Emma Vilate Tanner was born December 3, 1877 to Alma Cruse and Annie Elizabeth Lee Tanner in Tooele, Utah. She was the fourth of eleven children. Her family moved to Grouse Creek, Utah two years later, in 1879.
Emma was blessed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on March 28, 1886. Less than two months later she was baptized a member of the Church on May 23, 1886, and confirmed the same day. All of her ordinances were performed by Phillip P. Paskett in Grouse Creek, Utah. When she was about 12 years old, she moved with her family to Salt River, Lincoln County, Wyoming, where one of her brothers was born in 1889. The family returned to Grouse Creek after an absence of one year.
Records of the West Grouse Creek Sunday School show that on June 25, 1893, her father Alma was appointed to assist his brother, Valison Tanner, in the superintendency of the Sunday School and that Emma was appointed secretary of the same school. She was 15 years old at that time.
Pioneer circumstances limited Emma’s opportunity for formal education to about a fourth grade level. School availability and her family situation often interrupted her attempts to maintain continuity in learning from books. However, her practical experience proved to be a great value as she approached marriage.
Emma married Lewis Delroy Catlin in Grouse Creek, Utah on February 5, 1896. They were married by Justice of the Peace A. F. Richins.
During her youth her mother taught her the art of cooking and sewing and other homemaking skills of that time. Emma was required to use these skills immediately after her marriage because she and Lewis moved into the three room log cabin of Lewis’ father located on a small farm between Grouse Creek and Etna, Utah, to care for her father-in-law and three of his sons. Lewis’ mother had died the previous year while visiting part of her family in Fairview, Sanpete, Utah.
On January 18, 1897, a lovely baby girl was born to Emma and Lewis. The name given her was Lillian Vilate. Only 19 months later a second daughter was born to the small family. Annie Louisa was born August 3, 1898, in the same log cabin. On March 19, 1900, a third daughter, Edna Mae, was welcomed to the family. A fourth daughter, Elsie Merle, joined the family on October 10, 1901.
The log cabin home had become too small for Lewis and his family. He was driving freight and mail from Grouse Creek to Lucin, Utah, so it was decided that the family would move to Grouse Creek. They moved into a large house with a small general store at the side which Lewis operated when not driving the stage. Emma assisted when Lewis was gone. They had the store for about three years.
The children were introduced to music when very young. Lewis played his guitar as he and Emma sang the popular songs of the time. Emma had a lovely singing voice which the children enjoyed.
When community dances were held on holidays or for special events, Lewis was often the “caller” for the adult square dances. These holiday dances were the highlight of the social activities in Grouse Creek. An afternoon dance was held for the children with the parents teaching them the waltz, polka, schottische and square dances. The evening dance was for the adults, and the children were allowed to sleep in the benches in the stage. Emma also learned to “call” and her talent was used at the dances.
Lewis’ sister, Esther Brizzee, and family lived a short distance from Grouse Creek and usually came to stay a couple of days with Lewis and Emma for these holiday events. The family was large so there were people sleeping in beds all over the house, including the floor. Before their arrival, Emma could be found in the kitchen preparing food for the large crowd. She used a 12 quart enamel kettle to cook the filling for her delicious lemon pies. The family would often go by wagon into the hills to pick choke-cherries and other wild berries for jam and jelly.
Emma used her sewing talent to beautify her home. She made her own curtains, bedding and carpets. She sewed rags together to make rugs and carpets. Spring house cleaning was always busy but a time of fun for the children. The carpets were taken up, put on the lines and beaten clean. The old straw on the floor was replaced with a thick layer of fresh straw and the clean carpets put down again. The children loved the crunchy sound of the straw as they walked on it. She made her own tick for each bed. Her bed was filled with feathers and the children’s with straw. Each morning when Emma made her bed she would shake the tick to fluff the feathers to make the bed more comfortable. Emma quilted beautifully and made lovely quilts for their beds. She enjoyed participating in “quilting bees” and socializing with the women as they quilted.
Preparing for Christmas was always a busy and challenging time for her. There never seemed to be enough money for anything extra so she used her sewing skills to make dolls and doll clothes for the girls, and was very ingenious and creative in making gifts for the family and relatives.
On December 9, 1903, Lewis and Emma’s family of all girls was changed with the birth of their first son, Lewis Delroy, named after his father.
Lewis and Emma were born into families with strong religious beliefs. Parents of both had been converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Lewis’ father, George Washington Catlin, was a member of the Mormon Battalion. Lewis was raised in an area where the Church was not available, so although he encouraged his family to participate when Church activities were available, there is no indication of his interest or participation for himself before or after his marriage. Emma had the advantage of joining the Church activities as she matured and gained a testimony of the Church and its teachings.
