James Fredrick Shirley (1873 - 1924)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Millcreek, UT, USA
Death: Died in Ogden, UT, USA
Cause of death: Peritonitus caused by ruptured appendix at age 51.
Managed by: Paul Brown
Last Updated:
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About James Fredrick Shirley

Life and Testimony of James Frederick Shirley

James Frederick Shirley was born July 13, 1873, in Mill Creek, Salt Lake City, Utah. When he was twelve years old, [1885] his family moved to Fish Haven, Bear Lake, Idaho, where they settled permanently and built a home on the shores of beautiful Bear Lake. They had a family of seven sons, though four died when young.

James’ father, William Henry, a wagon maker in South Africa, was now a painter, and traveled to Montpelier, ID, each week for work. While there he became very ill and returned to Fish Haven. He died September 27, 1886, of painters consumption. James’ mother, left a widow, struggled on with the assistance of her three sons, Thomas, Charles and James.

James was a talented musician. In Fish Haven, he played the organ for church and also for dances. Much later, he was also made the organist in his ward in Idaho. In Fish Haven, he belonged to the “Fish Haven Band,” and could play either the bass horn or the snare drum. Later, in Idaho, he belonged to the Salem Silver Band and played the bass horn. In Bear Lake area, quite often they would go to the different towns to play for celebrations or rallies. They went in a fancy wagon, which was called The Band Wagon.

During the winter, the young people would go back and forth from Fish Haven to St. Charles in their sleighs, for dances. It was about the last dance of the season in Fish Haven that Sarah Virgin came with a group of young people from St. Charles. They began to dance a square dance. One more couple was needed to complete the set, so a boy from St. Charles asked Sarah to dance with him. When they joined the set, a friend of Sarah’s was dancing with James Shirley, and she introduced Sarah to him. James and Sarah started going together on New Years Day, and after a courtship of two years, they were married in the Logan Temple, 21 October, 1896.

Two years later, when their son, Frederick Amos was a year old, they moved to Salem, Idaho, an undeveloped area in the Snake River Valley, in October, 1898. They moved into a two room log house. It had a dirt roof. James immediately busied himself building fences, repairing sheds, etc. The house was crudely built. So, James made a table, flour bin and cupboard to help furnish the small kitchen. The cupboard reached nearly to the ceiling to save room space. Many of his sons later became professional carpenters.

As soon as the first winter’s snow was gone, James began to plow. He plowed and planted about 26 acres in about four weeks, besides ditching, fencing and a great many more spring jobs. They had begun to sink their roots into the Idaho soil.

Early one morning in September, 1899, James left with a group of neighbors for the forest to get wood for fuel for the second winter, and to build a barn. The roads were bad, and it was a long distance from home. They went through “Calamity” [a pass], and into the timber. One night as they were cutting wood, James had the impression that he should be at home with his wife. But it was dangerous to go over “Calamity” at night, and the others made him wait until the next morning. He returned immediately to find a baby girl had been born the night before. Everything was okay due to help of others. The couple eventually had eleven children altogether. This oldest daughter, Myrtle, said her father was a kind, affectionate man, and had many friends because of his great sense of humor and his optimism.

As a hard working farmer, he wore colorful work shirts under his bibbed overalls. Sometimes in the summer he wore a hat with a circle of mosquito netting around it to keep the gnats and mosquitoes off his face, as he held the lines and drove the horses with one hand and regulated the mowing machine with the other. From early spring until late in the fall, James worked hard to make a living for his family. The lower part of his sixty acre farm was used for pasture for the farm animals. He planted acres of alfalfa, wheat, oats and potatoes and all the plowing and farm work was done by horse power, at first.

They planted trees, and eventually, on the East side of the house and directly in front of the door, was a large fruit orchard. They had pears, plums, and several kinds of apples. While Sarah bottled fruit, James also stored many boxes of them in a cellar back of the house. Also stored in the cellar were potatoes, squash, carrots and other vegetables. The family also planted and harvested gooseberries, raspberries, currants. While a lot of work, they all enjoyed the luscious fresh fruits.

