Isabell’s grandfather was named Warren Marshall Johnson. He was sent by Brigham Young to run Lee’s Ferry in Southern Utah. Warren worked at Lee’s Ferry with John D Lee for about 3 months before he John D. Lee was executed in 1877. During the time he worked with John, they became good friends, and Warren thought a lot of him. Warren Marshall Johnson ran the ferry for 20 years after John D. Lee’s death.
Isabell’s father Price Johnson was born at Lee’s Ferry in a 1 room log cabin on February 2, 1886. Price was the 7th of his mother’s 10 children. Being a one-room cabin, all the children had to go outside in the middle of winter while he was being born. After he was born, Warren brought him outside and showed him to the other children and told them, “This is the baby the angels told me about.” When Price was growing up, the family thought he was special.
Price introduced his brother Leroy Johnson to John Woolley in Centerville, Utah and to fundamentalist ideas in 1928. Price Johnson was one of the men put in jail in 1935 for living plural marriage. His sentence was for two years, but because he worked every day they let him out in 11 months.
Isabell Johnson was born on June 19th, 1938 in Glendale, Utah, the fifth child of Price & Helen Hull Johnson. She was the first child Helen had after Price got out of jail. Price Johnson was one of the first settlers of Short Creek, Utah. While his family was still young, Price was offered a leadership position in group living at Short Creek, but Price declined. His brother Leroy would go on to lead the group for a time.
As a young girl, Isabell spent time off and on in Short Creek, Utah even though her father never joined the group there. Before she was old enough to go to school, she would see the older kids coming home with their books and homework and she looked forward to going to school and having her own homework. Isabell states,
“I’d see the other kids coming home and doing their homework, boy did I want to do homework! On the first day of school, I was so excited to get some homework. But when I went all day and the teacher just talked, I put my head down on the desk and cried. The teacher came over and asked me what was the matter and I told her I wanted to work. Once I started getting some books and some homework, I’d go home and read the whole book. The teacher got after me to not go ahead and she started to tell me when she gave me a book, ‘You can only go this far and no more.’ I loved math in school, math was my favorite thing.”
When Isabell was about 7 or 8 years old, her family moved to a little farm at Littlefield, Arizona. Her father Price was a hard worker and he tried hard to make a living by farming. He couldn’t make enough to support his family by farming so he would leave and go try to find other work. In the fall of 1948, he went to Idaho to work in the potato harvest. On his way home he stopped at the Co-op mine in Huntington, Utah to see if he could get work for the winter from Charles W. Kingston. Charles hired him for the winter where he worked until mining slowed down the next spring.
The next summer, Charles Kingston and his son Ortell decided to come visit Price and meet his family down in Arizona. The farm was out in the middle of the desert and it was hard to find, so the two got lost and didn’t make it until the next day. Isabell remembers,
“They did find us and came and visited us. I well remember that day and we were very glad to meet them. My father had told us many good things about them. They stayed and visited us then they left. My mother was very impressed and after they left, she told [my sister] Eleanor and me that Ortell was the kind of man she would like us to marry.”
Isabell’s family moves to Huntington, Utah
In the fall of 1949, Price went back to the mine to work. This time he felt he was directed by the Lord to bring his family with him. They packed their belongings in his truck, even though he knew he didn’t have enough money to buy gas for the trip. Price had faith that the Lord would provide a way for them to make the trip. Isabell says,
“When we were little we never had new clothes, we just had what people gave us. When we were getting ready to leave, my mother got out a box of old clothes that someone had given us and we found clothes for the children to wear. One of my brothers that was about 3 or 4 years old, put on a pair of overalls. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a ten dollar bill. This helped us with expenses to get to the mine. We knew the Lord was helping us to get there. It took us 2 days and we had to camp out at night. I remember riding in the back of the truck with all of our furnishings and my brothers and sisters. It was a box bed on the truck so it was dark inside when the back was shut. After we traveled far enough so my father knew we were out of gas, he stopped to get gas. The man at the station went to put gas in our truck but the tank was full and he spilled out about 4 cents of gas on the ground. He wondered why we would stop for gas when our tank was full, but it should have been empty. That was another miracle in helping us to get to the mine.”
Isabell’s family moved into a wood framed canvas tent that they stayed in for the 2 years that her father worked at the mine. Isabell recalls,
“I remember the people at the mine helped us to get running water in our tent, and that was the first time we had lived in a home with running water. It was just cold water, but we really appreciated it.”
In recalling her experience during this time, Isabell states,
“I remember the first meetings we went to at the mine and the wonderful spirit that was there. I had gone to church before at other places but I had never felt that spirit before. I also remember Brother Ren Stoddard giving lessons on the book of Mormon, I really enjoyed them and I learned to love the Book of Mormon from his lessons. I knew this was where I wanted to be and I loved the people at the mine.”
