Tenderfoot Days

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Tenderfoot Days

By George Robert Bird

Through Spanish Fork Canyon and Thistle Valley

NEXT day we pushed our slow way up Spanish Fork Canyon. Some faint tradition of the early Spaniards, the conquistadores of the days of Iberian rule, having reached as far north as this section, riveted the name upon this great gap in the mountains.

There is no doubt those hardy men almost demons in a way did dare the extreme both in perils and distance. Some of them may have gazed with their fierce eyes set in bearded bronzed faces upon these very hills and vales.

They were too far afield for them to put more than the stamp of their name on this region, so when the Mormons came, the Redmen, the Piutes and the Utes, were the sole possessors of the soil. It was an up-hill and rocky road with the heat of mid-day reflecting from the granite rocks lining the canyon sides and producing much perspiration, both for drivers and their steed.

Yet the evening drawing nigh, the characteristic wind-blast down this rocky tube chilled us to the bone, a quick change from the noon's torrid heat. "I know of a good spring hereabouts," said Mac, "one of my liberal friends of Mount Pleasant comes this way at times, and always camps by it; and he told me to be sure to sample its waters."

This was refreshing news to me, for our last drink had been from a muddied and shallow irrigation ditch. Round point after point, we slowly toiled, still ascending and looking for this spring that never appeared. It was about two hours later that we caught the odor of rotten eggs, and knew that our spring was a sulphur and therapeutic one. Our liberal friend had his joke on Mac, when the latter stood at this actively boiling spring, with no desire to drink.

Yet at this writing a costly sanitarium occupies the ground, people come from afar to spend both time and money for their health at this evil-smelling spring. Pure water is a prize when difficult to obtain, and at that particular moment having no foresight of the future business value of this sulphur spring, we would have exchanged it for a few gallons of the cold article.

We pushed on with dry tongues, and toward evening we entered Thistle Valley, now alive with the coal industry and the overland railroad, but then a wild, remote, upland plain.

Here we found water in a little rill oozing out of the rocks, clear and cold as a Kentucky spring.

"Why not camp out here? Plenty of wood around for a fire. It will be dark soon!"

"No. Not here. Let us push on," said Mac. "I know a valley rancher at no great distance. He is what is called a 'Jack' Mormon and favors our work for the liberals."

I grumbled, for I had no great liking for Mac's "little" distances, as I remembered that his eye was lacking in accuracy when it came to his remembering mileage by the road.

On again we went making a long day of it. I expected the poor horse to strike, not for pay, but for shorter hours; but the good animal had more grit than his appearance suggested. The miles were Irish ones, if not Russian, such as make the Siberian Versts such a weary terror to the traveller. We passed curve after curve in the road; crossed land-draws without number, expecting

every moment to sight the rancher's roof. It realized a modern war-song:

"It's a long, long way to Tipperary, It's a long way to go."

It began to look as though Mac had been sold again as to this ranch house; as he had been with reference to the sulphur spring which he had been urged to sample.

We broke another tug, just by way of diversion and use of a little more time which we could not spare. I used the old rope again and, of course, being tired I had to say something about buckskin, as an essential part of an "experienced" traveller's outfit, the same being lacking with us.

The moon rose. Her silvery face shone above the hills before us and made the uneven road visible, but the chaparral on either hand looked all the blacker. My imagination began to work concerning the Indians, who were off the reservation, trailing us in these dark places; or those white bandits, of worse blood, who often waylaid travellers at such an uphill disadvantage as was ours.

We were nervously silent, but if a bear had crashed through the brush, a coyote had yowled, or an owl had hooted, we might have shouted from fright, expectant of an attack from Indians or bandits.

Just then a dog barked with a homelike sound, and before long we saw the outline of a corral fence lining the road; then a house loomed up all in the dark.

We drew up at the bars across the road and holloed. The tired rancher, waked out of his first sleep, came down to us in no gracious mood; but who could blame him at that midnight hour?

We were the victims of Mac's defective judgment of road distances. He had come this way once before with a fast road-team downgrade, and had expected as rapid return upgrade with one horse and a heavy load.

We squared this late call with our "Jack" Mormon host in the way which is usually acceptable to midnight landlords. We fed our horse and bedded him with straw, and then climbed to an empty loft under the house roof, pillowing our weary heads on hay.

This Thistle Valley is known for its rich soil. The greasewood grows high and strongly, a sure evidence of the depth of earth. It was sparsely settled in that day. At one end there was an Indian Reserve: a section of the great Uintah Reservation for the Piute nation.

We met a crowd of Indian horsemen the next morning. They were wild and saucy, mocking us and our outfit and racing around, whooping just to scare our horse by their antics; but it was wasted effort. They did not know that our horse was a sedate Presbyterian charger, whose charging days were long past. Our beast just looked at them in surprise, and plodded on.

We grinned at these red-painted horsemen and cried "How!" in return to their "How!", and so passed on.

It was right here that an emigrant tragedy occurred some twenty years earlier. The foothills slope often into the valley with a long finger of lower hills that finally sink to the level of the valley road. Behind this projection, a war party of these same Piutes or Utes lay in ambush for the overlanders to California.

Two wagons, the prairie schooner kind, with covers like an ark, and loaded to the guards with everything for the household, came crawling along this upgrade. Too independent to travel with the majority, they had struck out by this shorter way to reach California by the road via Saint George and Arizona; thus avoiding the awful Nevada deserts.

Unsuspecting and unprepared they here were attacked by the Indians, who made a dash from behind a low hill abutting the road. It ended in the usual way. After a sharp and gallant fight the strong white men fell, and all were slain, even to the babies. Blood and scalps and burning wagons, yelling Indians and dying men made the spot memorable.

We looked at the scene and could almost see it enacted again; one of many such bloody halts to the stream of gold seekers, where a family passed out of knowledge, and left but a rumor to satisfy the anxiety and long waiting of friends left behind.

At last Thistle Valley opened into a larger one, the San Pete Valley, and from our high ground we could see, by the dark patches along the valley's sides, the sites of the various settlements in this remote region populated by Scandinavian converts to Mormonism.

The telephone, the rural delivery, the automobile of this favored day have brought all this section into the hustle of the world, since that quiet day when I first looked upon this broad expanse of fertile land. The mountains, then so silent, now glow with the electric lights of great mining centers. The richest coal is found, and feeds the mountain freight engines of the railroad which, as the agent of modern commerce, has invaded and captured this region of riches.

Our good old horse, and I was really getting proud of his grit despite his disreputable looks, brought us late in the day to the Liberal Hall fronting the Main street of Mount Pleasant, a town of three thousand inhabitants.

Here were the headquarters of the liberal element of the valley, and this also was our destination. In this Hall was the school, in embryo, for which the seats had been brought from afar so toilsomely. I laughed when they had been arranged in the lecture room of the Hall, to see one after another, the men, Liberals and Mormons, sit in them to test their strength. They did it so boyishly and with much evident interest. These seats were then up-to-date, but by this time they are antiquated, and broken up for fuel.



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