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Tenderfoot Days

By George Robert Bird

A Long Ride Through Utah Valley

IT was the midsummer of 1876, when I was invited to take a long distance drive through these Mormon settlements, with a missionary.

He was not a Mormon missionary, however, but a representative of an orthodox Protestant denomination; several such religious bodies were seeking a foothold for school and church in this territory.

In a certain sense we were doing scout duty for a Mission Board in New York City. As Moses of old sent spies into the land on the other side of Jordan of Scripture, so this Board sent its representatives to spy out this Promised Land, not from Dan to Beersheba, but from Ogden to Mount Pleasant.

We were almost boys in spirit, and not far removed in years, so this task appealed to us as a sort of adventure mixed with duty imposed.

We did not go afoot but drove a one-horse wagonette having for its load two dozen school desks and seats for an incipient academy of elementary grade. The hope for the educational up-lift of a miseducated Utah.

This to some, in these now liberal days, may seem a bigoted endeavor and a youthful assumption of a capacity to instruct others; but it, nevertheless, was the outcome of the wise and weighty council of older men who accepted our offer as adventurers in this Pioneer Mission in San Pete Valley.

It was not then given us to see the long, hard grind of work and duty to establish this educational plant, so we went cheerfully south, like sailors shipping for a distant port.

The pull for one lone horse, of these seats for future scholars, to say nothing of a box of heavy books, was unfair when we came to see the sand-ridges in our way on the roads over the valley divides. It was get out and push behind while the horse panted in front.

If we had been better horse-jockeys, we would have insisted on a team when we left the city; but our commercial and theoretical well-wishers and providers, in their scholarly incapacity as mountain travellers, insisted that one horse was ample.

Well, we crawled along, and whiled away the time with some healthy and also some unhealthy discussions of religious questions in comparative theology. We were like most of the young men, quick to discuss deep problems, and rushed in with our logic on subjects where "Angels feared to tread."

Both warmed in body from our cart-pushings, and in mind from our arguments, we passed the heat of the day and the divide of land, so that at the sunset we saw no longer the Salt Lake to the north, but the sea of fresh water to the south; Lake Utah colored by the last rays of light.

My companion was a Mac, one of the numerous Macs, whose forebears came from Scotland, and he lived up to his clan as "Varra creetical" in discussions. Now it is very hard to overcome a Scot in argument and so I had the worst of it just then. My companion wore a thin smile of victory and conceit at his superior intellectual prowess, more especially as he prided himself on the possession, not only of a B.A. and B.D., but an M.A. degree, whereas I had not quite finished college life when I had to mix with the world.

But I had rubbed edges with that world; had been tutored by city stock-brokers and had been

a photographer, when a man had to be not only an artist but a chemist, to ply his trade; all this before I received my teaching degree. So I had my companion when it came to business things, and pushed him hard to the wall over this "scrub horse" that he had been tricked into by a trader; and the awful load that his ignorance of teaming had put into the wagonette for so long a drive.

Crossing a creek about twelve miles on our way, the strain was too much for the harness and "crack" went one of the tugs.

Here I gave my chum a little verbal rub on the unwisdom of cheap harnesses. I rubbed it farther in during the hour we spent in mending the leather with old rope; as I informed him that no Western man ever travelled far without a coil of buckskin to meet such disasters as had overtaken us. He learned a great deal about the sorrows of a tenderfoot before he was through with the trip, and his harness, often repaired, resembled some of those rare bargains offered to the green-hand in junk stores.

The point of the mountain, seen all day from our Salt Lake City start, ended our up-grade pull, and now down-grade we went to our first stopping place. We were high enough to overlook the Jordan river, flowing well within its banks; for this Utah Jordan never overflows them to swell its waters like its Palestinian brother-river. We could see the haze over the Great Lake north, and the forming film of vapor over the smaller lake south of us, where Lehi and American Fork, two Mormon settlements, showed up their dry streets and the green fields adjacent.

"Well, Mac! do we camp when we reach the borders of that lake?" I asked, fully supposing that he wanted to do the correct thing and sleep under the sky.

"We'll not need to camp. We will make Lehi soon, and there's a chance for a room for us, and a corral for the horse."

"Any hotels in these towns?" I asked, for he had been this way before by road.

