Union As My Grandmother Knew It

By Hazel Wardle Egbert

"Now let me see," my grandmother leaned back in her favorite rocker and regarded the fire which was disclosed by the opened stove, while she thought of the incidents which made up the history of Union (map). I sat near by waiting for her to commence the tale of which I had heard interesting stories, but I had never connected them up into an organized story of the growth of a community. The tiny flames played at hide-and-seek about the black lump of coal in the grate as she leaned forward and poked it. She then turned to me with a smile as she began.

Well, I can't tell you of the first years of Union from memory because I was not born until later, but I can tell you about them from what I have heard father and mother say of their early experiences in this valley. It was in the spring of 1848, if I remember correctly, the spring after Brigham's party reached the site of Salt Lake City. You know that we maintain that Union was the first place settled after Salt Lake, that the first pioneers came to settle here, and among that first group were Silas Richards (cemetery monument), Robert Fate, Foster Greenwood, and Joseph Griffiths, who was later my father. These sturdy men crossed the plains in their covered wagons for the same reason that all the early settlers came to Salt Lake: they really were a branch of the first pioneers to reach Utah (Ed Note: See Union Ward for details on the formation and history of Union Ward).

Well, these brave men came south from Salt Lake looking for a good place to locate, that is, make their homes. The land was fairly level and was covered with sagebrush. Mile upon mile stretched away with no other living plant except along the creeks and streams where cottonwood trees, willows and meadow grass grew in abundance. But land that would grow sagebrush would grow crops so the consideration was to find water, which would last all year for household purposes. Here they found the necessary water, for a clear cold creek flowing from the canyon would supply all the water they needed: so here they stopped their tired oxen and began to make preparations for staying. Just as soon as possible they planted what little seed they had brought with them on their long journey. During the hot summer months, they guarded their tiny plots from drought by carrying water to them in buckets from the nearby creek. Some of these settlers lived in their wagons, some lived in dugouts, and a few felled trees and built log houses. But food was the main problem, so almost all their time was spent in coaxing and guarding the growing plants.

There were not many animals because so many had died while crossing the plains or else during the hard winter in Salt Lake. The few cattle were used to draw the wagons and crude plows, while the sheep furnished wool from which to make clothes. So the summer and fall passed and the tiny plots yielded very well for the small amount of seed which had been planted. By care and economy, the long winter was passed and enough seed was saved to plant a larger crop than was planted the first year.

Then the second year began with high hopes for the future. The crops began to come up; the tiny green blades were pushing up to greet the sunshine when the catastrophe came, Out of nowhere, it seemed, the horde of crickets came and devoured every green thing before them. They came in swarms and the settlers could not stop them. The men and the boys got out large clubs to kill them. They hitched their oxen to branches of willows and drug them over them, but the terrible hordes advanced. Trenches were dug to stop their progress, but still they advanced onto the beautiful green young plants. The fresh pure air was contaminated with the smoke and smell of burning crickets. They were scooped out of the ditches and out of the creek and lay in huge piles which began to decay. The chickens ate so many that the egg yolks were the color of blood. But regardless of how many were killed, others replaced their numbers. It seemed as though for every one killed, a dozen came to its funeral. And behind the swarms of crickets, destruction reigned; bare brown earth, unbroken by a single blade of green, met the discouraged gaze of the tired hopeless people. Their crops were ruined; their seed was gone and starvation stared at them no matter where they turned.

During the following winter many died and the hardships were terrible. To keep from starving, the people would dig roots to eat, and the Sego roots acted as the main food in many households. The men took their guns and went out in search of game. I have heard my mother tell that they had practically no other kind of meat but wild rabbit for so long that they could not bear the sight of one in later years. There were fish in the streams but they were very hard to catch because fishing tackle was scarce. Such a monotonous diet becomes very tiresome.

Then once more came encouraging sunny spring, and seed was brought to Salt Lake from across the wide plains, and once more the farmers planted their crops and waited for the green plants to come up. As the summer advanced hopes were realized and a large crop was harvested. This gave the settlers a fresh start and they almost always kept enough to last their families for two years. Although the grasshoppers and crickets came about every other year, they did not entirely destroy the crops for several years after.

