Stu Olsen’s Memoir: Chapter Two

For me, it all starts with stories, mostly small. Stories told when I was little sitting in my grandparent’s cabin with my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and younger cousins. The adults are drinking, talking, laughing. Earlier in the evening we all participated in charades and singing. I am sitting very still lest it be noticed that I am up well into the adult night.

Uncle Omer is retelling the time when, 14 years old, he was leading the family cow and was the first to arrive at the homestead. The family was supposed to follow but were delayed so he was on his own for three nights — living on milk. It was early in the year and he had to sleep between the straw ticks. Telling the story he pretended to shiver and everyone had a good laugh.

That was not all that was talked about. Omer may have been talking about his latest research on the practice of Native Americans regularly burning the land. He would later publish his findings and receive a storm of criticism from foresters of the time. Now foresters want us to burn.

With the recent death of my cousin Bob and my parents generation all gone, I am now the oldest in my generation. I feel compelled to record what I remember before it is too late.

My grandmother, Esther Call was born in Willard, Utah in 1879. She “received a certificate from Willard City Schools in 1894” and obtained a teacher’s diploma from BYU in 1898. She taught for a year in Willard City. While at BYU she met John Riggs Stewart. He was born in Provo in 1878, graduated from Provo City Schools in 1893 and entered BYU the same year. He would eventually graduate from the University of Utah in 1908 with a degree in civil engineering. Esther and John married in 1899 and they had six children who would reach maturity. My mother, born in 1910, was one of those children, the fourth child and first girl.

By 1905 the John R Stewart family would be homesteading in the canyon. John’s brother Scott, a year older, began homesteading in the canyon at the same time. Both made their livings as engineers. The first cabin was located in what is now known as Big Pine. This area of North Fork is named after what is thought to be the oldest tree in the drainage. I imagine this first cabin site was chosen due to its proximity to water and a flat building site. John and Esther would have had two children by that time, the oldest, John Call was four and his brother Kilton Riggs was two. The trip from Wildwood at the mouth of the canyon to the home site a little more than two miles was arduous.

In 1912, if you were a student in Eugene Roberts physical education class he might have talked you into participating in the first of what would be come known as the Timp Hike. The hike expanded and within a few years thousands would participate. That first year Eugene and eleven men and seven women would reach the summit. The early groups would leave Provo on Friday morning with a wagon loaded with tents and camping gear. They would camp Friday evening at Aspen Grove, hike to the summit, returning to camp for a meal and another nights sleep, returning to home the next day. That first summit photo shows six of the men in ties and suits and all of the women in long skirts, white blouses and wide brimmed hats. I bring this up to point out the difficulty of using the then existing road from Wildwood through the narrows. Roberts used a six-horse team to pull the gear, the hikers walked. There were nine fords before one left the narrows. Roberts used three teams. My family used two, but on the very steep grades rocks had to be placed behind the wheels giving the horses a rest after each lunge forward. The difficulty of that first road cannot be exaggerated– it had been used to drag logs and as such was very steep and narrow.

In the river cut narrows, steep cliffs came down to the river on both sides. When my mother was six she fell from a horse breaking her arm. She was taken to Vivian Park where she stayed with a family so that Uncle Andy, a physician and grandfather’s brother could treat her. He would take the Heber Creeper from Provo to Vivian Park. Mother had a high pain threshold and tended to take cuts, bruises and ailments with little concern. When she was in her seventies, she was skiing at Sundance and fell and broke her arm. She skied to the bottom, got in the car and drove herself to the hospital. Her arm was set, placed in a cast and she drove herself back to the cabin. Dad asked her when she was to see the doctor again and she said that she did not need to. The cast would be on for six weeks and could then be removed. Six weeks to the day she removed the cast. It seemed to all of us that she should have been given a follow-up appointment. She insisted that she had not been given one and the arm was fine. Many years later when my sister and I were helping them pack for the winter trip to St. George she put on her old blue ski parka. She reached into the pocket and found a bottle of pain medication and a follow up visit slip.

