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The Ophir History Project is seeking personal and historical stories about life in Ophir, Utah.
The stories will be gathered together and published in a book. For further information or to submit stories contact Pam Johnson.
Tooele Co. UT Mailing List
open for others
written by Alice St Clair Bevan
In the summer of 1849, the first settlers came to Tooele Valley and settled at the mouth of Settlement Canyon. Up to the fall of 1852, there were not more than twenty families at any one time: this being the extreme western frontier and its location near the eastern edge of the Great American Desert caused the area to be exposed to the ravages of the Indians, and for this reason some of the first settlers left Tooele, because they feared trouble with them. The settlers began soon after their arrival to cultivate small patches of land. Wheat, corn, squash, and beans were raised as well as a poor quality of potato. In 1853, as more settlers came, the settlement was extended to the area where the city now exists. Tooele City was incorporated in 1863, with William C. Gallaher as the first mayor. Some of the other officers that were either elected or appointed were known as fence viewers. A board of three members were charged with the duty of seeing that all fences were kept in repair and that they came up to the standard of what was called a lawful fence. The fences at that time were constructed of poles or split rails. They must be no less than four feet high with not less than five poles or rails on each panel. If a man did not have a lawful fence around his premises, he could not collect damages from trespassing animals; cattle and horses had free access to the public domain, so this regulation was really necessary.
There were public cattle drives yearly, usually in the spring, when all owners of cattle on the range would turn out on horseback or afoot to help drive the cattle from every part of the valley to one place either in Grantsville, Tooele, or Erda. Then each person could find and brand his cattle which might run on the range the year round. Horse drives were conducted much the same way. There were many wild horses in the valley. In the winter of 1862, many of the cattle on the range died of starvation because of the deep snow. Men would ride the range for the purpose of skinning the dead animals so they could sell the hides.
Life in these early days was hard. One of the greatest hardships was the fact that these early settlers had to produce practically everything they used. Food was scarce. They had houses and fences to build and the material for them had to be gotten from the canyon. Roads to the canyon must be built, irrigating canals were dug. The Indians were a constant threat. The tools they had were crude and of an inferior nature. The winters were severe with freezing temperatures and deep snow.
The plows that were used were made by hand. Blacksmiths fashioned the plowshears, made in three pieces and bolted together. They would not turn the soil well, and were hard to pull. The plowman had to carry a paddle along with which to scrape the dirt off. They used oxen to pull the plow, so it was very slow work. The wood part of the plow was usually made by the farmer himself, as were his ox-yoke and ox-bows. He made his own cradle to harvest the wheat and oats, also his own rakes and often, wooden pitchforks. The grain was either threshed with a home-made flail or tromped out with horses. The grain was often separated from the chaff by winnowing it with a pan held up in the breeze, which blew out the loose chaff. Later they had a fanning mill that was turned by man power. Grist mills were of a crude nature, so the flour for making bread was generally dark, gritty, and sticky.
Another disadvantage to life in the early days of Tooele was the fact that the people had no time pieces of any kind with which to tell the time of day. They collected enough funds from the inhabitants to purchase an eight-day metal clock for John Shields, so he could keep time for the rest of the community. John Shields was a bugler, so one half hour before the services for both Sunday School, which started at 10:00 AM, and other meetings were to be held, John would blow the bugle and the people would assemble. It was the custom to say a meeting would be held at early candlelight as that was the only artificial light available except for that from the open fireplaces.
On special occasions, Brigham Young would visit the settlement. He usually brought some of the other General Authorities with him, such as Heber C Kimball, Lorenzo Snow, Franklin D Richards, Charles W Penrose, Joseph F Smith, and others. On the day he was expected to come, there would be a company of cavalry who were members of the state militia go down as far as Black Rock to meet the brethren who came out in carriages. Here the horsemen would join the company, and ride double-file both in front and in the rear of the carriage as a military escort. There would be a man up on the masthead of the Liberty Pole with a spyglass in hand watching the road between Tooele and the E.T. hill (E.T. was an early name for Lakepoint) and as soon as he saw the company come over the hill, the procession would start down Main Street with the Marshal Band playing and banners flying. When they reached the north end of town, they would form a double line on each side of the road. When the company had all passed between the lines, the procession would again form a line behind the rear horsemen with the band taking the lead, and march back up town. All the Sunday School children and, in fact, everybody would take part in this celebration. President Young usually stayed with Bishop John Rowberry down on the west side of Main Street. As there was no public house large enough to hold all the people on these occasions, a bowery was built on the south side of the meetinghouse for the accommodation of the settlers and the many visitors who came from surrounding areas. At night there would be a military guard of infantrymen, who stood guard the entire night. While some felt this was not really necessary as a protection for the President of the Church, it was thought to be the safest thing to do.
It is interesting to read how the early settlers got hay for their animals as no hay was raised at that time. Wild grass grew down near the lake shore on what was then called First Creek, Second Creek, and Fishing Creek. Fishing Creek was about three miles northeast of Grantsville. This area was public domain and the grass was free for all. It was decided that the first Monday in August would be the day for all to go down and cut the hay. Every man had an equal chance. It was cut with a scythe and snath. (a snath was the handle on the scythe and was handmade, as were the scythe stones) It was a hard day's work to cut a wagonload of hay. Your feet were wet all the time as the ground was covered with salty water, and the mosquitoes were bad. The men often became sick from drinking the slue waters. Then there was the long slow trip, all uphill, hauling the hay by ox team back home. Some years later the hay ground was divided into parcels and given to the heads of families. They cast lots for the location that was to go to each man. This was an improvement as they did not now have to go down all on the same day. This arrangement continued until about 1865 when the first lucerne seed was brought from California by James James, and from then on lucerne was raised.
Sugar was almost unknown in those days and what there was had to be hauled by ox teams from Missouri. John A. Bevan recalled that a glass tumbler full cost his mother twenty-five cents. To obtain sweetening, the pioneers raised beets (not sugar beets) and made molasses out of them. The beets were scraped clean by hand, then boiled, sliced up with a spade, and pulp was put in coarse gunny sacks and the juice pressed out with a lever press, which was also handmade. The juice was then boiled down in a large flat boiler with a sheet iron bottom and wooden sides. This boiler was built into a sort of furnace that would hold a lot of wood under it to make a big fire. In this way the juice was reduced to a dark looking molasses. Eli B. Kelsey, H. S. Gowans, Isaac Lee, and others had these boilers and presses and would make up not only their own beets, but those of their neighbors on shares. The product was called "tarpenchy" because it looked more like tar than molasses. In later years sugar cane was grown and processed in homemade mills using horsepower. Mr. Kelsey had one on Middle Canyon just east of town and there was one where the Thomas Spiers family later lived on Settlement Creek.
Robert Meicklejohn raised broom corn and made brooms. Cloth was made by one of the settlers who had learned the weaver trade in Scotland. The sheep's wool was carded and spun by the women into yarn, which was woven into cloth. The black and white wool were mixed and thus was made what they called "sheep's gray".
Shoes were made by some of the England family from leather that was tanned by Thomas Lee. He would go up into the canyons and peel bark from the Red Pine trees, stack it up until it was dry, haul it down, grind it up quite fine, and use it to tan leather. The leather was fashioned into boots and shoes on homemade lasts with homemade wooden pegs. He used thread waxed with material he made from home grown hemp. Some flax was also raised and made into thread for sewing the "sheep's gray" clothes.
Knowing all these things about our ancestors makes us appreciate more than ever the heritage they left us and gives us the desire to learn more about the heroic lives they lived.
Ref: material taken from the History of Tooele written by John Alexander Bevan.
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