The second group of settlers arrived here in 1852. Among them were William P Smith, Thomas Richardson, David Proctor, John Oborn, and Ishmal Phillips. William P Smith was a doctor and he was considered a well-to-do settler of the time because he owned horses to draw his wagons. Oxen were generally used for this purpose because horses were so scarce, Mr. Smith settled on the creek up where your Uncle Arthur lives. He had been trained in England and his services saved the lives of many people in this community. He was respected and loved by all for his kindness to those who were ill. Even the Indians respected, it not him, then his profession, for they called him the "Medicine Man" and often went to him if they were not well. He willingly did all he could for them. When the other people feared the Indians and built a fort, he said "Tut, tut, they will no harm thee." And this was proven as far as he was concerned because they never did harm him even when they went on the warpath. Perhaps one reason for this was the superstitious nature of the Indians.

About this time gold was discovered In California. You know that date from history. Then the "gold rush" commenced and the gold seekers stopped at Salt lake for fresh horses to go across the desert to the west. Horses and cattle were in demand and the Indian's herds were driven off by dishonest men to fill the need. This roused the Indians who had been peaceful before and caused them to become unfriendly toward the white settlers. They went on the warpath and many people were killed. Therefore, some means of defense became necessary and the people began to build a fort here for protection. Men, women, and children helped in the work of building the large wall. The men would haul the clay, mud, and rocks and the women, boys, and girls, and some of the men tramped the heaps into solid masses. The wall was about six feet thick at the bottom and it narrowed to about three feet thick at the top. It was about twelve feet high and port-holes were made about the right distance from the ground for a man to shoot through. It enclosed about ten acres of land and the clear creek passed through it which supplied the people with water. In 1853 "Union Fort" was completed and twenty-three families lived inside it in adobe houses.

The farms lay in the surrounding country and the farmers went out daily to tend their crops. All the grain was kept inside the fort in a large granary in which each family had a bin. Good fellowship existed between these early settlers. They were brother-sufferers from the same hardships. Their interests were practically the same and every man was a true neighbor to other members of the community.

In 1855, the grasshoppers came in swarms and that year all the crops were destroyed. The following winter the people almost starved. But this shortage of food brought the people closer together. Those with the most food shared with those who had nothing. This common trouble united the people closer than they had been before.

Inside the fort a schoolhouse was soon built. This building acted as a place to hold school, as a meeting house, and as an amusement hall. Bishop Richards, the first bishop of the Union Ward, was the first teacher and he had thirty to thirty-five pupils. William McQuire followed him and his cruelty to the students was never forgotten by them. Some of these incidents of his cruelty were stamped so plainly upon my memory that I shall never forget them. Well do I remember the day that Lib Van and old McQuire had a fight. McQuire was lame in one leg but his other leg was all right. For some reason, I have forgotten just what, McQuire was going to punish Lib, so he sent another pupil out for a bunch of willows which he said he would wear out on her. He caught Lib's hand and began to use the switch and Lib began to kick his good leg. Around and around they went, both devoting their whole energy to their task. But Lib won that day for McQuire did not make good his threat. After that, other forms of punishment were administered.

One boy was made to stand on his head by the wall with his feet tied to the pegs to keep him upright. He was left there for a long time for punishment. Another way of his was to tie the offenders thumbs to pegs so that he had to stand on tip-toes for a certain time.

Then one day someone planned revenge and the teacher sat down on a bent pin placed in his chair. "Who placed that pin on that chair?" the enraged McQuire demanded. But no one answered. Then McQuire ordered that every boy march to the front of the room. He whipped every boy! He then remarked that the culprit had been justly punished although his identity was not known. School was not very regular and the children attended or not as they chose.

Union boasted of four violinists at that time. They were old man Brady, old man Fate, old man Cox, and old man Williams; but of course, these men were young then. They played for the dances, and dances were numerous for dancing was the favorite pastime. At benefit dances, squash, potatoes, or other vegetables were accepted as admission. Both girls and boys wore homespun clothing. Homemade shoes and boots which were generally very awkward, were worn by the dancers. The dance commenced early and continued until about midnight when refreshments were served. Then the dance went on again until daylight. Husking bees, quilting bees, and many other kinds of bees were forms of helpful amusement. The young people would participate and keen competition entered into the work as in a drying bee, everyone would try to string the largest amount of pumpkin or peaches. Then a good supper followed the work and much merriment entered in. These entertainments seemed to unite the people closer and everyone enjoyed the cheerful spirit of good will.

