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Tenderfoot Days

By George Robert Bird

The Town and Canyon of American Fork

THE town of American Fork is a picturesque little place. It is situated beyond the point of the mountain divide that looks toward Lake Utah. It fronts this lake, whose sheen in the sunlight resembles "Blue Galilee," and is an American Bethsaida. The spurs of the Canyon are near and looking eastward the lofty knife-like ridge of Mt. Aspinwall is visible for nearly twenty miles.

I met some strangely interesting people in this little town. I remained here some time to establish a liberal school, and another in the adjoining town of Battle Creek. This latter place got its name from a fight with the Utes in very early days. I rode into American Fork in the rain of a long-continued storm. My ride was made in a heavy-wheeled farm wagon and under a flapping low-hung canvas cover. This afforded shelter from the driving rain, but was a constant weight on one's head and shoulders, since the bows were so weak and few that the cover sagged under the weight of the rain and the pressure of the wind. On our way we stopped for refreshment at a store-hotel. I hyphenate the word for it was a combination of the two. Some visible groceries and a strong odor of invisible cheese and kerosene indicated the first business. A round stove with round backed chairs about it, a huge spittoon, a desk, a counter with a bar and bottles, suggested the latter occupation. Also there was a rear room, on the door of which was written in letters of local talent, this legend, "DININ' RUME." So we had hope of something to eat in there.

It was here I acted as a member of a volunteer fire department. I sat drying my garments at the expectoration-anointed stove, listening to the sounds of frying meat in the rear room. Suddenly something soft, light and warm fell on my arm. I saw it was a flake of burning soot. An upward glance, through the stove-pipe hole, revealed a light, and in an instant more a blaze. The stove-pipe had parted with the heat expansion, and the under side of the shingle roof was on fire. "FIRE!" I yelled, and sprang on a chair to get at the opening. The others yelled too, and the host came running in.

The building was one of those cheap shells of unpainted rough lumber, which enterprising frontier men liked to build in those days. So utterly ugly that it was a boon to burn them down. It meant sharp work, if we were not to lose our supper, and our host his "Hotel." Sharp was the word. The boss was up a ladder and on the roof with a few movements of his long legs. Off came the burning shingles. Others of us tore apart the ceiling boards above the stove, and threw up water from kitchen buckets, pans and kettles. Five minutes later there was an awful mess around the stove, a big hole in the roof, a rustling, excited crowd moving around, but the fire was out. The host felt generous toward the helping company, and gave us a free supper of fried ham, eggs and potatoes, with the usual "hotel" coffee. We arrived in the town of American Fork about dark. We passed a two-story adobe house with dormer windows in the roof to lighten and enlarge the upper story.

"Who owns that fine large house?" I asked. It was so unlike the usual adobe house in these Mormon settlements, that I was curious, and put this question to the teamster.

"Oh! That belongs to one of Brigham's relicts."


"Well, one of his widows, 'grass widows' I mean. Mrs. Alien's her name; ought to have been Mrs. Young, you know."

"Why! I thought Brigham Young married all of the women whom he called his wives."

"So he did in a way. This one was sealed to him in celestial wedlock. He is said to have had several dozen married in that way. He had about nineteen, or twenty, married regular in the Endowment House."

"Did he build homes for all of these celestial wives or widows, what ever their relation might be?"

"No! Not he, but some pressure was brought to bear in this case, and Mrs. Alien was a very pretty woman then. She was a favorite of this great personage."

"Oh! I see. Something after the order of the European Courts in the days of the French, during the reign of Louis XIV."

The teamster was an intelligent man but he was not up in the history of Europe. He could doubtless tell all about the small incidents of American history from the Colonial days down, but across the Atlantic was too remote to interest him.

Here I met a man from Aberdeen, "Awbur-deen" so he pronounced it; and he was "that Scotch you could see it a distance." It is not often that the canny Scot is caught in the meshes of "soopersteeshun," such as catches the more excitable, and less cautious native of the States. Robert and William Peters, brothers, were both here. The former had been, and the latter still was, a Mormon. In fact, William Peters was an official, not only of the railroad, of which he was the local depot master, but he was high upon the rungs of the ecclesiastical ladder of this Utah "Kirk." Robert had left, not only his first love, the old Scotch Kirk of his boyhood, but his second love, the church of his "beguilement," as he phrased it.

"I was that looney onct, that I was caught, like a feesh by the gills, and hooked for fair by them Mormons," he said to me in explanation of his position.

He was now a liberal and offered to aid me as much as possible to start a school.

"My brither, Willyum, is still sae saft that he sees not onnything but this new fangled kirk, but I left the same lang syne." He had the true Scotch grit, and was able to take his position and take it alone. He led a lonely life, and made his living by making shoe lasts, and was a master workman at his trade. He could take your foot measure, and out of a block of maple wood, cut your last so accurately, that a shoe, built on it by a good shoemaker, resulted in the comfort of an individual fit. Moreover, when you put these lasts into your boots, we wore boots high up the calf of the leg in those days, and the shape "lasted."

This was another comfort, that once discovered by those who could afford it, resulted in Robert Peters' getting many an order for the lasts, both for men and for women.

There is nothing like a singular handicraft, dependent upon the individual skill, to make a man independent as to bread and butter. This does not mean that Robert ate much of either. For he did not. He was a singular Scot in several ways. He never married, and would only eat certain foods of his own cooking.

