A few weeks ago on the iseechange report, we covered the story of orchardist Will Beezley’s journals from the 1930s, 40s and 50s that are being transcribed on thealmanac.org by local farmer Amber Kleinman. Through reading the journals, Kleinman not only learned about historical farming and weather in the North Fork, but also caught a glimpse of Will Beezley’s life. Now that life has been further illuminated by Beezley’s grand-nephew, Larry Beezley.
Turns out Will Beezley had an identical twin brother, John, and together they owned about 150 acres up Stephen’s Gulch, running down to the river and up to the top of Pitkin Mesa. Much of the land was in orchards and the twins were busy all year long, hauling rock, chasing water, pruning trees. Will lived at the top of the mesa, in a house on what is now called Swanson Road. John lived on the other side of the gulch in a house near what is now Highway 133.
In April, Kleinman, Andrea Lecos and I visited John’s grandson Larry Beezley, who lives on the old homestead, and after showing us photos of John and Will, posing in identical cowboy gear as mirror images of each other, Larry took us on a tour of the property and talked about the twins, who were born in 1878.
“Well, they were close,” says Beezley. “They each worked each other’s place -- almost every day they got together. And if they didn’t get together, they talked on the phone. Granddad died in 1945, and Uncle Will said to my dad, he said, I’ve just lost my best friend. So it was that same year then, that he sold his place up on the mesa there and he moved into this cabin. His wife Weltha had died in 1937 and he never remarried. So he just lived by himself very simply in this cabin.”
The cabin is small and presently used as storage. But Larry Beezley remembers the place in the days after his granddad died and Will came to live there.
“He had a radio,” says Beezley, “with a homemade wooden box around it, and it was sitting right here and he’d listen to the weather every day. And then he ate here, he ate oatmeal every morning. No sweetener, no milk, just old fashioned oatmeal and salt.”
The weather dominates Will’s journal entries. He often uses something called Pilot’s Knob as a reference point. Amber asked about the landmark. “He refers to Pilot’s Knob especially when there’s weather, got snow, or. ..”
“I think it’s that thing you can see between Coal Mountain and Gunnison,” answers Beezley. “They would also pay attention to where the sun rose. Between Coal Mountain and Pilot Knob, or between Pilot Knob and Gunnision, or between Gunnison and Jumbo, Elephant’s Back, which from here is pretty much where you would see it. "
Amber and Andrea were curious about the practice of planting by the moon, or using other astrological information in farming.
“There was one example I can think of,” says Beezley. “My dad said that his dad told him that if you wanted to kill a tree, of course you’d girdle it, you’d cut the bark all the way around the cadmium layer. You would do that in the dark of the moon in August, if you wanted to make sure to kill the tree. In fact there was a Chinese elm tree right about here, and I killed it with that method.”
Our tour included many antique items and stories about the old days. One of the themes Kleinman noticed in her reading of the journals was Will’s love of dancing. Larry Beezley confirmed that. Will knew how to have a good time, and in the days before John died, both twins loved to drink whiskey and go to dances.
“I guess my dad told the story,” says Beezley. “They’d gone to a dance once, and some woman who had also had a lot to drink came up and she had a butcher knife in her hand. And she said, I’m going to earmark one of you so I can tell you apart. And she actually did a cut a little crescent moon shape out of one of ‘em’s ear – I think it was Uncle Will.”