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Growing up in Farmington's old rock mill

The old rock mill in Farmington is hard to find these days. It is tucked away in the foothills, surrounded now by lovely, comfortable homes. Over the years, it has been called many things — grist mill, power generation plant, farm, restaurant, relic from a historic time. There's a road into the mill property, but motor traffic is restricted.

But for Oneita Smith, now 93 and a resident in a Bountiful care center, there is just one descriptor: It was home. She and six brothers grew up there. By the time her parents, William and Minnie Hess Wood, moved into the mill, the sound of the mill stones grinding wheat, corn and other grains was only an echo on the canyon winds. The ponderous stones eventually ended up in a museum "back east," Smith said.

Oneita Smith's father is featured in one of her children's stories.
Oneita Smith's father is featured in one of her children's stories.
Twila Van Leer

Before they moved in, the mill, commissioned in 1857-60 by pioneer leader Franklin D. Richards, already had served as a grist mill, power generation plant (providing electricity for the Bamberger Railway, among other things) and farm.

"It was really run down when my folks bought it. It was in terrible condition. The rocks were falling down and my dad went to Salt Lake City to buy a book on how to make cement to repair it," she said.

Like many of Farmington's earliest buildings, the mill had been constructed of the rocks that were both the blessing and the bane of the Davis County pioneers. They offered ready building materials but were the very devil when it came to farming.

For a time, the Woods competed with the rats and mice that had set up housekeeping in the mill.

"When we got into bed, we had to test with our feet to be sure there weren't any in our beds," Smith recalled. The family cat, Calico, got so tired of the same old diet that she would kill the critters, but not eat them.

When Oneita was born, the family consisted her parents and two older brothers from her mother's first marriage. (Minnie Woods' first husband was killed when he was struck by a Bamberger train.) Four more little brothers came along in regular order.

Having six brothers was not always a blessing. The boys convinced Smith that there were mountain lions prowling around the "two holer" in the back yard.

"I was scared to go out at night. We could already hear the coyotes howling," she said. "I finally talked my mother into allowing me a potty."

Smith's roots in Farmington went back to her great-grandfather, John W. Hess, who was sent by pioneer leader Brigham Young to settle in Davis County in the mid-1840s. A polygamist, he had six wives and many children. As the Farmington bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for nearly 30 years, he was credited with inspiring the first Primary in the church.

"He was unhappy with the behavior of the young boys in the ward. He called them ruffians," Smith said. With the help of some of the ward's sisters, including Aurelia Rogers, he asked for special classes for boys only.

"Later, they decided that what was good for the boys was good for girls also," Smith said.

Farmington's old rock (what else) church still memorializes the birth of Primary, now a worldwide organization providing activities and religious instruction for LDS children up to age 12.

As a young woman, Smith worked at Lagoon on a shift lasting from noon to midnight for 20 cents an hour. Ultimately, she married Dean Smith and had five children. The family lived for more than 50 years in Oregon, where they operated a grocery store, she said. She and her husband later served a mission on Temple Square and he was a temple sealer before his death.

When Oneita Smith's accomplishments during a long and productive life are tallied, a set of four handcrafted books with children's stories will be near the top of the list. She began writing the stories weekly for her grandchildren before the church officially set aside Monday evening as family home evening time. The books recount her adventures as a child living in the old mill, her friendships with animals, stories from the scriptures and "sermonettes," each with a moral.

"I wanted them to know the gospel," Smith said.

Oneita Smith's baby quilts comfort little Primary Children's Hospital patients.
Oneita Smith's baby quilts comfort little Primary Children's Hospital patients.
Twila Van Leer

For instance, there is her tale of "Our Adventures With a Coyote Family." It tells how she and other neighborhood children were hiking on the mountain near their home, chasing butterflies, when they heard some yipping coming from a cave. Their dog went into the cave and came out with a coyote pup in her teeth. Eventually the children had four little coyotes, but no mother. They found the mother dying with many porcupine quills in her body. Their father was fishing nearby and they ran to tell him about their coyote brood and the mother's dilemma. Father Wood extracted as many of the quills as he could and they put the mother back into the cave, but it was apparent she wasn't going to be able to care for the pups.

The children took the pups home — naming them Eeny, Meeny, Miney and Moe — and fed them baby food their mother prepared, using a baby bottle.

The following day, they returned to the cave to check on the mother and found her dead. They had a funeral, including wildflowers to decorate the grave and a soulful rendition of "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam." The pups were able to survive when Shep, their family dog, had pups and could share milk. Eventually, the coyote pups were returned to the den where they had found them. They were later seen with different coyotes, so the children knew they were all right.

As a bonus, Smith's stories are all illustrated with her own very well-done drawings. Her artwork still decorates her living space. Those books contain a wealth of family history that will pass through generations to come. A gift, literally, of many lifetimes.

Today, arthritis has limited her artwork, but her creative talents have found another outlet. In a tidy little sewing room in her care center compartment, she takes hundreds of squares of donated fabric and turns them into quilts that are then donated to Primary Children's Medical Center. She has made hundreds of them (159 last year), resulting in a letter from the children's hospital, dated January 2018:

"Thanks for not waiting to improve the life of a child. You are a legend here."