I well remember the day we drove down into the Oakley valley. The weather was hot and dry, the dust five or six inches deep. There were no trees or any green shrubs. The town of Oakley consisted of a post office and a grocery store. Uncle Riblet, as he was known to all the settlers, was the postmaster. The grocery store was owned by George S. Grant, who later married my sister Alvaretta.
Our home was a two-roomed log house. To my brothers, Alex and Judson, in their early teens, it was something new and it was an adventure. To mother, it was heartache and disappointment, but mother tried to be enthused for her family’s sake and did all she could to make the little house look as pleasant and homelike as possible. It was comforting to have so many of her family near her. Her sons, Ammon, William, John Albert and Alvin all had homes within a few minutes walk of her own.
I will relate a sorrowful tragedy that happened the night we arrived and were moving into our new homes.
My brother (Joshua) Alvin’s family consisted of his wife, Jane Gorringe Tolman, their first born, William Alvin, 15 months and their baby, Owen Joshua. With pleasant anticipation they set to work moving into their little house. First the bedstead and bedding was brought in and the bed made. How thankful they would be to again sleep in a good bed. Eagerly the wife unpacked the dishes and she was so happy that none of them were broken. “Look Alvin,” she said, “this bottle of consecrated oil. I’m so thankful it carried all right as I am quite sure we couldn’t buy olive oil in this part of the country.”
Then the stove was brought in, set up and a fire built, that they might prepare their evening meal. But as tragedy sometimes stalks in the midst of pleasure, there was a terrific explosion. The stove was blown to pieces. The windows shattered. The logs between the door and window were blown out, the floor behind the stove was caved in. The father (Joshua Alvin Tolman) and mother (Mary Jane Gorringe Tolman) were thrown to the floor bruised and burned from bits of fire and iron. But in their great anxiety for their children they didn’t realize they were hurt.
They rushed to the bed where the baby (Owen) lay asleep. A hot lid lay very near his head, but aside from shock and choking from the smoke, he was unhurt.
The older boy (William Alvin) lay in a small bed behind the stove. The floor was crushed in just in front of his bed and a kitten killed that lay there asleep. The child’s face was so filled with powder that it was black. His neck from one ear to the other was burned so badly it didn’t seem possible that he could live.
The explosion was heard by the other families. My mother said, “Oh, something terrible has happened to Alvin and family.” Soon willing helpers were there and moved them across the street to John Albert’s home. Someone said, “We must have a doctor.” But where could one be found. The brave young wife and mother replied, “God will be our physician. He knows our helplessness and will bless us through the power of the Priesthood. Will someone get me that bottle of olive oil.” Someone went for it, never expecting to find it, but there it was standing upright among the broken dishes. A roll of cotton was also found. We were amazed as that courageous young mother dipped pieces of cotton in the olive oil and applied them to the suffering boy’s burns. “Now grandfather, you and brother William (Augustus) administer to him and he will rest.”
Fervently, everyone present said, “Amen” to that administration and in a few minutes the little fellow was asleep and slept until morning. Those burns all healed as nicely as though attended by the “Great Physician.”
“But what was the cause of the explosion?” you ask. As we were travelling through Corrine, father said to the rest of the company, “This is the last town we will pass through before reaching our destination. If there is anything you will need you had better buy it here, as the little store in Oakley may not have it.”
Brother Alvin thought of gun powder he would need in reloading his cartridges for his gun, that he might have a chance at the wild game so plentiful in the new country. After making his purchase he climbed upon the side of the wagon to put it away. The stove being nearest to him, he lifted the lids and laid it back of the fire box. He never thought of it again until after the explosion.
As Shakespeare says, “Men are men and the best sometimes forget.” And in this case we feel like Beecher, “God pardons like a mother who kisses the offense into everlasting forgetfulness.”
The little home was soon repaired and the family moved in and life for all of us in this new desert country of Goose Creek, Idaho, was much the same as for Utah pioneers, except that the Indians that came begging or to exchange pine nuts for food were friendly and never went on the warpath.
Mother’s industry and love of the beautiful was the incentive for the planting of shrubs and flowers. Father made a journey across the valley to an old ranch known as the Land Ranch to obtain cuttings from some old poplar trees and to get some rose bushes. The soil was fertile and there was an abundance of water, so they were rewarded by seeing the things they planted and cared for grow and flourish.
Mother’s greatest anxiety at this time was the lack of educational advantages for her children and grandchildren. It was two years after our entering the valley before a school was built. The men, both young and old went to the canyon, cut and hauled the logs and built the schoolhouse, hewing the logs on the inside. The flooring, windows, and doors were hauled from Kelton, Utah–over 70 miles away. The dimensions of the schoolhouse were fourteen by twenty-eight feet. It served the community as church, school, and dance hall. (Cyrus Tolman: Father, Frontierman, Pioneer by Loraine Pace, Second Edition, 2006, Square One Printing Inc, Logan, Utah, pages 80 to 81.)
Visit FamilySearch to learn more about Alice Bracken and other ancestors. Cyrus Tolman: Father, Frontiersman, Pioneer can be found in the online Family Store. Also visit the Thomas Tolman Family Organization to find out how you can get more involved in family history.