Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » In His Own Words: Ralph Watson, 1897

In His Own Words: Ralph Watson, 1897

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 12, 2010

Parowan, June 8th, 1897

To the Editor: –

Nearly every Sunday our teacher asks us to write to the Juvenile Instructor. I am willing enough to write, but am one of that kind that never knows what to say.

I am my mamma’s only living boy. Seven months ago my papa died, two weeks ago my seventh sister was born, so you see I can’t spend much time writing, but must round up my shoulders to see how good a crop of corn and potatoes I can raise. It’s my watering turn today, so please excuse me. I have tried to obey my teacher and hope to improve.

Aged 11 years


Parowan, November 15th, 1897

To the Letter-Box –

Last June I wrote to the Instructor, telling the readers how I was going to raise corn and potatoes for my mamma and seven sisters. Now I will tell you of my success, both were just fine.

We had the first corn on the seventh of August, my oldest sister’s birthday. Our county fair was in September. I put a sample each of my corn and potatoes on exhibition, and my little sister Ivy made some starch from corn and quite a lot from potatoes. We each got cash prizes amounting in all to one dollar and fifty cents, with which we have subscribed for the Juvenile for three months. I paid one and one half bushels of corn for tithing. I have also worked out six weeks to get me some clothes to go to school in this winter.

Mamma says there is no “I can’t” in a boy’s life if he only makes up his mind “I will.”

Aged 11 years



  1. Aaaah, Ardis, way to tear at my heart first thing in the morning. Remarkable mother and son.

    Comment by ellen — March 12, 2010 @ 8:18 am

  2. Gotcha, ellen!

    It’s a thousand approximations of this story that will keep our general authorities referring to “growing up on the farm” for another generation, at least — it really is where they developed their character, and nobody has yet come up with a city-bred model to replace it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 12, 2010 @ 8:52 am

  3. Thanks Ardis.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — March 12, 2010 @ 9:01 am

  4. As one who spent many of his summers growing up on a farm, I will echo the thoughts that it is a valuable experience. More than anything else, it taught me that I didn’t want to be a farmer when I grew up.

    Great story, though. After the harvest, Ralph obviously had things to write about.

    Comment by kevinf — March 12, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

  5. Great find.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — March 12, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

  6. I agree — great find. The first letter was remarkable enough, and then the second one is a wonderful bonus.

    I’m not sure the letters made my mind go to the differences between being raised in the country vs. the city, though! Instead, it made me think about how lucky Ralph was to have such a fantastic mother. She seems to have done a remarkable job of teaching her son about hard work, obedience, following through, as well as being smart with your money. Brava to this wonderful mother!

    Comment by Hunter — March 12, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

  7. awwwwww, bless him. Do we know anything of his later life?

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — March 12, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

  8. The most recent lesson from the Ardis Parshall Correspondence School of Not feeling Sorry for Yourself.

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — March 12, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

  9. Oh, and why were they supposed to write to the Juvenile Instructor?

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — March 12, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  10. What a nice pair of letters, and what a responsible child.

    Comment by Researcher — March 12, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

  11. Am glad you’ve enjoyed this. I must have skipped over his first letter on my read-through of the Juvenile Instructor, but when I noticed the second one I *had* to go back and find the first.

    I’ve done only a cursory check for his life. He does not appear to be in AncestralFile, or he may have an unused first name that interferes with the search. But I’ve only spent a couple of minutes looking; it will be worthwhile to dig a little deeper. If I find something, there will eventually be another post.

    The JI during this period had a department called “Letter Box” where children were encouraged to write brief letters describing their families and homes and Sunday Schools. It was entirely voluntary, of course, with only the thrill of seeing your name in print as a reward, but it looks like at least one teacher heavily encouraged the kids to write.

    As often happens where kids are concerned, these letters and candid and forthright and reveal much more about their lives than they realized.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 12, 2010 @ 3:29 pm

  12. Wow. That kid is really something. I’m going to have my ten-year old son read this. The power of good attitude plus hard work…

    Comment by Martin — March 12, 2010 @ 6:48 pm

  13. Ralph Pendexter Watson was the son of Lorenzo Dow Watson and Emily Crane Watson.

    He was born in 1886 in Parowan, Utah. His father was from Maine and crossed the plains in 1862, evidently by himself at age 12 without his family which could have contributed to his son being ready to be responsible at that young age. Ralph’s mother was from Bedfordshire, England, and crossed the plains in 1868.

    Ralph’s father Lorenzo died November 1, 1896 in Parowan.

    Ralph’s mother Emily was a schoolteacher and later the long-time librarian of the Cedar City Library (1911-1931).

    Ralph had eight sisters and one older brother, but an older sister and his brother had died before these letters were written.

