Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

November 19, 2013
Cabins leave clues about prospectors who roamed the mountains

Come take a walk with me back in time along a trail less traveled.

Riding a remote trail a few years ago while gathering cattle, I came upon the tumbled remains of an old cabin. Built some long years ago in the 1800s by a prospector, not much remained for a man’s hard work and years spent trying to carve a living out of the deep tunnel he had dug behind and slightly up the draw from the cabin. As I sat my horse beside it, I thought how lonely and wild the place was and how much isolation he sought when he decided to build in that hidden little place in the oaks. My father grew up in the area and told stories of those early day pioneer settlers, prospectors, explorers and others who came into the westen Utah country. Born in 1893, Dad had heard stories from old timers and shared them with me. One that involved this cabin was about an Uncle who was a prospector himself and wandered about the mountains searching for a strike in gold or silver years after the builder had moved on. Walking into the doorway to see what kind of shape it was in, he told of a snake wrapped in the rafters and across the top of the door. He said he dived head first back out the door, landing on hands and knees and crawled several yards before gaining control. He said he would never go near that place again, and Dad said the snake got longer and bigger with every telling. As I rode near enough to see, I saw that it had a fair door on it still, and I had a calf on a sick cow down the canyon that I hauled up in the saddle on my horse, and put it inside. Then I drove the cow back to the ranch, and later that night my Dad and I brought the pickup truck back to get the calf.

Against shale ledges and a conglomerate blow out, another one-room cabin was built and the occupant dug a tunnel nearby where a contact came together. Pick and shovel were the tools used along with a strong back and hard head. As the ore vein twisted and turned, the prospector followed digging deep within the sidehill. A spring of fresh cool water nearby furnished cooking and drinking water. The cabin was hidden from view and afforded him a lookout of the canyon below as well as different routes he could leave by without being seen. Ranchers running cattle in the area believed this man to be wanted by the law as he would not share information about himself and kept silent as to his background.  A lady living on the James ranch in Porter’s valley fell in love with him, and they planned to get married. He vanished one day never to be seen by anyone again, and as many travelers came into the west to lose themselves and their past in the vastness of the mountains, perhaps this man’s past caught up with him. Many years later I found a bottle nearby the cabin with an etching of an Indian in headress and words Indian Sagwa on one side and on the other Healey and Biglow.

Down the canyon a larger two-room cabin was built by an ancestor who prospected and spent a lot of time alone. One winter evening he heard scratching on the roof then scratching and clawing at the door. Getting his rifle and watching through the window, he saw an old and hungry mountain lion.

This canyon has a spirit about it that gives pause when hiking or riding alone, quietly communicating a presence that dwells there. Many have felt it in that canyon.

Once when hunting I came upon a small spring at the mouth of two draws cedar choked and not going far until sinking back into the earth. Logs above the spring gave away a cabin hidden there and until walking directly to it remained unseen. Built of cedar logs cut with an axe and a board floor and roof that had been planked from a large cedar, with one window facing the draw. An outlaw camp, or bootlegger camp, perhaps. No one left alive knows its story and most don’t know of its existance.

There were many prospectors and others roaming the mountains during the time pioneers were settling valleys and farming low land by the creeks and rivers.Hoping for a strike in gold or silver was mostly just that, although some made it, most were living off the land and building little cabins across the mountains. Hauling stoves on pack mules along with other supplies and tools, they camped for a few months or years depending on their perseverance and findings. Old bottles long lost now turned purple and green, broken china and a few buttons and suspender snaps lay among the sandy gravel and brush, reminders that someone once lived there.

Once in tall sage and by granite ledges I found where a dugout had been, and there in the brush and granite gravel lay a lovely multi-colored glass ball. It may have been held by a claw-footed chair. No one will ever know its story.

Up a secluded draw now overgrown with cedar and sage, there still stands a blacksmith table made from the stump of an ancient cedar, with an iron anvil resting upon it. Beside the anvil, as though the prospector had just walked into his tunnel work, lay a hammer and hand-built drill. Against a tree leaned an old shovel, handle nearly rotted away. Tools left a hundred years or more ago, they stood the test of time and perhaps will stay undiscovered again for another hundred years.

Some built with rocks and fashioned walls into cool shelter with clay mud mortar holding them together. The roof made from cedar posts laid across and filled in with slabbed cedar. Remnants of ore samples scattered around testify of the hope to discover a mother lode on a high ridge in the west desert that didn’t pan out.

Some dreams vanish with time and the dreamers move on, leaving poignant clues of their passing and leaving the discoverer wondering who they were and if they ever found their strike.

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