Secrets, Miners and Gunfights! Part One

Moving Targets

Caveat:  Our blog was originally conceived to be a way to connect with our sweet grandkids, Eric and Hazel, since we don’t get to spend much time with them.  And to keep our kids, Jesse (Terri) and Caroline apprized of where our wheeled home was currently residing, in case they wanted to visit.  We share pictures, stories, geography, geology, history, church missions, adventures and love. Hopefully, our extended family and friends enjoy it as well!  This particular blog series is about Wendy Walton’s family history, before she became a Smith.

I’m not often nostalgic, but Clay and I spent the month of April, 2018 around Bisbee, Arizona and it made my heart gooshy (that’s a Latin medical term for soft and squishy).  Nostalgia doesn’t often bubble to the surface because it seems like I’ve never been in the same place twice during my lifetime.

Thanks to my Dad’s career and our current nomadic lifestyle, it practically guarantees new scenery all the time with no backtracking.

In 1968, when I was 7 yrs old, my father was offered an active duty army assignment, which meant he could finally quit working 4 jobs at the same time to pay the bills (including high school French teacher, counselor at a juvenile detention center, grocery clerk and reserve army major).

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Denzil Ree Walton, at the start of his army career

Major Walton was asked to attend Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas– a rare honor especially for a reservist, with the next orders after that being assigned to Intelligence headquarters in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

One of his C&GS classmates was Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. who later became a general and commander of United States Central Command, leading all coalition forces in the Gulf War.  It was a prestigious opportunity for Dad.  We met lifetime friends there, including Blaine and Clarice Jensen and Al and Laura Morris and all their wonderful children.

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Although Dad could never talk specifically about his top secret work in Vietnam, we knew he was the French speaking secret military advisor for the Cambodians fighting the Khmer Rouge when the US government was denying they had any personnel in that country.  He sent daily briefings to General Abrams and President Nixon during that time.

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We were living in Laie, Hawaii when Dad returned from Vietnam 13 months later- safe, tan and handsome. It was the first time I can remember crying tears of actual joy.  It still happens when I look at this picture.

 

We were then stationed at the Military Intelligence School in Fort Holabird, Maryland. From sunny Hawaiian beaches to December on the Chesapeake Bay, freezing our flower leis off!

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But that next summer of 1971,  the entire Intelligence Command operation was moved 2300 miles to the isolated outpost of Fort Huachuca, Arizona, near the Mexican border.

Like the old time land grabs, the Walton clan was one of 500 families set to race directly across the country to snatch up the limited housing options near the new headquarters.  But instead, my parents decided to take a month camping in our tent trailer on a leisurely drive west across Canada, then down through Washington, Oregon and California. Upon arrival, there was no more housing near the post, so we found a wonderful hacienda style home in the old mining town of Bisbee, 30 miles southeast of the fort.

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April of 2018 was the first time I had been back to the area in 46 years.  Clay and I spent a lovely day touring the museums at Fort Huachuca and seeing the history that unfolded when the Military Intelligence schools arrived.

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What did my Dad work on at Fort Huachuca?

[credit: classtools.net]

 Shhhhhh!  It’s probably still a secret.

Clay and I enjoyed the Military Intelligence Museum and while walking out the door into the warm Arizona sunshine, I felt the overwhelming presence of my Dad right there, smiling and happy, looking over my shoulder at his old stomping grounds.

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The Walton family spent 1968-1977 scurrying around the country while Dad was on active duty.  Because we usually moved in the middle of the school year, I had 13 notches on my school transcript belt (even though I skipped my junior year and graduated early).

While Dad was stationed at Fort Monroe, Virginia, he also served as the Bishop of our congregation, which was also a confidential job, where people came to him with their problems and concerns.

Mom: How was your day at work, Dear?

Dad:  Great!

Mom:  How was your evening at church, Dear?

Dad: Great!

I don’t think they had many substantive conversations over the years.

The last time I moved with my parents was to Southport, Indiana.  In the middle of my senior year of high school. During the Blizzard of 1978.  Welcome to the midwest.

But, the miracle is, I met Clay there in the few brief summer months when he was home from college before he left to serve his two year mission for our church. So I’m not complaining!  If you ever feel the Lord does not know where you are, just remember He has GPS: God’s Positioning System.

When the army ended his active duty assignments, Dad worked at whatever civilian jobs he could find (who needs a white-haired French speaking secrets keeper?) until he could finally retire from the reserves as a full Colonel with 32 years of service.

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Colonel Denzil Ree Walton in full medal regalia, with the Intelligence pin on the left lapel.

 

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Military Intelligence pin.  I have one on my charm bracelet to remember his service.

 

Walton family picture Spring 2000

The Waltons, Spring 2000. Back row: Mark, Kerry, Jean, Ree. Front row: Creed, Wendy

Dad died in Greenwood, Indiana at the age of 71 in April 2001, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, two months before I completed my Otolaryngology residency training.