Isabell’s father was in a couple of accidents at the mind. In the first accident he broke his leg while inside the mine. In the second accident he was in, he was working on the tipple with Ivan Nielsen and Paul Owen. There was an explosion and they all suffered heavy burns. It burned all the hair off their head and their faces were swollen. Although it looked like the men would be scarred for life, Brother Charles knew how to treat the burns and the men came out of the experience without scarring.
During these years, Isabell’s father applied for membership in the DCCS. The membership voted on him, but one person voted against him so he wasn’t able to join.
Because of his age and the effects of the accidents, Isabell’s father decided he would go back to farming again in the spring of 1953. He had a little farm down by St. George but there wasn’t a house on the property. Isabell had an older sister that lived in Short Creek so her and her siblings went to live near their sister, which was about 30 miles from the farm. While living there, authorities from Utah and Arizona raided Short Creek. Isabell says,
“I was about 15 years old at the time. It happened at midnight on the 25th of July. They had about 25 police cars at each end of town. Then at midnight they all turned their sirens on and arrested every man in town. My father wasn’t there since he was on the farm, but they took all of the other men and arrested them and put them in jail. While these men were in jail, they brought busses in to take the women and children. Before they took them on the bus they took pictures of all the families and they numbered them. .... After they took these pictures, they loaded all the women and children on busses and took them to Phoenix Arizona. They planned to take all the children away from their parents.”
There was no way for Isabell or her family to contact their father at the farm. When Price returned home, he found everyone gone and the town deserted. Once the women and children were in custody, they let the men go back home. The women and children were placed in foster care, in Phoenix and areas nearby. Price found out where they had placed his family and he started working on getting us back. It took him about two months. Some families took as long as two years before they were able to go back to their homes, others were never reunited.
The next year Isabell and her family moved to Salt Lake. Isabell was very happy to live near some of the people in the Co-op again and they were able to go to church and associate with some of the Co-op members. Isabell had a lot of friends in the Co-op and they helped her get a job in the Bountiful Shoe Repair. She worked there on Saturdays and during the summer while she finished high school.
Isabell graduated from South High School in 1957. Isabell’s father was out of town on business and was not able to attend, but he wrote her a letter congratulating her and telling her how proud he was of her. She was the first of her mother’s children to graduate from high school.
After graduation, Isabell stayed with Lavona Rugg and Ren Stoddard from the Co-op in Salt Lake. She started working at Spiking Tourist Lodge in Salt Lake City where Ortell and LaDonna Kingston lived.
In summer of 1958, Isabell’s family moved back to St. George. Isabell was 20 years old and decided to stay in Salt Lake to live with Lavona. LaDonna was Lavona’s niece and Isabell became more acquainted with LaDonna during this time. LaDonna remembered times when her father Eskel Peterson had been acquainted with Isabell’s father. Price did not like to accept charity, but Eskel would secretly leave clothes and food for his children at their home for them to find.
In time, LaDonna approached Isabell about marrying Ortell and being a part of her family. Ortell had not proposed marriage to Isabell directly but only asked at one time if she knew who she would marry. Isabell states of Ortell
“he realized that is was important for me to find out and know on my own direction [who I would marry]”
After pondering their proposal for a few months, she accepted and married Ortell Kingston as a plural wife. Isabell says,
“One of the things I always remember about Brother Ortell was the special spirit he carried with him. …. I am very thankful I have the privilege of being part of his family.”
Isabell spoke also of the dedication Ortell had to the Cooperative and its ideals. She recalls,
“I had a chance to go on a trip to California with [Ortell] one time. We went to the ocean. We were walking by some big ships and I noticed he looked down and found a quarter on the ground. He picked it up and carefully looked at the quarter then he put it in his shirt pocket, away from his other money. I knew he was going to turn that quarter in before he used it and I knew he would turn that exact quarter in. At the time I was working on the Order books so when I went back to work I decided to look on the receipts to see if he had turned it in. The receipt was there like I knew it would be. This little experience inspired me and helped me learn how to live the Law of Consecration and it helped me to teach it to my children.”
Isabell remembers Ortell attending the birth of each of their children,
“He was there whenever I had a baby, to welcome them into the world and to give them help in their first hours of life. I appreciate the help he gave me with each child. I know that he was real happy when each one of them was born.”
Isabell and her children always looked forward to visits from their father and have the house cleaned special for him. Isabell recalled how excited the children were to see their father and how they enjoyed the gentle way he had with each of them. The family would kneel together with their father in family prayer. After prayer, he would take the time to let the children talk to him and he would help them with their problems and give advice on what to do. They appreciated the time he spent with them. Isabell states,
“When he left he always gave each child a kiss on the cheek and they would kiss him back. He always made each child feel like they were special.”
