Jonah Got His Kicks On Route 66

by Rita Pullen Swift - 04/25/2001


My first real memories of living near Highway 66, known in our counties as Foothill Blvd. was in 1944. Our Country was at War. I remember sitting on the steps of my grandma Gertrude's Cafe, "The Little House By The Road," looking up at the sky, suddenly the sun being blocked out by the squadrons of bombers heading for the Coast on their way to War in the Pacific, using Highway 66 as their guide to their destination. Things were changing, I was told by "the wise ones". As they flew over, shaking the earth beneath me, my grandma would stick her head out the door and say, "Pray for them honey, they may never come back." I was five years old and I knew my father was a pilot flying missions out of Belfast Ireland over Germany. The Highway was busier than ever, for I didn't realize at the time, it was always the direct path to the Sunshine State like it had always been in the past, but the future was going to change the Highway forever.

Jonah Got His Kicks On Highway 66

My grandfather, W. C. "Bill" Mahar came to California from Pueblo, Colorado in 1907. He left my grandmother in Pueblo with my mother, Georgia until he could find a safe haven for them. He arrived in San Bernardino, California with $50.00 in his pocket. Eventually, he bought property from some Spanish in Fontana and began a new experience of growing grapes. Things went well, and he sold out some of the vineyards and moved on down the road to Claremont, California. Everything was wide open and he was able to purchase property to start a ranch and eventually become a citrus rancher.

I will race ahead to 1932. Even with the Depression, things were going well for the Mahar family. Grandpa Bill had 400 acres of citrus groves, and grandma was running "The Little House By The Road" on Highway 66 near Central Avenue and the "Ice House Canyon Inn", above Mount Baldy Village. In 1930, my grandmother and mother arrived by train from Pueblo. The train arrived late at the Pomona train station. As my mother and grandmother waited for my grandfather, they noticed an African American woman who seemed to be in pain as she sat on a bench. My grandmother approached her, and found she was very ill. My grandmother brought her home, and that evening she was in the hospital being operated on for an appendicitis.

We were very fortunate to have Dora Pickens come into our lives. She was a marvelous cook, the roast beef would melt in your mouth, and the apple pies were the best. She had lost her husband and daughter in the flu epidemic of 1918, and her ancestors arrived in Texas after the Civil War. Her ancestors were slaves on the Henry Clay Plantation in Kentucky.

The only thing she had in her possession from the Clay Plantation was a handmade wooden washboard from the slave cabins that dated back to the early 1800's. She always hung it in the cafe kitchen near the sink, and told me many stories about it's beginnings. My grandmother called Dora a very wise woman.

The cafe was always busy. The doors opened at 6 AM. Besides my grandmother and Dora, my mother and aunt Nell worked at the cafe. I never saw him, but this odd man named "Jonah the Egg Man" from Chino, delivered eggs every Monday morning to the cafe. I was told the story of him by my mother when we were feeding our chickens at the ranch. I asked her when we got chickens, and the story began. It seemed Jonah was descended from the Mormons that arrived in San Bernardino in the middle 1800's, sent there by Brigham Young. When the Mormons were called back by their leader, some refused to return to Utah.

Jonah would arrive in his old pickup with the eggs with one of his pregnant wives. He always talked of his wife Anna, but as time went on, it was obvious there were four Annas, looking very different in appearance. One thing they all had in common, they were all pregnant! The Annas always sat in the truck and never came into the cafe. It was obvious he was practicing polygamy. If he knew Dora was in the kitchen, he would leave the eggs on the counter and take his money left on the counter.

One morning, Dora looked out the kitchen door and told him that my grandmother wanted him to bring the eggs in the kitchen, he stopped, not knowing my grandmother was in the kitchen. He yelled at Dora, " I will not be in any room with a daughter of Cain!" " You are damned by God, and do not deserve to walk the face of the earth!" My grandmother came to the door with the lid off a large cast iron pot in her right hand. She asked him to apologize, but he would not and called my grandmother a "Nigger Lover." He no sooner got that out of his mouth, when grandma struck him full force on the head with the lid, watching him fly out the front door like a ruptured duck stumbling and falling into the fast lane of Highway 66 headed East.

