By Nina Halls Braithwaite and Kristine Halls Smith
Ellen Melissa Barker’s parents, Joseph Barker and Mary Ann Doidge Barker joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in England and came to America after the birth of their first daughter, Sarah Jane. Joseph obtained work driving a team across the plains to Utah and Mary Ann followed in another company. She walked most of the way and did the laundry for the captain of the group in order to get transportation for her baby and possessions.
The family settled in Parowan and eventually five more daughters were born – Mary Ann, Emma Amelia, Catherine Maria, Ellen Melissa, and Georgina Madora.
Ellen Melissa Barker was born on April 20, 1871 in Parowan, Iron County, Utah. She was usually called Ella. She was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by William E. Jones on June 17, 1879 and confirmed by John Robinson the same day. She had been blessed by William C. McGregor at Parowan.
Like many others, they had very little of this world’s goods and Ellen’s mother and older sisters were forced to earn a living by gleaning in the wheat fields, husking corn, and working in the homes of others. Her father, being a tailor, found it hard to earn a living at his trade and spent much of his time freighting to Pioche, Nevada. He eventually established a tailoring business in Eureka, Nevada.
Ellen’s mother was advised not to take a family of daughters to the rough mining camp where Joseph found work as a tailor, and so Grandmother was forced to care for her family alone. She taught school in their home taking produce or materials for her pay. She also did washing and anything she could to provide a living.
One cold Christmas eve, the little girls had retired and their stockings were hanging for an expected gift. Mary Ann scraped the last flour from the bin to make some sugar cookies as a surprise. She had made a rag doll for each little girl. A knock came on the door and she opened it to see a neighbor lady with small baskets for each girl filled with molasses candy and other sweets. The girls remembered this as the happiest Christmas they ever had.
Finally Ellen’s mother divorced Joseph Barker and remarried into polygamy to James Dunton. From this union came her first son, John Harvey Dunton.
Some years after this, Ellen’s father, Joseph Barker, died when the theater building in which he had his shop and where he was sleeping burned. The “Eureka Sentinel,” telling of the incident, described him as a kindly man known as “Mormon Joe.”
In the year 1879, a call came from the church presidency for a company of men, women, and children to settle the San Juan country in southern Utah. Ellen’s four older sisters were put into other homes to work for their living, and James Dunton, Mary Ann and her three youngest children, Ellen, Dora, and John joined others in putting as many of their possessions as they could into a wagon and starting on the long trek across the Escalante Desert toward the “Hole-in-the-Rock.”
Ellen was allowed to ride in the wagon to care for her little brother who was less than a year old. She was a motherly type and spent many hours caring for her little brother and carried him astride her hip. He was a husky child and she was just eight years old at the time. Thus developed a fondness for him that lasted throughout her life.
After descending the precipitous road down through the Hole-in-the-Rock, they crossed the icy Colorado River on January 28, 1880 and arrived in Bluff City on April 6th. The first year was spent at Montezuma Fort.
Mr. Dunton hauled lumber from Durango two summers and one winter, after which they moved to Mancos, Colorado and spent the next winter living in a dugout. Later they hauled logs and built a one-room log cabin.
At first, the girls were unable to attend school because of a lack of clothes to wear. They had received some schooling in Parowan and also instruction from their mother. The school was two miles away and it was necessary to cross a river on a plank. One day their mother sent Dora and Ellen to town to get some groceries. She told them if they were able to cross the river without falling in, they could go to school the following year. On the way home Ellen had crossed safely, but Dora became dizzy when halfway across. She called to her sister for help. In going back for Dora, Ellen fell into the swollen stream and was washed several yards down the stream. A woman and her son, who lived close, had been watching the little girls, and when they saw her fall, the young man ran to the stream and rescued Ellen who was able to grasp a willow on the bank. They were finally allowed to go to school. Winters were cold with deep snow. Their mother used to wrap their feet in burlap to keep them warm.
Ellen grew to be a beautiful, slender young lady with lovely, clear skin, wavy, dark brown hair, and blue eyes. She was about five feet four inches tall. She loved to dance and take part in sports. Many times after dancing nearly all night, she would go home and put on her house dress and help her mother in doing washing. She and her sister would ride horseback to gather and deliver the clothes which they washed for others.