All the spinning and weaving was carried on in the home. One of the largest parts of a girl's education was to learn to spin yarn for weaving and knitting. All of the material was of wool which had been sheared from the sheep, carded by hand, then spun on the spinning wheel, and woven into homespun. This process was very tedious but it was the only way of getting clothing. After weaving, the material had to be made into garments and dress makers were very scarce at that time.

My mother was a good dressmaker and after my father died, she went out working for a living. Money was very rare and she was often paid in vegetables, flour, or in material. This method of paying was all right because her family needed these articles. But once the money would have been very welcome to my mother. She was just a young woman when she and her sister came to Utah and left all their relatives in England. She received letters from home occasionally but she had to pay the postage before receiving the letter. It had been about a year since she had heard from home, and then one day the postmaster, Charles Sharp, told her that a letter had come for her from England. The postage was twenty-five cents and she could have the letter when she paid for it and not before. It seemed that everyone paid my mother in produce and she could not get the money to pay for the letter. For over a week she longed for that bit of word from home, before some kind man paid her a quarter when she asked, if he could not pay in money. So you see how hard even a quarter was to get.

When mother sewed, she always stayed at the place she worked. The man would come to Union Fort and get her and then bring her back when she had finished. While she was away, my little brother Georgie and I remained with Mrs. Griffiths. Mrs. Griffiths had a large family and after my father died, she had no means of support except what Mother received for her sewing.

One day when Mother was across the river at work, Mrs. Griffiths was making soap. When the soap was cooked she removed it from the stove and left it standing on the floor while she reached up on a nearby shelf for something. Georgie, who was about three was "fussing" to be put to bed and he was holding to her skirts coaxing to be rocked to sleep. Just then, she turned quickly and the tiny boy was overbalanced and he fell into the steaming hot soap. We did everything we could for him. We sent one boy for Mr. Smith and Joe went on horse back across the river for Mother. Everything that could be was done for Georgie but all night he moaned and cried for "Mamma, Mamma!" The cold gray dawn was breaking across the frozen earth when at last Mother got there to her baby. But although every possible remedy was used and the doctor worked untiringly with the tiny sufferer, he was scalded so badly that he died during the day. That night and day was a nightmare to everyone in the household and I will remember to my dying day the tiny agonized body, and the ever weakening voice which begged all night, "Mamma, Mamma, come to Georgie."

After that Mother always took me with her wherever she went to sew. Some places where there were no children, I would have rather remained at home to play with the Griffith's children, but Mother would never leave me.

About 1858, Mother's services became more in demand than previously because many people wished clothing made. This desire for clothing was so great because word had been received that Johnson's army was coming to Utah, and many people were preparing to move further south. New clothes were made, old ones were mended, and food was packed ready for instant departure. When word came that the army was near, many people left the locality and some of Union's founders accompanied them to the south. This decreased the population so greatly that Union ward and Cottonwood ward were united under Bishop Andrew Cahoon.

The fear of the Indians gradually became less and the people moved onto their farms and only a few remained within the wall. The fort was not needed so no repairing was done on it and the walls began to crumble. Peace aided the progress of the people, and as everyone helped his neighbor, Union soon gained the aspect of a prosperous community.

Mother was rarely out of sewing and we had plenty to eat even if it was plain. A few years later Mother married William P Smith and she and I went to live in his fine adobe house. Oh, how different it was here to what we had experienced in the past; moving from place to place with nowhere to really call home. Here we had white flour instead of whole wheat, and here white sugar took the place of molasses for table uses. Everything was so much finer that we seemed to have been moved into a home of luxury. I was happier than I had every been before and when I got my first calico dress I thought that it was wonderful. Calico was very expensive for it had to be hauled across the plains in wagons. In 1868 Union and Cottonwood Ward were again separated and Ishmal Phillips was made the bishop of Union. In this same year the railroad was completed which made transportation much easier and much faster from Salt Lake City to the East. Goods became much cheaper because they could be shipped in and the farm products were sent out to better markets. So you see that the completion of the railroad helped the whole country and Union also received some good from it. But if it hadn't been for the unity and true brotherhood which existed in Union during the first hard years, I do not think that it would have survived. But the people did unite and were true friends in the times of need so Union has a right to be proud of the sturdy pioneers who founded Union, and who have watched with loving eyes Union's growth, Union's prosperity, and Union's Unity.

Genealogy Collection provided by:
Becky S. Porter, 2493 S. Hulls Crossing, Preston, Idaho 83263

E-Mail: Roland K. Smith