A program to commemorate the 137th anniversary of the settling of Virgin Valley was held at the site of the first home on the hill overlooking the Virgin River on Saturday, January 20. Jeff Jensen life-time resident of the valley spoke about growing up on a farm, milking cows, ranching, playing in the river, and being among friends – “the population was small and all the families looked out for each other and were helpful.”
The program started with a flag raising by Shea, Adler, and Ammon Shaner and Adron Klug, cousins and brothers. It was followed by the hymn, ‘Come, Come Ye Saint’s and a prayer. It was on January 7, 1877 that 23 people held the first church service on the hill with Edward Bunker, Jr. holding a handful of soil in one hand and wheat in the other dedicated the valley to the building of a peaceful settlement.
Jeff Jensen, son of Melburn and Leah Jensen, grew up on a farm on Riverside and Hafen Lane. He graduated from Virgin Valley in a class of 15, served 15 months in in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Colorado. He is the father of two daughters, grandfather to eleven and great-grandfather to one.
He told about dairy farming saying, “After the war the government encouraged more people to go into the dairy business and so my dad built a new barn behind the house. When the barn was finished, I remember driving the cows west on the main street to get them to their new home. We used to have a town milking barn that the community used for milking which is still on First South. Times were rough for a lot of families and my dad wanted to expand his dairy business. My dad bought 100 acres in three different places – Willard Leavitt’s field, Angie Barnum’s field and the Hunt field – they were all named and so we knew which field needed water or hay bailing. The dairy business didn’t pay as much as expected. You had to go bigger and bigger and therefore my dad dropped out of the dairy business. My dad worked construction to pay the bills and my brothers and I had to do the farm work.
“Meb, my dad, also had a range on the mountain that ran clear to Key West. The cows were running in common with Bill Pulsipher and others. In order to separate the areas, we had to build a fence. We were over in the area of Scenic and the truck wouldn’t start so we couldn’t drive home. We had always parked it on a hill so we could get it started but this time it was parked in a wash. Why? We had a gallon jug of water but one of the boys dropped it. No truck! No water! We started to walk home and I was so thirsty that I finally took a drink of the Virgin River bloat!! It was awful to say the least!
He laughed as he talked about the silage pit across the river and how his dad was tossing silage on the bed of the trailer hooked to the old Ford tractor – “as my dad tossed a big pile up from the pit it landed squarely on the back of my sister, Christine! We all laughed but she was hopping mad!”
“There were sad times too,” he said as he related the story of the house fire that totally destroyed their old adobe home. “There was no air conditioner and we had a swamp cooler. We think the stand fell over and started the fire which then caught the wallpaper on fire. All of the kids were on sleeping on the front lawn because it was so hot, so all my brothers and sister were safe but we lost everything – it was burnt! We had no clothes! My parents saved the set of encyclopedias, the radio and some pictures. The fire truck was in the old building that is next to what is now the museum. The truck was old, wouldn’t start and so they drug it out and down to the homestead, but the pump wouldn’t start! By that time the house was gone! We walked up the street and slept at our grandparent’s home.”
“It was sad, “he continued.” But the worst part was that I lost my frog feet I had received for my birthday a few weeks before. I hardly had a chance to use them to learn to swim!”
Jeff finally did learn to swim the hard way – being tossed into the big ditch by his brothers. “We used to go down and easily cross the river as there were no tamaracks and get to the big irrigation ditch. The boys would lift the sand gate to clean it out – but they just threw me in! But I can’t swim! They yelled, just swim like a dog!”
The ditch was dirt back then and my brothers and I were assigned to clean out a section of the ditch just as other families were assigned to clean a part of the 2.5-mile irrigation ditch.
Jeff also told stories of the three horses they owned. “We had Brownie and a quarter horse named Kokomo Star and a gray mustang. These horses loved to race and got very competitive. Sometimes you couldn’t get them to stop racing. We were riding along Smoky Lane when they picked up speed and we couldn’t stop them. They turned into the Easton’s yard and went right under her clothes line, hit the fence and stopped! She came out and was worried about us, gave us water and asked if we were ok.”
Another horse story he told was about his sister, Christine. “My sister had ridden over to the Reber’s and Faught’s and then the mustang refused to return home. Ken, my older brother, went over and got to whipping the horse with the reins. The horse took off and ran all the way to our house and beyond before he threw on his brakes sending Ken over the top of the horse! The mustang, having expended his energy plodded slowly home. “
Some past-times during the summer were “sampling the watermelons from various fields, he said. “We had gone to every patch except one and it had a lot of elephant grass where we saw a huge watermelon! I made a low crawl out through the grass to get it but the big dog started barking and the owner turned on the light! I slowly backed out and left that big watermelon! It was not worth it!”
There were lots of rabbits and one of my favorite things to do was to chase them. Another favorite was the steak sandwiches my mother made us for school lunch. We were too poor to buy school lunch so she made us steak sandwiches and milk. Sometimes it was from road kill. Another past time was sliding down the big hill on an old car hood. I built a “car” and attached a rope to the back and when it got going, I cut the rope and went flying downhill and rolled, “he said.
We listened to the radio on the evenings and later we watched TV.
Homemade bread and butter with jam and honey was served to the attendees along with donuts, hot chocolate and juice. Thank you to those that set up chairs and to the many boy scouts who made the site a place to visit. Eagle project have included building the stairs, the rock fence around the foundation, flag pole and the sign to commemorate the site of the first home in Virgin Valley.