Their second son joined the family October 2, 1906. He was given the name William Edman, after Lewis’ brother.
What influenced the family to move to Tecoma, Nevada, in 1907, is not known. It could have been the result of Lewis’ association with the town and people during his stage runs from Grouse Creek to Lucin, or the fact that his brother Charles lived there, but Lewis and Emma left Grouse Creek and moved their family of six children to this small town on the Southern Pacific Railroad, where Lewis ran a saloon.
As her girls matured, Emma taught them to cook. They started by standing on a chair by the table so they could reach the bowl for mixing bread. Out of necessity, as the family increased they were given added cooking responsibilities as well as house cleaning chores. Del also had tasks to do, tasks that a small boy could do to help Emma who was now expecting her seventh child.
On June 23, 1908, their fifth daughter arrived. She was given the name Emma Thelma. Around this time, Emma’s father, Alma Cruse Tanner, came to live with the family, and later two of her brothers, Ebenezer and Arthur, would join them.
The Catlin family continued their love of music and dancing in Nevada. When dances were held in Tecoma, Lewis would put his family into the buckboard and head for town, along with Emma’s father and brother’s families. Her father and brother, Alma, often played their fiddles for these occasions. It was not uncommon for them to dance into the early hours of the morning, arriving home just at daybreak.
A sixth daughter, Hilda Lavon, was added to the family on April 8, 1910, in Salt Lake City. Emma had left Buel earlier with Annie and Thelma to visit her mother and await the arrival of her child. Within a year’s time Lewis and Emma added another child to the family, Esther Faye was born December 5, 1912.
Emma’s pregnancy had some anxious moments in the beginning because Lewis came home with a transient who they later discovered had smallpox. After learning of the exposure, a Health Officer came to vaccinate the children. Del had a severe reaction to the vaccine. His arm swelled to such a degree that Emma knew he would have been gravely ill had he contracted the disease. Emma was unable to receive the vaccine because of her pregnancy and she contracted smallpox, but no problems developed.
The following year Alta Irene, was born April 17, 1915, making the family count eight girls and two boys.
Occasionally the family travelled back to Grouse Greek to visit. This gave the family an opportunity to see and visit Emma’s father’s half-sister, Jemima Kimber. She lived on a ranch between Grouse Creek and Tecoma. As Lewis and Emma traveled it was always a special treat to stop and visit with the family, and the relationship between the families became very close.
To supplement their income, at times Emma took boarders into the home and did sewing.
A special treat for the family was to see the traveling circus when it came to town. It would set up tents beside the park area, between the railroad station and the main street, and the whole family would go to town for the big event.
Their time in Nevada would prove to be very difficult and not at all financial advantageous for the family. Lewis struggled to find steady work and over the years from 1907 to 1917, Emma and the children would follow Lewis from Tecoma to Buel, to Wells, and finally to Contact.
In 1917, after years of struggle in Nevada, the family moved to Burley, Idaho, where for the first time since leaving Grouse Creek, the family was able to attend a Mormon Church, the Burley 1st Ward, Cassia Stake. The children who had not been baptized previously and were now of age were baptized and confirmed as the situation permitted.
Emma gave birth to her final two children while the family lived in Idaho. Arthur Walton Catlin was born August 5, 1917 in Burley Idaho. And Howard Ross Catlin was born November 7, 1920 in Oakley, Idaho. The total number of children born to Emma and Lewis having reached twelve.
Unfortunately, the family continued to struggle financially in Idaho. Lewis attempted both farming and mining, without the kind of results that would allow the family to prosper. He moved the family from Burley, to Emerson, to Oakley and finally to Vipont, where things got quite desperate.
After the arrival in Vipont, two tents were set up for shelter and sleeping. A long table cupboard was built and placed outside near the area where they had their fire for cooking. They managed to get by for a few weeks until the supply wagon failed to arrive on time and the family had to eat flour and milk (“bank belly”). Childish fears were created when they overheard their parent’s discussion of family finances. At the end of the summer, Emma took the children to Salt Lake City to live, leaving Lewis in Vipont to work for a while.
On February 27, 1923, death claimed Emma’s mother, Annie Elizabeth Lee Tanner, in Salt Lake City. Emma and her daughter Annie attended the funeral which was held in Tooele. After the burial in Tooele Cemetery, Emma’s father, Alma Cruse Tanner, lived with Emma’s family for a short time. The family eventually moved to Murray, Utah.
The first deeply serious tragedy to come to Lewis and Emma’s own family occurred January 7, 1925. That morning in Montello, Nevada, their grandson, Jack Whipple, found his mother, Lillian, dead on the kitchen floor. She had died sometime during the night or early morning from a heart attack. Emma was able to attend the funeral despite her difficult circumstances. Several weeks earlier, she had fallen backward off a stool while hanging drapes, had broken her ankle, and had a cast on her leg. Lewis was not able to attend due to a scheduled surgery.
