Editorial: Chester & Adeline Coons Jennings – farmer, caregiver: Part 2

Contributed Photo of Chester Jennings putting in some work.

Column By Edres Bryant Barney

W.W.(Bill) Hawkins had performed their wedding.  His son told people Addie was married.  Since Addie had been going with Sam Tanner, (the young man from Utah) they took for granted that he was whom she had married.  On their way to honeymoon on Mt. Graham, they stopped at the store in Eden to get a few things and Chet went in.  The clerk said, “Did you know Addie married Sam?”   Then she asked, “Who is that with you?” Chet  replied “Addie, but I didn’t know she was married to Sam.”  They enjoyed a good laugh.    

The young couple (Chester not so young at 37) began married life on his little homestead northwest of Eden.  He describes their situation thusly, “While we never went hungry, we did go naked — almost.  We lived in a poor house,  had very few nice things, but we were happy.  Many were in the same boat.”

Money was hard to come by, so Chet did a variety of things to earn some.  He and Addie’s brother, Ed Coons, went to the Chiricahua Mountains and cut and hauled wood to Bisbee and Tombstone.  They also worked on the railroad grade running from El Paso to Douglas.  Joining them on this work was another of her brothers, Frank Coons, and a brother-in-law, Tom Hamblin.  Then Ed, Frank, and Tom took Ed’s and Chester’s teams and hauled freight into Mexico while  Chet returned home to work and await the arrival of their first child who finally showed up on March 14, 1901.

Chet traded 40 acres for four mules and $100.  Ed traded Chesters’s team for a piece of land and a house in St. David, then they filed on another piece where they tried to get artesian water — but failed.  Ed sold his big team for $275 and they bought half interest in a well drilling machine.  Discouraged, they returned to Eden.  Chet and Will Markham rented Will’s dad’s farm.  They made a living — not much more, and had children coming to both.  Chester Libbeus and his parents welcomed Lucy Adelia on Aug. 9, 1902.  Chet again worked his own place.  The next summer Addie took the two little ones for an extended visit with family in Pomerene; while there suffered from yellow jaundice and Lucy had severe indigestion.  Lucy did not improve with the doctor’s care — at one year weighing only 11 lbs.  They came back and Lucy continued to decline.  Friends, community members told Addie, “Let her die — your faith is all that is keeping her alive.”  Addie felt like Lucy was special and was meant to live and grow up.  They went to Lebanon to visit her sister Manie Hamblin and Lucy began to improve.

Addie went to Bisbee to help her brother, Ed, who had fell in a deserted mine shaft when walking home from work on a very dark night.  Near-death, he spent a very long time in Copper State Hospital and somewhat recovered, being crippled for the remainder of his life.  Chet mortgaged his home place and bought a place in Cactus, moving there on Dec. 18, 1903.

The next July Addie gave birth to a stillborn and was at death’s door for months.  They took in washing with Chet doing it next to the cot in the yard where Addie could instruct him.  Chet then took his produce of tomatoes, watermelon, and sweet potatoes to Bisbee, Douglas, Pierce, and Willcox.  The year 1906 was a really good year for their produce and he kept the road busy from Solomonville to Fort Thomas.  On Oct. 3, they welcomed a son, Francis Farnham.  Chet suffered several months from pneumonia.  Edgar Fenn came and worked with them, allowing them to go up on the mountain where  Chet worked as a packer—hauling logs to the sawmill, coming back home when the mill closed for the winter.

Contributed Photo: From left, Adeline and Chester Coons lived to an elderly age.

In 1910 a girl was born to this family.  When she was ten months old, she climbed onto the table and fell off and struck her head, and had a convulsion.   She was a beautiful and sweet child, lots of comfort to them and great sorrow when, after suffering many more convulsions, Bertha died at the age of 7.  In December 1914, Chet was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He had worked alongside church members for years and they had been a good influence, to say nothing of his sweet wife.   A third boy, Homer, was born to them on April 26, 1915.    

