Looking out over the foothills east of Idaho Falls, it is hard to believe that at one time over 1,800 people lived, worked, and loved in this area. Back then you would have seen cabins, with smoke snaking its way out of the chimneys, scattered throughout the landscape, men working with horses in the fields, clothes dancing on the clothes lines of many homes, children playing, women working in gardens and animals in fenced enclosures.
On Saturday afternoons from spring to late fall, work ceased on the farm and in the home while everyone would gather together to watch the men and boys play baseball. Teams would come from neighboring communities for friendly but fierce competition. The women watching the games would exchange recipes, ideas on child care and even medical knowledge while they knit socks or did mending. The children would be running around playing with each other. This was a time to laugh, relax and enjoy each other.
In the community of Ozone, located about 10 miles east of Idaho Falls, this would be life in the early 1900s. Nephi Otteson was one of the first settlers and homesteaders of the area, and it is told that he named the town because “ozone” means “pure air,” and he was impressed with the fresh and clean air of the area.
These earlier settlers built their homes on the land they were homesteading in order to follow stipulations of the Homestead Act, which were:
· They had to be the head of a household and at least 21 years of age to claim 160 acres;
· They had to file their intentions at the nearest Land Office and pay the filing fee of $10. With this accomplished, the process of “proving up” began.
· Each homesteader was required to live on the land for a minimum of three months out of the year, build a home and make improvements for 5 years before these requirements were met and the land was theirs.
After Nephi registered his clam in 1908, he started to plow and break up the sage brush. He moved his family to his homestead where they lived in a tent for two years. Later he built a two room home and then enlarged it into a two story house. As more settlers moved into the area, the Ottesons started a small store which in time grew to being an all-purpose store selling hardware, shoes, dry goods, groceries, etc.
Business increased and more buildings were built including: a combination church/school community center, two cafes, a hotel, a rooming house, a livery, machine shop, candy and ice cream shop, feed barn and a blacksmith. Even a few homes were built right in the village area. Lenore Otteson, Nephi’s wife, was appointed post mistress of Ozone by President Woodrow Wilson. The mail was carried via horse-back and delivered three times weekly. In 1920, a cemetery was established. It remains with only four or five graves in it. By then, Ozone probably resembled a small community like in a Western movie.
Prosperity was enjoyed for a few years as the farms produced good crops, which were sold at good prices. More settlers moved in, and at one time, there were several hundred families living there. When World War I broke out, the US government requested farmers increase production of grains, so farms were mortgaged to expand and buy more equipment. When the war ended prices plummeted, and in 1919 a drought started with two or three seasons of poor if any crops harvested. Many of these early settlers lost their homes and lands at that time. By 1930 the population of Ozone gone from 1800 residents to 12.
Even though the majority of Ozone homesteaders lost their land and left that area, their spirit can be still felt as one walks around the Ozone area. They left a heritage of hard work and large disappointments, but they do need to be remembered!
The Ammon Sage Camp of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers have worked with Karen and Doyle Judy, descendants of the first settlers, to erect a marker, honoring those early pioneers who sacrificed so much in this area. Nephi Otteson was Doyle’s great grandfather and Doyle and his family still own part of the original homestead land.
There will be a special dedication of the Ozone Historical Marker honoring and remembering the families and individuals that built the Ozone community from 1902 until 1923, held at Ozone on Monday, October 14, 1019 from 2-3. This marker is at the corner of Sunnyside Road and Bone Road, east of Ammon.