“Let’s Talk Clovis” Phoebe Jane (Waite) Nelson (1866-1949), fourth child of Pioneer Widow Waite

By Peg Bos | Clovis Museum

Phoebe Jane (Waite) Nelson wrote about her childhood and courtship in the 1870s-80s. Frank Burritt (his mother Alice was the second child of Phoebe and Harvey Nelson) edited that information. Clovis residents Norma Nelson Meek and Helen Nelson McGaughy, great grandchildren of Widow Waite, assisted in the publication. We are sharing portions of this family book.

Phoebe Jane (1866-1949) was the fourth child of eight children born to Timothy and Mary Waite.  In 1875, her father’s doctor encouraged him to move from Iowa to California to improve his health.

Phoebe Jane: “We came through Utah, by the Union Pacific. We came in May, just before my ninth birthday in June and I imagine we were about 10 days or two weeks on the way. The night we passed through Utah the conductor armed some of the men passengers in case of robberies, but no trouble occurred that night.

Bustles were in fashion then and mother carried our money, a few hundred dollars left after paying for our tickets, in her bustle as there was no other way but to carry it with us. There were us eight children (oldest brother 16, youngest brother 2 months old). We children got quite well-acquainted, and we also got chicken pox, as a girl about my age broke out with it a few days after we started. We cooked our eats on the train on the heating stove; they consisted mainly of oyster soup, bread crackers, cheese, dried beef, apples and coffee. We children, at least, were living fine and enjoyed the trip.

Father (1838-1876), born in Indiana, was a carpenter, lumberman, beeman, farmer and also played the violin. He was a good provider and an affectionate husband and the more children he had, the more fuss he made over the babies when they came.

I also remember one winter was very cold, and father had to bring the bees in the house and feed them on sugar and water. But I don’t remember any stings from the bees.

Some of the pleasures I can remember of the young folks in our community were singing, school of course, there was a music teacher also spelling bees, knitting bees of all ages, apple peelings and quiltings for whole families.

Perhaps the men would chop wood or gather corn. I knit my own stockings, but of course mother helped knit the heels and toes where there was narrowing to do. Also some men knit socks of a winter evening. Then there was sleigh riding and skating on the ponds and rivers great sports for winter.

We drove about five miles with horse and buggy to church, leaving 9:30 a.m. and getting home about 4 p.m., taking our lunch; having Sunday school and preaching 11 a.m. and in the afternoon also. One day after church I was missing and they found me, in the toilet. I had locked myself in!”

In 1881, John H. Nelson entered Phoebe’s life.

Phoebe Jane: “He (Nelson) called to me to come back and kiss him good night, but I never came out. It never dawned on me that he was coming to see me, and besides it was against the rules. We could take a walk Sunday, sometimes the whole family, sometimes by twos and fours or more.

And besides, I had my life planned out. I was going to be a school teacher. Nothing else interested me more than school and mathematics. That’s where I excelled the rest of the school and loved to explain an example. But the next Sunday when the foursome went walking, he asked me if could he come to see me that summer.”

Phoebe, 16, was married at Mountain Rest (her mother Widow Waite’s hotel/restaurant) to John H. Nelson, 28, on June 7, 1882. John continued to make shakes at Pine Ridge. He purchased 160 acres in Tollhouse and planted an apple orchard, added stock and fruit. He also worked on the old Tollhouse grade. They raised six children.

The family moved to Clovis in 1915 and settled on five acres on Fowler Avenue. They planted four acres of vineyards and used one acre for a chicken house and runs. The chickens and eggs were delivered by horse and buggy.

The Nelson family is a part of our rich heritage.