Sep 20, 2011

Fort Utah: the beginning

Disclaimer: These are not meant to be scholarly articles. They are meant to be fun. To read, to think about. I don't plan on peppering these "blurbs" with references, though if anybody asks, I will provide a specific reference or two for something they'd like to do further research about.

Honestly, I think of these blurbs as legend-telling. I go all over the internet and all over the sources I've collected from the library, from those lovely Special Collections at the good old HBLL and also from archived newspaper articles, the entries of a private journal or two that I have at my fingertips because of the nice people at the DUP museums (which I will sometimes reference) or just random family geneology websites where stories are told and anecdotes are cached. The pictures I use in these entries are all pictures I've verified as "allowed by courtesy of___" for purely non-commercial purposes, or have been posted anonymously to various family-history sites on the internet.

So... prepare to enjoy. Not to criticize, argue, or to any degree, complain about what I've got written in these less-than-professional blurbs. And... another tip. If you want to read basically what I've read... put names into your google search engine along with "fort utah" or "Provo" or a relevant date... and you'll pretty much come up with what I've used to write these here things. So, without further ado...

Fort Utah: The Beginning

In 1849, about nine years before I begin Maggie's story, Brigham Young called 30 families to travel south out of Great Salt Lake City (as it was known then) to settle the fertile valleys surrounding Utah Lake. Among these families were the Higbees, the Beans, the Baums, the Holdaways, the Cluffs, the Turners, the Huntingtons, the Peays, the Millers, the Hawses, and many other names that are still familiar to current Provo residents, either because they have them in their own family histories, or because they've dated someone with that last name, or they have paid attention to the business owner's signs as they drive around town.

John S. Higbee was called to be leader of the settlement. His counselors were Issak Higbee and Dimick B. Huntington.
I couldn't find a picture of John S. Higbee. The top is Issak Higbee, the bottom Dimick B. Huntington. Issak looks like he's had a hard life, doesn't he? Well, he did. He was older. And in addition to going through hostilities in Missouri and Illinois, he tore up roots to settle in Great Salt Lake City, and then accepted a call to Provo, and later, various calls further south. The Higbees could likely be seen as the community leaders. For a long time, "Higbee Row," made up the block now north of the old pioneer park. I'll talk about that in a later post.

Dimick B. Huntington believed he was called by Joseph Smith to be a liason between the Mormon settlers and the Indians. He learned several Ute dialects during his years in Utah Valley, and had dealings with the Indians during many significant events, including the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which, for a long time, was blamed on the Paitues who lived in the valley near Provo and other Mormon Settlements. He looks like he's really suspicious of whomever took his picture. Maybe it was somebody he didn't like. At any rate, various accounts I've read paint him as a man who tried hard to do what was right. He wasn't perfect of course, but none of us are... and we have to remember that Indian-Settler relations were messy, in just about every account where settlers and native tribes crossed paths. I'll do more posts about that, as well.

Fort Utah, the first fort, was built close to the riverbottoms. The settlers unwittingly chose a site very important to the tribes of the area--important for fishing, and as a gathering place. It was a damp, marshy area not all that healthy to the settlers either. After some more hostilities, with losses that occured on both sides, Brigham Young asked the settlement to move further north and east.


Provo's North Park is the site of the second fort. There are several cabins and other buildings from the second settelement there today. The exibit is maintained by the Sons of Utah Pioneers. The park used to be named "Soweitte," after chief Soweitte, who intervened on the settlers' behalf when another chief, Walkera, declared "war" on the settlers. In addition, a replica of the first fort has been created in about the same spot where the fort once stood. If you would like to visit, it is along Geneva Road in South Provo, just past the KAO campgrounds, where Geneva Road crosses the Provo River.


The fort was set up with a set of walls or barricades made of logs. In the center of the fort was a hump of land, on which a platform was built, where the cannon was placed. The school-house was also in the center of the fort. George Washington Bean was the first schoolmaster (more on him below.) Cabins lined the inside of the walls, or made up parts of the walls, and eventually there were cabins outside of the (2nd) fort.

That first year, 1849, was a miserable one for the settlers. There was a great deal of flooding, which washed away planted crops, and so the settlers didn't grow much. They had to live on gleaned foods such as dandelions and sego roots, dug by the river. The river was full of fish, and the settlers took advantage of that, but that meant that the Indians had less of their main food source as well, and this increased tensions.

