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The Personal Histories

of

Darvil Burns McBride & Josephine Phillips McBride

 


(DARVIL)  MY DAD—A PERSON, HUSBAND, FATHER, AND LAWMAN

 

My father, Robert Franklin McBride, his children called him Papa, was born in the town of Eden, Weber County, Utah, on January 4, 1875. Though there were limitations on his time, like all good dads who strive vigorously to provide for a large family, he spent quality time with us when he could. His life cut short, of course, deprived us of that kind of attention. Though only a month and a-half past nine years old when he was killed, I have many fond memories of him. I relish them and others that my family, friends and his best friends have shared with me.

 

A brief description with mention of some of his fine attributes is in keeping with this history: Among the area’s swains of his day, he enjoyed great popularity. A very handsome, likable man—as attested to by the beauty and charm of the girl he married—he managed to compete with the swashbucklers. A little taller than the average man, wiry and sinewy-muscular of build, he had the appearance of being easy on his feet. To paraphrase Harvey Foster, a long-time friend of his: “He was quick and cat-like in his movements. He commanded considerable respect in his youth as well as during young adulthood and mature manhood. He had acquired the reputation early on of being, ‘pretty darn handy with his fists.’ Most would-be challengers wisely left him alone with respect to fisticuffs. Few looked for physical trouble with Frank (Frankie) McBride. Though never the aggressor, when left without recourse, he had put many down on their backsides. His natural quickness of mind and reflexes, no doubt, were the primary advantages that made him so difficult to beat. Those who knew of him preferred to enjoy his unassuming, humorous, pleasant company rather than mix it up with fists.” Harvey added that if there was one thing Dad detested and refused to tolerate, it was disparaging or off-color remarks among men about women.

 

Reese Boyle, an elderly friend of mine and another of Dad’s longtime friends, and part of the problem group of men Dad had to deal with witnessed the following: “Over in the western part of the valley near Fort Thomas, a dispute was brewing. The trouble was primarily between the McEuens and the Hintons over water rights for their ranches and cattle. Some lesser members and farmers were also involved. The situation had become so threatening that someone with good sense had called the authorities. A deputy at that time, your dad was sent to investigate the ruckus.”

 

Dad had arrived on the scene in his 1916 Model T Ford and found a large gathering of men, some on horseback and others on foot, and edgy nervousness emanated from the bunch. They were well armed with saddle rifles, some still in their saddle scabbards, others across their laps, while other men milled about on foot with rifles in hand and side arms belted on. He left his car and walked over into the very middle of the hot-tempered gathering. As he entered the middle of the drama, he searched out the eyes of those he recognized as the men of sway. Virtually every man there knew him personally—and, knew of him. He said, ‘Tell me boys, what’s happened here? I need to know what’s going on because we’re going to straighten this out and settle things here and now.’”

 

Reese said that because of Dad’s surprise appearance, seemingly without fear, striding with confidence into the middle of the festering dilemma, it quickly changed the complexion of the problem. Because of Dad’s self-confidence and courage, the main characters in the dispute were caught completely off balance, and Dad gained control and became the arbitrator. The situation that could have erupted into a melee of shooting and needless death was resolved. Reese concluded the account by saying: “I wouldn’t any more have ever walked into the middle of that bunch like your dad did than I would have tried to fly a two-ton kite.”

 

Though a man of western outdoors sort, Dad possessed a warm, cultural side. He loved music and enjoyed singing. He especially liked musical and drama presentations, not only attending them, but also obtaining roles in them. He had a fine voice that inhibitions failed to curtail.

 

As to religion, a former fulltime missionary in Texas, he had a deep testimony of the restored gospel and throughout his short life remained active in church affairs. As a youngster, I remember him as he would teach the family in detail about principles of proper conduct in public and in private. A man of integrity—honest and open in his dealings with mankind—he taught his family to be the same through discourse and example.

 

He taught us affection too. Called to be away from home for several days at a time, when he returned we all watched him gather Mother into his arms and kiss her. He probably showed as much affection toward his wife as any man. Though I don’t ever remember of seeing mother on a horse, she told me that earlier in their marriage, before they had such a big family, they often went riding during the cool desert evenings.

