Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Man With One Hand: A Biography of Jesse Franklin Williams

The Incident…
The leaves on the tree were now several shades of red and orange. With frost covering the ground and the chill in the air, young Jess was prepared to go hunting on this bitter October morning.
“No you ain't goin' huntin'” said his father George.
“Fine!” said Jess storming out of the house.
Jess took his father's over-and-under shotgun and went hunting by himself. Heading up Kanarra Mountain, he admired the trees around him. Because he was easily distracted by everything around him Jess didn't notice the puddle of mud just in front of him. He slipped and dropped the shotgun. The barrels of the gun were filled with mud, but Jess didn't seem to notice, he just continued on.
With his heavy coat and the shotgun wedged under his arm he began to climb the fence. As he wrapped his legs around the top of the wooden fence the gun accidentally went off, and because of the clogged barrel the gun exploded. With the piercing crack of the gun Jess soon realized that his hand had been mangled. He made his way home, with his hand dangling at his side.
When his parents saw his mangled and bleeding hand they immediately sent someone on horse to Cedar City for a doctor. When the doctor arrived he was drunk, so twelve-years-old Jess had to sit for several hours in pain until the doctor was sober enough to perform the operation. Because there were no painkillers Jess had to suffer through the pain of the operation with only alcohol for relief. When the doctor was finally able to perform the operation he used a meat saw to cut off Jess' arm, and then poured turpentine on the stump. Luckily it healed without any trouble. From that day on Jess lived without his left hand.
Grandpa Jess: A Background
Jesse Franklin Williams was born September 4, 1876 in Kanarraville, Utah. He was the ninth child out of thirteen children. His parents were William George and Orilla McFate Williams. Out of the thirteen children only seven lived to adulthood, and all five of his sisters and one brother died in infancy. Jess was born in the home of his parents, which still stands, in Kanarraville, Utah. It was a large, two-story, brick house.
Orilla loved reading about the notorious outlaws Jesse and Frank James in Dime Novels. These outlaws were often seen as a modern day Robin Hood. Orilla and George decided to name their son Jesse Franklin Williams after these infamous bandits.
Jess was a handsome man with blue eyes, brown hair, and a medium build and stood about five feet and seven inches.
Jess went to school in “Kanarra” until he was sixteen. When he turned eighteen his father told him that he could have land or continue on with his education. Since he only had one hand he felt that an education would serve him better. He had the chance to attend Brigham Young Academy to study accounting. He studied there for a year, and in the family stories about my great-grandfather, it is unknown whether he actually graduated or not.
In 1896, at the age of twenty that blue eyed boy moved back home to Kanarraville, and began working in his father's store.
George Williams’ Kanarra Co-op Store in Kanarraville, Utah.
George Williams far left, with friends, and Jesse Williams far right.
Five years later Jess married Frances Rebecca Pollock on November 20, 1901. Together they had seven children. (Before he had passed away he had twenty-three grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren.) After they were married they moved into the house that Jess was born in. A few years after they were married they added onto the house, and were one of the first families to have a bathroom.
 