    Ralph died in 1962 at the age of 76 and was buried in Cedar City, Utah.

    …And I’d still like to see a follow-up post! :)

    Comment by Researcher — March 12, 2010 @ 7:01 pm

  14. Researcher is Da Man … well … you know what I mean …


    I’m sure I’ve run into Emily Crane before. Your note that she was a schoolteacher also sounds familiar. Gotta search my memory and computer, because I’m sure there’s a story there, too.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 12, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

  15. Ah, yes, I just found my Emily Crane material. There’s a post in there somewhere.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 12, 2010 @ 7:17 pm

  16. How appropriate that this example of the character of folks from the era of “iron men [and women] and wooden ships” comes from Iron County, Utah!

    And, great work, Researcher. Whatever the source of your name, you’re certainly deserving of it!

    Comment by Mark B. — March 13, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  17. Nice work, Researcher. I note that L.D. Watson’s Deseret News obituary indicates that he was 51 at death.

    Comment by Justin — March 13, 2010 @ 10:32 am

  18. Err, thanks, guys.

    Researcher? Surely I’ve already explained that I started using that screen name on a day when I’d been looking up how fast aspirin decomposes after another heart mom reported that a home health nurse told her that aspirin turned to arsenic if it was suspended in a liquid. (A ridiculous thing to say.)

    And so this isn’t a total tangent and/or threadjack, I don’t know how I missed that the Watsons were a polygamous family. Thanks for the obit, Justin. And what war could his obituary mean? It sounds on the surface like a reference to the Civil War! Is that a possibility? How many Utahns returned to the United States to fight?

    Comment by Researcher — March 13, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  19. I’m sure I’ve never heard you tell the aspirin+liquid=arsenic story, Researcher. Awesome!

    There are a very few Mormons who had been to Utah first who served in the Civil War, usually because they got caught up in the action when they were working as teamsters or other back-and-forth laborers. L.D. Watson would have had to have been exceptionally young, but as you’ve pointed out, he was apparently a determined, independent young man.

    I see a Lorenzo D. Watson as a private in the 2nd Maine Cavalry — no other information quickly available to tell me his age or anything else to confirm that he’s our man, but it’s a possibility. Maybe he had gone back to visit family.

    Definitely worth some more research.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 13, 2010 @ 3:21 pm

  20. Lorenzo D. is in this 1889 photo — fourth from the left (the man standing next to the seated men, with his arm crooked) — it was his second unlawful cohab imprisonment.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 13, 2010 @ 3:32 pm

  21. That’s 21st century alchemy at its best.

    (It comes from the same explosion of knowledge that turns aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid–C8H9O4), combined with anything, into arsenic, or which would put the Bastille in Rome and Hawaii’s statehood in the late 1800’s while John Adams was President–at 150 years of age!)

    Comment by Mark B. — March 13, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

  22. He-he-he!!

    (Mark is referring to part of an “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” I caught last night. A woman who teaches world history thought that the Bastille was in Rome, and when asked who was the first president to preside over 50 states puzzled over it a minute, finally saying she thought it was in the mid-to-late 1800s, so maybe it was John Adams. It’s like the verbal version of one of those “how many things can you find wrong with this picture?” puzzles.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 13, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

  23. I located an obituary for Ralph Watson (p. 2C). He worked for the railroad.

    One source indicates that L.D. Watson was mustered into service in December 1863 (Limerick, ME).

    Comment by Justin — March 13, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

  24. Justin,

    That matches the unit history of the 2nd Maine Cavalry–which was organized in November and December 1863. I’m in too big a hurry to link to that right now.

    That unit history also talks of service in the deep South–by ship from Portland to New Orleans, and then a year in miserable, malarial places like Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. Amazing anyone could live through that!

    And it seems that the 12 year old Lorenzo Watson in the 1862 immigrant company was an Englishman–the dates in the overland travel database match the Familysearch dates for that man.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 13, 2010 @ 6:14 pm

  25. Oh my goodness. What an interesting recreation.

    Ralph’s dad Lorenzo (age 14) was living at home in Limerick, Maine in 1860. His father’s name, David, and sibling names mostly match in the census and New Family Search (NFS). For example, his next younger brother was James and the youngest child was Millard Fillmore Watson. But his mother shows up as Susan in the census and Sally Pendexter Day in NFS. The name Pendexter also shows up as our letter-writer Ralph’s middle name.

    Evidently the 12-year-old-crossing-the-plains Lorenzo Watson is a different person. (Disregard that part of comment 13. :) )

    So, here’s the latest. Lorenzo was born in Maine in 1845. He served in the Civil War from December 1863 to June 1865. He reenlisted in the Army in San Francisco in November 1866 and remained in the service until April 1868.