 

By way of synopsis, let me share some interesting history of Dad as a young man from the writings of my sister Gladys, the first born of the family, seven and one-half years my senior. I'm in debt to Leva Gene, my niece, Gladys’s oldest daughter, for helping her mother with this record.

 

         "Granddad Peter’s 160-acre farm was insufficient to support the entire family, so, most of the farm care devolved to Dad and his younger brother Howard, while their father, Peter, employed himself in other supplementary work. Peter freighted lumber by team and wagon down from the sawmill in the Graham Mountains and gave musical-instrument and singing lessons.

 

         "Dad helped in the freighting when he matured, but he still continued working on the farm. The two younger brothers, Perle and Enoch, were soon able to carry some of the load with the farm and later would help their father with freighting too. Meanwhile, Dad took interest in other work that he preferred over farming.

 

         "Prompted by a love of the outdoors and horses, Dad worked for local ranches as a cowhand. His love of riding the range, working cattle and completing the roundup were all a part of his work as a cowboy. A natural born horseman, he became especially expert in breaking the untamed ones brought in off the range. Dad developed great skill as a bronc-buster and cowboy. Bronc-busting and cowboying would be work that he would fall back on several times during his life to supplement his income—even after marriage. [(Darvil): In this work Dad always carried a holstered revolver, and often a saddle rifle. Like many of his day he became quite expert in their use. I don't recall any of his buddies remarking on the speed of his draw, but he being one who generally excelled at whatever he did, I think it could have been pretty fast.]

 

         "He made many friends and gained respect among the local ranch owners and their help. Though many of them were given to spending their time in the nearest saloon: gambling, drinking and shooting pool, Dad refrained from such wastes of time, and involved himself instead in constructive activities he enjoyed—centered in the Church and the community. He brought his outside earnings home to be responsibly divided by his father for the benefit of the family.

 

         "Dad enjoyed popularity among his peers. One of the popular activities in those days revolved around choir practices and singing. Perle was keeping company with a young beauty by the name of Clara Sims. One evening, Perle couldn't go to one of the practices, so it was Dad's lot to be in the company of beautiful Clara. Well, little brother faded from the game, and Dad would court "my mother-to-be" for many years. Clara at the time, five years younger, was too young to marry; besides, Dad planned on filling a mission for the Church.

 

         "While waiting for the mission call, a cattle company employed him. Near the community of Eden,  work finished for the day and camp set up for the night, the rest of the cowhands laid back. Dad, still with energy to spare, took a 22-rifle in hand to scout out the mesquite thickets for quail and cottontail. He waded the Gila River, just a trickle that time of year, and chanced upon the Wiley Holliday Ranch.

 

         "As he neared the high, stockade-like, post fence, he heard men's voices on the other side. Vaulting to the top of the fence, he announced his presence with a hardy "Hello!" Over close to the house, two men with bandana-masked faces, caught by surprise, turned on him with angry oaths. One yelled for him to put his hands up, but instantly and without warning, both of them cut loose with a volley of shots at him, yelling out more profanity. He dropped down out of sight to safety and returned quickly to camp to tell his friends.

 

         "They dispatched a man to bring the authorities, while the rest went with caution to the Holliday place. Dad had recognized one masked man by his appearance and voice, but had seen no sign of Holliday. He told the authorities what he knew and together they returned to the ranch and discovered that the old gentleman had been shot to death during an obvious robbery. Thanks to Dad, the two men were soon apprehended, arrested and jailed to await trial.

        

        "Time slipped on by. Dad left early one morning from Pima to report for work at a ranch in the Stockton Pass area at the southeast end of the Grahams. He carried newly purchased shoelaces in his pocket and he rode on to rendezvous with other men who also had been hired by the ranch. A poor and frugal young cowpuncher, Dad wore a very old pair of shoes; he just couldn't afford boots. As he neared the foot of the mountain, he came upon a deserted cabin. There he rested and ate a breakfast of canned sausages with bread.