By 1920, a road was constructed that some of the cars of the day could use to reach Aspen Grove. It was not the all-weather road of today but much better than the prior skid road of logging days. That first trip up the canyon in the family Model T was an event. The Model T had three gears, two forward and one reverse. Gasoline was gravity fed and on steep grades the engine was starved. The reverse gear was the lowest and so on steep hills Model T’s were turned around driven up backwards. Had mother broken her arm four years later she might have been able to stay with the family but for one problem – grandmother never learned to drive. In 1909, Grandfather was the City Engineer for Provo and would not have been able to make the trip from the Canyon to work every day. John stayed in the family home in Provo and she stayed on the homestead with the children. He was a cadastral engineer for the next five years and would have been gone for most of the summer. After that he was the Utah County Surveyor for two years. In short, Esther was alone for most of the summers for about 15 years while he was at work in the county or remote parts of the state. She was bitter about that and would say, ”He left me alone and pregnant with the children.” Even after the road was improved, because he often had jobs far from the canyon, she was alone. The family moved from Provo to Salt Lake City in 1921.

I do not know when the cabin in Big Pine was abandoned but for most of the homesteading era the cabin was on what became known as Stewart Flat. Stewart Flat was the first wide spot in the canyon. It was the confluence of the stream that came from Stewart Falls and the Aspen Grove spring. The Flat was rocky, filled with water-rounded stones and little else. There was a boggy area with a good spring at the top and flat tree shaded ground on the edge suitable for buildings. The base of the Sundance ski resort is currently located in this area.

The early cabins were built of logs with sod roofs. Mother said, “when it rained we were dry but when the sun came out it rained inside.” Monarch coal and wood ranges provided heat and cooking. Stoves were rated by how even the oven temperature was — the good ones would bake evenly. There was no electricity, toilets were outhouses, and kitchens were simple. “Coal oil” lamp, or lantern and candles provided light after dark. If one wanted to go out after dark one could make a “bug.” A bug consisted of a coffee can with a candle in it. The can acted as a windshield and reflector. Compared to a modern flashlight it provided poor light.

One night, Grandma was with the kids in the cabin and there was a knock on the door. She answered it timidly and was confronted with a dark skinned man. He was seeking directions. She had almost no experience, if any, with persons of darker skin. She was fearful of just giving him directions so she bundled all of the children up and accompanied him until she was sure he would not come back. When she told me the story, she referred to him as a “Hula” and made it clear she did not trust him. It was probably in 1917 or 1918. Although there were few people in the canyon at the time, some did venture through. A friend of mine who spent his whole life in the east told me that his grandfather, an itinerate Methodist Preacher, would pass through on his way to the Basin. His grandfather knew my grandfather and told him of the meeting.

The family grew and got older. John, Kilton and Omer began to venture out. Grandma would talk of Kilton especially — of how he would frighten her with his antics. On the Timp hike, she was told he stood on his head on a cliff by the summit with the wind blowing in a summer snowstorm. Omer and Kilton carried a door to the summit for some forgotten reason but would have a good laugh about it in later years. Kilton told of stealing an Orem farmer’s chicken. The farmer chased after him, so Kilton went straight over the Orem face of Timp.

As the family grew, so did the family holdings in the canyon. The original homestead act of 1862 was the basis of the family’s holdings. As I mentioned, the original act mandated that the land be surveyed and a small fee paid for a 120-acre holding. By 1909 it was enlarged to 320 acres for dry land farming and in 1916 it was expanded 640 acres for raising stock. The act required that the claim be “proved up.” by building a dwelling, breaking the soil, and planting or later, grazing animals. After five years, with documentation of two neighbors stating the requirements were met, the Government turned the land over.

One of the more problematic attempts of the family to be become farmers occurred a follows: Omer told the story: “One year we took two suckling pigs to the cabin. Shortly after we arrived they disappeared. We thought that wild animals had eaten them. As we were packing up in the fall to leave for Provo they appeared sound, healthy and much bigger. We figured that they had fattened up on acorns from the shrub oak and took them home with us. That winter the family decided this was too good an idea to pass up. In March, father purchased 50 suckling pigs. It was my job to feed them until summer. I hated it. I had to get up before dawn, make a fire and heat whey and cornmeal in a big washtub to feed the damn things. After school I had to do the same thing. When we moved up to the cabin we herded those damn pigs to the Flat.”

