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Piute County Local History Resources

Piute County Reading Room

The view from 1910

(Salt Lake Tribune, 7 February 1910)

Areally and numerically Piute county is one of the smallest counties in Utah. Easterly and westerly Piute is about thirty-two miles long by twenty-five miles wide, and contains approximately 800 square miles. Its population is estimated at about 2300 of the most industrious, rugged and independent citizens in Utah. By way of the Denver & Rio Grande railroad it is 189 miles from Salt Lake City to Piute's north boundary line.

Topography of Country

At the railroad station at Marysvale the elevation is 5888 feet above sea level. The Sevier river enters Piute near the southwest corner, and after traversing about ten miles in a northeasterly direction the stream turns southerly and enters the picturesque gorge known as the Marysvale canyon, some two miles north of the Denver & Rio Grande terminus at Marysvale.

Following the general contour line of the river, and about two miles distant to the west, the magnificent Tushar range abruptly rises to an average altitude of nearly 11,000 feet. The crest of the range forms the line between Piute and Beaver counties. Notwithstanding the unusual altitude of the lofty Tushar, the spurs and canyon sides are comparatively smooth, while numerous flats and small valleys add largely to the magnificent mountain pasturage for which the range is justly famous. In the higher altitudes forests of pine, fir, balsam and spruce occupy all of the north exposure. The north limit of the Tushar is surmounted by Mt. Belknap and Mt. Baldy, whose large domes are visible over an area that, in the greatest diameter, is fully 400 miles.

Story of Piute County.

It appears to have been the custom in Utah in the early days to organize a county as soon as there were enough males in the district out from which a county was to be carved, to fill the county offices. Piute county was organized in 1865, the legislative assembly enacting a law to this effect. William Black is said to have been the first settler. Since the county was organized the county seat has been moved four times. Circleville was the first one. It was settled in 1860 and after the county was created was designated the county seat, and it remained there until 1868, when it was removed to Bullion; thence to Marysvale, and then to Junction, which is now the county seat.

Picturesquely Beautiful.

While the decent of the canyons to the east is quite steep, the grade is uniform and they are comparatively easy of access by wagon roads and trails. In the heads of the canyons are many beautiful meadows, and especially is this the case in the head of Beaver creek canyon, where lands aggregating several hundred acres of the most luxuriant meadows on earth lie at the very base of Mt. Belknap, some 2000 feet below its gray summit. Lakes and meadows, crystal streams, cascades and waterfalls are numerous and are more scenic incidentals in a region that is grandly, picturesquely beautiful.

Center of Seismic Disturbances.

In the long ago, perhaps a half million years since, western Piute county was the scene of such stupendous upheavals and crustal transformations as can hardly be found in any like area in the intermountain region. The locality formed a part of the ocean. Devonian sandstone to the depth of more than 2000 feet had been laid on the floor of the ocean of vast inland sea. Superimposed was a bed of lower Carboniferous limestone. Shrinking of the earth's crust caused a rent that reached downward to the earth's melted interior, and in an irregular course, fissured Utah from north to south over a distance of fully 300 miles. In the vicinity of Marysvale the Tushar range was lifted more than 2000 feet, while the eastern range sank fully as many feet. The bedded sandstone and limestone were broken and upturned and tilted like cakes of ice in a stupendous gorge. Anon fierce volcanic fires and rivers of molten rock issued from a thousand craters and fissures within the intensely broken area, and Mts. Belkap, Baldy, Delano and numerous other peaks were builded to a height of 6000 feet above the level of the valleys to the east and west. During all those slow-moving centuries from the date of the upheaval the old earth-wounds have scarcely healed. Occasionally the old mountain becomes slightly unstable, and when it has one of its "sinking spells" many portions of Utah, points even 200 miles distant, quiver in sympathy with the restless mountain.

Earthquake in 1900.

The earthquake of nine or ten years ago as in the very heart of the Tushar range, and near the intersection of two lines of faulting or weakness. The first shock, at about 9:20 a.m., was surely a hair-lifter. The locality shook as if with the ague. Great pine trees, four feet in diameter, swayed and trembled in harmony with the quivering crust. Nature groaned in seeming agony, while above the mysterious noises rose the savage roar of thunderous rock-slides, which tore down the mountain sides from heights of more than 2000 feet. In the Marysvale gorge rents were formed in the earth, and the track of the Denver & Rio Grande road was badly warped.