Jess and Frances' wedding picture taken on November 20, 1901
A Slight Temper Tantrum: Age 77
Sitting in his old rocking chair Jess struggled to pull on his old brown shoe. Once he had it on he took both laces in his right hand and began maneuvering the strings into a knot. After several attempts he ripped off his shoe and threw it across the room. After a few seconds of fuming and cursing under his breath he stood up, walked across the room, and picked up his shoe. Again he began pulling his shoe onto his foot, and after a few more struggled attempts at tying his shoes he was finally able to tie a knot.
According to my Aunt this happened continually. There were many times when he would become frustrated with his affliction and he would lose his temper. He didn't really lose his temper with people, but his disability had a tendency to get the better of him.
The Monkey Sock
He could do two different tasks with his stump. First, he would put it over his right arm to get it to stop shaking, which occurred later in his life. The second way he used his left arm was to tease his children and grand-children. He would often wear a brown-speckled sock with a white toe and heel over his stump. His children and grand-children called this a “monkey-sock” because it looked similar to a sock monkey. With his sock-covered stump he would poke it into kids' stomachs to tease them. This along with the fact that he wouldn't wear his dentures had the children laughing, and they couldn't help but love him.
Frances and Jess with grandsons Chesley (in Jess’ arms) and Michael. One of the only pictures of Jess that actually shows his stump.
Having Some Fun
My grandpa loved to have a good time. He loved playing marbles, singing, and he loved dancing, especially square dancing. Jess never learned to drive, but he loved travelling. Usually he would only get as far as Boulder City, Nevada, but he always enjoyed the drive.
Jess and Frances would often have parties at their house in Kanarraville. They belonged to a club called the “Elite Society.” The “Elite Society” consisted of married couple who would meet together about once a month. One meeting in particular Jess and Frances had a spook alley set up in the basement of their house. When the people were going through it they would step on a hidden board and they would get pulled up quickly, similar to an elevator. They would then find themselves standing in a cupboard in the bathroom on the main level.
A Final Act: Age 35
The sound of the gun rang as he fell to the ground. The sight of him lying on the ground frightened his children and they began to cry. His daughter Ethna started to scream when she saw her father fall to the ground. The actors stopped the play and Jess stood up so that his children could see that he was alive. They were using a real gun, but it was filled with blanks so that nobody would get hurt. His children didn't understand this and had indeed thought that their father had been killed.
The townspeople of Kanarraville enjoyed performing plays for the rest of the townspeople. Jess and Frances enjoyed participating in the plays, and took many lead roles. Some of the plays that they participated in were “Josh Winchester,” “Dot the Miner‟s Daughter,” “Old Glory,” “Our Jim,” “Star Bright,” and “Dust of the Earth.”
Play “By Force of Impulse” Performed March 20, 1911
Back Row Left to Right: Jesse Williams, Lem Willis, J.J. Roundy, Reese J. Williams.
Middle Row: Will Stapley, Leo Balser, Jode Williams.
Bottom Row: Sade Reeves Williams, Hettie Davie, Adlie Wood, Frances Williams
Continual Job Searching
Jess took many different types of jobs so that he could support his family. Having an education he could have moved to the city and become an accountant but he couldn't leave his hometown of Kanarraville. Sometimes Jess had difficulty finding work that he could do because of his disability, but somehow he was able to find work.
He worked for Bishop Berry, pitching and pulling hay. For several years they had the post office in their house. For several years he worked at his father's store “The Kanarra Co-op.” His wife Frances would often take in washings, and Jess and his son Chester would take turns moving the lever back and forth on the old conventional washer.
  
Jess and Frances’s house in Kanarraville, Utah, taken in the 1930s when they had the Post Office
Jess and Frances would also take in boarders as another way to make some extra money. Sometimes the people who would ride on the mail truck would stay overnight. Once, later in Jess' life, President Lorenzo Snow, Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, stayed at Jess' house on his way to St. George.
During Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration as the U.S. President, he started a program called the Works Progress Administration. Jess was made a foreman for Iron County. They would build dams, irrigation ditches, and outhouses for the government.
Jess also worked for several years as the janitor in the church house. One day while he was cleaning the church he felt someone choking him, but there was no one around. He could feel the hands at his neck, but he couldn't see or touch anything. He fell to the ground and began praying fervently, and felt that hands release him.
Overcoming
Overcoming a disability is difficult but Jess was able to overcome this accidental handicap. He was a hard worker full of determination and great strength. With only his right hand he could hold an ax and chop wood. He could ride a horse or drive a team, (but didn't like to because if they got out of control he couldn't pull the horses to a stop without two hands). With great determination he was able to take care of his property without anyone‟s help.
Because Jess only had his right hand it was muscular and strong. He was able to do one handed pull-ups. Because of how much he used his arm as he got older he became so shaky that he could hardly eat. Grandpa Jess also had beautiful penmanship. He was the Kanarraville ward clerk for nine years
God Bless You
One morning Jess had been chopping wood and later was visiting with some friends. After they left, he stood up and went into his room to get some papers. He then sat back down in his old rocking chair. Frances was in the kitchen cooking, and talking to him. She heard him sneeze, and a few minutes later she went into the sitting room and found that Jess had died in his chair. No one knows for sure how he died. The day was March 27, 1959 and he was 89. He is buried in the Kanarraville Cemetery next to his wife Frances.
Jesse Franklin Williams was a man who worked hard, loved everyone, and overcame many obstacles in his life. Even though I never met Jess I am grateful that I have gotten to know about him now, because he was a remarkable person who has passed on many great, and not so great, qualities to his children and grand-children.
Jesse Franklin Williams

3 comments:

Mom's Sewing Vault said...

*standing ovation* That was awesome!! Well done. And I see your brothers in that first picture. Family history can be so fun. Thanks for sharing,
sally

MinDee said...

way to go jess! that was so good. You've got a great talent!

Sproatmeal said...

That is great! I love to write people's histories, too. Maybe you and I could go into business together! ; )