At this point the family started to laugh, everyone visualizing the effort and remembering the story. “We thought that the pigs would just go into the woods and get fat like the two the year before. Instead they just stood there waiting for me to feed them and I had to feed them again. We tried to figure why they did not eat and decided that the groundhogs were eating all the grass and that was keeping the pigs from learning to forage on their own. We took some strychnine and rolled it in corn meal and put it in the ground hog holes and closed the holes with dirt. [He made a motion with his hands rolling up the meal and filling in the hole with his toe.]

We put the meal in the holes in the morning and at noon returned to find all the pigs dead. They had eaten the meal.” Everyone laughed.

I find it interesting that there are no stories that I know of involving the Scott P Stewart side of the family. Both families homesteaded together and both wives, Esther and Myrtle, were in politics — Esther a Republican and Myrtle a Democrat. Mother said they chose opposite parties so they could have political connections when their engineer husbands needed work. Looking at John’s career it is clear he had many government positions from land surveying to road and sewer work.

By the early 1930’s, the families had separated and the land divided. The families had little to do with one another. Scott had sold or given his portion of the canyon to Paul, his oldest son, who had established himself as a sheep rancher. When the division came they used the family tradition of one party making the division and the other choosing the half. I think that Scott made the division. Whatever the reason, the John R. side of the family moved to the northern end of the canyon building a cabin near the Forest Service line at Aspen Grove, a popular campground. I think both families may have tired of the Flat. To this day, Scott’s side of the canyon, near the ski slope, is referred to as “the dark side.”

The cabin at Aspen Grove was the cabin I knew as a small child. Grandfather and the boys built it out of used lumber. Unlike earlier cabins, it had indoor plumbing. It was two stories with two gable end rooms, each with double hung used windows. The two center rooms had small dormer windows that opened. Each room had a double bed with squeaky springs, straw tick and small table for a lamp. The floor was linoleum, of varied patterns; I suspect they were cheap roll ends. Though it was sturdy it was not tight. It was drafty and in the spring and fall the bedrooms were cold. One year during the depression Hank and John stayed all winter in that cabin because they could not find work. The fireplace took so much air from the room that you could not melt the snow from your boots, but the roof was shingled and shed water so it was dry.

A small lean-to was added which butted the road. For several years Grandma ran a small store which she opened at her convenience. There were some shelves, a commercial ice chest cooler and shutters that could be raised to display the wares. Water was supplied by a large spring and pumped to a steel tank on a small rise to the east of the cabin. The pumps were hydraulic rams with bronze valves and required no external energy to run. They were noisy. A hydraulic ram is simple with two valves and an air chamber. The intake pipe is twice the diameter of the outlet. One valve lets inlet water into the air chamber that compresses the air. When equilibrium is reached the other valve opens so the air forces water into the smaller pipe. The opening and closing of the bronze valves sent shock waves up the steel pipes amplifying the sound. It was as thought someone were striking a large metal boiler with a sledgehammer once every two seconds. You could hear the rams working in the cabin. If the sound stopped, the ram had stopped and I had to restart it. I loved that sound. A primal reassuring heart beat that meant I could stay in the warm house.

No story about the family’s connection to the canyon would be complete without a parallel history of Mt. Timpanogos. Geologically, the land we know as Northern Utah was for a hundred million years a shallow semi-tropical sea that would dry up for periods and then be inundated. The mountain is composed of at least 100 million years of sediment laid down 350 million to 250 million years ago. Stratifications are richly fossilized, then barren on either side — so that there are fossils on the highest saddle, but a short way below — no fossils. That pattern repeats itself from the top to the valley floor. At Aspen Grove, there are fossils in the campground. Fifteen million years ago, as the plates collided and the western states formed this deep sedimentary layer became compressed, starting the upheaval that would result in the Wasatch Range.