When Heavenly Father suddenly called his son home, the Colonel saluted smartly and said, “Yes, Sir!

Never once questioning his newest orders.

I am so proud of my father– an honorable, gentle, intelligent, hard-working, funny guy who loved his Savior, his loyal wife, his four kids, his grandchildren and his country with the heart of a true patriot.

I’m beginning to think the spirit world is kind of like his secret military jobs, because he hasn’t told me what happens on that side of the veil, either!

Stay tuned for Part Two- Miners.

–Wendy

Oh the Adventures! Part Three

In the last two weeks we have shared some of the experiences we have had here in the Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission.  There is no other mission like this on planet earth.  We had told you about the miles of trekking we have done with the youth and the spiritual experiences we have had hosting the Martin’s Cove Visitor’s Center.  In this final post let us tell you about another aspect of this mission that makes it so fun and challenging.

Work Crew

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Working with the Labrums

This is a working mission— as in the missionaries do ALL the work. There is rarely a need for paid contractors when there is so much skill already here. Retired plumbers, electricians, wood workers, ranchers, heavy equipment operators, carpenters, cowboys, machinists, general contractors, internet gurus, yard maintenance experts– you name it, there is a missionary who knows how to do it.

Clay and I didn’t come with most of these skills, but we sure had fun learning some along the way!

Clay helping rebuild the stone steps for the baptismal area in the Sweetwater River.

Road Crewreplacing gravel, cleaning pot holes, laying asphalt.

Yard Workmowing, watering/weeding flower beds, tree trimming, miles of weed-eating.

Ranch Handpainting buildings and log benches, water pump repair, handcart sanding/staining/wrangling– I bet you’ve never wrangled a handcart before!

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But, any assignment that starts with the phrase, “You need to drive a Rover and….”  is a great job!

 

Fence building–yep. If ever this doctor job doesn’t work out…

Olive Garden— I wish we were talking about the yummy food (the closest restaurants are 60 miles away), but it actually refers to a request by the State of Wyoming that we remove all of the wicked, thorn-covered Russian Olive trees infesting the property.  A tough, prickly, pokey, nasty job.

Cow Mama

The Church raises cattle on this ranch, and sometimes a calf is abandoned or its mother dies. So, we serve as cow mamas and daddies– making the warm cow milk formula and feeding the babies 1/2 gallon morning and night until they are weaned.

Luckily, the feeding pen is also at our RV camping site, so we don’t have to go hunt them down on the 100,000 acre property.

Rah-Rah not a chant at a homecoming game– it stands for RRA: Rest Room Assistant. Cleaning all the toilets (about 56 of them) and taking out the trash on the entire campus. It’s actually not a bad job.  We enjoyed starting early when assigned to Rah-Rah. We were on the trail at 5 am one morning, greeted by the yipping of coyotes as the sun came up.  Now that’s a nice day at the office.

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Lady Bug Rover for cleaning restrooms- but not in fancy trail dress!

Medallions— Yes, I learned to crochet. These are souvenirs we give visiting youngsters.

 

Snake Wrangling— most of the snakes are bull snakes- big but harmless constrictors that just need to be relocated when they wander too close to to the Visitor’s Center.

We tell the visitors not to bother the snakes, but one trek group’s leader wanted to pick up a bull snake and put it over his shoulders for a photo op.  The snake started puking- and threw up a prairie dog. Then he puked up another one, and another one, until there were 6 dead prairie dogs on the ground.

The leader put the snake down and it still had another critter inside him.  I saw the picture of the coiled snake, with dead prey all around it. When the trekkers got back from their days hike, the snake (and its snacks) were gone.

Occasionally, there are pesky rattlesnakes that make a nuisance of themselves, so some of the guys are experts at making them disappear before they harm us, a tent camping guest or a toddler wandering around on the inviting green grass.  Rattlesnake hatbands are a popular accessory among our missionaries.

Life gets interesting on the open plains of Wyoming.  There have been some close calls, but no one has been bitten yet.

Clay and I did have to do some real bull wrangling to get them out of one of the remote campgrounds at Rock Creek Hollow before the trekkers arrived. That was exciting and bit nerve-wracking. Especially when they kept coming back.

Lumberjacks– We do our own fencing using lodge pole pine. We get the poles by traveling up into the Green Mountains with our logging permit and cutting down the trees. It’s a great adventure– two mission 4×4 heavy duty trucks, a flat bed trailer, 10 loggers and a picnic lunch.

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We ventured into the Green Mountains in Mid-October and found freezing temperatures with bitter cold winds, the frost covered the trees and sage brush like a silver white frosting. Snow clung to the shady spots and the crisp smell of pine filled the air.

 

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The one lane rocky, eroded, bumpy road down the side of the mountain to the designated cutting area had great views out over the distant mountains across the valley below.

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Elder Turpin trimming branches off the poles

Two chain saw lumberjacks got to work harvesting the 90 trees and lots of jack rabbits carried the cut 16-foot poles up the steep hill, tromping through icy snow patches and muddy spots.

