Friday, July 23, 2010

Pioneer Hero, James William Bates

Tomorrow in Utah we celebrate 'Pioneer Day'. July 24, 1847 is the day the pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley, seeking refuge from religious persecution. Of course, no one in our Bates line came across the plains with the Mormons, but my father was born on July 24. That's close enough. Besides, one year he was recognized at the Days of '47 parade in Salt Lake City. They called him a pioneer. If they called him one, that's good enough for me.

I guess the word that stands out about 'Jim', as everyone called him, is self-made man. He never hesitated to speak his mind and he stood for what he believed. More about that later. Jim grew up in Carbon County, Utah, with his father, William McKinley Bates, mother, Ida Richardson Bates, and brother Jack and sister Alma Rae. Grandpa Bill, as I called him, and his family lived in the coal camps in Spring Canyon and Latuda, and later in Spring Glen. For a few years, they migrated north to Provo, but returned when work became available.

Now, here is where details get sketchy. Dad told me that he and Uncle Jack were sent to live with Grandpa and Grandma Richardson when he was 12 and Jack 11. They had to walk the tracks to pick up loose coal to make a living. Many years later I was telling Grandma Bates about this part of his life, and she said he made it up! I suppose he did spend some time picking up coal off of the tracks, but I'm not sure that is what he did every day. He did tell me about good times he and Jack had off fishing in Beaver Creek. They would leave for weeks. Dad became a very successful trapper, mostly catching beaver and muskrats. He also trapped bobcats. Later he got some hounds and would chase bobcats and mountain lions. One day he wanted a picture of his dogs chasing a bobcat, so he caught one alive and put it in a wooden box. Next, he took Mom and the bobcat and dogs out into the desert. He stood about 25 yards out in front of the box in perfect position to get the picture. Mom released the cat. The dogs quickly jumped to the chase. Unfortunately, the only 'tree' in sight was Dad. Before he could snap the picture, the bobcat was on top of his head!

His love of nature is what led him later to his profession in life, working for the Utah State Fish and Game Department. Before that, however, he dropped out of high school after his junior year to work in the coal mine. About a year later, he enlisted in the Army and was off to basic training at Fort Ord. It was during his time in the service that he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He told me there was nothing particularly spectacular or faith promoting about his baptism, although there certainly was with his conversion later in life. He just had a couple of Mormon friends. They were serving at Fort Sam Houston in Texas and they told him he should get baptized before he shipped overseas. This was during the Korean War.

While in Korea he served in a MASH supply unit. He had a couple of close calls. One morning he awoke in his mummy bag to see a North Korean standing there with a rifle pointing at him. He struggled to reach for his rifle, next to him on the ground. He could not get to it as the bag was zipped shut. He heard a shot. It was from his lieutenant's rifle and the enemy soldier fell to the ground. One day, as the troops pulled out of Pyongyang Jon, chaos was everywhere. The only way out he could find was to jump on the outside of one of the big troop carriers and stand on the bed and lock his elbow around one of the ribs that supported the canvas top. This was during the winter. He rode that way for 14 hours.

It’s a good thing he had a sense of humor. Here is an excerpt from his history about the ship voyage to Japan. "The trip to this point was pure joy. I don't believe a soul got sick or even got nauseated. I was billeted in the hold, somewhere near the bow of the ship. I drew the seventh hammock up from the floor. Looked like a long ways down to me ... About halfway to Japan we had an alert ... When the alarm went off, I was lying in my bunk, dead to the world. The alarm sent a chill down my back bone. What if we were on the verge of being torpedoed by an enemy ship or submarine? I literally flew out of my hammock and jammed my foot (clad by a GI boot) into a metal mop bucket. Why did that lousy bucket have to be sitting right where my foot came down? It stuck and I couldn't get it off. I clanged my way up the stairways and thought the halls along with the hundreds of other GI's ... That bucket didn't bother or slow me down a whit. Often wondered what all those other GI's thought about the nut charging up the stairs, through the alleys and down the deck with a bucket on my foot."

Although he saw lots of death, and had several near brushes himself, Dad told me he was blessed and never had to shoot another man. After the war he returned home and began to work on the railroad. That was when he met Mom. He threw her into the back of his truck and told her he was going to marry her. Which he did, one month later. It was not long until the woods beckoned to him once more, and soon he was employed as a beaver trapper with the Fish and Game.

The first summer he was sent to the Uintah Mountains to trap beaver. He worked with a guy named Fish Harris. He and Dad did not get along. Although Dad was taller than him, Fish was stocky and thought he was a tough guy. He would pester Dad, but, being the rookie, was reluctant to make waves. One night, Dad and Mom were having dinner with the director, Harold Crane, Harold really liked Dad. The director told Dad he had heard about his problems with Fish Harris, and he said that if it were him, he would clean Harris' clock. That took care of that. One night in a bunk house Fish met his match!

The mail was really slow coming to the Uintahs. In fact, it did not come. Mom and Dad ran out of food. At one point we were forced to survive on the remnants of a jack rabbit Dad had shot with a 30-06. Mom said the stew was a little watery.

