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James Alma Harris


James Alma Harris was born 18 October1883 in Benson, Cache, Utah.

He married Rachel Leona Butt 10 October 1917 in Teton, Fremont, Idaho.

He died 20 May 1939 in Sugar City, Madison, Idaho. He had six children.

Life Story

James Alma Harris, known throughout his life as Alma, was born on the 18th day of October 1883, the fourth child to William Emer Harris and Katherine Sarah (Perkes) Harris; in Benson, Cache County, Utah.

At the time of his birth, his parents were homesteading a farm on his grandfather Alma Harris' land. Besides being a farmer, his father was a popular musician in the area. Unfortunately, he had a drinking problem and around 1887, while gambling in a drunken condition, he sold the farm for almost nothing, and the family moved to Hyde Park, Utah.

This small town, built on a sloping hill, is where his mother had been raised. His grandparents, James and Mary Ann Perkes lived here. When his grandfather died in 1889, the family moved into the Perkes home where Alma's mother cared for his grandmother. This is where Alma spent his childhood years.

Alma's father spent a great deal of time away from the family playing his violin for dances. As his drinking problem worsened, he spent more and more time away from home and the responsibility for providing for the family fell upon the children and their mother. As soon as he was able, Alma began working for farmers in the area to help support the family.

Alma's mother inherited the Perkes home upon the death of Mary Ann Perkes in 1898. There were four rooms in the house and a walk-in pantry where a jar of cookies was always kept. The home was ever kept clean and spotless.

Alma was encouraged by his mother to develop his musical talents. He learned to play the piano and pump organ and he developed a beautiful singing voice and could play the violin and clarinet. For amusement, Alma and his friends would often go out at night to the river bridge in town. Here they would sing, and their voices would echo throughout the surrounding neighborhood. "I Stood On The Bridge at Midnight" was his favorite song. Alma loved caroling at Christmastime, and later sang in church, at community affairs, and with local bands.

Although Alma probably didn't finish high school, he enjoyed reading every book he could, including all the volumes of the Book of Knowledge cover to cover. He was interested in learning about all things.

Alma contacted typhoid fever and almost died. The doctor cautioned him not to eat because of his high fever. He felt so badly, he would walk the floor and cry which caused the family to cry with him.

In 1900, after recovering from typhoid fever, Alma and his brothers, Riley and Earl, went to the Upper Snake River Valley in Idaho in search of work. Alma didn't like Idaho and soon returned home where he lived with his mother and did all he could to help her. She records in her history that he never said an unkind thing to her.

He went to work for Benjamin Lundquist who married his sister Eugenia in 1903. "Bennie" was an expert paper hanger and painter in Smithfield, and Alma learned the trade well. 

In 1904 Alma and his family received word that his father had died in Idaho, a sick and lonely man.

Alma was a tall man (over 6 feet) and handsome. As a young man he fell in love with a woman, but her folks would not allow a marriage. causing him to avoid marriage for several years.

Alma continued working his trade and then enlisted in the Navy for a period and then returned to Idaho to find employment. He worked painting and hanging paper during the day and playing his clarinet for local dance bands at night. There he met the beautiful Rachel Leona Butt. His affection was evident from the beginning, although it took Rachel several years to return his affection and desire to marry.

On October 10, 1917 before Alma and Leonia married. He was thirty-two and she was twenty-seven. They made their first home in a 2-room log cabin in Sugar City.

Alma became well known up and down the valley as an honest, hard-working painter and paper hanger. He had a long paint wagon pulled by two little Indian horses that took him to his work. During the summer months work was plentiful and he would often be gone for days. But during the wintertime, Alma would have to seek odd jobs to provide for his family. On days when there was no work, he would stay at home and help Leonia manage the household and raise the children.

Alma and Leonia were blessed with six children: Leon James born July 27, 1918; Pauline born April 26, 1920; Charles Wayne born October 1, 1921; Reva Jean born September 23, 1923; Donald Kent born September 27, 1925; Bonnie Rae born September 24, 1928.