Most of the Range was folded as a stout carpet would fold when pushed against a wall. Timp, on the other hand, bobbed up as if it was a seven-mile long block of wood held under the water and then released. The Wasatch Mountains are at the eastern end of the Basin and Range Provence, a geophysical area of the western United States with distinct small mountain ranges separated by moraine filled valleys. Highway I-80 crosses it from Reno to Salt Lake City. Each of these cities moves a few inches each year further apart fueled by deep mantle activity. The resulting pressures produce geologic instability. Periodically, concern for the inevitable slippage will prompt some discussion by disaster relief officials, hand wringing by a few, and no activity by a rural-valued legislature that would rather act as if they lived in 1850 and the danger lies in big government rather than the fault upon which they stand.

Eugene Roberts, mentioned earlier, wanted people to get healthy by using their own two feet climbing the most prominent mountain in the Wasatch Range. He organized the annual hike that attracted greater and greater numbers of hikers until in 1970 it was discontinued. Seven thousand hikers in 24 hours were just too many for the fragile ecology of the mountain. In the early 1930’s, the family cabin, which was located close to the campground and trailhead allowed the family to participate with ease. The commercial effort included the small store and food that was provided at Emerald Lake. Two ten-gallon milk cans would be filled with chili, loaded on a large white packhorse and taken to the lake. This continued for several years and stopped when the weather one year was hot and by the time chili reached the lake it had spoiled. Mother would chuckle as she talked about it.

The pattern from the first hike continued: Friday was spent getting to the trailhead and in the early days setting up camp. Saturday was spent hiking and Sunday the camps taken down and the trip home. When the road improved, the Church authorities insisted the hikers return for church and most people coming off the trail got in their cars on Saturday to leave.

The program in the 50’s and 60’s consisted of a slide show of wildflowers, cautions about trail dangers, dangers to the trail, and admonishments to take water, though most just drank from the clear streams. You were told to wear stout shoes and a hat for the sun, a caution ignored by about 25% who would litter the trail, hobbling down painful step by painful step, some with beet red faces and burning eyes. It ended with a program acting out the Legend of Timpanogos by Eugene Roberts, and culminated in a large bon fire in the big field.

I am told there are a number of similar legends in the U.S. All involve a young beautiful Indian princess who falls in love with a handsome young Indian prince. Some miscommunication, longstanding family feud, or angry king who wants the maiden for himself leads the lovers to take their lives, usually from a cliff or bluff above a river. God sees the injustice and places the young lovers forever into a prominent physical feature. In this case, Roberts places the Indian maiden in sleeping silhouette on the mountain top and changes the Indian meaning of Timpanogos from ‘water mountain’ to ‘sleeping maiden.’ He places the prince’s heart in a cave where we can see it bathed in red colored lights when we visit Timpanogos Cave National Monument. This legend was acted out in pantomime by young women dressed in brown Indian maiden beaded costumes. Later presentations included recorded music and a deep male voice reading the script while the young maidens were wringing their hands, clutching their breasts and holding hands to turned heads as the princess makes her way to the top of the mountain — jumping off in a fit of desperation. The lights suddenly extinguish, the music stops and after suitable pause the voice returns informing us of God’s handiwork. Out of the darkness, a slide of Timp appears to music and then another slide of the heart of Timpanogos in the cave. Roberts was a far better hiker than he was a playwright.

Aspen Grove was named for a stand of aspen trees that stood just in front of the cabin. The CCC had constructed a camp ground with flush toilets, an outdoor theater, a small wading pond and an improved trail up the mountain. In 1932, there was a big avalanche that came down the face of Roberts Horn, the largest in memory. The wind in front of the advancing snow knocked Scott’s cabin to the ground, scoured the aspens from the land, and deposited a toilet at the front door of the grove.

Sixty years later, when Mary, my wife, was ill, I would get up about 5:30 every morning and take a walk while she slept. It was February, dark and cold and I was about a hundred yards beyond the Grove cabin. I heard what sounded like the crack of cannon fire and a low rumble. It took me a moment to realize what was happening. I turned and ran as fast as I have ever run past the cabin onto the rise to the east. As I ascended the rise, a wind filled with fine powdery snow engulfed me and the rumble shook the ground. I knew I was safe and stood there until it settled and got still and quiet. It turned out to be a comparatively small slide in a well-used slide path, doing no harm.

