Come take a walk with me back in time, along a trail less traveled.
In the 1800s, pioneer settlers coming to what became Utah Territory discovered a dry desert environment with lakes in the surrounding mountains and rivers bringing water into the valleys. No one else wanted to stay although many passed through on their wagon road to the coast. Deciding to stay, plant crops, build cabins and put roots down, Mormon pioneers found timber up the canyons, an untouched ground even and soft enough to till for their crops. Hand dug ditches with shovels and picks, coaxed mountain streams into the valley and across fields to water crops. Along the foothills of one 1860-era ranch the remains of a hand built reservoir can be found. Small rocks placed together and covered in a clay and lime mixture sealed the man-made reservoir that held about 40,000 gallons of water. It’s use was to collect runoff water as well as water from a spring found higher up the draw, and it was taken by a ditch down to the ranch where it emptied into an underground cistern lined in the same method, and covered by cedar posts and canvas. They used it to water gardens and livestock in the corrals nearby.
Planting fields and pastures was often done by a pioneer walking back and forth for days and sometimes weeks, scattering seed from a wooden bucket because he had no plow or disc. Often in the summer when their crops of corn and grain were not quite ripened, they harvested them and ate in their hungry eagerness, despite digestive upsets.
After necessary survival measures were achieved animals needing shelter and a place to be controlled was addressed. Posts were cut, and often placed side by side to form stockade-type corrals, which provided a small measure of shelter for the animals as well as keeping them safe from predators. Digging into the ground two feet or more to place each post was no easy task and took time. Wooden pegs were cut to slide through a gate post from the gate to hold it closed. Hinges were attached using hand forged metal and strips of rawhide. One corral gatepost on a remote western Utah ranch had the gatepost hole dug down about three feet into which was placed a hand forged metal strip formed into a circle, then the huge gate post was fitted into that. As the metal and rawhide hinged gate swung from this post it held well. For over a hundred years the gatepost stood. The leather had mostly rotted away with bits and pieces still found hanging on the gate. The pioneers built to stand the test of time, using hand made material.
In fields rock often caused difficulties for hand forged plows, discs and harrows. Breaking a plow because of rocks was not an option. Ingenious pioneers began hauling the rock into rows where they wanted fences. Stacking rock and building one upon one they had livestock fences four to fine feet high that went for miles throughout the valley, forming rock walls that can be seen today especially in central Utah.
At first the settlers only had a few animals needing shelter and having little or no hay to cut and feed, built simple sheds to confine their horse, oxen or cattle. Since the animals they brought were partial browsers they mostly survived turned out into the foothills where the snow would blow off the ridges leaving them grass to find during winter.
In the first few years of settlement pioneer farmers began harvesting hay and grain in quantity and needed larger barns to store these crops in and shelter livestock for better production. Sawmills were established in many canyons and sawed boards became more readily available for use over hand hewn timber.
In massive barns with gable roofs, a central drive crosswise with mows for hay and grain on either side was common, as well as stanchions and stalls for the animals. Usually two huge doors were placed on either end of the barn with storage for tools, saddles, harnesses, bridles and anything they could store inside. Grain was stored inside the floor level in bins. However, some ranchers built special grainaries out of hand turned lumber that stored several different grains and seed types each in their own compartment bins and were intricate in their function. The second story of the barn held the hay. Loose hay loaded with wooden tined and wooden handled pitchforks onto wagons in the fields and drawn by teams of horses or mules was brought in. Then with a Jackson fork and work horse to pull, it loaded with hay up into the upper story of the barn, where it was dumped for the tromper to get placed until the next forkful. Many old barn sites are fronted with a concave area that it is believed was used to create a manure pack for future fertilizing of the pastures.
And then, the pioneers loved their entertainment. Providing a break from the monotony of work and cares, they would clean up the floor of the barn, open both doors for ventilation, and have a square dance complete with an orchestra comprised of violins, banjos, guitars, and harmonicas. A “caller” for the dance and they were in business. Lining the walls were tables of cakes, pies and punch. Fun for all ages and after an evening of dancing they returned to their many chores revitalized and ready to get back to work.
Careful planning along with much sweat and callused hands was what it took to accomplish all the labor required of Utah Pioneers.
Patricia Holden is the publicist for the Tooele County Company of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. She is also a member of the DUP SheepRock Camp. She can be reached at email@example.com.