 

         "While he rested, he replaced his much knotted, multi-colored, old laces and tossed them to the ground. Looking at them, "Old shoestrings," he thought to himself, "I would know you anywhere." Rested and refreshed, he rode away from the cabin. At the top of the mesa he paused to look back down his trail and saw three riders fast approaching the cabin. Unnoticed, he continued to watch, and wondered why they would be at such a far-off deserted place. Surprised, he recognized two of the men as residents of Pima.

 

         "When he arrived at the camp where the other hands had gathered, no one had seen three riders, much less knew why they would be out in the area mentioned. After a number of days, the work finished, the men disbanded and Dad rode back to Pima. Word had reached the authorities there of what he had seen and about what he had questioned others. They questioned him and showed him some sacks. The sacks, which had been confiscated from the captured men were tied closed with some old shoelaces.  Dad recognized the laces as those he had discarded at the cabin. He told the authorities, ‘Those are my old shoestrings’.  

 

         "The three riders he had seen, they explained, were thieves, and had ridden from the scene of their crime with loot in hand. Each had departed in a different direction to confuse pursuers, later they rendezvoused at the old cabin where they divided the take.

 

         "So, again the law required Dad to divulge information on acquaintances turned criminal. Rounded up and confronted with Dad's testimony, they confessed. They had robbed a store of its money, canned goods, tobacco and other articles. Dad’s shoelaces and questioning mind had brought down the heavy hand of justice again.

 

         "Time continued its relentless march, and Dad's mission call finally came—only to be shelved. Though his bags were packed and ticket purchased, the trial with him as a material witness took precedence. The process would be long and drawn out so the call was canceled for the time being. With no word forthcoming from the Prophet, his beautiful sweetheart Clara, nineteen years of age, and he, twenty-four years old, married on August 14, 1899." (Note: After the birth of their first child, dad filled a two-year mission in Texas, during which time his second child was born.)

 

Home after a rigorous day's work, Dad first wanted to lounge back and rid himself of his boots. I would watch my older brothers and sister straddle his leg with their back to him and push the boot off as he wiggled his foot inside while pushing against their backs with the other foot. How I wanted to do the favor for him myself. Well, the day arrived, and almost big enough, imitating my brothers, I took the proper position to begin the struggle with the first boot. Amused but patient, he suffered me to huff, puff and grunt until proudly, I managed to push the stubborn thing off. On the second try he put his soft, stocking-clad foot against my lower back, pushing to help me, and the second one eased off with less struggle. From that first successful experience, I always tried to be the one on the spot for the job.

 

Besides farming, being a pretty good carpenter and a part-time cowboy, Dad served as County Cattle Inspector for several years. Later he became a Graham County Deputy Sheriff, entrusted with keeping the peace and bringing to justice fugitives of the law in the sparsely populated, western end of the county where we lived.

 

I happened to be close by one day when Dad received word that a fifteen-year-old boy had escaped from Fort Grant, a detention center for wayward youth the other side of the Graham Mountains. To reach our valley from the detention center required a drive of eighty miles by way of dirt roads—only half the distance as the crow flies.

 

The boy had stealthily made his way, either over or around the mountains, into the western part of the county. Someone reported seeing a boy that matched his description close to Pima about three miles from our home. The news had been out for several days and the communities were aware of the escape. Dad told me to hurry and get ready to go, overjoyed to be included I scrambled in preparation. We jumped in the car together, and along the way he picked up another man to help. We drove to where the boy was last seen. The men soon discovered tracks leading to an old bridge that spanned the canal. They left me secure in the car. It turned out that he parked the car where the drama was about to begin, where I would see everything.

 

Suspecting the boy could be hiding under the bridge, the other man sneaked around to the opposite side. Dad positioned himself strategically, slightly to the side out of sight, where he could handily confront him if he came out. It happened exactly as expected, the boy saw the other man and bolted out from under the bridge, where he found himself abruptly confronted by an armed man wearing the telltale badge of the law. Dad, able to see the boy first, stepped forward with his hand held palm-out signaling, as he ordered him to stop. He blocked what might have been an easy escape. Recognizing the futility of resistance, the young rascal stopped as ordered, and crestfallen he surrendered without chase or struggle.

