Stories from the Muddy

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Betty Louise arrives at St. Thomas

 If I told you there was a city buried beneath the waters
of Lake Mead, would you think it a legend, a tall tale or a lie? Many places in the world have stories of buried cities, but in this case, the story is true. In fact, at least two cities have disappeared beneath the new water created by Hoover Dam. The stories of St. Thomas are mythic in my mind. I heard them every day of my life.  Hugh Lord was the last man to leave as the waters encroached on their homes. Below is a picture of him with the rising waters around him. The second city to which I refer, was the Pueblo Grande de Nevada, former home of the illusive Anasazi and just as mythic. I don't know the people of that great adobe city,  but it was nearby. 
The people of St. Thomas are large in my mind, first because they were great humans and I was fortunate enough to know and love them, secondly they were from that mystical land beneath the gleaming waves that I thought of as a kind of Camelot.

My mother, Betty Louise Meining Gentry arrived at the train station in St. Thomas when she was four. Tired from her long trip from Colorado with her mother, Gladys Gates Meining, a young widow, she didn't want to walk through the sand dunes to the Gentry Hotel, so her Grandfather, Edward Earl Gates (Ed Yates), carried her. Here, Gladys met and married Osborne Leland Gentry, son of Harry Gentry and Mary Ellen Syphus. Harry and Ellen owned the Gentry Hotel, a freight line, mercantile and ran the U.S. Post Office.

Mother told me I gave Osborne the name, Papa, as a babe standing in my crib, by which he was known forever after. The stories of St. Thomas were personal to my grandfather and his sister, my great aunt Laura May Gentry. Hearing their connection to the land made the place personal to me. My love of this magical place rising again from the waters of the
                                                                    Colorado River is immortal.

            Today, I can again walk where my ancestors walked, worked, danced and sang - where outlaws roamed and saints were born. I have tried to be true to their stories as they have come down to me.

          Betty Louise Meining Gentry Lewis, the only child of Gladys Louise Gates and Otto Albert Meining, was born May 30, 1927 in Saguache, Saguache County, Colorado.  She idolized her dad, who passed away before her fourth birthday.  
               In her own words,  "My first definite memory is when we arrived in St. Thomas, Nevada.  I was very tired and didn’t want to walk from the tiny railway station to the hotel through the deep sand.  I believe Grandad Ed carried me. 
When we headed for Seven-Springs out on Grand Wash in the Arizona Strip, I was terrified crossing the Virgin River.  I was on top of a load of grain and supplies.  Mother rode a pretty yellow horse, Polly, that Grandad gave her as a gift when we arrived.  I believe my worst fear was that my mother and her horse would be swept away down the river.

It was a lonely life out at Seven-Springs with only a big black dog for a playmate.  I remember my fifth birthday out there.

One day the dog and I were running full speed coming back from the fields.  I had a rope tied around his neck, and when I fell, he dragged me.  For awhile, Mother thought for sure I had a broken arm, but young children of the outdoors soon recuperate.

How well I remember the mule trips in a pack-box.  They put me in a pack box on one side and a large boulder for balance on the other side of the old mule, Maude, and away we’d go for fishing trips down on the Colorado River.  I soon learned to ride the mule.  One time old Maude got to running with me and I fell off.  Mother on her faithful palomino, Polly, was running at break-neck speed to catch her.  Mother says she could feel how that horse stretched herself out longer to keep from stepping on me.  Somehow, Polly kept from trampling me.  Eventually, I learned to ride a horse and loved it."

"I also remember Osborne Leland Gentry, coming out to Seven-Springs to court Mother.  I eagerly awaited Osborne's coming. He always brought candy.  I thought his car with the rumble seat was real perfection.  When they were married, I was beside myself that they wouldn’t take me with them on their honeymoon.  I stayed with Osborne's sister, Auntie Della Whitmore at the old St. Thomas Hotel."

When Betty was about five, a sheep herder named Horace Sylvester stopped by the ranch at Seven Springs for water.  Betty was always on hand to help him and to talk to him.  There was a tent boarded to the side of the ranch house for cooler sleeping in summer, before the days of air conditioning.  One day, Betty said to Horace, "Me and my mother sleep in the tent.  Mama has a pistol, so if anyone comes around she can take it out and tell them to 'get.'  Nobody would know it doesn't have any bullets in it."

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