For me to make sense of the family I think of four motivating forces: surveying the land, Mormon polygamy, the unconscious conflicts in my grandparent’s marriage, and the homesteading experience. I believe, like Freud and Jung, we are formed by early experiences with our parents or primary caregivers. These influences shape our behavior which finds its origin in motives that are not always apparent. Jung pointed out that all behavior has both a conscious component and unconscious component — often called the shadow. He postulated that one moves through deeply unconscious hazy patterns of mythic origins — we are embedded in a collective and in our own individual experience. These unconscious forces often reach into future generations. As I write and think about my own family, I sense those forces.

Much has been written about polygamy in the Mormon experience. One can read about warm loving families, with plenty to eat and kind loving sister wives who look out for one an other, of children having many playmates, of sharing, of older siblings lovingly looking out for the youngsters — all against the back drop of a harsh land. There are other stories of brutal conditions wherein scarcity is the by word and pain and death are at the door, of unpopular wives “falling down the stairs” and husbands called to missions far afield leaving families destitute, men returning from the mission field to find a wife taken into a more powerful man’s family. One cannot make generalizations about a group experience but one can apply what we now know are the needs of developing children in any environment. As any depth therapist will tell you, their practices are filled with people from all kinds of backgrounds with one thing in common: the need for the infant and young child to be safely held, accurately understood, and given the experience that they can make it. I think that the experiences of both my grandparents on my mother’s side fall somewhere in-between those extremes.

Andrew Jackson Stewart Sr. was born in Ohio, joining the Mormon Church in 1844. I assume he was taught how to survey by his father, Philander. He did not come to Utah in 1847 because Brigham Young asked him to stay behind and grow crops for the departing “saints” to use on their journey west. He did arrive in 1850 and was sent south to settle in Utah County. He surveyed Provo. In 1860 he was named Assistant Surveyor General. He had four acknowledged wives and a house and land near Utah Lake. Surveying was not his only source of income — at various times he sold horses and livestock, opened a store, and when Camp Floyd was dissolved he sold the surplus supplies making a considerable sum. He was known for the quality of his horses and was an accomplished livestock breeder.

My mother told the following story: One of Andrew’s young wives had developed a relationship with a lieutenant in Johnson’s Army and was in the process of leaving. Andrew came upon them in the barn. One of his sons was hitching a team to a wagon for the couple. Andrew, in his anger, picked up a double tree hitting the boy and killing him. The family story implies that Andrew hit the boy because he was hitching up his best team, not because the wife was leaving. My uncle Justin tried to find a court record of the incident — with no success. When I was working in Ogden, I mentioned to a colleague that my relatives had lived in Benjamin. She said, “My family called Benjamin ‘stab town’.” She then recounted the same story, changing the double tree for a knife.

Another story was told to us by Ross Ramsey, a good friend of my uncle Justin. Ross’s family had settled near Utah Lake. Andrew Sr. and a neighbor were not on good terms. There was a road that went through the neighbor’s field and connected to a pasture Andrew owned. The neighbor put a gate across the road telling Andrew that he could not use the road. The neighbor and a hired hand denied Andrew access and proceeded to sit atop the gate refusing to open it. Andrew, who was riding one of his best horses turned as if to ride away. After a suitable distance from the gate he wheeled his horse and galloped toward the gate jumping it and in the process knocking the men to the ground.

But to really understand our family one must begin to grasp the corrosive effects of patriarchy on men and women. This becomes especially true when patriarchy is wrapped in the certitude of religion wherein men accept a given — that they have a place in destiny and the women are to follow. To be sure, in its idealized version, men are to look after their wives and children, “taking counsel” from God before making decisions.

Grandfather’s mother, Melissa Riggs, was the first wife of Andrew Jackson Stewart Jr. She was born into an old Mormon family. I have seen certificates dated 1832 signed by Sidney Rigdon accepting a Riggs into the Church. She was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1847 while her family was moving west to Utah. The family settled in Second Fort, which was located on the land now occupied by North Park in Provo.

