Southern Utah News Articles
'Courtship and marriage a century ago' Kanab welcomes descendents of Leo and Cora Chamberlain
Isn’t it amazing how little things result in the fact that each of us is here to enjoy our moment in the sun? This is the story of two people, lots of love, and a tiny boat on a small lake leading to a host of descendents coming this summer to Kanab because they are related by moonlight.
One century ago, 22-year-old Leo Chamberlain married 20-year-old Cora Esplin. They had known each other since childhood, attending grade school in Orderville. In those days, our southern Utah towns did not have high schools So, Cora went away to Cedar City in order to continue her education at the Branch Normal (now Southern Utah University). Leo, the 39th child of Thomas Chamberlain, was busy helping sustain Thomas’s very large family by working at ranching, farming and in the hardware store. That store building has been an important feature of Kanab’s downtown for a very long time. It is currently the Rocking V Café.
Leo and Cora corresponded four years during which time he was in Kanab literally tending the store, in love with only one woman, while she was in Cedar City attending lots of social affairs in addition to school. Cora’s letters often mentioned ballgames, dances and dramatic performances among other events that were exciting to a young girl. Along the way, a series of young men came into her life. It is fortunate that the letters between these two were saved, providing a rich treasury, illuminating the lives of two people living in extreme southern Utah 100 years ago. The letters and associated details were published for family members in 2001 under the title “Related By Moonlight.”
The title comes from a comment Leo made in his letter to Cora dated July 15, 1915. He wrote: “I believe you are somewhat related to me in one respect – letting moon-light nights get the best of you.”
And so, the reunion to be held on Saturday, August 15, centering at the Heritage House, also bears the title “Related by Moonlight.” Upwards of 100 people are expected to attend.
Three things are of pivotal importance concerning this reunion: moonlight, a tiny boat and a lake at a ranch north of Glendale known as Hidden Lake. Throughout their letters, the couple frequently mentioned how these factors influenced their relationship. On April 19, 1915, for example, Cora wrote: The other night I dreamed we were on the boat together up among the birches and you were singing to me. It seemed so real that I just about believed it even when I woke and found myself in Cedar.
And on May 29 of that same year, she penned: All day and all evening when I was not saying “Oh I do wish Leo was here,” I have said, “Just think if I was home today I would see him. I stood on the lawn tonight and watched the moon come up and thot of you, and other nights when the moon has been as it is tonight . . . the last few days and evenings I have thot of you almost constantly . . . One year ago tonight we were out on the lake together and I can not help wondering if you are there tonight. We had a lonely time last year but it would be nicer this year I am sure because we belong to each other really more than we did then.
Those precious moments in that tiny boat on that little lake were particularly important. Out there on the water they said things to each other that cemented their courtship. If it were not for that lake, that boat, and moonlight nights the “Related by Moonlight” reunion would not be taking place this Saturday in Kanab.
Leo and Cora were married in the St. George Temple on September 16, 1915. During their first couple of years together they lived in the southwest room of what is now the Heritage House, and it was there that their first child, Ioan, was born.
On February 14, 1918, they moved into their own newly constructed home located at 66 North 200 West in Kanab. It was there Cora and Leo’s other three children were born; Roma in 1919, Nola in 1923, Kelton in 1930, and Von Del in 1934. Ioan died in 1944 and Roma in 1946.
Leo and Cora enjoyed their lives in Kanab. Together they organized the first Cradle Roll in the Kanab Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The initial enrollment was small, but it grew to 160, the largest cradle roll in the entire church at that time. Leo had served as Stake Clerk since 1912, and continued in that office into 1950, a possible church-wide record for holding that office. He served two terms as councilman on the Kanab City Board, was a charter member of the Lions Club and a member of the first brass band in Kanab. Concerning the band, he commented in one of his letters to Cora: “We never hear a coyote around Kanab since our Band started.”
Since age 15, Leo had worked in the old Bowman store, and over the years he also worked in the Kanab Equitable, Tone MacDonald’s Grocery, Bowman Mercantile, ZCMI branch store in Kanab, Cedar City Mercantile and Picket Lumber Co. store in Kanab that he managed for 18 years. In addition, he filled the role of part-time mortician while at the Picket Lumber store. When that store closed, he became the first custodian in the new school that is now the Kanab Elementary School.
He was proud of having served the people of Kanab and surrounding area, especially during times of great need. The lives of these two good residents of our area abruptly ended in an automobile collision about four miles south of Panguitch on July 10, 1956.
Nola, Kelton, Von Del, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, along with Ioan’s descendants (Roma did not have children), will enjoy being together in Kanab this Saturday to celebrate the centennial of marriage of Cora Esplin and Leo Chamberlain. Kanab welcomes them home with the hope that all of them enjoy celebrating their rich heritage and the fact that they are “Related by Moonlight.”