Still grieving over the loss of her oldest child, Emma was hardly prepared for the next tragedy that was to come to her and her family. Although Lewis was apparently recovering satisfactorily from the surgery performed the week before, blood poisoning developed and on January 18, 1925, just eleven days after Lillian’s death, Emma lost her husband. His funeral was in the Murray 2nd Ward Chapel and he was buried in the Murray Cemetery. Emma was unable to attend the funeral because of complications from her injury. Infection had developed in her ankle because of improper casting and the doctor had to remove the cast in order to drain the sore. Lewis’ body was brought to the house before the funeral so she could see him for the last time.
Less than a year later, Emma’s life was again touched by death when her father, Alma Cruse Tanner, passed away on November 25, 1925, at the home of his son, Alma, in Salt Lake City. He was buried near his wife, Annie, in the Tooele Cemetery in Tooele, Utah.
Emma was left with no means of income and many mouths at home still to feed. The family pulled together and everyone who could, worked to support the younger children. During the ensuing years, Emma and her children resided either in Utah or in the San Diego area. Many ventures were attempted in order to make money. Emma used her sewing talent in making dresses for a local company. The dress pieces were pre-cut and brought to her to be assembled. Bill worked for Wilson Packing Company. Edna for Ingersoll Candy Company. And Hilda was a telephone operator at the El Cortez Hotel.
The purchase of a doughnut machine created a temporary change. It was decided that the family would try to establish a business by making a large number of doughnuts and selling them through grocery stores. Emma made the doughnuts at home and Bill quit his job to distribute them to the stores. The venture was short lived because the doughnuts, which were triangular in shape, did not sell very well, and the city health inspectors would not allow their production in the home to continue for an extended time because of health regulations. When the project ended Bill was able to resume his work with the Wilson Company.
When most of the children were out of the house, Emma also took in boarders. But eventually, she would give up running her own household and for the rest of her life, she resided with one of her married children. All of her grandchildren had a turn of having their Grandmother Emma Catlin live with them.
The family continued to be active in the LDS Church. A long awaited joy came to Emma on June 25, 1930, when she received her endowment in the Salt Lake Temple. A few years later, on June 12, 1942, Emma was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple to her deceased husband, Lewis, by proxy. Lillian (by proxy), Anne, Edna, Thelma, Elsie, and Arthur (by proxy- Art was killed in an automobile accident in the Buffalo, New York area on August 15, 1938) were sealed to their parents on the same date.
The leg injury which Emma had suffered while living in Murray left her with continuous pain and a limp for the rest of her life.
December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the ensuing war affected the lives of many of the Catlin family members. Several were involved in wartime industries, three of her grandsons, Jack Whipple, Deane Christensen, and Jack Smith, were called into service. And her son Howard would later be called into service. It was a very sad day when word came that two of her grandsons were killed- Jack Whipple and Deane Christensen.
Sadness struck again, when Emma’s daughter Edna became critically ill. She died February 1, 1945, in a San Diego hospital. Funeral services were held in Greenwood Cemetery in San Diego but Emma was unable to attend because of wartime transportation difficulties and her own health complications.
Emma continued to live between her grown children, enjoying the association with her many grandchildren. During the following years, Emma’s health deteriorated to the point where her children could no longer take care of her needs unassisted and she entered a rest home in north east San Diego. The strain of the years continued to take its toll on Emma’s body and she had a gradual loss of weight which eventually left her very frail. As the years passed her mind, too, was affected and she had difficulty recalling recent events, although early happenings in her life seemed to be fresh in her memory. For some time she enjoyed visits from her family and friends, but with the passage of time her memory eventually deserted her and she showed no recognition of those who visited her. Finally her tired body wore out and death came quietly on March 21, 1965.
By the time of her death most of Emma’s contemporaries had also passed away, but her funeral was attended by many younger friends who lives had been influenced by her kindness and thoughtfulness to them.
The family of Lewis and Emma Catlin began in a pioneer era and continues into the jet age. Theirs was a difficult life, filled with the struggle for survival, but touched with the joy of new life as their twelve children and thirty-six grandchildren were brought into a changing and challenging world. It is the hope of the compilers of this history that this small glimpse of their lives will increase the appreciation of all their descendants for the efforts of those who have gone before.
History compiled by Emma’s youngest son and his wife, Howard R. and Carol Catlin, 1983.
Submitted to Grouse Creek Histories by Emma’s 2nd Great-Granddaughter, Susannah Taylor, 2013
Sent history to Alan Smith of Grouse Creek Histories on September 1, 2013