 

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Sister Turpin and Clay hauling a pole uphill

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Wendy and Clay taking a breather. Air is thinner at 8800 feet!

We ate our lunches on a fallen log while being warmed by the lovely fire.

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Sisters Maxfield and Crist tending the fire

Then the poles were loaded in the back of the pick up truck and schlepped up to the flat bed trailer on the top of the mountain.  After several trips, the job was done.

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Elder Maxfield loading the truck, Clay handing up the next pole

It was hard work and a lot of fun!

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First snowman of the season!

 

Family Time

Our very favorite trekkers were from Wisconsin: our son, Jesse, his wife Terri and the kiddos Eric (6) and Hazel (4).  I made pioneer outfits for them and we had a wonderful week sharing the beauties of Wyoming and pioneer stories from our family history.

 

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Now those are some sweet pioneers!

 

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Eric- ready to pull his handcart

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Modern pioneer- sunglasses and plastic necklace

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Eric trying out the tepee

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Short term attempt at helping pull a handcart. Hazel decided she didn’t want her picture taken. Bonnets are good for that.

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Our family trek, Blue Flag, crossing the Sweetwater River.

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Riding in a handcart is a lot more fun, when Dad and Grandpa are pulling it!

 

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Alcova Reservoir Beach

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Hazel

 

Invitation

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Sunset after a wonderful day of trekking

So, if you happen to be in central Wyoming (between Casper and Muddy Gap on state highway 220), stop by and see the Martin’s Cove Mormon Handcart Historic Site. Or come serve a mission here. They always need more adventurers!

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Cowboy Chris Jorgensen moving the herd

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Fog-shrouded Devil’s Gate

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Sweetwater River baptismal font

 

-Wendy

Volunteer Training in Paradise

 

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Young men from all over the world dressed in white shirts and ties, speaking a variety of languages, waiting patiently to hold the door open for you. Young women in spring colored skirts and blouses with a sweet light in their eyes, saying a warm hello as they pass. Senior couples, holding hands while strolling along covered walkways, admiring the profusion of pansies, tulips and lilacs, the crisp air, brilliant blue skies and a glimpse of the nearby Wasatch mountains.

All of this in the 10 minutes between classes.

This is the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), in Provo, Utah, where up to 2800 people at a time spend 1-6 weeks training before going out on their assigned missions around the world. 50 languages are taught here. There are similar 15 MTCs around the world which prepare 74,000 missionaries each year.  6600 of them are seniors.

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As missionaries, we are all volunteers, paying our own way to serve wherever we are assigned. Young men (Elders) between ages 18-25 serve for two years. Young women (Sisters) serve for 18 months starting at age 19. Old folks like us serve 6-23 months. There is no upper age limit for seniors, you just need enough giddy-up to get up and go. But one benefit of being a senior missionary: you get to take naps. (They keep saying that, but I haven’t had time to take one yet.)

Young people usually go on proselyting missions (sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who want to hear their message). They do not get to choose where they will be sent in the world or what language they may need to learn.  Clay served at age 19 in the California Ventura Mission from 1978-1980.

Senior couples serve around the world in local congregations, mission offices, visitor centers, church historic sites,  family history centers (genealogy research), humanitarian aid sites, clean water programs, neonatal resuscitation, health, addiction recovery, temple work, public affairs, administrative and job specific assignments (engineering, agriculture, education, facilities management, medical etc.) based on their former employment skills and foreign language capabilities. There is a bulletin regularly updated from church headquarters about Senior missionary opportunities.

We have been called to serve in the Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission, based in Martin’s Cove, Wyoming, where the Mormon pioneers pulling their handcarts 1300 miles from Iowa to Utah faced starvation and death during the early snow in October 1856 before they were rescued. During the summers, groups of young people from the surrounding states come dressed in period clothing and pull handcarts for a few days in commemoration of the Mormon pioneers’ sacrifice for religious freedom.

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At the MTC, we spent a week in large and small group classes learning how to teach the Gospel and more importantly, how to point individuals to Jesus Christ through the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  It was delightful being taught by young former missionaries- their boundless energy and enthusiasm was refreshing.

Tuesday evenings were spent in a devotional meeting with leaders from church headquarters in Salt Lake City. While we were there, Bonnie Oscarson, General Young Women’s President and Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society President (the adult women’s organization) spoke to us.

As part of our training to be church historic site missionaries, we went on a field trip to the Salt Lake Temple visitor’s center where two young sister missionaries (from Australia and Switzerland) took us on a tour, helping us to understand how to present information with visual aids and brief messages.

We honor the many caring people around the world from all walks of life and from all religious and cultural backgrounds who volunteer to help in a variety of causes that speak to them, doing tremendous service for others in the process.  Keep up the good work!

-Wendy

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The Christus statue, Salt Lake Temple Visitor’s Center