In 1885, William Halls, Sr, and his sons, William and Thomas, were called with others to organize the San Juan Stake in Colorado. When Ellen was sixteen years old, she met William Halls, Jr., who courted and won her affections. She married him at the age of seventeen in Mancos, Colorado on June 11, 1888. In the course of time came the thrill of preparing for motherhood. With capable hands, she sewed and prepared the clothing for the expected baby. One day when her husband, William, was working at the sawmill, he gave a man along the way a ride in his wagon. The man was coming down with smallpox and as a result, William and Ellen contracted the disease in its worst form. Their bodies were covered with one great mass of pox. William Halls, Sr., who had had the disease and so was immune to it, came to their home to care for them in their illness. Ellen’s illness prove disastrous, for the new baby died at birth. The saddened parents laid him away in a little plot under the trees on the hill back of their home for it was the custom not to bury a child in a cemetery if it had not breathed the breath of life.
It wasn’t long, however, before the house in Mancos was filled with lively, boisterous children for Earl was born on April 16, 1890, Ruth on January 6, 1893, Maud on January 21, 1895, Clyde on February 23, 1897, and Nina on March 7, 1899.
In January 1901, the family sold their farm and moved to Huntsville, Utah so that their daughter, Maud, could attend the school for the deaf in Ogden. Maud had been a happy, healthy, and very alert baby, until at sixteen months she became deaf as a result of meningitis. It was hard for Ellen to leave her mother and sisters in another state, leaving many of her possessions so that they could make a new start among strangers.
William went ahead with a wagon filled with household goods and Ellen followed on the train with her children. When they arrived in Ogden in the night there was no one at the station to meet her. While she was sitting there, in a strange city, surrounded by sleepy children and luggage, the only man she knew in Utah came into the station. She always felt that the Lord sent him. He procured a team and two-seated buggy and took her to her future home on the Halls ranch located in the hills south of Huntsville in beautiful Ogden Valley.
They lived in one room the remainder of that winter. On July 24, 1901, another son, Dale, was born. They lived two miles from town, so the older children rode horseback to school. William worked on the ranch and Ellen cooked for her family and the hired men who put up the hay and grain. After two or three years, they moved to a home of their own, north of Huntsville on a little creek surrounded by green meadows. Here their last two daughters were born, Ruby on February 15, 1904, and Pearl on February 9, 1906.
Ellen was a real mother in every sense of the word, who understood the art of homemaking. She had a sweet voice and often sang songs with her children and read them stories from the best books. A favorite past time, to the delight of those who knew her, was shooting squirrels on their ranch. She was an ardent worker in the church and a great help to the sick and needy.
One of Ellen’s nieces, Florence Bell, wrote, “I remember Uncle Will and Aunt Ella very well. Aunt Ella endeared herself to me as a kid, if for no other reason than one in particular. I was down there visiting. We loved to visit their family. Uncle Will was always great fun, and Aunt Ella was jolly and a wonderful cook. She had some pies baking in the oven and I volunteered to take them out. I dropped one upside down on the floor and all she did was laugh. Imagine such a woman! I remember how terrible I felt and how she made me think it didn’t matter at all. Bless her – I remember it so vividly.”
Ellen kept a journal during many of the years of her life. Her short, concise entries are interesting and give glimpses into the type of life she lead. A typical entry reads, “Thursday 23 (March, 1911) “Ironed, patched in forenoon, went to meeting and was called on to talk on charity in afternoon. To see Grandma.” Some entries reveal days of long, hard work. On September 23, 1911, she wrote, “Cooked and bottled 7 gallon chilly sauce. Cooked three gal. pickles. Made three gallons tomato preserves. Baked 12 loaves bread. Made yeast. Did part of washing.” Few of her entries reveal her feelings, but on Friday, December 8, 1911 she wrote, “I helped clean mtg. house. Tired tired tired. Oh my. Will home.” Wednesday, June 11, 1913 was their silver wedding anniversary and Ellen describes the many gifts received from various friends and family members, then adds, “and last but not least a wedding ring from my dear husband . . . We had a jolly time. . . ”