James’ face was always clean shaven and his brown hair was slightly parted on the left side. On Sunday, he made his family proud as he dressed neatly in his suit and white shirt. He was a man of great faith, and was often called into homes to administer to the sick. He administered to his family too, and they were blessed because of it, particularly during the 1918 flu epidemic. Once his daughter, Bonnie, broke her arm. The Dr. did not do a good job of setting it. But James administered to her, and the pain ceased immediately. He was faithful in accepting callings in the church and in filling them. He set a good example for his children to follow, by attending all his church meetings.

Another very sobering experience showed that he had and followed spiritual impressions. There was an evening when Sarah was alone with her family. James was not expected back for the night. In the middle of the night, when everyone was asleep, Sarah heard something outside. She arose, and went quietly to a peepout hole they had. Then she went back and got their 22 rifle. A daughter awoke. She too heard steps and movement out at the barn. Sarah moved quietly toward the door with the gun. The footsteps outside stopped just prior to walking onto the porch. A voice said softly, “Are you awake, Mother?” Sarah dropped the gun to her side and called, “Jim! Jim!” When the door was unlocked, and James saw the gun, he and Sarah both began to cry. If he had not sensed that his wife was awake inside and called to her, she probably would have shot him, thinking he was a prowler, and causing a terrible tragedy.

In time, threshing machines were invented, and the first use of it was a very memorable time. Grain had been cut, bundled and put in stacks All the relatives and neighbors came together and helped each other, all going from one farm to another until everyone’s grain was threshed out of the stalks. The machine was powered by a steam engine that belched out lots of black smoke. The men threw the grain into a “separator,” which beat the stalks, blew away the chaff, and then sent the grain through a long tube into sacks. Someone sewed up the sacks. All the men soon became covered with dust.

The children had lots of fun, daring each other to stand under the blower of the chaff, until they were covered with beaten-up straw. When the thrashing was all done, they loved to climb up to the top of the straw stack, and slide down and frolic in the stuff.

While the men were threshing, the women prepared to feed the men. They also worked together. They often had to borrow dishes and cooking utensils from each other to take care of the big crew of men.

After threshing season was over, James and other family members went up into the timber to cut firewood for the winter. Again, they worked together, so they could have their wagons loaded with logs and return in three or four days. Much later, mines opened, and they made similar trips to them to obtain coal.

In June, 1907, James was sustained and set apart as second counselor to the bishop of the Salem Ward. This was an added responsibility for him, and a long distance to travel, to attend all his meetings, bishop’s meetings, and calling on the members of the ward, to collect and raise funds, for a new Rock Meeting House, which was near completion.

Having six children by 1908, the family decided to move to a larger home in Salem itself, though they kept working the farm. Sarah wrote of this exciting event: “January 1st, 1909, a warm day for winter. We all went over to Father’s for awhile and James played on a piano. Then we hooked up the team, and part of the families went for a sleigh ride. Then we went to the new house and made a fire, then we let the children stay there and enjoy themselves while we adults and the small children went to visit relatives and spend the evening. … January 8th, 9th, we went up to the house and started to paper the rooms. On Jan 13th we took a few necessaries and the family and went to the Townsite house to live. Then James brought more furniture, the chickens and cattle.”

While they had the farm to raise crops, here at the townsite, they had milk cows, chickens, pigs, cattle and horses. From the chickens, pigs and cattle, they obtained their meats. The house was made of lumber, not logs, and painted green. It had three rooms and a back kitchen; later James added another big room, which made five. There was a large living room with a coal heater. The children gathered around a large, round table to do their homework. There was still no inside plumbing, no electricity.

Along with the green house, a cellar and sheds, the family got a surprise, thrown in for free, which became a permanent possession for all to enjoy. Myrtle relates:

A flock of sparrows had laid claim to a row of box elder trees that grew on the West side of the house and across the large front lawn. They seemed to be year around residents, migrating to barns and other shelter for the winter months, but returning to the trees early in the spring. By late June and throughout the remainder of the summer, they were well established in their old roosting ground. Each morning, at the crack of dawn, we were awakened, first by a twittering sound from the trees, this was followed by occasional chirps, from the early risers, as they tuned their voices, and made ready to sing in the morning songfest.

Within minutes they all burst out in unrestrained volume and rhythm. Their songs vibrated through the still morning air. They sang every song they ever knew from the Sparrow Song Book, and ended up with the Hallelujah Chorus, sung in their own language and arrangement. As the sun rose higher, in the Eastern sky, their music stopped, almost as abruptly as it started, except for a few stragglers, who concluded with the last and final “Amen” and “Amen.” We learned to adjust our nervous system to this daily serenade, and the louder they sang, the harder we slept.