My grandfather picked him up out of the street, and the first thing Jonah said, "Go in and beat your wife!" Grandfather told him, "To make tracks, and be glad he could still stand up to take a piss!" They called the Sheriff and Jonah and his Annas were escorted to the California-Arizona state line. No polygamy allowed in California. That was the Monday morning, Jonah Got His Kicks on Highway 66!

From then on, we had our own chickens, Rhode Island Reds. According to Dora, they gave the best eggs. Dora died in 1951, and is buried in my family's plot. When I was a toddler, Dora would say, "Dora Pickens you up!" I would run, and she would catch me and lift me high over her head. I am fortunate to have the cash register, the cast iron pots, and especially, the washboard, Dora lovingly carried from Texas to California in her suitcase, displayed in my home, here in Orange County, California.

Too bad Jonah never met Sorcas, the Gypsy Hungarian Fortune Teller, who read palms and told the future with her tarot cards every Saturday at the Cafe. The customers waited in line for her! She had a shop down the Highway. I was told she wore a red velvet turban decorated with a large rhinestone pin. That was Highway 66 in the 1930's.

1927, Photo of Mahar's and friends: Left to right, Gertrude Mahar, my grandmother, Mr. Boatright, who ran the gas station next to the Cafe, Georgia Mahar Pullen, my mother, W. C. Bill Mahar, my grandfather, Aunt Nell Dache' Kuhn, my great aunt, and Mr. Bosker, who took care of the grape vineyards. He played German Christmas Carols on his trombone. Taken on the ranch on Highway 66. I wish I had a photo of Dora.

Comments Section

I would like to say as an African-American Mormon priesthood holder, I find this article is difficult to comprehend and to respond to in an informed way. Because the writer insulting the black race in this true Church. I am well aware of the facts that racism and bigotry is still hanging its ugly head among us faithful members of the Church of Jesus Chriat of Latter-day Saints. We are all children's of God, and there should be no respector of persons.

I have witnessed my share of racism and bigotry within the Church, and can give a full accounting of the various incidents, that could have cause me to leave, but that is not the route I took. I decided to face the problem out front, while defending my Faith in this true Church, instead of showing anger, but with Love for that person without calling him or her names.

I think the author of this publication need to think about what message you are trying to deliver to your African-American brothers and sisters, who have had experienced racism and bigotry throughout their lives, and wanted to be a part of the brotherhood and sisterhood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I am awaiting your response, because I am very much concerned that the author is not going to be challenged, because her writing is insulting to me who have been a Mormon a little over thirty-two years, and am quite knowledgeable of the history from 1830 to the present. You may not be aware of the facts, that I have compiled "A Comprehensive and Annotated Bibliography on the History and Status of Blacks in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1839-1985."

I did another version "Selective Bibliography on African-Americans and Mormon 1830-1990." I am presently doing another version to be a sequal of the 1990 version. It will be from 1991-2010.

I am new to responding on Online, and will be watching what's out there.

12/29/2009 - Chester Lee Hawkins

Hawkins, Chester Lee. [Interview by Alan Cherry] Provo, Utah, March 1, 1985. Oral History Project, Manuscript Division, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. Embry, Jessie L. "Speaking for Themselves: LDS Ethnic Groups Oral History Project.' Dialogue 25 (4) Winter 1992: 99-110 [ 103-104]

Hawkins, Chester Lee. "Selective Bibliography on African-Americans and Mormons 1830-1990." Dialogue 25 (4) Winter 1992: 113-131.


When I was just a little boy, I heard big Bruce R. Mckookie, a leading apostle at the time, thunder from the old tabernacle in Paris Idaho about the Blacks. He claimed that if the day ever came that you went into a Mormon church and saw a "Darkie" officiating at the Sacrament table, then you would know with absolute assurance that the church had gone into apostacy. That if you ever saw a Black hand extended to you through the veil in the temple then you would know that the very devil himself had taken possession of the temple. God was not Black, he asserted, and it would be blasphemy and mockery of the vilest kind for a Black person to participate like that in these sacred rituals.

It makes me wonder just what the Lord told them in June of 1978, to get such deeply bigotted people to change their minds. How could we take anything he said before or after that seriously?

In the weeks following the 1978 revelation, they quietly reaffirmed that the prohibition against mixed race marriage had not been lifted. But it seems that they have retreated from even this issue. And in Southeastern Idaho, just how many Black folks do you suppose we were talking about? Like none actually lived there. - 07/19/2001 - anon


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