Stories of a Logging Family

Sources: Personal interviews conducted by Diana Sellers and Judith Isaacs at the Heath family reunion, June 18, 2016, and Heath Family Stories, a booklet compiled by Edna Elsie Heath Springer in 1993 and provided courtesy of Della King. 

Jacob (also called George) and Annie Heath came to the Jemez in 1930s with the youngest of their 17 children. Several of the older sons, including Ed Heath, were already here working as loggers. They moved around from one logging camp to another, and Annie cooked for the men who had no families. Their grandchildren and their families gather once every two years for a reunion, and in 2016 the reunion was held in the Jemez Mountains. Here are some of their stories.

Attending the reunion was grandson Hugh Fuentes (age 90 in 2016), who was born on the George Heath ranch in the Zuni Mountains and lived there until he was six. He remembered that later his family lived in a cookhouse in Gilman. His sister remembers playing on the sand hills, pushing a wagon off the top and riding it down.

Louis Edward (Ed) Heath, was born in Ramah in 1899 and lived on a ranch where he “started chasing cows when he was seven,” said his daughter Edna. He was married to Lula Lois Small in 1923 and had four children: Cora Bell, Edna, Jean and Junior. He brought his family to the Jemez Mountains in 1928. Edna recalled that “dad took his huge wagon, team of horses, I believe a cow or two, and a couple of saddle horses and headed over the mountains to where he heard there was lots of work. He made his way to Porter where the hub of the logging was going on. [That’s] where the train turned around and from there it backed up to the different log landings to pick up the logs along the way.” The next summer he moved his family to the Jemez Mountains. He made arrangements for their furniture to be sent up on one of the empty log train cars when it made its return trip from the lumber mill in Bernalillo.

Logging crews were assigned a plot of land. When they finished logging that specific area, they built a new road and moved on to another, which meant the families were always on the move. Louis worked at O’Neal Camp; they lived in Lake Canyon; then they moved to Deer Creek. At some places, they lived in a tent. Dorothy Heath Darnell once told the story that when they lived in the Fenton area, their father built a log cabin and marked the logs. When they moved, he disassembled it and moved it on his big wagon

Edna recalls that when her grandfather died at Deer Creek, her father came, wrapped his body in a tarp, and took him to Bernalillo. After that, Grandma ran the logging company along with the sons and grandchildren. Her Uncle Mike worked for his mom skidding and loading logs, and he also worked for the Holidays.

Others remembered that the logging companies provided small cabins to live in, but they were often filthy and infested with rodents. Edna wrote in Heath Family Stories that

by evening [of the first day] Aunt Edna would have washed the walls and ceiling, put up little shelves (complete with doilies and knick-knacks), a checkered tablecloth with napkins, and the bed all made with a nice bedspread. Maybe they would only be there for a short while and then on to another camp. She’d go through the same routine all over again at the next camp.

Edna said that Cora Bell was several years older, and she was the “big boss.” Of the kids. Edna started school in Porter; her first-grade teacher was Ida Miller, a distant cousin to her dad. The school required a minimum number of students, and to make the quota, her 3-year-old sister Jean was enrolled. The family later moved to Bernalillo so the children could go to the Catholic school there. They did well but were held back a year because the nuns said they were too young to get a job. It was common practice for the families to live in Bernalillo during the school year and visit the father in the mountains on weekends. Then during the summer, the whole family would live in a logging camp.  Phyllis Jean Heath Bobb was called Jean. She remembers going to school at Porter at a very young age, and all the kids were bigger and older. The girls played jacks. Her dad got up each morning to go start the fire in the woodstove at the school. Once she fell against the stove and was burned. After they moved to Gilman, she rode the bus to Bernalillo for three years. Bertha Caldwell was the bus driver. A van took her and a boy from Jemez Springs to Cañon, and they got on the bus there.

Edna wrote about how her Uncle Mike (Carl Clinton Heath) met his wife Mary in 1935.

Mary had come up to Holiday Mesa to work for her uncle Nick Holiday in his cookhouse. Mike was top-loading for Nick or Ralph Holiday. Mike courted Mary for the summer . . . Mike was doing the skidding and loading of her truck and brother Babe (Glen Ervein Heath) was driving. Mike used to take Mary to Deer Creek to his sister Dorothy and Henry’s a lot on weekends. They played a lot of card games like pitch, being one, and horseshoes. . . “

Edna wrote that Uncle Babe was a great musician and played guitar and violin for their many dances. “I’ve danced or just sat and listened to Uncle Babe many, many times. The last time was at Cora Bell and Ray’s [Stout] wedding in San Ysidro in 1973.”

Another story that Edna recalled occurred in about 1937 when they moved from Deer Creek. “Dad took the tires off the rims and put the truck on the tracks and we drove down to Canyon. We ran out of gas at the tunnels so stopped at the south end at that large trestle. Dad made a bed for Jean and me with the seats, built a fire and asked mom if she wanted to stay with us kids or walk to the station in Canyon. She chose to walk, and Dad helped her across the trestle. . . The gentleman from the station brought her back to a certain point and then carried the gas can for her. She brought each of us kids a candy bar.”

Dorothy Isabel Heath was another of the daughters who met her husband at a logging camp. She was working at her brother Ed’s camp where she cooked for 78 men, one of whom was Henry Darnell. They were married in 1935.

Verda Darnell Rinaldi was born to Dorothy and Henry at Redondo Meadows in a house owned by New Mexico Timber Co. They lived there until she was four. Her earliest memory is when her dad made skis for her and her brother. They both got on the one pair of skis and took off – until they got “whacked” by a pine tree. She remembers they had lots of chickens and a rooster who chased the kids around the yard. Her mom cooked for the fire crews and then later for the narrow-gauge railroad in Alamosa, Colorado.  She said that they had lots of company, and her mom could make a meal out of nothing. They had two big ice cream parties each summer and had horse races at Redondo Meadows. They went to town (Bernalillo) on weekends and bought a 200-pound block of ice. They climbed mountains and swam in rivers and were picked on in town because they lived in the mountains. Her family and Edna and Jean’s family lived close enough to visit often, so they played together, and the adults held dances. Her dad was a fiddler. As the children got older and went to school in Bernalillo, the families would live there while the fathers stayed in the woods.

Verda recalls that before the tunnels were built, her parents had built a road over the mesa and across the river on the east side of the Rio Guadalupe. Edna recalls that another family once drove in the moonlight over that road that was only as wide as their truck. The trucks they drove then were “bald-headed” trucks — ones with no cab.

Her dad drove a loader, which was a very skilled job because the loads had to be balanced just so or the logs would roll-off. First, they loaded onto conventional trucks then later they had huge trucks. The road was only wide enough for one truck, so the drivers carried two-way radios. Each truck had a name and a post at each mile was named, so a truck returning to the woods kept in touch with the one coming down with a load and waited when they knew they were close. Her dad was a small independent (gyppo) logger. He worked east of the Baca and used a team of horses to skid out timber. He could see the “secret city” of Los Alamos from where he logged.

Logging boomed at the end of World War II. All the returning veterans wanted houses. Verda recalled how thrilled she was when she could get bubblegum again. During the war, rubber was used only for the war effort. She laments the end of the life that she remembers growing up in the mountains and said “the owl put us out of business.”

Although not all of the Heath children worked in the Jemez Mountains, almost all of them logged somewhere in New Mexico, mostly around Grants, Luna and Zuni.