Joseph Bray “Joe” Erwin was born June 13, 1903 in or near Hazel in Calloway County, Kentucky. He was the first-born child of Lucian Anderson Erwin and Love Bray, and a great-great-grandson of Joseph Erwin, Sr. and Catherine Nancy Cowan.
Research has revealed very little of his early life, but he is shown in the first row of a 1909 photograph of the sixtieth wedding anniversary celebration in Hazel of Joseph Lafayette and Mariah Anastasia Erwin. Several Calloway County families have a copy of this old photo, but it can also be viewed on page 126 in Calloway County, Kentucky Pictorial History, published in 2002 by the Turner Publishing Company of Paducah, Kentucky.
Most of the Erwin family members who would have known Joe Erwin have passed on, but a cousin, Imogene Erwin Paschall, 88, of Murray, Kentucky, recalled that “...Joe went west in his early life and didn’t come home to Hazel very often.” Another cousin, Mayrelle Clark Jones, 90, also of Murray, remembers, “...Joe was older than me, and left home as a young man. I only remember seeing him once after that, when he came home sometime in the 1920s driving a big automobile.”
Jim Hendrick, a nephew, also of Murray, said, " ...I do remember a few tales I heard as a youngster. One of the most memorable was one he told the last time I saw him. It seems that after he and Pauline were married they were on their way further west when they passed an airport that was having a grand opening. There was a sign saying that they would give fifty dollars to the first couple to get married in an airplane. He turned to Pauline and told her to give back the ring. They then proceeded to get married again and claim the money. Another time he got a job as a stunt man in a movie. He was to walk the wing of an airplane and jump off on cue. They told him to count to ten after he jumped and pull the rip cord on the chute. When it came time to actually jump he changed his mind. He said that when the pilot figured out that he wasn't going to jump he just dipped the wing of the plane and threw Joe off. When that happened Joe just counted 'two, four, ten' and pulled the cord. He further commented that while he always loved flying, that was his last parachute jump."
Most of the early generations of Erwins who lived in and around Calloway County, Kentucky tended to remain where they were born and raised. Joe Erwin, however, was an exception, and was obviously afflicted by the well-known “Erwin itchy-foot syndrome.” It can be presumed that our immigrant ancestor carried the gene. James N. Irvine (Erwin) was the sixth of nine children of Alexander Irvine, the Sixteenth Laird of Drum, and was—by all accounts—the only one of the nine to leave Scotland. A large percentage of James’ descendants had a tendency to always have an eye over the next hill or down the road, looking for greener pastures or the “big break.”
Joe Erwin was an outstanding baseball player as a youth in Calloway County, and this was probably the reason he went west. There is reason to believe that he was recruited as a pro-baseball player, for on his death the Salt Lake Tribune, of Salt Lake City, reported:
“Mr. Erwin was well-known in Intermountain sports circles. He played professional baseball for Idaho Falls in the old Utah-Idaho League, followed by many years of professional and semi-professional baseball, and was president of the Orange County Baseball League in Southern California area for many years.
Apparently he went on to play professional golf, for the same article stated:
“...He was very active in golf for several years after his baseball career ended, winning many tournaments, both in the Intermountain and Southern California areas.”
Joe married Pauline Springer of Midway, Utah, in August 1928. In the early 1930s, after Joe’s career as a professional athlete wound down, the couple moved to Southern California where Joe—who was apparently also a talented musician—formed a western band that played at Columbia Studios.
During the next ten years or so Joe and Pauline became close friends with many Hollywood personalities. These included Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, the members of The Riders of the Purple Sage, Smiley Burnett, Charlie Starrett, Virginia Mayo and Eugene Jackson (an original “Little Raschal”).
In the mid-1940s Joe and Pauline moved back to Utah where they purchased a health resort called Luke’s Hot Spots (now known as Mountain Spa), located in the Midway area, which contains many ninety-degree-plus hot-water springs.
Many of their Hollywood celebrity-friends visited them there over the next few years. Dale Evans and Roy Rogers were frequent visitors. Both liked to “take the waters,” and fish in nearby Strawberry Reservoir. A letter from Roy, currently in the possession of Jim Hendrick, one of Joe’s nephews, dated August 1, 1949, reads in part:
Sorry I haven’t written to you sooner, but I had to go out of town and am very busy with a picture and my radio show right now.
