Melvina Edna Wilson was 3 years old in 1889 when she accompanied her parents, Sylvester and Mary Wilson on their move to Jackson Hole. She loved to ride, fish, and owned a .32 rifle. She was a talented piano player, and earned commendations in school. She helped her mother care for sick neighbors and deliver babies. When she was just 9 years old, her father Sylvester died suddenly. Melvina miraculously survived a series of childhood illnesses that claimed the lives of her brother and sister. In short order she would experience spinal meningitis, diphtheria and whooping cough. The former left her with a heart condition that was somewhat limiting, but she otherwise lived a full life.
In 1906, Melvina married neighbor Isaac Robertson, and by 1907 they had welcomed a son, Clarence. It was after Clarence’s birth that she was advised to leave Jackson Hole for lower elevations due to her heart. Melvina and Isaac moved to Thomas, Idaho where they lived a comfortable life. Melvina’s daily routine consisted of maintaining a large garden, constructed and repaired the family’s clothing, including moccasins for the children. She raised singing canaries and sold them for profit. She also provided care for sick neighbors, drawing on her experiences assisting her mother. Much like her mother Mary, Melvina was willing to operate day or night for someone in need. She was also the treasurer of the local LDS church branch and she taught Sunday school. In 1913, her mother died at her home in Rexburg, Idaho.
In 1918, Melvina’s very full schedule would catch up with her, and she was admitted to the hospital after a bad fall. During her prolonged stay, Isaac was left to care for 5 children and a busy farm. He was unable to keep up without help, and he chose to sell the farm and purchased a house in Blackfoot, Idaho. When Melvina was discharged from the hospital, home was now in Blackfoot. Isaac took up work with the local railroad, but caught pneumonia that progressed to an abscessed lung. It was now Isaac’s turn for a hospital visit, and with no income, the family could not make payments on their new home. The man who was supposed to purchase their old farm in Thomas defaulted on his payments, and the family was turned out. Isaac survived his brush with death, and regained his strength to work. “Life went on” was all their daughters (Erva and Eda) wrote about the next decade, and it would seem the family survived this period of hardship.
In 1928, Melvina and Isaac welcomed their eighth and last child, Richard. They had Clarence George (1907, Jackson, WY), Elva Melvina (1910, Rexburg, ID), Floyd Sylvester (1912, Thomas, ID), Cecil Wilson (1916, Thomas, ID), Erva Mary (1918, Thomas, ID), Royal Dee (1921, Blackfoot, ID), and Eda Marie (1923, Blackfoot, ID). Melvina’s oldest son Clarence moved to Jackson Hole for work; he was just sixteen. When his appendix ruptured and he needed surgery, Melvina and Isaac rushed to Jackson to be at his side. Clarence survived, and it is likely both Melvina and Isaac realized how much they had missed Jackson Hole. They returned to Blackfoot to collect their children and belongings, and moved back to the valley where they both had grown up. Isaac and Clarence found work at Nokers Coal up Cache Creek, and Isaac worked for the Forest Serivce in the summers.
With Clarence’s help, they rented Bruce Porter’s house in town and Melvina found work with Rose Crabtree at the Crabtree Hotel (formerly Reed Hotel). Alex Robertson, Isaac’s brother, invited the family to live on his South Park ranch so they wouldn’t have to pay rent in town. The family continued to move around, living across the Snake River near the swinging bridge, and in the Porcupine Creek area.
The second generation of Jackson Hole homesteaders had a life strikingly similar to that of their parents, nearly four decades prior. Melvina still made and repaired their clothing, made her own soap, tended a large garden, and the children pulled water from nearby creeks. The family continued to eat a diet of wild meat, vegetables, wild berries, while dairy and eggs were now delivered by wagon. Another large departure from Melvina’s mother’s time was that the family had kerosene lamps for light, rather than candles. They could now purchase goods like flour, sugar, beans, honey and macaroni from the several grocers in Jackson. The Robertson children rode the “school bus” to school in the winter months, which was a covered wagon converted to sleigh pulled by a team of horses.
The family’s new life in Jackson Hole was short-lived; tragedy struck in 1936 when Isaac took a blow to the chest and injured his heart at work. He would die from these injuries, leaving Clarence as the oldest to be the head of the family. Just four years later, the family would suffer the loss of Clarence due to pneumonia caught in the hospital after a stomach surgery. Yet the family persevered, and Royal worked many odd jobs to supplement the family’s income. Among many jobs, Royal worked as a wrangler, cow camp, hunting guide and clerk at a service station. Melvina rented rooms to tourists, as many did during the 1940s. With World War II making much of Europe unsafe for recreational travel, there was a national “rediscovery” vacation movement and dude ranches, and the west, enjoyed a second wave of popularity. In addition to hosting overnight guests, Melvina also provided a local laundry service, worked some hours at a café, and continued to nurse her sick neighbors.
In 1950, Melvina’s heart caused her health to fail, and as a result she developed pneumonia and died two years later. She was survived by Elva, Floyd, Cecil, Erva, Royal and Eda.