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Front Page » May 25, 2010 » Emery County News » Historical society learns about Harry the Hermit
Published 2,464 days ago

Historical society learns about Harry the Hermit

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Guest Writer

Emery County Historical Society trekked to see Harry the Hermit's silo art in Orangeville.

The trip was led by Mervin Miles to the cement silo on Clyde Magnuson's property once owned by Leonard Johnson. The silo is scheduled for demolition so that a pivot sprinkler system can be installed.

The silo has many paintings on it of people dancing, a man on a horse, a pig, a deer and two people talking. Near the base are two of what appears to be brands. One of the brands appears to be an N in a circle and the other is a backward N in a circle. Johnson met the group at the silo to explain the history of Harry the Hermit and the silo.

Johnson sold the land 10 or 12 years ago. He spent a lot of hours with Harry in the place that was once a house and is now a group of large stones.

Johnson said, "When Henry Reid fulfilled his mission he brought Harry's mother, a brother and a sister back to Orangeville with him. My great-grandfather Neils Neilson (original spelling according to Leonard Johnson) was a widower at that time. He lost his first wife at 32 years of age. He then married Harry's mother. Harry's father's name was Henry Welch, his mothers name was Jane Watson. That union produced three children.

"Harry was born in 1879 and died in 1950 at the age of 71 years. How Harry survived this life style I will never know. His brother Robert was two years younger than Harry and he died in 1903 at the age of 22 as a result of getting hit over the head at a saloon in Orangeville. The saloon was located near where the old service station is now. When the saloon burned the timbers fell into the basement. The burned material sat in that old basement and I remember passing it on the way to and from grade school for years."

Harry told Leonard he had been born in Wales. He lived in the rock house east of the silo. There is not much left now only some short crumbling rock walls.

"That old rock house had a front section and in the back section or the bedroom you went up one step. There was a stove in both ends of the building. Harry stored his food supplies in the back section of the bedroom. His front room had many cupboards and drawers. He had the habit of drawing pictures and storing them in magazines. He had many magazines, I remember particularly the Colliers Magazine. He would slip his drawings into those magazines. That place was just loaded with his pictures. Very few of his pictures exist today. I could not find my supply of pictures. I never got very many.

"Margaret Reid sent me a packet of Harry's pictures a few years back and I have misplaced them.

"Dad always kept a milk cow for Harry. The area above the house is where Harry always had a big garden. He also gardened across the gully on the hillside.

"Harry was a stepson of my grandfather Neils Neilson who homesteaded this property. Harry never did anything on the farm as far as helping us, except in the fall of the year. He would shock the wheat bundles and when the threshers would come in he would fill his storage bin with wheat. He had a big red wheat grinder.

"The silo was filled each year with corn silage using a chopper to chop the stalks and corn and then using a blower to blow the silage up into the top of the silo. The chopper had big knives and rollers to feed the corn into the blower. One person had to be in the silo to tromp down the silage as it was being filled.

"Harry had about 15 hives of bees that took care of his sweets. In the fall of the year he would make a deal with Justesens and get a sack or two of apples. Whatever the season that is what he ate. He would grind up wheat so that it looked like wheat germ. He would boil up the ground wheat and that was his major food.

"He was a curious old guy. One time he had chickens, pigs and sheep. The stone building beside the silo was the chicken coop. The silo had a flaw in it near the bottom. Later in the year liquid would start flowing out of the flaw in a little stream from the silo. When Harry would turn his chickens out in the morning they would flock to that stream. They were the happiest bunch of chickens I ever saw.

"He was motivated to live this lifestyle due to family troubles. Harry threatened them with a six shooter at one time. So grandfather just loaded him up, brought him here and told him, this is where you are going to live. He lived in the old home on the homestead. Harry was a talented and brilliant man in some ways. If he had just been smart enough to use it.

"In Harry's home the front room floor was wood and underneath the floor was a root cellar. He stored his vegetables that needed storage down in the root cellar.The back end room was just junk storage.

"Harry had a big knife that would scrape the wax off the bee hive frame. He also had a little extractor that would hold two of those frames. He would put the frames in and crank the honey out. To my knowledge he never did sell honey. I do not know how people knew of him, but people came from all over to see him. One woman brought a group here three summers in a row from New York City. The fall of the year was always great out here. Mother would always put on a big feed for the hired men, when they started filling this silo with grain. It would take two days to fill the silo. Mother would always fix a nice plate for Harry like she had for the rest of them.

"You could go back into his home 10 minutes later and there would be a dozen cats fighting over that plate of food setting on the floor. He would not eat anything you gave him.