In the southeastern base of Mt. Belknap is found many fissures in the solid rock which bear mute evidence of the terrific disturbance in what was evidently the very center of the quake. Small rocks dropped into the larger fissures, six to eight inches wide, rolled downward until the noise was swallowed in the depths.

Piute Valley.

Piute valley is merely a broad canyon some twenty miles long north and south by an average of five miles wide from base to base of the mountains. The north end of the valley is walled in by an eruptive mountain which reaches out from the Tushar range to the eastern range, and which divides Piute valley from Sevier valley. The gorge which forms the pathway of the Sevier river along the base of the west range, and furnishes the right-of-way for the Denver & Rio Grande road, is the result of a fissure formed subsequently to the original faulting. The grandeur of the scenery down the gorge is hardly surpassed by that of the Royal Gorge of Colorado.

Agricultural and Pastoral

The agricultural and pastoral industries of Piute county are so interwoven that it is difficult to separate them. Nearly every farmer owns a small bunch of cattle that, during six months in each year, graze on the luxuriant pasturages of the mountains. And since the creation of the forest reserves and the segregation of lands for sheep and cattle, the farmers' cattle are rapidly increasing and with a corresponding increase of prosperity for the owners. Not more than 5 per cent of the Piute area is being farmed. By deepening the river channel at the lowest point in the valley, and by a proper system of drainage, several thousand acres of swamp and pasture land could be brought under cultivation, and there is no apparent reason why many thousands of acres of now idle land along the base of the east mountain in the south end of the valley should not be "dry farmed."

Picturesque History.

The history of Piute county is as picturesque as its scenery. During the early sixties a number of adventurous men invaded Piute. The river bottom lands were covered with grasses suitable for hay. Luxuriant mountain forage was nearly everywhere. Like the old-time frontiersmen of the eastern states, the Piute pioneers wanted all the land in sight and all that joined it. One illustration of the hardihood of those early settlers will suffice. Two brothers selected a ranch near the confluence of Otter creek and the east fork of the Sevier in the southeast corner of Piute. They were fifteen miles from the nearest settler. Just over the east range, in what is now Wayne county, Black Hawk and his thieving tribe of Indians made their headquarters. During the early winter of 1865 the two white men on the east fork discovered one of Black Hawk's braves in the act of laying in a supply of beef. One of the brothers promptly shot the redskin, who feigned death. He was shot through his hips, but managed to crawl over the mountain and told the story of his mishap. And, as the occurrence is now remembered, that incident was the cause of the Black Hawk war of 1866. A number of hardy men from Beaver, just over the Tushar range to the west, settled in the upper end of Piute valley, and which, with a small number of ranchers living at Marysvale, comprised the slim population in the early months of 1865.

Placer Gold Found

In January of 1865 Jacob Hess of Manti found placer gold in the glacier-wave-formed bench to the south of and adjoining the hamlet of Marysvale. Hess was present in California when members of the Mormon battalion found gold in Sutter's mill race, and was immediately transformed into a restless prospector. Some day, when gold again becomes scarce, that bench at Marysvale will pour forth millions in the yellow metal, but it was too widely diffused for the primitive methods of extraction in vogue during those early days. Hess traced the gold up to the mouth of Pine canyon. At that point the gold eased. The creek was too rapid for bars, and Jacob Hess went up the canyon some five miles further and found the great ledge known as "The Bully Boy and Webster." And upon that famous lode Marysvale had its beginning as a mining camp.

Mining Industry.

During several years after the discovery of the first lode in Pine canyon, the locality was the scene of desultory prospecting. The south side of the canyon alternated with north-south contacts o quartzite, limestone and porphyry dikes, and is one of the most remarkable examples of mineralization in this western country. The ore is gold, silver, lead and copper, and is generally high grade. The deeper workings in the Bully Boy and Webster prove that lead is a surface metal and that it is replaced by copper which, carrying the silver and gold values, goes to the depths.

