move little Lucy’s jumper in to his room from the kitchen. I made her a jumper with a long spring pole fastened to the ceiling logs. Phebe made a little harness out of my old overalls. He whistles for her and then sings:
Have you seen my, have you seen my, have you seen my new shoes?
With the tips on, with the tips on, with the tips on the toes,
And the buckles and bows, and the tips on the toes.
Lucy just flies in her jumper when he claps his hands and sings. Then he falls back on the bed so exhausted, he looks like he was dead.
I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I went to town. Got to talking with my friend George Bauer, and he asked about Heber. I told him how he sang that song for the baby. I saw a tear or two run down his cheek, and he got up and went in his store and got a little pair of boots with copper toes and asked me to take them to Heber. He also sent him a new shiny silver dollar. He said, “Mr. Guymon, we all feel mighty sorry for you folks. If we can help in any way, please call on us.”
Heber said to me when I told him good night, “Pa, I think I must be going to die, everybody is so good to me.”
Well, today was Christmas. We all tried to be as happy as possible even with this black cloud hanging over us. We had a lovely snowstorm, and the world looks so pretty. the pinon trees are all loaded down and look like Christmas trees.
On account of the crops being good this year, we were able to get the children some presents. Phebe made Heber a little new shirt all by hand out of some bleached muslin. We got a pocket knife for Enoch and Jimmie and a new calico dress for Annie. Lucy was sure happy with her little china doll. We decided not to have any candy on account of Heber, so we had popcorn. This Christmas was sure better than the ones before as far as presents went.
The boys went up on the mountain a week ago and shot a wild turkey, and Phebe sure does know how to cook good. I helped Heber walk in the kitchen to sit at the Christmas dinner with us. He eats by himself beside his bed most of the time because we give him the best of everything, and it might make him feel bad if he saw we did not have it, too.
Phebe read the Christmas story of Christ’s birth to us all this evening. We borrowed the book from Aunt Hanna.
Well, tomorrow starts a new year.
All I can write every day is that Heber grows just a little worse. It is hard to bear. He tells us all not to worry because he is not afraid to die. Just think of a little boy eleven years old saying a thing like that with his life just before him.
Today he said, “Pa, I did want to grow up to be a man so I could help you when you get old, but I guess Enoch will have to be your right-hand man now that Jimmie has to go away to the school for the deaf.” And then after a long pause, “I sure did want to see Lucy grow up, too, but I guess God wants me.”
January 15th, 1885
Today after all the rest were gone to bed, I was sitting with Heber all quiet and each thinking our own thoughts when suddenly he asked me, “Pa, are you sure Ma will be there to meet me when I go?” With me feeling so blue and sad and wondering if God has anything to do with a little boy suffering like this, it was hard for me to tell him I was sure his mother would meet him, but after I sat and thought a minute, I know she will. It’s just got to be that way. Then I told him the story my mother told me long ago about how Jesus said he was going to prepare a home for us over there and I just knew he would have a nice place for a good little boy.
Today it looked like maybe the end of his suffering was near. He was in sort of a stupor part of the time. I just had to get some work done outside. We had to get up a shed to protect the cow and horses from the cold north wind. Phebe sent Annie running for me, but by the time I got there he had revived, but he begged me not to leave him any more, so I sent the boys back alone to finish the shed.
There has only been two other days in my life as hard as this one. That was when his mother died and my little Mary girl went with heart disease. Oh, please God, take him and end this awful suffering. I can’t go through another time like this evening. He told us all good-bye and went clean off but rallied again and looked up at me and said, “Well, Pa, I didn’t make it, did I?” He then kissed baby Lucy good-bye three times and went to sleep.
Heber died today at 12:30. It is over. Thank God.
We sure have a lot of friends. A bunch of the womenfolk came and made a nice suit out of some black cloth that Geo. Bauer sent. His little white shirt that Phebe made for his Christmas looks nice with the black suit and his little copper-toed boots that he never walked in. John White made a coffin, planed it all nice and smooth, and his wife covered it with black calico and lined it with muslin. He looks nice in his coffin, and I can honestly say I am thankful to see him at rest.
Jimmie and Enoch and the Wilden boys have dug a grave up on the hill at the top of the farm beside baby Francis. It took them all day because the ground was froze so hard.
We held a simple service here at the house. So many friends came. Some folk I never even met before. Brother Halls said some very comforting words, and the womenfolk tried to sing, but most of them broke down and left it for Aunt Hanna to go alone. Then we took the coffin in the wagon and laid my boy to rest. I have two boys up thereon the hill now. It seems like I am the one to make the Mormon graveyard here at Mancos.
Oh, Margaret, I sent our little Mary girl on to you and now our boy, and I do know you will be there to welcome him. I can say tonight – God’s will be done.
It about killed Phebe putting Heber by our little baby Francis. It was the first time she had been there since the baby died with whooping cough.
I must round up my shoulders and get to work because there is a living to make for the ones left here.
I guess I’ll stop trying to write a journal. In reading over what I have written, it sounds too sad. I’ll let God keep the records.
Lafayette Guymon (1840-1935) m., 1861, Anne Margrette Nielsen (1840-1875)
Lafayette Guymon m., 1877, Phebe Madora Perkins (1863-1922)
Francis (May-Sep 1882)
Lucy (1884- )