Gold in Them There Hills

By Hal J. Covington
This article first appeared in the March/April 1992 issue of Pioneer Magazine

! Gold! At least, when the sun strikes it right, it looks like gold. In fact, whole cliffs of the varicolored rocky conglomerate in eastern Wayne County appear to be made of gold.

Could this have been a lure to draw the first pioneers to settle this isolated mountain-desert land? Perhaps, but probably not.

Might this have been the source for tales of the fabled “Cities of Gold,” which Spanish explorer sought in 1540-42? Possibly, but it is doubtful. For, even more, modern-day gold-seekers have felt the call and have searched long and hard for this elusive metal, with little success in their efforts.  But, in other ways, “gold” HAS been found in Wayne County by the various occupying cultures.

Sometime around 700 A.D., the historic “” appeared in the area and was allowed to stay, enjoying its aura for over 500 years, disappearing, for unknown reasons, around 1225 A.D.  After the Fremont, there is a void in the archaeological history of Wayne County, and one can only guess at what happened, or if anyone was here at all during the next few centuries. Then the Utah and Paiute Indians are found wandering the land, gleaning their “gold,” the sustenance for a life that they achieved.

John C. Fremont

These wandering tribes of Indians held possession of the area, having sporadic encounters with the white man. Perhaps the first as late as 1836, which is the date found along with name etchings on the cliffs along its eastern waterways. Then, in the winter of 1853-54, cartographer-explorer John C. Fremont found his way into the western valley while on his fifth expedition to California. He tarried awhile, seeking food for his party, and in the process, explored the western and central sections of the present county; consequently, the major stream of water bears his name.

Always on the alert for colonizing locations to accommodate in expanding MORMON” population in Utah, during the years of 1865, 1866, and 1871, Indian-chasing and scouting parties visited the area previously explored by Fremont and reported its potential to LDS President Brigham Young. During this same period, the eastern section received several (after 1869) visits by Colorado River explorer John Wesley Powell; as his parties ranged away from the river, they named several local topographical features.

Then, in 1875, the first Mormon Pioneers entered the upper valley from the West; founded the first settlement of Wayne County, and named it “Fremont.”
Soon more emigrants followed, and in a few years, they had established 12 other LDS communities in the mountains and deserts, which were to become known as Wayne County. Nine of these towns were scattered throughout the lower, red and gold, rock country.

Searching, in their own way, these pioneers envisioned finding “gold.” Though Mormons were discouraged from prospecting for the mineral kind. The gold that they sought was that of “roof,” to build a home and a livelihood for their families.

These early settlers had no difficulty with the itinerant [Native American], and lived “en rapport” with him until he was moved onto reservations.  No, the pioneer’s fight was NOT with the Indians; it was with the land. The land, which fought them with all the weapons available for its cause.

With the exception of a few choice areas, water was not easily diverted to the crops planted by the pioneers throughout the County, and nature fought all efforts to bring moisture to these fields. Earth-drying winds and a scorching summer sun evaporated the water flowing in the long miles of ditches dug by the laboring settlers. And, as if this was not enough of an obstacle, the water itself rose up against them raging floods of red, silt-laden water, begun by torrential mountain storms, which raced down over rocky, sandy-clay soil, carving new gullies in this country of already uncountable chasms. The deluge tore out dams, flumes, and ditches constructed by these hard-working “Saints” and flowed over stream banks to cover nearby land that the farmers had dared to plant, destroying crops of food that were desperately needed to sustain the pioneers through the long, cold winters.

Facing such challenges, some of the valiant settlers were forced to leave their homes (what was left of them), but most stayed on, strong in their and loyal to the calling which they had received.

Eventually, though, the persistence of the Pioneers paid off With some battles won and some lost, some areas of the County had to be abandoned. But it appears that man finally learned to live in harmony with the hard nature of the land, though receiving occasional reminders, even today, that he (man) is only temporary a tolerated visitor to this sometimes forgiving and always colorful land of Wayne County.

Yes, regardless of the trials and hardships faced by these durable Pioneers, they met the challenges of the land and from their endeavors, there has emerged an amalgamation which is the “true gold” to be found on this earth the “gold” of accomplishment; the “gold” of beauty, solitude, magnificence, and grandeur. And this “gold was found by our Pioneer forefathers right here in Wayne County.

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