Tenderfoot Days

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Tenderfoot Days

By George Robert Bird

The Valley Settlements

A STRING of valleys, rich of soil, but scant of water, stretched from north to south in this territory from Salt Lake City to Saint George. It was the policy of these people to occupy the land in settlements similar to those of the French Canadians. No doubt the idea was born of the observations, made in earlier days, by the Mormon leaders who were mostly from the New England States. They were probably visitors, at times, across the border from New Hampshire or Vermont, and so knew how the French habitant was housed in villages with their farms farther afield. To their labor they went forth in the morning, to return, at the call of the "Angelus," from their fields to their settlement-firesides at night.

This made for social life, and suited well the gregarious and garrulous genius of the French race stock that settled that eastern portion of the great Canadian Dominion. It did more. It gave the religious leader and teacher, the priest of the Roman Church, the power and opportunity to reach, by ready speech, the people whose easy assembling was possible, after work hours, since they were village residents.

There were no solitary farmhouses, often out of sight of a neighbor, and so out of mind, touch and sympathy; such as we see on the wide plains of the Dakotas of the North-West; or could have seen, in those early days, on the prairies of Illinois or the woodlands of Indiana or Ohio.

So these Utah settlers occupied town and hamlets, and the meeting house, the center of its life, was always well filled by adjacent residents. By every water course, small or large, near or distant, from the hills which supplied these rills, these settlements were formed. Each was fully organized and often incorporated, having mayor, council, wards; like any city.

The lands adjacent were divided up among the people so that each family head, and those acting as heads of or for families, could have the proverbial forty acres and a mule, a sufficient start in life on the soil. How sensible, stable, and socialistic this was, is seen in the contentment and progress of these settlers from the first days. Right speedily the ground tickled with the hoe, laughed with a harvest, everywhere that the lavish waters of the towering Wasatch or Orquirreh Ranges could be diverted.

The silver streams of embryo wealth to a desert-land came, in torrents, down the rough granite studded canyons, to waste their life giving power by falling into the Utah Jordan, and then rolling south into Utah Lake, the modern Sea of Galilee with towns around its watery shores.

But industry harnessed these waters as the Eastern settlers did their mill-streams by dams, to make them commercially profitable and powerful. So the Mormon people by canals cut to suit the contour of the land brought water to every little patch of arable soil. The fair clime and genial sun of Utah, mountain-sheltered from the Borean blasts that swept the prairie wastes to the west, made farming both a delight and a success.

I have never seen finer wheat than the symmetrical, golden kernels of grain in the Utah Valley. And the yield was most generous when properly watered; forty and fifty bushels being common. What toothsome loaves the housewives made from this wheat, milled by Utah's Cooperative Institution.

The fruit of these settlements was on a par with the grain. Peaches, especially, were finely-flavored and were generally raised. Almost every sloping shed-roof, in the season, was covered with cut peaches drying in the sun, for the market at home and abroad. In fact, these people, who knew the keen bite of poverty for the few first years, soon had all that the mouth and stomach asked for, in the way of varied foods.

Cattle, too, well-fed, throve and helped the dairy to nourish, and the meat market to be well supplied.

I think that you can see the character and appearance of these settlements. The borders of each incorporated town touched those of the succeeding one, as you travelled south, so in one sense you were never out of town.

This applied to the good land districts above. Of course there was much benchland, sagebrush areas, for which water could not be procured, being either too expensive to grade to the land in need, or there was not sufficient dependable water to be had to warrant the laying out of a settlement. So Utah still had its waste places, and the silences belonging to all waste places.

These valley settlements began around the Great Salt Lake, the main city of the Saints being the principal one. They then spread generally southward, over the divides separating these valleys of the mountains and so continued to the limit of the territory where it slipped over the rim of a basin, to lower altitudes, in northern Arizona, at St. George.

At this latter and remote settlement, there was a sanitarium of climate, whose soft mildness in winter made it a resort for those who could afford the expense of a long stage trip in search of a change of season and the restoration of broken health.

I rode about the towns that fringed the shores of Utah Lake and as I looked at its waters, quiet now, and the next hour swept by the torrential winds that came out of Spanish Fork Canyon as though shot from a high-powered gigantic air-gun, I thought of the blue Sea of Galilee, and the tempestuous night passage by Christ and his disciples.

Down the long stretch from Payson, the town at the south end of this fresh water inland sea, to Nephi beneath the lofty crest and ancient snows of Mount Nebo, overlooking its quiet streets, one travels through little settlements of the types, which I have already described; occupied by a class of small farmers, all doing well, but not one of them rich.

The territory of my day was a land of little-landers and small fortunes; the capitalist was nosing in, but he was a gentile, or a foreign investor, who was after mines and commodities, and fought shy of fanning and soil investments.

Mount Nebo, whose height was unclimbed by any Utah prophet, was the dividing range that intervened between the settlements of San Pete Valley, filled with Scandinavian settlers, and the main valley by Parowan, down which the railroad of this modern age passes on its way from Salt Lake to Los Angeles.

I left the railroad at a little south of Payson, and from thence all my travelling was by stage or canvas covered wagon, or on the broncho of that region.

I found the people homely, happy in their way, self-satisfied as to their sainthood and church life, but quite unintellectual. I do not mean that they were more ignorant than the usual rural population of the West of that day; they had a lot of homely wisdom and quaint sayings, with the usual horse-trading cuteness and wit; but as to thinking for themselves they were not remarkable, for like many a church folk in many a clime, they left all their thinking for the professional thinkers and creed makers; and so like sheep, satisfied with their shepherds, they listened to the voice of their authorities and acquiesced in all their demands.

I have sat in many a cosy parlor, with the visitor's chair in evidence, and enjoyed the hospitality and good will of industrious house-wives. I saw very little evidence of married unhappiness, or of a pronounced polygamy. Of course it was there, and some of the homesteads gave ocular evidence of plural wifehood with separate doors and windows of section-made adobe houses visible from the roadside.

The children were barefooted, browned, and healthy. They were wild-eyed and shy when questioned by a stranger, but very little more so than those of any rural people who see but little of the outside bustling world of commerce.

Surely these settlements, utilizing these broad acres, otherwise idle, were a better product, despite these peculiarities, than a waste of sage and sand given over to hordes of coyotes, the prowling bear and wildcat.



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