"None: but I know a Mormon family. The elder will take in travellers, if he likes their looks, and they don't catch him too much unawares." We carried a camp outfit, but did not wish to trench on our supplies, if possible, so early in the journey. The tired horse, that had done wonders from any point of view, but was dubbed a lazy brute by Mac, pulled us slowly into the distant town, and along its adobe-lined streets.

"That is a long-drawn-out one?" I said, pointing to a low-built house of sun-dried brick, "five doors and five windows all in a line."

"Yes," said Mac, "that is an indication of plural marriage. Each door and window is in a separate section. The patriarch, who lives there, has five wives."

At last we stopped before a house. Our tired horse sighed as though his heart would break with relief. But we were to face disappointment.

"No room for travellers this night," said the elder when Mac accosted him. I saw by the man's eye that he disapproved of us and our errand, although he looked with pity on our tired horse. He pointed south.

"You can make American Fork in three miles."

It happened that we entered this new town in the right place for us. A rather larger adobe than usual, was lighted up and the owner agreed to shelter us for the night by our paying a good stiff fee.

I gave the horse a good feed and rubbed him down before I went in to wash and eat.

Our host was a hearty old man, and one of the early converts from Wales. He had prospered in lands and goods, and was loud in his praise of this practical religion. I cannot say much for his table manner; for he ate with dirty hands, and used them twice to break up lumps of sugar in the bowl. The table-ware was primitive, indeed, but the cloth was clean and the meal well cooked by his energetic daughter.

"Sugar was a very scarce article in my early days here, and I don't like to see it wasted."

He was a widower, but no polygamist. He was a sample of the earnest, but ignorant peasant class of the old world who had greatly improved their material welfare by this change of country and faith.

Mac met a horse trader at the table, and I was highly entertained by their efforts to make a swap. The trader's animal was a little worse blown than Mac's, but after all he was not the easy mark that he was supposed to be, and he kept his horse.

We pulled out the next morning somewhat refreshed but hauling the same full load. We passed over dry creeks, sand ridges, and through the town of Battle Creek; the site of an early fight; through Provo, the county seat, to Spring-ville, the most progressive of all these valley settlements.

A knife-edged lofty ridge, Mount Aspinwall, overlooked us all the way on the east, while the lake glittered in the sun, six miles distant on the west. Down the canyons of this range at times the winds swept with sudden blasts, and crossing the lake, churned its waters into a fury. The breezes were refreshing since they blew across the road and not along it. We saw many pretty spots of green, such as fields of wheat, nearly ripe, alfalfa patches of emerald hue and thrifty peach and prune orchards. We carried off, from one farm a bale of alfalfa, and a generous sample of early fruit.

Just one year later, I rode through this region on a long horseback journey, and all the green was gone although it was yet early summer. The locusts were in the land. They had come in such clouds as to darken the day, and with such hearty appetites that even the bark on the orchard trees was consumed before they left. Their hatching ground was in mountainous Idaho, on the north, and periodically they passed out, leaving destruction in their track. Even a piece of green-straw matting hung on a fence to air and dry, went down their ready throats.

While in Springville, we prospected for a site in the interests of a liberal school. We had been invited to do so by some of the local men of influence. There was a desire for something new in this progressive town at that time, and it bore fruit three years later in a well built brick edifice for school and mission work. It was later known as the Hungerford Academy, under the auspices of the Presbyterian Mission Board. It was put in charge of George Washington Leonard, an ex-staff officer of the Union Army.

Of course we conferred with the so-called liberal element. In most of these settlements there were to be found a number of disaffected people. Some were so because they had been treated domineeringly by the church authorities, who ruled the civic as well as the religious interests of these valley towns; others because they had changed their views, with their increase of knowledge of the world at large, due to their contact with the new and non-Mormon elements filtering in to the population of the territory; still others because of business interests which carried them outside of the commerce of the co-operative stores to deal with mining men and mining machinery.

In the old hortatory days, when the Mormon preachers painted every gentile with a coat of black, they gave a false idea of the outside world, which these business men now found to be untrue, for the gentile was not as black as he had been painted.

A natural reaction set in, and a friendliness for the new-comers sprang up, and we found a few men, but no women, who desired an established opposition to the dominant church; in order to check its power and to give a spice of life in the business world in place of the old-time autonomy and monotony.



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