Five more children were born in the green house. While they enjoyed having a house in the townsite, nearer to school and church, it meant they would have to travel out to the farm to keep it going. Each spring, the work began. Crops were planted, watered, harvested. Each family member had a job to do. The older brothers would work during the day on the farm, and in the evening feed and milk the cows at the townsite.

The girls would go out in fruit season and pick the fruit and berries, then bring them back to process them as needed. Younger children did such things as filling the large reservoir built on the side of their stove with water, carrying in coal and kindling from the wood shed, and feeding chickens and gathering eggs, etc. Mother and oldest daughter baked eight loaves of bread at a time to feed their family. They also planted, cared for, and enjoyed a large garden.

They delighted in Christmas. One Christmas, the children were awakened very early Christmas morning by a mysterious voice, with a German accent, singing, “I come ven you all were fast asleep, your stocking jest to fill. Down by the chimney slowly creep, so noiselessly and still.” All bedlam broke loose as shirt tailed clad kids popped out of every bedroom door. With surprised looks and wonder they gathered to find a tall, Edison phonograph in their living room, and listened in delight to the rest of the song being played on the record.

James and Sarah laughed because for once they had really surprised the children with a gift which they had not found ahead of time. They had hid it at a neighbors, and brought it across the fields earlier in the morning. All the family loved this special gift with its opportunity to hear wonderful music, and this special Christmas.

After the sugar factory was built in Sugar City, James sometimes worked there for extra money. In 1913, with the growing needs of his family, James decided to get more property to farm. He obtained previously undeveloped land, which meant a lot of work. It was 25 to 30 miles away. It was covered entirely with sage brush and lava rocks. They had to remove all of those obstacles, then plant. The wheat, unfortunately did not do well, and they were eventually forced to give up this project. They were there long enough, however, to find an old cave where there were stalactites and stalagmites.

For a time they also sent herds of cattle to a valley in distant mountain lands during the summer where they could graze on grass. Those who cared for the cattle stayed there with them most of the summer. One uncle wrote that while he was there, he decided one night to make some cookies. His mother had sent supplies, and recipes. He was making great progress on the cookie dough until he saw the words “1 cup of shortening.” He did not know what that was. He looked through all his ingredients and could not find anything named “shortening.” So, finally, he made up the rest of the recipe, then took a cup out of it, and threw it away. That is the only way he could figure how to “shorten” the recipe.

James suffered terribly from hay fever all his life, which made his work as a farmer, very difficult. Family members said he would usually come in at night so tired! He would sneeze, wipe his eyes, and cough. There was no medication then for it. He often tried to take other jobs to earn money which would take him away from farming, leaving the farming for his growing sons. In 1923, he worked cutting down trees and helping load them on the box cars of trains for a lumber company.

In the spring of 1924, James and his son Leo went to Ogden, Utah, to work and earn extra money in the fruit harvest of a relative. James became sick. But he didn’t want to go to the doctor. He hoped he would get well and be all right, as usual. His sickness went on for several days, and when he did go to the Dr., the doctor couldn’t do anything for him. James’ appendix had ruptured, and peritonitis had set in. James died at the age of 51 on July 24, 1924.

His son Leo was with him when he died. He began to feel resentment that his dad would be taken, leaving a widow with nine children. Then he had a special experience. He says, “I didn’t see him, nor did I hear him, but I know my father put his arm around me and said, ‘It’s going to be alright son. Things will be fine.’” Leo, who had been scheduled to go to school, now gave up that dream, and spent the next several years running the farm with his younger siblings.

Oldest daughter, Myrtle pays tribute to her parents. “My parents tried in every possible way to make our home life a happy one and to give us the schooling and opportunities for growth they had missed in their lives, and to keep us active in the church. We were taught by example and at times it took some stern discipline to bend our wills in the right direction, and for this I will always be grateful.”

Though dying relatively young, James left a great heritage for his children, who were blessed to have his beautiful example and teachings.

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James Shirley's Timeline

1873
July 13, 1873
Millcreek, UT, USA
1897
1897
Age 23
1908
March 5, 1908
Age 34