Delbert John Conger

Delbert John Conger or Hart, was born in Deerfield, Lenawee County, Michigan, on November 29, 1863 to John and Martha McMorris Conger. His mother died in the spring of 1864. He was raised by his mother’s brother James R. McMorris and his wife Almena Francis, to the age of nine years. He then went to live with his father who had remarried.

The memory of the next ten years of his life was very unpleasant. Not being liked by his stepmother, he was sent from one relative to another to work for his board and room.

When Delbert was sixteen years of age, he was living with an uncle and an aunt, James and Mary Jane McMorris Jackson, in Cleveland, Ohio. On August 2, 1880, they gave him some money to return to his father in Michigan, but instead he bought a railroad ticket to Terrace, Box Elder County, Utah to join his older brother James, known as Frank, who had previously left home.

During the two years Delbert spent in Terrace, he became acquainted with many cowboys from the surrounding cattle ranches, and being of an adventurous nature, and loving the out-of-doors, he was fascinated with the glamour of cowboy life.

The spring of 1882 he went to Grouse Creek, Box Elder County, Utah with Ted Kimball to help drive a herd of horses. His pleasing personality was instrumental in making many friends. He worked for several ranchers in the locality, making his home with Mr. and Mrs. Charles Lucas, who treated him as a son.

One of his closest friends was Joseph Barlow, whom he met while herding horses for Samuel Kimball. Joseph had been in Grouse Creek several years, and when his family, consisting of his widowed mother, two sisters, Alice and Emily, and a brother Jesse, came to Grouse Creek, Delbert was invited to meet them. Many enjoyable times were had in the Barlow home. Eventually Delbert fell in love with and became engaged to Alice. Very little is known about their courtship, but they were engaged two years.

During their engagement, Delbert and Ted Kimball went to Teton, Idaho where they each homesteaded a tract of land. He made a clearing in the timber, prepared the logs and built a cabin. One evening when he returned home from his day’s work, he found the cabin and all his earthly possessions burned to the ground. What a sickening experience. He had spent a year preparing a home for his sweetheart and now everything he owned was gone. Full of discouragement he sold his land and returned to Grouse Creek.

On November 29, 1892 he and Alice Ann Barlow were married by Justice of the Peace, Benjamin F. Cooke. The first two years of their married life Delbert worked for Samuel Kimball and Henry Hales as a cowboy and general ranch hand. While living at the Hales place, their first child, Myrtle Alice was born on March 31, 1895.

At that time he purchased forty acres of land from Lorenzo Mecham, on the west fork of Grouse Creek. It was nestled in the hills south of the home of his mother-in-law who at this time was married to Valison Tanner.

Myrtle was three years old when they went to Ogden, Weber County, Utah to visit his brother Frank and family, who persuaded them to stay. The little ranch was leased to Jesse Barlow, and Delbert went to work as a brakeman on the Union Pacific railroad. He remained there two years then transferred to the Southern Pacific. Before 1903 he had been promoted to a freight conductor, and was in charge of the work train that hauled the first load of rock to be emptied into the Great Salt Lake, for the fill of the original Lucin cutoff. It took three years to complete the cut off and Delbert worked there the entire time. This was the first attempt ever made to build a railroad across such a large body of water and he was proud to have had a part in such a huge project.

On June 18, 1903 their second child, Martha Amanda, was born.

In May 1909, Delbert was transferred to Montello, Nevada, and in October 1909 his railroad career ended. He moved his family back to Grouse Creek on December 29, 1909, traveling a distance of forty-five miles by bobsleigh. The remainder of the winter they lived with his mother-in-law, who was a widow for the second time.

The little ranch which had been leased out was badly run down, there were fences and corrals to rebuild, and nothing was left of the house but the sandstone fireplace. He worked very hard to get the place back to the production point. At the same time he leased the Lucas place and his mother-in-law’s place for one year each. He was a skillful manager and with the help of his wife, gradually got his stock and built a one room house which they moved into June 1913. Later two closets, a bedroom and kitchen were added.

The nearest neighbor was three miles away so the long winter nights without any outside amusement made life seem quite dreary. There are however memories of many pleasant hours together. After the day’s work was done, the family would sit around the table with a big pan of popcorn, apples or homemade candy to munch and they would play cards or read. Delbert loved music and had a nice singing voice, when alone with the family he would often yodel or play the harmonica.

Delbert was not a religious man, his people were Methodists, but he did not believe in it and let the acts of men keep him from joining the Latter-day-Saints. He was a loving husband and a wonderful father. Although very strict his advice was usually right. He had very little formal education yet he was well versed in many subjects. Webster’s dictionary was one of his favorite text books. He loved to read and kept up with all current events. He could converse with anyone intelligently on the topics of the day. He was a patriotic and law-abiding citizen. He claimed to be a “Democrat,” but during an election year he studied the different platforms and the lives of the candidates, either local or national, and cast his vote for the man he thought most capable, regardless of the party he represented. He was humorous, hospitable, generous and highly respected in the community, always upright and honest with his dealings with others. He enjoyed company but was no visitor himself. People of every age liked to go to his home.

In later years he gave up ranching and devoted his time to his garden and small orchard. He liked to experiment and watch things grow. He raised all kinds of vegetables from radishes to watermelons, and gave them away by the armful. For several years he sold fruit to the residents of Grouse Creek and the neighboring communities of Lucin, Utah and Montello, Nevada.

In December 1939 he went to Ogden, Utah to spend Christmas with his daughter Myrtle and to see his first great-grandchild, Patricia Louise Palmer. On February 3, 1940, he had a heart attack and was hospitalized until February 11, 1940 when he was taken to Myrtle’s home. On February 12, 1940 he had a stroke which left his right side completely paralyzed. A series of attacks followed for several weeks. Although he was confined to his bed for the remainder of his life, and didn’t move only when helped for eight years, he still retained his sense of humor. He passed away on April 23, 1948 and was buried on April 26, 1948 in the Ogden City Cemetery.

(Written by Myrtle H. Toyn and Martha H. Kimber)