Starting school at five, graduating from Professor Benson’s High School at 18, the Provo Board of Trustees hired her as the first teacher. Later, after she was married, she studied at Deseret Hospital, graduated in gynecology and was granted a license to practice. She specialized in the treatment of cancer and gained a reputation as a healer, treating many people. Among her treatments were salves she made which contained arsenic and were applied to the skin. People came from as far as California to be helped, often staying in the family home in Provo. She died in 1929 of Bright’s Disease at age 74. I have wondered if she may not have been poisoned by her long association with arsenic. She married Andrew Jackson Stewart Jr. on January 25, 1868. They had seven children, the youngest of which was my grandfather, John Riggs Stewart. Andrew took a second wife Mary Eliza Smith on September 2, 1885. They had eleven children. Aunt Eliza, as my mother called her, died in 1946.

My grandmother, Esther, as I mentioned, was born in 1879 and was the sixth child of Elenor Jones Call and Omer Call. Elenor was Omer’s second wife. She was born in Glamorganshier, South Wales in 1844. From her obituary: “Her parents were among the first to accept the gospel in Wales, and Elenor was baptized by her father when she was eight years old. In charge of four younger children she emigrated to Utah in 1866, her father and one sister having preceded her. She walked most of the way from the Missouri River and despite the privations and hardships she regarded it as a trip of joy and satisfaction.” She married Omer in 1867. They would eventually have eleven children, three of whom would not reach maturity. Omer’s first wife, Sarah Maria Farrin, had married him in 1855. They also had eleven children, three of whom would not reach maturity. Maria died at age 40 leaving Elenor to raise the remaining seventeen children.

One of the requirements for statehood stipulated that the church give up the practice of plural marriage. In an effort to avoid this requirement, Andrew Jackson Stewart, Jr. packed up and moved to Mexico in 1890. Grandfather, who would have been12 years old, told me that he could remember walking to Mexico herding cattle. The family story is that when his mother Melissa arrived, she looked around and without getting down from carriage, said, “I won’t live here,” turning for the return trip to Utah. Although the story may not be accurate, she may have stayed for about a year, it is clear she did not stay as long as Andrew’s second and younger wife Mary Eliza. Aunt Eliza stayed in Mexico with her children for at least five years, giving birth to three children in Juarez. She was described in a brief biographical note as an equestrienne, church worker, and educator. The final sentence “her problems were heartbreaking but she never gave up trying.” She returned to Utah by 1898 and had six more children.

These two women, Elenor and Melissa, I think are important if one is to understand the psychology of my grandparents’ marriage. Elenor, a devout convert who was the second wife, had to assume the responsibility of an extremely large motherless family when the first wife died. Esther was among the middle of all of these children and after infancy would have had little attention from either of her parents. Children in those large families had chores and other siblings for psychological guidance, but it would have been impossible to feel you had much of a personal relationship with your parents. My Aunt Martha thought that Esther suffered from an ‘inferiority complex’ because she came from the “second family.” I don’t know how much the “second family” issue loomed in Esther’s psyche but I am certain that she was concerned with status all her life.

When John and Esther met, both were in school but during the summer break John worked on surveying crews for his father who, for 40 years, was the United States Deputy Surveyor. This pattern of leaving home for remote locations persisted through much of the early marriage. Upon receiving his degree at the University of Utah, in 1908, John earned his living as an engineer working for the federal, state and county governments. Most of his surveying stories come from 1910 to 1915 when he listed his occupation as “Cadastral Engineer in the U.S. Land Office.” As an engineer, he was in charge of crews that eventually surveyed much of southern Utah and the salt flats. He, like his father, took the older sons with him as crew members — leaving Esther with the small children to prove up the homestead.