    NFS shows that he was confirmed in January 1868. (The original baptismal date is obscured by a more recent proxy baptism.)

    Lorenzo was in Parowan in May 1871 for his marriage to Sarah Clark and in December 1879 for his second marriage to Emily Crane.

    Lots of story in-between those dates!

    Comment by Researcher — March 13, 2010 @ 6:14 pm

  26. 1.5 Bushels of corn -> 15 Bushels harvested. It doesn’t say how many bushels of potatoes were wrested from the ground, but 13.5 bushels of corn doesn’t seem like it would go too far toward feeding 9 people. How big was their farm and what kind of yield did they get?

    Comment by Eric Boysen — March 14, 2010 @ 8:35 am

  27. Wonderful story, great find.

    As one who spent his youth on a dairy, milking cows, delivering milk and growing hay my dad also echoed the thoughts that it was a valuable experience. More than anything else, it taught him that he didn’t want to be a farmer when he grew up.

    My husband spent all summers of his boyhood on his grandfather’s farm learning about his allergies. Bucking bales of hay or walking through the cornfield sent him to bed with eyes swollen shut.

    He got to drive the tractor instead. Still, more than anything else it taught him he shouldn’t be a farmer more when he grew up.

    It didn’t do me a lot of harm NOT growing up on a farm. As the oldest of 8, whose mom was in a hospital for most of my 12 or 13th year, I DID learned how to work anyhow. It was a valuable experience, but one I have been happy not to pass on to my kids.

    Comment by Diane Peel — March 14, 2010 @ 11:20 am

  28. I mean to say I was echoing Kevinf. Instead I just showed my missing brain cells.

    I was in the hospital for 6 weeks after the auto accident that cost me those brain cells* when my baby was in high school.

    *My standard excuse. That accident has to be good for something.

    Comment by Diane Peel — March 14, 2010 @ 11:45 am

  29. I wish I had an excuse like that for my missing brain cells, Diane!

    Sometimes my husband and I wish that our kids could grow up on a farm and enjoy all the labors associated with that lifestyle, but that’s probably because I’m not familiar enough with the workings of a farm to know any better…

    Comment by Researcher — March 14, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

  30. Diane and Researcher, I can tell you this about my extended family who worked the farm where I spent those summers.

    My uncle after about age 50 could no longer stand up straight because of back problems from bucking hay and all the other physical labor. He farmed until he died in his 70’s. His wife had lost two fingers in a farming accident. My grandfather had back problems most of his life from the farm labor, but lived into his 80’s. They were all great examples to me, but I just couldn’t see myself working a farm for the rest of my life. A lot to love about it, but it is hard, hard, work, and unless your farm gets larger and larger, it’s just about impossible these days to make a living at it. At 160 acres and 45 diary cattle, my uncle made a living, but not a fortune.

    There are a lot of other ways to teach kids about hard work that don’t involve so much physical hardship.

    Great follow up, though, to learn more about the Watson family.

    Comment by kevinf — March 14, 2010 @ 7:57 pm

  31. I know that I’m coming into this post a little late.

    I’m a great grandson of Ralph Pendexter Watson. I have been reading about the Watson Family for a little while. My father, Ralph E. Watson, has told me a few stories of his grandfather.

    L.D. Watson (16 years old) was paid $300.00 to take the place of a drafted solider in Portland Maine. The first night that he was on board of the boat heading south, the money in his boot was stolen. His father, David Watson Jr., sent their pastor to get L.D. out of the war.

    Several years after his service in the war, L.D. and a few of his friends decided to go to California for gold. They sailed down around the southern tip of South America. They only lasted about one year before they decided to return to Maine. They made it as far as Parowan, Utah, on their cross country trip to Maine. L.D. stayed behind because the dry climate helped his scurvy & malaria that he got during his time in the Civil War.

    Ralph had a rough life. Before his father’s death, L.D. was imprisoned twice for polygamy. L.D. took Emily and her children out to Panaca, NV. to live while the US Marshals tried to hunt him down. Emily and her family were left on their own and L.D. would try and visit once a month. After his father’s death. Emily moved her family to Cedar City from Parowan.

    Ralph married Hazel Williams. Hazel died giving birth to their forth child; the baby girl died also. My grandfather, Woodrow, was 9 years old when his mother died. Six months later, the oldest daughter, Jean, died from meningitis. That left Ralph, Woodrow, and L. Dee (6 years old).

    I appreciate reading the letters that Ralph wrote. Thank you for finding and posting them.

    Comment by tgwatson — March 28, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

  32. How nice to get to hear some of “the rest of the story” from a descendant. And how nice to get to read this old discussion as well.

    Comment by Researcher — March 29, 2011 @ 6:56 am

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