The north wind that swept down the Milford Valley in the wintertime was biting cold almost every morning. For those few families living in the “Beaver Bottoms” along the Beaver River bed (an area often called “Reed”), keeping warm through cold nights in January and February was almost impossible. Of course, there was no insulation in the house walls in those days of 1908, and the wood construction of the outside and inside walls of the house would shrink in the dry desert air leaving cracks between the boards. Caulking with tar would help but not stop the cold from seeping into the house and some walls were stuffed with newspapers and cotton batting.
Joseph and Margaret and their family of six boys and two girls were scratching out a living on the banks of the river. The boys were a sturdy bunch — James, the redhead with a mind for business, Dez, ( short for Deseret) the strong one, Sam, the quiet one with the quick mind, Van, the slight one, Morrison, tall with a quick wit, and Fay, with the mechanical mind and sound hands. Their sisters, Margaret, the oldest of the clan was named after her mother, and Juanita, the youngest.
Here the salt grass grew in the summertime and the cattle had plenty of feed, but the heavy alkaline in the soil stunted even the willows along the river bank and stopped the growth of cottonwoods that would have provided at least some shelter against the constant wind.
The railroad town of Milford was five miles to the south, also along the banks of the Beaver. Here the river flowed north toward the Sevier Lake bed.
Schooling was hard to come by, but no matter how difficult it was to reach the schools in Milford, Margaret insisted that her children attended every day when school was in session.
Most of the time in Spring and Fall the boys rode horses to school – bareback, with at least two mounted on each horse. But in the winter time that was more difficult. Still, the Beaver River provided a solid path for them to follow.
The river originated from the Tusher mountains, thirty miles to the east, tumbled and splashed over rocks and boulders through its first five miles, but when it reached the Beaver Valley it slowed and meandered down through Minersville and north past Milford. It was a small stream when it finally reached the Beaver Bottoms – diverted for irrigation along the way or sinking into the gravelly soil of the valley. Now, in the depth of winter, it was frozen solid all day and night.
It made for easy skating for the boys and girls. It took some care to keep the skates sharp and smooth. A sturdy rasp and file could be heard often within the house, polishing the runners. On weekday mornings, they would pull on extra pairs of wooden socks and strap on their skates to sturdy leather boots.
The ice was smooth along the narrow path of the stream and they could easily reach much higher speeds than walking or running. In the mornings as they glided south the north wind would aid them in reaching school before the bell rung. In the afternoon, the sun would warm the air enough to make the trip home an easy one. In their later years, the bitter cold of the Beaver Bottoms would fade from their minds, but the joy and exhilaration of skating to school would be fond memories they would share with their children and grandchildren for many years to come.