One thing about Jim, he was always a very hard worker and had a drive to succeed. He had not worked long for the Department when he approached Harold Crane, and asked if he could go to college and get his degree. Harold agreed. Jim was able to continue to work as a beaver trapper while he attended school. Five years later he was one of the first employees of the Department of Fish and Game to have a master’s degree in wildlife science.

We moved to Parowan, where he was employed as a Conservation Officer, or game warden. It was not long until he made waves. Dad was never one to shy from doing his job. The first winter there, keep in mind that poaching was prevalent at the time, he made over 300 arrests, including the mayor and most of the city council! Well, they wanted to run him out on a rail, and soon contacted their state senator. The senator convened an inquest. There was a big write up about it in the Salt Lake newspaper. Well, the senate determined that he was just doing his job, so that ended well. Trouble did not evade him, however, as he was cursed by a Navajo squaw in Escalante. The next year he was promoted to a biologist position. If that was the result of the curse, he can be thankful of that!

I was very lucky. Dad always took me to work with him. I have many, many fond memories of riding around the hills in his green game warden trucks. It was while we lived in Parowan that Dad truly became converted to the gospel. It took a couple of harrowing experiences out in the desert, but finally, he was convinced and he took my mother and us to the temple to be sealed together for time and all eternity. Two years later, he was transferred to Price as the regional game manager.

Dad was a very good wildlife manager. Through his efforts, desert bighorn sheep, bison and elk were restored throughout southeastern Utah. He spent many hours in a helicopter catching and moving animals. He had a particular love for the Henry Mountains and the bison there. His life of danger was not over yet. Gar Workman, my major professor, told me about a meeting that Dad had with the Wayne County cowboys about bison on the Henry's. Seems when they left there were guns drawn. Sounds like a few meetings I've had. Well, not quite.

I don't know how it happened, but Dad had a deep love for his family and genealogy. He spent countless hours searching out his roots. He and Mom would travel the country, spending time in courthouses and libraries, trying to unravel his family history. He was stuck on Thomas Jefferson Bates. He spent 40 years trying to find Thomas' father. While doing so, he accumulated a database of over 60,000 names of Bates’, Pearson’s, Parrish’s, Chenoweth’s, and Richardson’s. His efforts were truly remarkable.

Jim was very dedicated to his church and Savior. He was faithful in every calling he had. He served as a stake missionary for 5 years. He and Mom had over 50 baptisms. That is truly remarkable. One of the person's he taught was Bishop Rulon White in Wellington. After retiring, Dad and Mom served a mission in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They were asked to help relations between the white and black members in the wards. This they were able to do. Dad was fearless in his efforts. On one occasion, he taught 34 Baptist ministers. Later, one of them told them he would be baptized, except he would lose his profession. He and Dad remained friends until Dad passed away.

Always mindful of his grandchildren, Dad did his best to teach my kids how to work. When they were 12 and 10, respectively, Dad hired Josh and Jeff to help build his house for $1 per hour. Josh still remembers it as 'slave labor', but is grateful for it. As mild mannered as she is, though, one day Alisa came unglued. She came to pick up the boys after work and found them hanging over the edge of the rafters working on the roof. Boy, did she give Dad a piece of her mind! I am sure he laughed about it later. He wanted to include Natalie in the action, so he told her he would pay her ten cents for each brick she cleaned. He had a pile of used bricks which needed to have the mortar pounded off. Well, Nat thought that was an easy task, so she quickly marched outside, turned on the hose, and squirted off the bricks. Guess he was not too specific on his instructions!

Well, this is a long post, but you should know that Dad was a great ‘pot-licker’. He was my friend. He always wanted me along and taught me how to work. But, I think the best thing he did for all of us was to break the chain and set an example of how to be successful. Later I will make a post about my grandfather and the struggles he faced in life with polio and alcoholism. Jim was able to break the cycle and bettered himself by getting an education. As a result, most of his grandchildren have followed and have gone on to college and have successful lives. His love of the gospel and his family has inspired us. This is a legacy that will persist forever.


  1. that was a really nice post Bill, I enjoyed your summary of dad's life. He was a great man that had a big influence in my life. I think about him daily. This was nice to read so close to his birthday. (If I remember right he was baptized while stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas just before he shipped out to Korea)

  2. I remember reading in his history that the day he got baptized he left right after the baptism and they had to chase to him down to confirm him! LOL. I can just see it!

    Yes Josh is right, I'm sure it was SLAVE labor! at one dollar an hour and working your hiny off! Nat got lucky at 10 cents a brick. He only offered me a penny per brick!

    I believe grandpa to be a self-made man as well. He was always on the go. He was also a quick thinker! He kept himself busy as well as his mind! I wish I could be more like him. He is a great roll model to me. He was a mixture of a Dad and grandpa to me. I think of him often and miss him terribly. I know my boys would have loved him! Happy Birthday Grandpa. Know that you VERY LOVED by your family!

  3. Nat only got a penny per brick and we really got $2.00 per hour. I guess my dad likes to exaggerate too. Nice post.

  4. Just read your post Bill. It was a great reminder on why dad is truly a "pioneer". He set the example, and we followed. I will always be grateful for his example and the encouragement and support he gave me during my college years.