Eight people died and were buried in that first fort, later called "fort field." Their bodies were later moved to the current Provo Cemetery.

Among them were George and Matilda Haws, father and daughter. Matilda was 22 when she died, unmarried, six months after arriving in the valley. Later, her sister married Shedrick Holdaway, and Shedrick had Matilda sealed to him as well by proxy. This was a common practice at the time.


There was no picture of Matilda Haws. Above are Shedrick (Shadrack) holdaway as young man and his wife, Lucinda, who is older in her picture. She also looks suspicious. But the accounts I've read say she was an intelligent, friendly woman. She raised a lot of children, some not her own biologically. And she loved poetry. She had fiery red hair when she was younger. Shedrick is said to have had very nice horses. He was a hard worker, too; his name is on a lot of the early accounts of public works--surveying, leadership positions, etc. He apparently had a "van dyke" style beard a lot of his life (that's like the beard the devil is drawn with) and also a devilish sense of humor.


Harriet Turner was 14 years old when she died. Her mother and father (pictured above), as well as the rest of her siblings, survived that first year. Most of them lived into old age.


Joseph Higbee, only living son of Issak Higbee (1st counselor of the settlement) died during a scuffle with the Indians. He was hiding with some other men from the fort, behind some logs. He raised his head, looking quietly around, and was shot in the neck. The Indian responsible for his death was later tried by the settlers and executed by disembowelment (wow.) Apparently this was a common practice at the time as well--the settlers would execute by shooting the offender in the stomach, remove the insides, and fill it with stones, then sink the body in the river so that they could delay the inevitable conflict that followed. Later on, I'll tell some of those stories... in particular, the story of "Old Bishop" which has become a local ghost story, and promulgated a lot of the hostilities those first few years.

William Dayton and George Washington Bean were doing a demonstration of the 5 lb cannon that rested on a mound in the middle of the fort. They shot it once, and then neglected to clean the barrel. Some of the powder on the barrel ignited and the cannon exploded, instantly killing Dayton and practically tearing off George W. Bean's arm (which had to be amputated just below the elbow), as well as delivering over 200 splinters all over his body.

George Bean's recovery was painful and took several months, during which his mother and several Indians nursed him to health. He received a priesthood blessing which cured him of the blindness he suffered for a long while after the accident. While nursing him, the Indians taught George their language. George became a good friend to some of the Indians in the area, and after his recovery, was often sent on missions to talk to and trade with the tribes. Here is George Bean as a younger man.
In all the images I've seen he is tall, very beanpole-skinny. His personal history is full of energy and humor. He was a man who tried to do what was right, who laughed at himself a lot, and who married three lovely women and had so many children that branches and runners of the Bean family are now spread throughout the United States and possibly Mexico, too. My brother-in-law, one of his direct descendents, is also tall, slender, full of energy, and full of humor and intelligence.

And, just an interesting note to end on: An anecdote retold by the son of Betsy Cluff, one of the first settlers in the fort.

According to Betsy's biography, she sat on the wagon tongue following supper that night and surveyed their situation. After taking a good look at the shabby condition of the fort and the wild-looking country surrounding it, she spoke in a disheartened voice, "So, this is Provo, where we have come to make our future home. The outlook is dreary; the future is not very bright."

Her young son Benjamin overheard her dejected soliloquy and replied, "Mother, remember the old adage, 'The darkest hour is just before the dawn of day.' "

This response somewhat cheered the pioneer mother, and she responded in a slightly more positive tone, "Yes, my son, we will hope for the best and put our trust in the Lord who has never failed us."


That is lifted directly from here. It's an interesting story... I'll definitely be talking more about the Cluffs, later, as they are one of the most interesting (to me) families to settle in Utah Valley.

2 comments:

whiteclouder said...

I'm a history buff and writer of fiction so I truly enjoy a good writer who goes to the trouble to get the facts right. I found your article informative and enticing. I look forward to your book.

NoSurfGirl said...

Thanks, I'm glad you appreciated it. If you ever notice any detail that seems off, please let me know... I'm humble enough to do a bit more research and correct myself!