Joseph Nuttall . . . prankster . . . Jack of all trades

Contributed Photo: Joseph Nuttall

Contributed Article By Edres Barney/Eastern Arizona Museum & Historical Society

PIMA – Joseph Nuttall was born April 8, 1890, in a little town settled by the Latter-day Saints who were there due to polygamy. The town was Colonia Garcia, Mexico. His parents were John Horatio Nuttall and Christena Hubbard, who had married in the St. George, Utah Temple on April 20, 1887, and made their home in Pima. They were only in Mexico a few months before returning to Pima.

Their children were Agnes, Joseph, Floyd, Etta, and Karl. After moving to Hubbard near their maternal grandfather, Elisha Freeman Hubbard, their family increased with Margaret, Christina, and Robert. Joseph’s father’s first wife, Laura Naomi Gardner Nuttall, had borne children; LaPrele, John, Ernest, Alice, Maud, and Paul (plus four others who died). Joseph’s dad was a member of the St. Joseph Stake High Council, a carpenter by trade; he owned a sawmill on Mount Graham and a flour mill in Pima.

The Gila River which runs through the Gila Valley would go on a rampage every time a good rainstorm came up, washing away the brush/rock/dirt dams that the farmers built to take the water out to farm the land. Many a day he worked along with grown men on the dams and canals while he was really too small for teams and scrapers. Every farmer had to do his yearly assessment work on the water system.

Because they lived near their grandfather Hubbard, he always had time to listen and teach. Joseph and Ernest were especially close and spent much time together. In his life story, Joseph detailed many pranks he instigated or participated in as a youth and as an older teenager.

As just little buttons, he and Ernest loved to hear the whistle of the train when they were in the foothills herding cows, as it had just come into the Gila Valley a few months before. One day, they decided to stop the train as it went on its way to Globe, a mining town about 90 miles away. They obtained a case of axle grease and with the help of some other boys, they smeared the track for nearly half a mile with grease; then becoming scared for fear that someone would catch them, they ran away out to Rogers Pond and put rocks in the empty can and sank it in the water. The train stopped all right, whistled a lot, but no one ever said a word to them for over a week. Then their dad took Joseph and Ernest into the mill one day and gave them a good talking-to, telling them they might have wrecked the train and killed someone. They never did that again.

A few other pranks he helped pull was to tip over outside toilets, and on holidays put someone’s horses and cows in someone else’s corrals. When a little bigger, they put a man’s wagon on top of the schoolhouse piece by piece, then put it back together again. One New Year’s Eve, they put a donkey in the belfry of the church house and fixed hay so when it reached to eat, the rope around its neck would rink the bell at night. Joseph and then Chesley boys were leaving to go out on the range, they threw a skunk in the Hubbard schoolhouse before leaving. A new floor had to be put in the school. He was courting a girl in Thatcher and he and Carl Bryce shot out the lights in the dance hall because President Andrew Kimball and Bill Pace said that “shenanigans like that couldn’t be done in their town, the boys there would be caught and punished.” They weren’t.

At the young age of 14, Joseph quit school – against the advice of Judge McCalister, who begged him not to smoke and drink and quit school before graduating from the eighth grade. He felt like he had learned everything by then and was quite a man, as he had taken a job in Metcalf with the dairy for Art and Milt Lines, milking 20 cows both morning and evening. He was underweight and became sick. The doctor told him he needed to put on some weight and to quit smoking cigarettes. He had him drink raw cow’s milk, freshly milked. it helped him get well and he did stop smoking.

One day, the train had a chain break in the ore car. The train had to stop right by the dairy and the fireman, engineer, and brakeman had to get out and jack it into place to chain it down. While they were in the process, the brakes gave way and the engine began rolling the whole train down the grade. Joseph saw what happened and, being the youngest one there, ran and caught the handhold of one of the cars, climbed to the filled ore car, jumped from one car to the other until he reached the engine and applied the brakes just in time to stop the train just as it went on to the dump trestle. The trestle was 125 feet high. If it hadn’t been stopped, the train would have gone over the trestle and crashed over into the residential part of town. Everyone was thankful he had the nerve, strength, and knowledge to handle the problem.

