Dewey Gifford

Gifford House

Adus F. Dorsey II

     There is just something about the thought of the town blacksmith shop that takes my mind back to the old days and makes me smile. I imagine a bunch of crusty old farmers in bib overalls gathered around a huge wooden barn door that had local brands burned into it, brands that the blacksmith had fashioned out of any spare piece of metal that came through his door. 

     There is just such a place down at Capitol Reef National Park, well sort of. The Blacksmith shop sits all alone on the side of the main road when you are headed to the Gifford house and is tucked back into a bentonite side hill. I like to stop there sometimes, because when I do I get to hear old Dewey Gifford’s voice tell me how life in Fruita was, back when men were really men with high standards and life was what you made it.  

      Dewey was born over in Sevier County to Henry Alpheus and Mary Ellen Hale Gifford in 1899. He married Pernellie (Nell) Jorgensen in 1923 she was the daughter of Jorgan Jorgenson Dewey and Nell married in 1923. 

     It wasn’t until 1928 that Dewey and Nell bought the Gifford place from Nell’s father and moved to Fruita. 1928 was a fairly eventful year; it was when Mickey Mouse first appeared in the movie Steamboat Willy. But it is doubtful that Dewey and Nell or their kids ever saw the animated Walt Disney movie or any other movie for that matter as electricity in Fruita was still nearly twenty years away.

     In interviews expertly done by George Davidson in 1981 Dewey and Nell Gifford fondly speak of life in Fruita like it was, and to Dewey it was paradise. Fruita in those days was about as far away as you could get from city life. City to Dewey was downtown Torrey where there was only one store and Bishop E.P. Pectol owned it.  

     In the early 1930’s E.P. Pectol and Joseph Hickman, Torrey locals were conspiring every minute of every day to bring Capitol Reef Country under the broad wing of the National Park Service. Dewey and Nell were going about their daily business raising kids and pigs on the old homestead where Dewey recalls a slightly leaning “two holer” out back and cleaning up for church meant a dip in the Fremont river in the summer or splashing around in a number #3 tub in the winter. 

      Sunday dinner at the Gifford farmhouse in Fruita surely must have been a special event. I can almost hear Nell’s sweet voice telling young Fay to go out to the smokehouse and bring back a ham to go with the steaming pot of beans she had simmering on the cook stove since breakfast. Nell standing there in her flowered apron reaching down to open the wood fired stove where inside fresh bread was baking. Oh…and fresh churned butter and orchard preserves sitting on a Sears and Roebuck table cloth, a scene as American as apple pie and looked like it was right off of a page in Life magazine. 

      In 1930 Dewey bought a 1928 Oldsmobile over in Price,Utah and made a truck out of it, he would load the family in it and drive the bumpy dirt road up to Torrey to church or to buy supplies. “It was always an adventure climbing Fruita hill in that 28’ Oldsmobile on a rainy day, but she did pretty good.” 

     Early life in Fruita was a community affair, neighbors worked together to get the work done.  Dewey spoke highly of the two Chesnut families William and Al Chesnut. Al was a widower, his wife died and he had four kids, William and his wife took them into to raise. The two Smith families were Marin Smith and Guy Smith and then there was Tine Oyler. And lets not forget the infamous Cass Mulford, a true storyteller in his own right and then there was Doc Ingelsby, the Dentist and avid rock hound.  

     The 1930’s brought with it slow to come changes in Fruita and for the Giffords. In 1935 the Civilian Conservation Corps was ordered to Capitol Reef to conduct surveys for utilities and road upgrades. The focus of work that began the first week of May for the CCC boys was to install erosion-controlling basket dams and rip-rap along the stretch of road above Sulphur Creek. It was through the dedicated efforts of Bishop E.P. Pectol, late in September 1937, Capitol Reef became a monument and also a tie when Adolf Hitler, with delusions of grandeur was hatching up a plan to take over the world and the Japanese had similar aspirations. But by 1945 history would have a different story to tell, one of triumph and ultimate sacrifice by the proud Americans. All the while Dewey was toiling away in his prized orchards and famous flower gardens and providing for his growing family. 

     Charles Kelly became a fixture in Fruita when he and his wife Harriette began to rent Doc Ingelsby place. With no funds for a care taker newly appointed Zion Superintendent Paul Franke was determined to find someone to care for the new monument in return for free use the of the newly purchased Alma Chesnut property. It must have been a relief for Franke to learn a willing and capable man was already living at Fruita, and that would have been Charles Kelly, of which Dewey or the rest of the Fruita residents did not hold in very high regard. 

     It was during Dewey Gifford’s time at Fuita that the old school house went through some renovation for church services and other community gatherings. Over time the government continued to purchase private property as in became available. Dewey sold out his place in 1969 and he and Nell moved to Torrey. The Giffords had lived in Fruita for 41 years.

     Nell died in 1980; Dewey lasted another 17 years and passed away in 1997 in Hurricane, Utah. Dewey Gifford lives on at the Blacksmith shop in Fruita where he tells visitors about what life was like in Fruita in the early days. 

One thought on “Dewey Gifford

  1. I love your articles of the history of Wayne County. You really need to interview Allen R Jones (86) and LaWana Durfey Jones (85) They know this country and their roots go very deep. They live in Teasdale. Great history from them, especially Henry Mountains, Notom, Torrey, Teasdale, Capital Reef, farming and the people, and Allen was a county commissioner in the 90’s, and served as bishop in the Thurber Ward. His memory long term is good and LaWana fills in the blanks. Give them a call. Good Luck.

    Liked by 1 person

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