As the children grew older their father was involved in each milestone in their life and helped them to decide which places to work, which college to attend and classes to take in school and the decisions they would make in marriage.
In 1965, Isabell and her children moved to a home attached to a coal yard in South Salt Lake called Valley Coal. 10 months after they moved in, the state decided to widen the road and the house needed to be moved further back on the property. Wendell Owen, Mac Frandsen, and Paul Owen built a new foundation for the house and moved it back. Over the years, Isabell made improvements to the house, bringing soil for a yard, planting grass and roses and making things more livable for the family.
Her children built a clubhouse underneath the wood pile that had two trap doors and was hidden under the pile so no one could tell it was there. Isabell says,
“They got it big enough to fit about ten kids in it and boy did they have fun in that clubhouse.”
The boys dug out a tunnel to the area down in the yard where they made a small room underground. They couldn’t stand up, so they had to sit inside it.
At the time, Valley Coal was the biggest coal yard in Salt Lake and coal was still a very common way people were heating their homes in the city. The coal yard had a delivery service for coal around the valley. Many of the other boys in Ortell’s family helped with deliveries. Every time one of LaDonna’s boys turned 16, Ortell would have them go help deliver coal for Isabell at the coal yard. Isabell says,
“It was a real big help to me and I appreciated this very much.”
Isabell’s 4 oldest boys, Steven, Kent, Jerry and Verl began to go out to help on coal deliveries with their mother and some of the other drivers at a young age. The coal yard grew to eventually sell feed and became a Purina dealer in addition to the coal business. They sold dog food, scratch (for chickens), feed for calves, horse chow, etc. This is where the business got its name Valley Feed & Coal, although the feed business was much more problematic and after a number of years, everything switched back to coal.
When Isabell’s oldest son Steven got his license and started to deliver coal by himself, the customers would call and tell his mother what a good deliveryman he was. He had a tarp for every truck to unload the coal onto to keep the driveway clean. When the truck pulled up to a home to deliver a load, the deliveryman would put the tarp down on the ground. Then he’d shovel the coal onto the tarp, into the window where the customer’s coal bin was, and finally sweep with a broom any coal dust that was outside the tarp. You couldn’t have a driver who left a mess on the customer’s driveway!
“Steven would do anything I asked him to, he was my right arm.” Isabell states.
When Isabell had twelve children, her brother Sherrell offered to build on a big room in the back of their house. Isabell’s sons helped their uncle build on the addition and they laid a cement patio and sidewalk all around to keep the coal and dirt outside. Isabell planted a big cherry tree and rose bushes in the south yard and replanted the lawn. This time the lawn became more established and began to flourish.
In 1977, a number of tragedies struck Isabell’s family. In July, Isabell suffered a 4 month miscarriage. In November, her oldest son Steven was killed in a car accident when he was just 16 years old. This was a very difficult time for the family. One night a few weeks after Steven was killed, Isabell’s oldest daughter Connie took some sleeping pills in the middle of the night, luckily her mother discovered her before morning and rushed her to the hospital where she stayed for a few days to recover.
In 1982, Isabell’s last child Julianna was born. She had complications at birth and had to stay in the hospital for 3 months. The baby seemed to struggle quite a bit and Isabell says, “for the next three months we didn’t know if she was going to live or die.”
During this very difficult time, a woman came to Isabell and told her that sometimes a mother could keep their baby alive when they were supposed to die, and that Isabell should let her daughter go. This really upset Isabell, because she had prayed for help every day on what to do for her daughter. She made up her mind that as long as she was living, she would do everything she could to help her. Isabell told her husband about what the woman said, and he felt very bad also. He told Isabell he had been praying every day for their baby also, and that they should do everything they possibly could to help her. They both had a lot of hope things would pull through and the baby was able to go home after 3 months.
In 1987, her husband passed away after a long battle with cancer. Many of the older children had grown up by this time and helped to carry on many of the responsibilities for their mother and the younger children as best they could.
Isabell had always wanted to live on a ranch out in the country and in 1992 she had the chance to move out to live with her son Jerry who was grown and married with his own children working on a ranch in Ibapah, Utah. Isabell loved spending time with her grandchildren on the ranch and running the small trading post store out by the Utah/ Nevada border on the old Pony Express trail.
In March of 2007, Isabell was diagnosed with Leukemia and on September 25th, 2007, she passed away surrounded by her family and loved ones. At the time of her passing, she was survived by 4 sons, 7 daughters and over 150 grandchildren. She loved raising her children and spent endless hours taking care of her family and friends. Everyone loved her quilts and a slice of her homemade bread, made with love.
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