But I do want to thank you for the wonderful time that we had when we were recently in your neck of the woods….
Joe was also a songwriter, and although none of his compositions made the Hit Parade, several were used in western films produced by Columbia in the 1940s. A song that is still popular in Utah, however, is one that he co-wrote with Ray Raymon. It was published in 1947 by Peer International of New York, and is called This is the Place, Our Utah.
Sometime in the mid-1950s Joe and Pauline moved back to Southern California, where Joe became a distributor of vacation trailer houses. An article in The Ledger and Times, of Murray, Kentucky, dated February 27, 1959, seems to indicate that Joe eventually became a sales manager for Arrowhead Trailers, possibly the same company for which he was previously a distributor. It reads:
“Murray has an excellent opportunity of being the location of a new plant for the manufacture (of) Arrowhead Trailers, according to Joe Erwin, Sales Manager of the Eastern Division of the house trailer manufacturing firm.
Erwin, who is a native of Calloway County, has been with the house trailer company for some years, and has been living in La Puente, California where the company is located (A search by Google found no current record of Arrowhead Trailers, but dozens of manufacturers of campers and vacation trailers have come and gone in Southern California since World War II, some by bankruptcy, and others by being absorbed by larger companies, such as Fleetwood. –Ed.). He was in Murray this week after attending a mobile trailer show in Louisville where he showed two models of his company’s trailers.
‘I can truthfully say,’ Erwin said, ‘that I can’t find a single factor wrong with Murray as the location of our new plant.’ He went on to say that he would recommend Murray as the site of the new plant. (Apparently, however, if the plant was eventually built it was not in Calloway County. Ed.)….”
Joseph Bray “Joe” Erwin died January 22, 1962—due to a heart attack—in the San Gabriel Valley Hospital, San Gabriel, California. He was only fifty-eight.
An obituary in the Deseret News and Telegram, of Salt Lake City, dated January 25, 1962, , reported:
“Midway, Wasatch County—Funeral services will be held Saturday at Midway for Joseph B. (Joe) Erwin, 58, of Los Angeles, Calif., formerly a Wasatch County civic worker and resort operator, who died Monday in a San Gabriel hospital of a heart attack.
Once active as a Democratic candidate for the Utah House of Representatives, he helped organize the Midway Boosters Club and formerly served as a March of Dimes drive chairman and committee worker. He was also a winner of many golfing tournament trophies. He formerly operated the Luke Hot Springs Resort at Midway.
Mr. Erwin had resided in Salt Lake City after moving from Wasatch Valley. He later moved to California where he was a distributor for mobile homes at the time of his death.
Mr. Erwin was a radio artist and music composer, and had performed in some of the Old West motion picture films.
He was born June 13, 1903, at Hazel, Ky., a son of Lucian Anderson Erwin and Love Bray Erwin. He married Pauline Springer Aug. 29, 1928.
Surviving are his widow in Los Angeles, Calif., mother in Murray, Ky.; and two sisters, Mrs. J.D. (Elizabeth) Hendrick and Mrs. Leon (BuNell) Wilkerson, both of Murray, Ky.
Services will be conducted in the Midway Second Ward chapel, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Saturday at 11 a.m. Friends may call at Olpin Mortuary, Heber, Friday 7 to 9 p.m., and Saturday until funeral time. Interment will be at the Midway Town Cemetery.”
A letter from Dale Evans to Pauline in late 1965 (a copy also shared by Jim Hendrick) seems to indicate that Pauline had written Dale and had included a photo (note that she signed the letter as Dale Rogers).
Pauline Springer Erwin passed away August 25, 2004, in Logan, Utah, at the age of ninety-seven. She was buried next to Joe in the Midland City Cemetery.
Joe and Pauline were obviously extraordinary people, and everyone who knew them are richer for it. »»»
The preceding article was composed by Don Erwin, but it would not have been possible without the input of many relatives in Utah and Kentucky. Special thanks go to Jim Hendrick of Murray, Kentucky, and Larry Springer of Midway, Utah, for their sharing of photos and copies of old newspaper clippings. -Editor