Aunt Jody Wood: Angel of mercy
GIANTS OF SAN JUAN
by Buckley Jensen
In the early days of San Juan, medical doctors and medicines were rarely available in times of need.
That fact made living on the frontier even more difficult. Child mortality, women dying in childbirth, death from accidents and diseases; situations we hardly worry about today were matters of life and death in San Juan for decades after settlers arrived in Bluff.
How did the people cope? Leadership identified someone in the community whom they felt would be able to handle the challenge and then issued a call and set them apart as a “midwife.”
Most midwives were mothers themselves with all the responsibilities and uncertainties inherent to living in the wilderness.
Few had any formal education in health or medical fields. It was a huge added burden to suddenly become responsible for the health and welfare of everyone.
Perhaps the most loved, admired and respected of these early health providers in early Bluff and Monticello was Josephine Catherine Chatterley Wood. She and her husband Sam left a comfortable home in Cedar City in 1882 and came to San Juan with several children and the second group called to assist in the building up of the San Juan Mission. The trip took six weeks.
In the late fall of 1885, Sam and Jody journeyed back to Cedar City. Jody wanted to be there for the birth of her seventh child. They went by way of Moab.
At the Colorado River they had to stop and completely take their wagon apart and ferry it across the river. They swam their horses across.
The trip took weeks, but though longer in miles, the Moab route was much easier than attempting an up-hill Hole-In-The Rock passage.
While in Cedar City Sam took a second wife (Emma Louise Elliker) on November 5, 1885. Emma was 19 years younger than Sam. Emma and Jody made it their business to learn to love each other. They headed back to Bluff from Cedar City in the dead of winter and arrived in early 1886.
The midwife of Bluff, Margaret Haskell, had left. Bishop Jens Nielson called Jody to be the new midwife. With her own large family, Jody shuddered at the thought of shouldering the burdens that call entailed.
Her response was “I am as green as a cucumber, and I am not even sure how babies are born.” But with the encouragement of Sam and her sister wife (Emma), she accepted the call and was set apart for the work in a special blessing from Bishop Nielson.
Jody bought books on the subject of medicine and studied. She mostly relied on the Lord. She was deeply afraid of the Indians, but she learned to love and administer to them too. In return, she learned a great deal about herbs, roots, leaves and their medicinal properties, which assisted in her success with her patients.
When she was called to her first delivery (called a confinement), she was scared and unsure of herself. Sam gave her a blessing and she asked Bishop Nielson to come with her.
Her first delivery was one of the worst because the baby had the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. As she wrestled to save the baby, a voice came to her so clearly she thought it was Bishop Nielson telling her what to do. The baby survived.
The little girl was the daughter of Joseph F. and Harriet Ann Barton, and was named Josephine in honor of Aunt Jody.
After the delivery, Jody thanked Bishop Nielson for telling her what to do. However, the good bishop told her he was not in the room and that he would not have known what to say if he had been there.
Jody realized that day how profound the blessing had been when hands were laid upon her head and she was promised that she would be guided by the Lord and that great wisdom would be hers in administering to the health needs of the people.
Jody became one of the best known and most notable figures in San Juan. She shared in the most intimate moments of nearly every family in Bluff and later in many other communities. The children of Bluff believed that she carried the new babies in her black bag whenever she was seen hurrying along a street on the way to bring new life into the world.
Over the years, Jody delivered 165 babies for which she kept written records. However, those who knew her thought the number to be much higher. Along with delivering the baby, she stayed in the home of the new mother for ten days to two weeks, and did the cleaning, cooking, washing and ironing, so that the mother could rest.
It was here that her sister wife (Emma) also played a huge role because Jody knew that her own children would be well cared for in her absence. Jody and Emma came to love each other like sisters.
For a delivery and two weeks of postnatal care, Jody charged $2.50 by decree of city leaders. Years later, when she was told to raise her rates to $5, she said she felt like she was robbing people. She took much of her pay in food, clothing, meat, firewood or however the family could pay. She rarely charged for ordinary accidents or illnesses that required less than a day of her time.
Toward the end of her career, the Brethren in Monticello told her to charge $10 for her child deliveries. She could not bring herself to do it and people who paid her that sum often found part of it refunded as an “overcharge.”
The testimonials of her abilities, love and genuine concern for everyone are legion. Albert R. Lyman wrote: “When I was 16, I developed a terrible boil which kept me in constant agony. We poulticed it, but it did no good at all.
“I dreaded having anyone come near. Aunt Jody was called. When she came she took my head in both her hands and said the boil would have to lanced, but she would hold my head and my father would do the cutting and that I would not feel much pain. It was magic.
