Sunday, April 17, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 18: My flame haired cousin Stewart King and Death Holler Trail were made for each other

I always thought my redheaded cousin Stewart was the most dashing figure on a horse of any of the Kings. He was taller than any of the uncles and with that shock of flaming red hair, white skin, green eyes, and his Stetson hat perched rakishly on one side he was cowboy poetry in motion. 
 I loved the story Mother told about him after the upper road was done and they started carrying the mail in a two ton truck over the route from Escalante to Boulder. He bet the driver that he could race a horse over the Death Holler Trail, estimated to be about twelve miles over one of the most rugged trails in the west, and beat the mail truck to town. 
Yes, Stewart won his wager, reaching Escalante on his fast cow pony before the mail truck rocked around the Roundy bend.
Well, Stewart knew that trail. He had probably ridden it any number of times after his father took over the Salt Gulch ranch in 1925 when Stewart was just six years old. I don't know what their living arrangements were in the winter but it was likely his mother, Aunt Hazel moved to Escalante so the kids could go to school. His father rode back and forth to the ranch to take care of things, since they did not have cars in those days. Stewart and his younger brother Park must have accompanied his father, my Uncle Glen, on weekends, when he needed them on the ranch. 
I know one year Uncle Glen's family rented the ranger station and lived there so the kids could attend the Boulder school, in order to get Uncle Glen away from temptation to drink, but the family was back living in Escalante after that year, and I never did know of them to live on the Salt Gulch ranch even in the summer, after that. Just Uncle Glen and probably his boys rode back and forth from Escalante, either by horseback or in a car as soon as they got one. 
When the family moved to Oregon after Uncle Glen's trouble with the neighboring girl, Stewart and Park stayed with Grandma and Grandpa for a while until they could decide what to do.
I know Stewart played Santa Claus one year at my parents' behest. I recognized his tall slim figure. I thought this Santa was just too tall and skinny to be the real deal. I did not tell my parents I knew it was Stewart in order not to spoil their fun. I was only three or four but I no longer believed in Santa, being a too wise child at that age.
I recall Stewart coming to Mother in great excitement to tell her he was going to get married. He had been going with Neta Alvey who was the youngest sister of Cecil, one of the hired men Grandpa had often employed. Stewart and Cecil were great buddies, Cecil was a little older, but they were both dashing cowboys, so they had a lot in common. 
Mother thought Stewart still wasn't settled enough to get married with his family still upset over his father's enforced departure under a cloud of scandal.
Since Uncle Glen had never done anything but ranching for years everyone was worried that he would not adjust well to whatever job he could find in some other state. He had been his own boss a long time. Working for someone else might not set well with a King. At that time I never thought that a man named King ever acted any other way than royalty nor have I had any reason to change my mind since.
Stewart hinted he might have to get married, so Mother said no more. After the marriage, Stewart said that he and Neta and Cecil and his wife, Alice, planned to go to Oregon to the town where his mother and dad had stopped and set up camp. There they would all try to find work close by.

So Stewart and Neta went out and got married. I thought it was a good match for Stewart myself. I thought Neta was pretty and she came from a family of wonderful cooks, gardners, and housekeepers. She did not have much of a temper in case Stewart had a temper to match his flaming red hair. She would make any cowboy a darn good wife.
Cecil left his wife, Alice, behind when they first went to Oregon. I was quite fascinated with Alice as she read a lot. In fact his sisters did not think Alice was as good a wife as hard working Cecil deserved because she sat around and read just too much, but I thought her love of books was wonderful. She also liked to draw and paint pictures. Even more fascinating she wore English riding boots and jodhpurs. With her long blonde hair, I thought she looked very fetching. I hoped I could persuade my dad to buy me some English jodhpurs and riding boots when I got older, but I doubted he would.