 

Sometimes in the early evening, after Dad arrived home and we finished our chores, he would take us for a ride in our new car. We would putt along together on short rides of not more than six or eight miles. With the night approaching, we didn’t dare get too far away from home for fear of breakdowns or flats. The pneumatic tires, including the other parts of the automobile, had not reached much perfection yet; the tires under the weight of the car plus its passengers were too undependable back then. Among ourselves, we boys would try to outguess one another as to the number of flats we’d have from the time we left home till we returned. Back then, we had to set out well prepared. We needed an extra tire, inner-tube and jack, (we always carried a hand pump), patches and tire irons to remove the tire from the wheel rim to extract the inner-tube in order to patch it, and then to force the tire bead back over the wheel rim. Cars had not begun to carry spares. 

 

Unless one had lived in those days to see what we called a road, one could not picture the real problem in his mind, much less understand. Those so-called roads were the cause of most of the flats. If we hit one of those numberless, sharp-edged, chuckholes, we could usually expect a flat. Other things like cactus, wood, nails and rocks were also real threats. We boys helped out by memorizing the locations of the bad holes along the way so we could help Dad avoid them as we returned after dark. Why at times, we could be clipping along at the breakneck, dangerous speed of 35 miles per hour.

 

Our 1916 Model “T” Ford (the “Tin Lizzy”), had an ooga horn, that said just that, when you squeezed the right thing. It could let out a loud, startling blast that could make bulls bellow and horses buck when squeezed hard with intention. Dad, who had a reputation for practical jokes, loved to use the horn—just for fun of course.”

 

The laid-back Mexicans generally rode a poor horse, and it usually took plenty to wake the rider up. Dad, claiming that the rider should thank him for it, would coast the car quietly up behind the mounted man and blow the horn. There was no telling what the startled horse might do or what the rider would say, generally in unprintable Spanish, but it was always so laughable that the deputy sheriff never missed the opportunity for such entertainment. If accosted later by an irate rider he would always say, “Well, you didn’t want to get yourself run over did you?”

 

At least twice, my three older brothers and I trekked with Dad into the mountains to cut Christmas trees. A couple of weeks before the holiday, Dad would visit our few neighbors to take their orders. On the appointed day the five of us were up at the crack of dawn harnessing the team and hitching them to the old Studebaker wagon. (A common wagon of the day with side boards usually two feet in height.) Then we would be off, plodding up the rocks-trewn, bumpy road into the mountains, high above the 3,000-foot elevation of the valley.

 

I either sat close to Dad on the high spring seat, or with my brothers, dangling legs over the wagon's open end. With an eye for adventurous or daring, we jumped off to run up ahead or along side, just for fun, or to gather a pocket of rocks for target practice or to pester the cactus and critters along the way. On one of these trips, I remember seeing thousands of two inch long black millipedes. They were crawling out of the brush onto the road every where. They were fine targets for flippers (slingshots) and throwing rocks.

 

Up, up, up, we gradually gained elevation, we were fascinated looking back down on the valley far below as the people, animals and buildings became miniatures. We slowly wended our way up through the foothills, then over the steeper but pleasant grades that led us deeper and higher into the mountain.

 

We reached our destination with plenty of morning-time to spare. We camped on an expansive and nearly level, broad ridge. At this elevation, over 6,000 feet, in a meadow-like setting, grew the young firs and pines we sought. During the first of these adventures, I played in large patches of snow; the first deep snow I'd ever seen. After jumping, rolling and romping, throwing snow balls, sliding and having more fun than I could ever remember, the cold wetness finally drove me out.

 

Once, while all of us, except Leonard (four years older), sat leaning back resting for a spell against the fragrant pile of trees on the wagon, we noticed he was nowhere to be seen. Always the explorer, he had disappeared from sight. Suddenly we heard a thrashing over in the trees as though a herd of animals were on the rampage. We heard him holler, "Dad! Dad! Dad!" Suddenly he burst into view running as though the devil himself were on his tail—and indeed the devil was on his tail—embodied in the form of an old, cranky, range cow hot in pursuit. With Leonard on the run, and the she-devil on the chase, she steadily closed the gap between them.