Alma's family was gratefully unaffected by the terrible flu epidemic of 1918. It was two years later in 1920 that they moved into a larger home in Sugar City. They remodeled this same home in 1933, adding a bathroom and dividing the back porch to make an unheated bedroom for the boys.

The family was poor, not having a lot of money. They often depended upon their winter supply of canned food, milk from the cow and eggs from the chickens. There was a root cellar underneath the back porch where carrots, potatoes and apples were kept crisp in the sand during the winter months.

Alma assumed a great deal of domestic responsibility around the home which was kept clean and spotless. He helped clean, cook, wash and care for the children without complaining. The first three babies were close together. Folly's crib was placed by Alma's side of the bed, Wayne's by Leonia's, and each cared for the child nearest them in the night. Each year he organized the household canning. He would buy the fruit, bring it home, make assignments to the children, and supervise the process until the job was completed.

When Alma came home each evening, he first walked the cow along the grass covered ditch bank and then worked in the garden until time to go in for supper. He would usually help do the dishes and clean up. Then he would sit by the stove in the living room and the children would gather around. He read to them, sang songs with them, and listened to them. There was a closeness there.

Alma found many opportunities to spend time alone with each child. It was easy for him to express his feelings, his love, and his concern. He had time to listen to problems and his children often confided in him. He would play with the children in the neighborhood games such as Run Sheep Run, Kick the Can, and Annie I Over.

Alma had a way of disciplining his children effectively using little physical force. He was even tempered and rarely raised his voice or argued. He was a good teacher of doing right. He kept calm and would point out errors and what should have been done. He was sympathetic towards hurts and he was always the first one on the scene when there were problems.

He was serious minded, but easy to talk to. He enjoyed reading poetry and reciting it. He loved books and the way he read the stories to the children literally came alive. He was well-read and had a collection of popular books. Often the family would gather around the table where he would read and then discuss matters of current concern, including religion.

Alma didn't get involved in community affairs. He was a family man who spent his leisure hours with his family. He didn't own a gun or like to hunt. He enjoyed playing baseball with the neighbors and taking the children to watch basketball games.

The family was one of the first in the neighborhood to own a radio, a Philco. Alma loved the radio and enjoyed listening, especially to the news. He would interest the children in current affairs and keep them informed, always emphasizing how blessed they were to live in America.

On Christmas Eve, one year, he woke up all the children at 2:00 a.m. to listen to the Queen of England speak on a trans-Atlantic radio broadcast. He was very excited and made it a fascinating and memorable experience for all of them.

Alma loved fishing best of all. Occasionally he'd take the entire family along in the Model T Ford. The family enjoyed rides in the foothills where Alma would often stop to gather wildflowers. He was a gentle man. Family picnics were happy times for all.

The family also enjoyed going swimming together. They had a special swimming hole with a weeping willow tree near the bank. Everyone would swing on its branches into the water.

Alma helped the children make valentines each year by showing them how to cut designs from his wallpaper books. These were famous throughout Sugar City. TI children would drop them on the doorstep of their friends and run.

Christmas was a special time. Each year Alma would confess to the family that there was no money and would be little Christmas. He would cause lots of worry but the day before Christmas he and Leonia would leave and do all the shopping and as it always turned out, everyone had a wonderful Christmas. He made children’s toys when they were very young. Each year candles were lit on the tree and fruit ornaments were hung. The children would bring home Christmas decorations made in school and Alma was so proud, he'd hang them all over the house.

On the morning of May 20, 1939, Alma became ill with one of his occasional gas attacks, but it didn’t go away. He died a couple of hours later of a heart attack caused by a blood clot released from a broken ulcer. His funeral was well attended by his many associates and friends in the community.

Alma lived for his family and left them a great memory of a loving and caring husband and father.



©2005 Randy Harris