Cecil had been one of a long parade of hired men that Daddy had hired on the Salt Gulch ranch in the summers. Alice even went over to Salt Gulch and stayed in the ranch house there with Cecil a year after we moved to Boulder, but Cecil preferred to work for Grandpa King rather than Daddy.
Cecil resented the fact and didn't mind saying so that Grandpa King agreed to sell the Salt Gulch ranch to Daddy for $4,000 which Cecil thought was a steal even in those days. When Glen heard about the sale, he was angry and asked his dad the next time he saw him why he didn't sell him the ranch. Grandpa said, “You never asked.”
I wondered if Glen did not ask because Aunt Hazel hated the Salt Gulch ranching life. Well, really, I thought she couldn't stand Uncle Glen's drinking.

Stewart, Neta, and Cecil had been gone a few months when Neta came back to town to have her baby. She did not say a lot to anyone else but told relatives she was upset by Stewart's drinking and had decided to come home to stay with her parents to have her baby. After that she did not know what she would do. Alice, Cecil's wife, had gone up to Oregon to join Cecil. 
Cecil never did drink like the Kings who were known for drinking very fast and passing out. They just got really drunk. Such behavior would have upset any new bride not used to it. Arthur Alvey, Neta's father, did not drink at all.
In due time Neta went to the hospital and had her son and named him Johnny after his Grandfather King. Neta now wavered about leaving Stewart for good and said she planned to go back as soon as her baby was a little older. I don't know where Park King, Stewart's younger brother, was at the time. I think he might have joined the Merchant Marines I am not sure. I know he did that before he transferred into the navy to fight the war.

Then came the terrible unbelievable news that my cousin Stewart was dead! We Kings were all stunned. Finally after a number of months, and Cecil coming back home to tell the story himself, we were able to piece together what had happened to him. After his wife Neta left him to go home and have her baby, Stewart and Cecil were living out of town somewhere where they had work. Alice was not with them, but joined Cecil after the death.  
Cecil and Stewart started drinking after work and Stewart got a whole lot drunker than Cecil by drinking so damned fast. Cecil tried to get him to go with him to find something to eat. Stewart would not go but lay down on the bed where Cecil thought he would probably just pass out.
When he got back from the cafe,  the motel room was in flames. Stewart smoked of course. Cecil said he must have gone to sleep with a lighted cigarette in his hand and set the bed on fire. He did not wake up to save himself. Cecil thrust open the door and dragged him out, but it was too late. He lived only a short time before he died of smoke inhalation and burns.

Just like that, Stewart's life had been snuffed out in the most terrible way. It was such a tragic waste. At least the Kings could somewhat live with Max's death because riding a wild horse in a local rodeo in those days was always considered a risk. Stewart's death was clearly caused from drinking too much alcohol combined with smoking cigarettes. It took months for the Kings to get over the sudden shocking end to the life of another one of their own. Stewart was only 22 years old!  Dammit!
I am sure Aunt Hazel's heart nearly broke just like Grandma King's did when Max got killed only a few short years before, her youngest son, her brightest hope! Max had vowed he was going to change his life by quitting drinking that winter, so he would not fail at the University of Utah as Daddy had done because of too much partying. Max said he was going to straighten up so he could marry the cute Mormon girl he had fallen in love with who told him she would not accept a drinker for a husband.

Now Neta's heart was broken, and Johnny King would never know his dad. Well, Neta did find a much calmer husband a few years later and had another child. But Johnny was her wild King son who never stopped taking terrible chances like he wanted  to die just like his dad, in some equally reckless way.  I remember when Johnny got married, the town cop called over to Boulder and said to tell everyone to get off the road as Johnny King had come home for his wedding and he just drove through town heading toward Boulder 100 miles an hour!  
My dad just said humph and went out on the road in his new car. The story was forever told how Clyde King and Johnny King wrecked down in Calf Creek, half way between Escalante and Boulder, bashed in their fenders, but they both somehow lived.  

The story of Stewart King and his ride over Death Holler in a race with the mail truck passed into legend. I rode a poem about it. I have read about the Death Holler trail ride in other histories. Cowboys did not race across Death Holler Trail! Stewart King did and that is why I wrote in my poem “My redheaded cousin Stewart King and Death Holler Trail were made for each other.”


  1. Good chapter on Stewart King, and so sad he was one of the drinking Kings. He lived a far shorter life than his dad, who did not live long either.

  2. Interesting story. I've heard these names all my life but this helps so much to figure out how everyone fits. Memoirs are coming along.