 

Leonard had spooked a newborn calf and its mad mother. A wild range cow with a threatened baby, as she supposed, is a fearfully dangerous beast capable of seriously maiming or even killing a man. Dad, sitting on the wagon, stood up. Through narrowed eyes he calculated the difficulty of Leonard's predicament. Then with a cat-like leap, he sailed to the ground as he drew his gun. There he stood as the enraged mother charged on, closing ground fast on the horrified boy. With lowered head a-wagging, amply endowed with a set of vicious, curved, sharp horns, hoofs flailing the damp turf leaving a rooster tail of sod behind, she raced toward him as he desperately sought safety.

 

Leonard leaped. He landed sliding neatly between Dad's legs and on under the wagon. Dad fired the revolver three times in the air. The wild-eyed bovine pulled up to an abrupt halt. Balefully, she stared at the thunderstick in his hand. After what seemed a decade to us, she turned away to search out her youngster.

 

We spectators, frozen awe-struck, stood in silence pondering the near disaster. Leonard, out from under the wagon, stood and brushed himself off. It wasn't till later that we all began to laugh. Leonard, at age 10 or 11 had been in trouble then, and he would usually be in some kind of trouble like that for the rest of his growing-up years.

 

While kids growing up, bananas were a luxury and, of course, that meant expensive, not one of the staples often found in Mother’s kitchen. In those days when a storekeeper managed to get in a banana bunch, he hung it on a hook just behind the counter. Fruit was picked only when ordered by a customer. Dad had a habit of keeping his eye on the bunches and when the supply became low on the stock, with some turning brown, he’d bargain with the storekeeper for what was left, pointing out that in another day or two they would be too ripe to sell. As a result he generally came home with stock and all, what he considered to be a bargain. He’d hang it in the kitchen or on the porch depending on the weather, to be prudently plucked and meted out for drooling mouths. To come into the house and find the stock hanging in the kitchen was a time for celebration. I don’t remember tasting a green or even half-green banana before I was fifteen years old. When I finally did it was a moment of disappointment, for it couldn’t compare to those sweet quarter-moons fresh off the stock.  

 

I've kept the original painting of Dad sitting in the saddle of his favorite horse: a big gray called Big Boy. Joseph Osborne Phelps, while serving a sentence in the county jail for forgery, painted it using the photo of one of Dad's campaign posters. The painting has become a family treasure—an heirloom.

 

Into the past again, Dad and I in his car stopped at the home of the photographer. With his equipment, he too piled into the car. We headed toward a site in the desert hills, chosen especially for the photograph. When we arrived, to my surprise, there stood Old Big Boy, a friend had ridden him there.

 

The desert foliage was beautiful. And there interrupting a background of chaparral, grassy tufts and rocks, splayed the imposing, thorny, green limbs of an ocotillo, each limb had a tassel-flag of scarlet blossoms that dazzled the hummingbirds. To the side hunched a prickly pear cactus decked with ripe, red fruit. Framing it all, in the distance loomed silent, majestic Mount Graham, towering upward in all her 11,000-foot glory. I watched as Dad with reins in hand and a foot in the stirrup took hold of the saddle horn. Pulling himself up, he swung astride old Big Boy for the picture that would become more important to the family than ever suspected.

 

After he took office, Dad had played a major role in apprehending and convicting the erring artist. Constantly rubbing shoulders, so to speak, with Dad, he gradually became acquainted with the true character of my good father. Quietly, he observed the friendly integrity with which the Sheriff's affairs were conducted. In time, he grew to greatly respect and admire him.

 

The prisoner chanced to obtain the photograph and he admired it so much that he envisioned it in oil upon a canvas. A deputy, Dave Skaggs, secretly in cahoots with Phelps, smuggled the canvas, paints and brushes into Phelps's cell.

 

 Joseph Phelps and Deputy Skaggs had cooperated to pay tribute to Dad for the respect they had for him. Astounded and profoundly touched when they presented the masterpiece, the sheriff, it was said, brushed away a tear.

 
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