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The lady from Stoney Lonesome

Sun Advocate reporter

The ruins of the cabin that Ferne Meredith lived in as a girl at Stoney Lonesome. The entire area is still very desolate today.

Being a pioneer, no matter what the frontier a person faces may be, is never easy. For Ferne Meredith, the experience was no exception.

Meredith is a remarkable woman. She was born in Kelsey, Texas in 1919 to Marvin Foster and Mattie Lee Arnie Foster. In 1921 the family moved to Ferron, where her father worked as a schoolteacher and a mail truck driver. Meredith was the fifth of six children.

"I was six when daddy and momma were divorced," she said. "Daddy moved to Benjamin and taught school there for eight years. Daddy took us to Benjamin so we could get an education. I attended school in Ferron, Benjamin, Spanish Fork and Price."

Meredith said that her mother had a hard time making a living and taking care of the children in Ferron.

"She took in washing and worked very hard," Meredith said.

Her amazing story slowly unfolded as she sat on her sofa and talked.

Eventually, her mother married Arthur Warren, who lived in Wellington.

Ferne Meredith

In 1930 or 1931, during the early years of the Great Depression, Art and Mattie Warren (Meredith's mother) filed for a homestead on lower Grassy Trail Creek. The site was near Coon Springs and about a mile from the Price River. It is one of Eastern Utah's most stark and desolate of places. Her mother named the place, "Stoney Lonesome."

"They had a patch of ground down there at Stoney Lonesome," Meredith said, "And another patch of ground on the mountain. They started a cattle ranch with a farm and a big garden."

The crops were watered from Grassy Trail Creek. Grassy Trail must have been a very different place in 1930. Except for floods, the creek is always dry nowadays.

The house was a dugout. It was built into a hill and the walls were made from old railroad ties. It was a one-room affair and the roof was made of dried mud over planks. The floor too, was dirt.

Meredith went to live at Stoney Lonesome with her mother and stepfather in 1932, the summer she turned 13.

"I thought it was heaven living with momma," she said. "We enjoyed it out there."

But, tough times were just around the corner.

"She (her mother) had a beautiful garden down at Stoney Lonesome," Meredith said. "She would water her garden with the wash [water] and after four or five days the garden would start to go white from all of the alkali in the water."

The evolution of the Wellington post office is shown in these photos. The one on the top is the one Meredith started working in. The middle was occupied from 1951-1963. The one built in 1963 has also now been replaced with a new facility.

"One day when we got to the spring, we found it was dry. It had never been known to go dry, but there wasn't a drop. Mother just sat down and cried," she stated. That was the day Meredith and her mother started carrying water in a bucket from the railroad well at Cedar Siding, about four miles away.

"Mother and I would walk four or five miles to Little Cedar. We would get a bucket of water and then walk all the way back to the house. That's all the water we had. We had a car but there wasn't a road to Little Cedar and we couldn't get the car over the hills."

They left Stoney Lonesome and moved to Wellington just a few weeks later. Her stepfather ran cattle on Grassy Trail for a few more years. The spring never recovered.

"Art and Junior (Meredith's brother Randy) went back out to Stoney Lonesome and we stayed at Grandma Bentley's [in Wellington]. They would take out cans of water and food to get by as they tended cattle out there."

As was common in that era, Meredith married very young.

"I married Roy Marvin (Turk) Barker when I was 15," she said with a faraway look in her eye. "We had a rough life together."

The pair had three children, Bonnie, Art, and Roy. Little Roy died in 1946, at the age four, from appendicitis. "We stayed married until the kids were raised up ... for 20 years," Meredith said.

She and Roy were divorced in 1955.

Meredith got a job as a postal clerk in the Wellington post office in 1945. The next year she was made acting postmaster when Catherine Liddell retired.

"I had to pass an inspection," she said, "And I got the highest score given for a first inspection. Harry S. Truman, President of the United States, signed my certificate for postmaster of Wellington, Utah [in 1947]."

Meredith said that her annual salary for Postmaster was $1,680 per year. From that salary, she was required to purchase pencils, type paper, and to pay the rent on the building.

Ferne married John Meredith in 1963.

"We were provided only pens and ink by the Postal service," she said.

The first post office in Wellington was in the town hall; located where the old pioneer cabin on Main Street sits today.

"There weren't any privy facilities in that first post office, so convenience was not to be had," Meredith remembers.

"That post office burned down in 1948 and we moved into the movie theatre (roller rink) where we occupied a small office."

She remembers that building was full of mice and the mice would chew up the mail.

"We had a constant supply of mouse traps and buckets of water with slats that the mice would climb and then fall into the water and drown," she said.

In 1951 the post office was moved to the two-storied brick building at the corner of Main and Center Streets. That building is still standing.

"We moved again in 1963," she said, "to the brick building next door built by Ray Davis. I worked in that building until I retired in 1979."

Meredith had three clerks during her thirty-three years as postmaster: Udella Mortensen, Elga Wells, and Azella Bradley.

During her tenure, Meredith was elected Vice President of the Utah Chapter of the National Association of Post Masters, and served as secretary for six years. She never missed a state convention.

Meredith has witnessed a lot of changes in Wellington during her 73 years there.

"There was no electricity when I came here," she said, "And the water system was lousy. We had to wait until midnight to fill the bathtub. There was no water pressure during the day. We didn't have sewer or telephones until the mid-1950s, and there were no paved streets, sidewalks, or streetlights in town."

And, she oversaw a lot of changes at the post office too. Postal clerks were often asked to help write letters or to fill out government forms during her first years at the post office.

"Almost anything was sent by mail in those days," she said. Live chickens were not uncommon, nor were tomato plants, onions, and bricks.

Meredith in the early 1960's, around the time the newest building she acted as postmaster of Wellington was constructed.

"When they made a new bank in Vernal," Meredith said, "They shipped every brick through the mail."

The weight limit to ship through the mail was sixty pounds per package. Meredith smiles when she tells of beekeeper Comer Curry coming to the post office with a big spoon to dip honey out of his buckets when they were over the weight limit.

"Post cards were a penny when I started at the post office. A first class stamp was two cents, and if you wanted air mail it would cost you six cents," she said with a smile.

Meredith married John Meredith in 1963. It was a great marriage and they were very happy together. John died in 1983. The next year, her daughter Bonnie Lee Gibson was taken too. Meredith is a woman who knows sorrow, hard work, and hardship.

But, Wellington's longest serving postmaster has been a great friend and a source of inspiration to many of the citizens of the little town she served so faithfully for so many years.

Today, she still lives in Wellington, near her son Art and daughter-in-law, Nellie Barker. She has five grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren, and a town filled with close friends.

In 2004, Wellington honored her as Grand Marshall of the July 24th Parade. The honor was well deserved.

And, for a girl from Stoney Lonesome, it was a real treat.

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