Joseph became an expert cowboy while riding for Turner West, Dick Bryce, and the Mattice Cattle Comp[any. He had many accidents on his horses, suffering some broken bones and many “close calls.” He left the life of a cowpuncher, pursuing a vocation of a mechanic, as automobiles were the up and coming thing. He attended a mechanic school in Kansas City, learning all about magnetos. From there, he went to Globe, where he installed magnetos on engines. He also got a job in the railroad shop, where he learned the machinist trade. This was followed by employment with the mines as a hoist engineer.

On Dec. 27, 1911, at the age of 21, he married 17-year-old Mary Velma Nelson. Their only child, Joseph Heber Nuttall, was born Oct. 24, 1912. The marriage was happy – but her mother was not. During one of their separations, he, along with distant cousins, Carl, Chris, and Fletch Merrill, went to Mexico and had numerous adventures, such as shooting a boa constrictor 17 times before it finally died. Stretched out, they measured it to be 27′ 9″.

Joseph’s divorce from Mary Velma and her subsequent death from an exploding gasoline iron Jan. 15, 1916, was very hard for Joseph to take and go on with his own life. He drifted and married Marie Dallas, taking a job driving the stage from Solomonville to Duncan, then as a master mechanic at the Twin Peaks Mine. When the mine closed in December 1918, he became the Miami City Powerhouse Operator, saving the power plant from two German saboteurs one night until the law could get there ad take them. Also, during the flu epidemic there, he drove the ambulance eight hours after his regular job, picking up the dead, taking people to the hospital, and delivering medicine from the drugstore to homes all over town.

After the war, he and Marie relocated to Los Angeles, working awhile at the movies riding horses in Western pictures or doubling for stars who had to wreck automobiles. He was thrilled to handle the horses and chariots while making the picture, Ben Hur. The movie people were not to his liking, however, and he wanted a better life, so he went to Parker, Arizona to take charge of the Ford Garage there, staying until 1923. Because Marie did not want to be in Parker, Joe went to Long Beach, bought a new home, got a job in a garage there and began buying and selling diamonds from guys who had to sell their rings and stickpins. A friend would resell them and sometimes they would triple their money. With his regular wages and diamond money, the paid their home off, and bought a new car and some land in Oregon.

Joseph and Marie called their marriage quits; giving her all the property. He was quite sick. After spending seven months as a traveling farm machinery salesman, he returned to Los Angeles, broke but well. He next drove the night bus between Los Angeles and San Francisco, then he drove a streetcar. He wanted to see the home folks, so he came to Safford and opened an auto paint shop, which he sold for a good profit. He then went to Bisbee, where he drove the Circle X Stage between Bisbee and Safford. On this line, Joseph became acquainted with a Ford big shot who sent him to Yuma, where he did body, fender, and paintwork. In November 1928, he did a snazzy paint job for the “big boss” who took him on a vacation trip to El Paso, where he met Eva McCown, a widow who became his wife in May 1929. After a few months in Yuma, the couple moved to Miami, where he worked in a garage, then opened one of his own, which was successful until the mines closed. A few years were spent near Eva’s folks in Arkansas and Tennessee, then, in 1937, a move to Phoenix came and with it several jobs in the war plant at Air Research, where he was the highest-paid mechanic on the job.

After a disagreement with a co-worker, he took his toolbox and left. With encouragement from his bosses and lead men, he set up shop under a big shade tree in his yard at 18th and Apache. Business was good and he worked day and night, eventually having a good building and good tools. For 10 years, Eva had cancer and he tended to her at home, where she died March 2, 1960.

His half-sister, Annie Farley, suggested he change his ways, get an LDS wife, namely their sister-in-law, Julia, Ernest’s widow in San Diego. They corresponded for a few months, then Julia went to Phoenix to work for the winter. After their marriage Oct. 15, 1960, he sold his home and business and they relocated to Strawberry, where both of them wielded hammers and saws constructing their two-bedroom home where they lived the remainder of their lives. He also kept their automobiles in tip-top shape, as well as those of friends and neighbors. Joseph passed away July 30, 1973, and is buried in Phoenix after a very busy and interesting life.

Special thanks to Julie Carpenter for this information. This and other individual and family histories may be found at the Eastern Arizona Museum in Pima on Thursdays – Saturdays, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.