"He had a pipe with the stem broken off, just a short stem. He would request me to bring him $5 worth of chewing tobacco. I knew he did not chew and I wondered what he was doing with the chewing tobacco. He would spread the chewing tobacco on a wooden tray, cut the tobacco up into little pieces and set it out in the sun to dry. I do not know what it would smoke like but that is what he was using in that old pipe. The pipe bowl would get so hot he would use a rag between his hand and the bowl to hold up that bowl. Sometimes you would see Harry with his eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair all singed. Apparently to light the pipe the flame got too close.

"Harry was a great lover of cats and they were wild. The cats did not run from him, but they would run from visitors and everyone else. The cats kept the varmints away.

"One winter dad missed him. I was gone away to work. I did not live here. So dad went down to the house and he was sick on his bed in that back room. His legs had swollen so bad that the skin had broken in places. They called it dropsy in those days. The sheriff's department and the health department came out and loaded him up took him to Price to the rest home. The rest home was that first building just as you cross the railroad track as you go into Price. The last time I saw Harry he had walked this way toward the Price River and back for his exercise each day.

"As Stella and I were leaving Price one day we saw him. Those people in that rest home had cleaned him and dressed him up. He looked pretty good clean shaven, hair trimmed and regular clothing. We stopped and showed him our new baby boy. I hardly recognized him, when we stopped to show him the baby. He seemed to be pleased to see us.

"I was away at work when he passed away at the rest home. Harry thought a lot of those people. They took real good care of him. He had nothing but praise for them. All of the family are buried in the family plot there in Orangeville. His mother, Harry and the boy, and the girl. In the early part of his life he would come to Orangeville to get necessities. He had government issue army clothing that he wore. He never talked about serving in the military. In the Castle Dale Pioneer Museum there is a statement that Harry was a World War I Veteran. In the Pioneer Museum there is a really nice display of his art and his history. Harry liked cats. He had a dozen or more. I believe that is why he kept the milk cow, so he would have milk to feed the cats. I think Harry went to art school at least he took some lessons. I have the original copies of these pictures you are looking at. On the bottom of one picture is the statement, lesson number such and such. I assume he was taking a correspondence course.

"After he got older it got hard for him to cut wood so he would take a pole and start it into the front his old stove. The pole was held up by a forked stick so that it fed slowly into the stove.

"The stove would smoke the place was black inside with smoke. The smoke blackened the wood and the rock. Between the smoke and the cats the place had a distinctive smell of its own. Grandfather built the home as part of the homestead act. At one time the place was clean and nice inside. Dad said that when they were lambing sheep here. He would come and stay with Harry in that old shack.

"This area was full of corrals, sheds, equipment and stuff. The chicken coop beside the silo had a good top on it. There were pig pens on the slope over there. There were always turkeys strutting around here. Harry wore gum boots at first. Later on he would cut the bead off a tire and wire it onto a pair of regular shoes. I can still see him trying to walk along with that load on his feet. The rags around his feet he would tie in with bailing wire. I never saw him with anything on his head. He always had that full beard and long hair. He wore rags held together with bailing wire. This created interest in the people that came to see him.

"Harry always welcomed visitors. This was a regular stop for the ward, and for the county. Every Sunday people would be trailing in and out of here all day. He would entertain them with his pictures and his poetry. It is said that when he was younger he sang to them. I never heard him sing. He was a pretty good poet. I was surprised. His poems are pretty good for a little old country boy.

"On Jan. 14 1906, Jasper Robison the first bishop of the Orangeville Ward was released and Henry Reid was installed as our second bishop. Henry Reid was the missionary that brought Harry, his brother, sister and mother to Emery County. I do not remember Bishop Reid but I remember his wife who lived long after he passed away. It is funny how people shortened their names in those days. The bishop was known as Henreid, the saw mill man was Hendavis and Art Van Buren was known as Art Van. I did not know his name was Buren. It was just Art Van. The Jewkes there was no end of them. There was Will Jewkes, and Deaf Will, Sam, Red Faced Sam, Bill, Little Bill, and Nine Finger Bill. There were just a lot of them in those days. Henry Reid is Vaughn Reid's great-grandfather. Harry's pictures and articles will be available to be seen at the Emery County Archives and the Pioneer Museum.

"To me this silo has always been here, just like Horn Mountain, I feel same toward it as I do about Horn Mountain. If I had known that it was going to become extinct, I would never have sold the place. This is a piece of Emery County that will be lost in the name of progress and to install an irrigation pivot line," Leonard Johnson said.

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May 25, 2010
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