Around 1920, Edgar and Chet rented 36 acres from the Saline Brothers and put most of it in cotton.  Before the crop matured, Edgar got cold feet and wanted out.  Son, Chester helped and they hired some help; wages were high, cotton was down so Chet sold off some beef and a cow to help close the $1,100 gap.  Chet had come down with chills;  Dr. Platt helped him through this bout of typhoid.  Addie experienced a long,  serious bout of gall bladder troubles off and on which did not give her relief until it was removed when she was 74.

In 1925, they went to Pomerene and worked for Addie’s folks for a while then took the train to Los Angeles.  Addie worked at nursing folks and Chet was first a watchman for a contractor, then worked on an orange ranch in Orange County for $2 a day and board — but it left Addie alone in the city, which was not to her liking.  Chet returned and was on an outing with his friend, Bob Stinson, when he got in the road of a Ford car which knocked him down and ran over him.  The car suffered a busted radiator but Chet suffered a busted body!  They picked up his broken frame and put him in Addie’s lap and hauled him to the hospital.  After a couple of days when he hadn’t died, they took him to the operating room and set his bones in a cast from his neck to his toes — with the exception of one leg.  He was in the cast for 13 weeks — in the hospital for seven weeks — then at home for six weeks.  After the cast was cut off, he was too weak to walk or use his arms.  Their sons hired Ira Crotts to bring them home.  They stayed with their daughter, Lucy, and Arthur Barney for a time, then spent some time in Pomerene.  No one thought he would walk again.  When he took a couple of steps, his father-in-law was so tickled, he cried and said through his tears, “As thy faith is, so shall it be.”  They went home to Cactus in October to find their place (which had been rented) overgrown.  Addie immediately started weeding and soon Chet could lean on one crutch and chop weeds.  By spring, he could get around good on crutches.  So, they farmed again; having a bumper crop of melons and sweet potatoes — paying off all debts.  They bought an old Dodge for $75 from Arthur and Lucy and learned to drive.

On June 4, 1929, Addie’s youngest sister and her husband, Masilva and Lewis Scott, came over from Pomerene and asked them to take a trip to The Worlds Fair in New York. The Scotts, their two daughters, Chet,  Addie, and daughter, Lucy Barney, headed to New York.  The route took them through El Paso, San Antonio, and Abilene, Texas, the Will Rogers’ Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma, to the east to the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania.  They toured the White House, the Capitol, and Washington Monument, through Maryland and Delaware and on to the fairgrounds.  They spent a day and a half at the fair viewing what they could — mostly advertisements.  They paid a guy $5 to show them through New York City and Wall Street.  Then they went toward Chet’s birthplace — Richford, New York.  The residents of his former home made them very welcome, cooking them a nice dinner.  He was also able to see all of his sister Lucy’s children and his half-brother, Henry, who was a mere baby when he left home.  From there, the group went on to Niagara Falls, Hill Cumorah, and the Sacred Grove.  Then on to Ohio where they visited the Kirtland Temple, Carthage Jail, and Nauvoo, Illinois, where they stayed in the home that had belonged to Sydney Rigdon.  They returned home by way of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

The grandchildren were always excited to visit. They loved their grandparents — and visiting their place in Cactus was like an oasis in the desert with the pond to swim and play in and the creek — then there was the delicious watermelons — the yummy figs and the wonderful fig jam and other jams and jellies to spread on hot biscuits.  The legacy this couple left was one of perseverance and hard work and caring for those who were ill.  Even when she was not well, Addie tended to her sisters and brother, other relatives, and whoever needed her,  as she practiced this attribute since girlhood.  In spite of their hard work, illnesses, and injuries, they lived to be elderly.  Chet passed Nov. 30, 1951 age 88, and Addie on Sep. 10, 1964, at age 82.  They rest in the Pomerene Cemetery.

To quote one granddaughter, Vera Jennings Heard, “Grandma Jennings was a magnet of love and if you knew Grandpa — you loved him”.  Numerous descendants still reside in the Gila Valley and also the Pomerene-St. David area.

Chester married Opal Witherspoon: one daughter             Lucy married Arthur John Barney: 13 children

Francis (Frank) married Vivian Crum: six children         Homer married Orpha Crum: eight children

This and other individual and family histories may be found at the Eastern Arizona Museum in Pima which is open Thursday — Saturday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.