As soon as the Union Pacific reached Utah, in 1869, a two-stamp mill and donkey engine were imported by a Chicago company and duly installed. The mill employees were compelled to start the stamps with a crowbar, and as the process had to be repeated with every drop of the stamps, crushing was somewhat slow. And the little pulp that was made declined to yield to the pan-amalgamation process of extraction. An effort was made to smelt the ore. A small home-made furnace, built of boulders, was erected and after many vexatious delays was blown in. The fuel was charcoal made from pinyon pine. When the wind blew a gale down the canyon the "boys" could get the charge quite hot. After several days of strenuous effort the charge was drawn, and it was discovered that some very beautiful variegated slag had been made, pieces of which are yet highly prized as souvenirs of the first and only effort at smelting in Marysvale.

Later on Messrs. R.C. Chamber and L.U. Colbath purchased the Bully Boy and Webster and did some work on the property, with good result. But the distance to Salt Lake, 200 miles from the mine, was an obstacle too great to be overcome, even with high-grade ore. Still later, when the railroad had penetrated Utah as far as Juab, and when smelters were built in Salt Lake valley, several hundred thousand dollars' worth of ore was extracted from the mine and shipped to Salt Lake. The mine, however, had been "gutted" and left in bad condition for future work. Since then, with the exception of a long working tunnel, the property has been practically idle.

Deer Trail Mine

In 1878, while following a deer, Joseph Smith, who was subsequently known as the Utah pioneer of the cyanide process, discovered the Deer Trail mine, situated at the base of the range about six miles south-westerly from Marysvale. During a year or so the mine produced many car lots of exceptionally high-grade galena carrying large values in gold and silver. The high-grade ore was exhausted in the Deer Trail proper. The ore was merely the concentrates from the great ore body to the north where it was subsequently opened and developed by several thousand feet of levels and upraises. The property was finally transferred to Gilmer and Salisbury, and is now owned by the O.J. Salisbury estate. During many years the property was idle, but some eighteen months since a half dozen men were put at work and have since continued with results that would almost startle the mining world were the actual facts made public. The ore lies within a bedded contract of quartzite and limestone. The old tunnel was in a distance of 600 feet. Since the resumption of work the tunnel has been sent in westerly to a point more than 1600 feet from the portal. The ore is largely lead carbonate and frequently sells to a height of more than fifty feet. Great lenses of shipping ore have been developed and clearly prove that today the mine is one of the largest and richest in the state.

Playing at Mining

Marysvale challenges the world for a comparison of playing at mining. Such examples of stupendous folly, extravagance and downright idiocy in mining as exhibited in the Tushar range cannot be duplicated anywhere in the universe. In a number of instances a "blow-out" or other croppings on the apex of ridges have proved such attractions as have induced "tenderfoot" eastern men, and supervised by less competent local men, to expend tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars in running deep tunnels, and in every instance have made total failures. Gold mountain, on the north extremity of the Tushar, and the district west of Marysvale in the same range, have choice exhibits of "expert" "wildcatting" such as would kill the best camp on earth. And the wretched work is still going on.

When the difference between "gash" veins in eruptive overflows and veins in the promising contacts have been learned, and the energy now wasted in hopeless tunnels shall have ceased, then, and not till then, will Marysvale and the Gold mountain section of the Tushar range pour fourth the golden stream that is surely locked within its everlasting hills, and which awaits only capital intelligently expended.

Some Statistics.

Here are some facts and figures regarding the county, taken from the assessor's roll. The livestock industry is shown as follows:

Animal -- Number -- Value

Total -- $95,256

This is the smallest number of horses, cattle, sheep and hogs returned by any county in the state. Here are the figures on the assessment of property:

Total -- $621,060

Personal property is divided as follows:

There is one gristmill and one sawmill in the county Two saloons are licensed by the county. There are seven unincorporated towns. These towns and populations are:

During the year 1909 there were nine marriage licenses issued and four divorces granted.

Facts About Piute County

Weather Facts About Piute County.

Copyright 2006 by Ardis E. Parshall

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