He made Scotch scones, rather too solid for me, and these, with potatoes and salt, and cold water, constituted his main food supply. A little herring and "parritch" three times a week were luxuries.

"Sugar? No I niver ate it. It's just salt with the parritch. Onnything else would spoil the taste for me."

It was evident that Robert's simple food was not burdensome, and as the high cost of living was then unknown, he kept well within his slender means.

I found out that he put his savings into some Scotch charities in Aberdeen, his old home city, and also that he helped a little in the efforts to establish schools in Salt Lake City. That is to say he put in his mite.

"Twa'd be the saving o' the people, if they were taught the Shorter Catechism and the Lord's Prayer."

This was a reversion to type, by way of prejudice, and a Scotchman is nothing, if he is not prejudiced in favor of something Scotch-born, like the Shorter Catechism. At heart, I expect, he was a believer in only a few of the universal truths of all religions, but he kept up a bold front about Presbyterianism, just out of opposition to the dominant rule in Utah.

"I? Do you ask what I am? I am a true blue Presbyterian," he said.

He reminded me of the Wood brothers of Bingham Canyon. They were teamsters and drove mules, bringing down timbers from the top of the mountains to the different mining tunnels, much timber being used to make these tunnels safe. No man not a saint far advanced can drive mules and not swear. In fact, it is said that mules in tight places will not move unless a volley of oaths is first launched their way. This I had from several Army men whom I knew, that had driven mules in the Civil War.

I am afraid mule-driving is hard on the sanctity of speech. The Wood brothers were Presbyterians, "away back" where they came from in the first place. They forgot all about it in camp life, during the six laboring days of the week while working with their mules; but on Sunday they braced up. When they put on clean shirts and collars-mark that-they put on something of their old time "away back" religion, and went to church, if there was one, and put their quarter in the church collection.

So a good many at first sight considered them staunch church people, but hearing them deliver themselves of "mule talk" as they were driving their teams, they altered these views.

"Saw two of your Presbyterian Elders to-day, the air was bluer than their Presbyterianism, all about those mules of theirs; the Wood brothers I mean; better look 'em up, and give them a word of spiritual advice," said a superintendent of one of the mines who liked to be considered a humorous man. Yet one of these men, sweaty and covered with dust and having sworn all day long, showed signs of remorse.

"Say, I know I'm not right, but a man's temper can't keep with mules and they must be driv' that-a way. I am goin' to get out of this business some day and live like a Christian ought."

I tell this because it is so with hundreds of men out West. They know the way that they live is not right and all of them mean to do better some day. The how to do it, is always beyond them during the present time. You can see that the exponents of other forms of religious life and faith, with such followers and hangers on, could not deal in criticism or denunciation of lapsed Mormons, or for that matter of standing Mormons, for they were no worse in their actual lives. Robert Peters used to go to church when the liberal element was strong enough, as it soon was, to erect a building and open services, on Sunday night. The lady who played the organ had a little girl, so small that she had to be held in the lap. Robert Peters became nurse for the time being and faithfully held and quieted the child. I think the old man really enjoyed, and was happy in assisting in this way to aid the proprieties of public worship, after the grave Scotch manner. In leaving the town for the city, where his business was likely to be better for him, he left for the little baby girl a book that she might read in riper years. It was an old Scotch Sunday School book, thought to be adaptable to young children, and had for a title, The Valley of Baca and a beautiful figure on the cover representing a weep, ing woman bending over a well. "In the Valley of Baca they maketh it a well," accommodated from the Book of Psalms.

The irreverent hoodlums, who used to sit in the back seats at meeting, dubbed Robert "the Presbyterian Nurse," a title he was proud of to the last day that I knew him. William Peters was a man in conflict with himself. His past was too strong for his present, and this kept him uncomfortable. His face and speech showed his ire. He could not accept some things of his new faith.

"He's peeved about polygamy," said Robert, "he couldn't swallow that, for Wyllum is a good man at the bottom, and thinks much of his wife, wedded in Scotland; but I spewed out the whole lot."

I can see his red weather-worn face, his spare body, and can hear his brogue whenever I call him to mind. A man of individuality and grit; with a better education, he might have made a mark in the world instead of being a waste timber thrown up by the sea of life, one of those sad wrecks left by the tide of religious opinion, which, while it has floated many to a safe haven, has engulfed a great multitude in bitterness and isolation.

The canyon of American Fork is worthy of notice. As it has been much described, I will simply say that its varied, rugged, rock-scenery rivals, in lesser magnitude, the splendors of the Yosemite Valley in California. A railroad ran up its winding, rocky sides passing over and around the purling, foaming mountain stream rushing down to the lake.

A prosperous camp was once the business life of the railroad; but when I knew it, its commercial glory was gone. It had been smashed by the extravagances and expenditures of the many promoters, who are the real curse of all such enterprises. They are after the "wad" held by innocent, trustful, tenderfoot-investors and stockholders. They get it and go away, leaving the ruins of a promising camp in their wake. The railroad was of principal use to haul wood down the canyon, and the tourists up. Often the depot at American Fork was crowded with visitors.

Many times I have met distinguished men there, bent on seeing the beauties of the mountain canyon; bishops, senators, generals, financiers and the capitalists, came and went.

I could mention some notable names, were I not purposely avoiding personalities in these pages, and confining myself to descriptions of real life andd character, such as Utah presented.



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