“She had something which few doctors have – the power of projecting her courage into the souls of people who are in sickness and in sorrow and doing for them what no medicine can do.”
Caroline Nielson Redd wrote: “Aunt Jody took care of me when eight of my children were born. When she entered my home all fear left and I knew everything would be all right. To have Aunt Jody near was worth more than medicine.
Her tender touch, encouraging words, calm spirit, cheerful way and prayers were many times the only medicine needed…. If there is such a thing as perfection on this earth, Aunt Jody can be counted as such. To know her was to love her.
Charles E. Walton said, “I would come to Bluff tired and discouraged and go to see Aunt Jody and get some food, but the most important thing I received was the feeling that life is good. I was young, but she was always glad to see me, interested in my problems, joys and sorrows. She fed me the bread of life and my problems and weariness left me and I felt so good.”
Staying calm, using a lot of common sense, along with a fierce faith in the help she would receive from the Almighty made it possible for Jody to do things most mortals could never do. When Frank Hyde was badly cut on the face and gangrene had set in, he was taken to a doctor in Durango, CO. The doctor took a good look at Frank and told him to go home because Aunt Jody was doing everything right and he would be all right. Jody watched over him until only a faint scar remained.
Jody and Sam had three more children after returning from Cedar City when Sam married Emma. Sam also had two children with Emma. The last three children were all born in Bluff. Before Jody became a midwife she was called to be the Primary President in the Bluff Ward and held that position for 24 years, from 1884 to l908. The only reason they released her after “just” 24 years was because she and Sam moved to Monticello.
With her five surviving children, her church callings and her doctoring, she still had time to plant a flower or two around her home and enjoy the social, cultural and religious activities in Bluff.
While she saved countless people from every manner of disaster, she bore the burden of losing half of her own children.
Thirteen-year old John Morton died of an infection in his knee and was the first child buried on Bluff Cemetery Hill in l893.
In l901 she lost her beautiful young Bernice. The whole town mourned with the Wood family. In l907 their handsome son George William (Bud) was serving a mission in Texas and died of typhoid. Yet she never complained and she always considered herself one of the most blessed women in the kingdom.
Sam and Jody wanted their surviving children to have a good education and all five of them went to high school and college in either Salt Lake City, Provo or Logan.
She befriended the Indians and learned that she should never show fear. The Indians admired bravery more than strength. One day Posey had been drinking and arrived in her doorway with a rifle and demanded food.
She calmly walked to him, took his rifle away and told him he could not have it back until he returned as a friend. She fed him and he left without the rifle. The next day, sobered up, he stuck his head in the door and said, “me Sammy Woods Squaw’s friend,” and politely retrieved his gun.
Later, Posey turned to Jody in an hour of great need. He ran to her home in abject horror. He had accidently shot his wife.
He turned away from the feathers, herbs and medicine bags of his heritage and came to the only one he thought could save his beloved wife. Jody ran with him to his wickiup where she saw that the wound was untreatable.
She could only mingle her tears with Posey and his two little boys as his beloved wife died.
Quoting again from Albert R. Lyman: “At the birth of our first baby, Cassee, my wife was having a most terrible time. My mother and my wife’s mother wept in despair and said the baby would never be born. My wife’s father wept. We all wept. No one but the Almighty could save my beloved companion.
“Working with all her might to do everything she knew or had power to do, Jody kneeled by the bed for hours, working and praying. I saw her lips moving; I heard her whispered words ’O, Father in Heaven.’
“She kneeled on the floor till I thought her poor knees would be paralyzed. As I looked at her it dawned on me that this was the kind of grief she took on herself for many.
“To me, that was the most heart-rending experience I had ever seen. I was in an anguish of apprehension, yet that brave woman kneeled there on and on and past the midnight hours with never a word of despair not a thought of surrender, intensifying her effort and her prayers, pouring out her humble tears as she implored the Lord’s help.
“My young wife seemed to be as precious to her as she was to me. O, what faith! What love!
“Aunt Jody was ready to stop at nothing, including her own life, to save the young mother and her child. When at last, after we had become sick with despair and when the little one was born and we heard its cry and knew it was alive, we were moved to the very depths, blending our hearts in one great flood of tears. To me, it was nothing less than a revelation of the love of Christ, who would lay down His life for His friend.”
In early 1905, Sam and Jody were asked to pull up stakes and move once more to help the small and struggling Ward in Monticello. Sam had been farming in the area for years and Jody had been there many times, but it was with great sadness she left her beloved Bluff.