Surveying the salt flats was especially difficult effort. By mid-morning, the heat waves would distort the transit image — stopping all work. To deal with this reality, the crew would rise at three a.m., prepare a breakfast, get to the work-site at the first light of dawn, and work until mid-morning. They would then return to the wagon, crawl under it, rest in its shade through the mid-day heat and return to the worksite as the day cooled, working until dark. They were far from water. They had worked out an arrangement with the railroad to use water the railroad had stored in underground barrels in case a breakdown forced a train to stop for several days. The barrels were covered with wooden lids that would slip off — and animals and insects drowned in the water. Grandfather said only one man got sick and had to return home.

Not all surveys were as extreme as surveying the salt flats. For the most part, it was routine: up at dawn or a little before, fix breakfast — usually oat meal and coffee, take some food for lunch and return to camp for a dinner of beans and salt pork. To his dying day, Grandpa’s favorite meal was lima beans cooked with ham. Provisions were taken with them and had to be good without spoiling for several months at a time. Oatmeal, dry beans –in hundred pound bags — and coffee were staples. Coffee was made sheepherder style, and drunk with out additions. Grandfather said “Learn to drink your coffee black because you can never count on cream or sugar..” One year they were away from camp working for a day. When they returned, the beans were gone. In there place were little rocks and sticks. They found the packrat nest and retrieved the beans.

Grandfather’s half-brother Quimby was described by Mother as a practical joker. One year, Scott was surveying on the plateaus above Zion Park. Lumber was moved from the mesa to the canyon floor on a long cable. Quimby, on a dare, was the first person to ride it to the canyon floor. His prize was a piece of watermelon. Soon after others followed. In 1912, Quimby, was on Grandfather’s crew. They were surveying Capital Gorge in what is now known as Capital Reef National Park. One day, Quimby said to the new crew, “It sure does erode a lot down here. It was close to here last year we chiseled our names in the rock face.” They rounded the bend and he pointed up 50 feet: in neat engineer’s print were four names and the date almost to the day, a year earlier.
The night before, the four of them with ropes had dropped from the top and made the inscription. I knew a ranger at the park and told her the story. Up to that time, they had no record of it.

I write this in my cabin. It’s roof is made of trusses two feet thick filled with fiberglass insulation; the walls are more than eight inches thick and all the windows are double pane glass designed to open and close without an air leak; much of the glass faces south and catches heat from the sun with overhanging eaves designed to shade the glass from the summer sun; the roof is made of sheet steel, painted with a paint guaranteed to be effective for 50 years and the foundation is of concrete which will last many lifetimes; I can heat the house and its water with propane for very little money. It is the beginning of November and the temperature outside is below freezing. There is a small skiff of snow on the ground, Timp is covered in snow, and I am dry and warm. I have hot and cold water that comes from a pipe, a toilet that flushes and machines that will wash and dry my clothes. I have instant light at the “flip of a switch.”

In 1905, I would be in a one-room sod roof building. The walls would be horizontal logs notched on the ends and laid one on top of the other. Between the logs, locally found clay would be stuffed to fill the cracks and there may have been one window. The door would not fit tight and the floor would be hard-packed dirt. It is doubtful that it would have been larger than ten by twelve feet. There would be a wood stove, a table, some pots and pans, used eating utensils and a double bed for adults, with several smaller beds for children. Anything that needed to be kept cool would be placed in the stream, which ran about 40-45 degrees. That first cabin would not have a sink, running water, or toilet. A kerosene lamp or candles would provide light. Mice and rats would have had easy access so blankets, clothing and food could not be left from one year to the next. Staples would be bags of beans, flour, sugar, salt, coffee, and salted meat. Milk would have been obtained from the family cow and some fresh meat could be had from time to time. In 1905 Esther had two toddlers. She was busy from dawn to dusk.

To be sure, subsequent dwellings would improve. None would be tight by today’s standards. They would be dry, as roofing materials improved; windows would be more abundant; and doors would be tight enough to keep out the larger rodents. By 1932, the best cabin my grandmother would know was built next to the forest line. It was built of used lumber, had no electricity, had indoor plumbing and was drafty. Mice were abundant, but there was an old-fashioned ice chest that could keep food cool for about four days, and metal cans and bottles were vermin proof. The floor was wood covered with linoleum though it was still heated by the same technology used in the first cabin.

Best of all, because of the modern road, town was an easy 45 minutes away.