Early Settlement of Cache Valley
Ranching Period 1855-1857
As the Salt Lake Valley became more thickly settled and the cattle herds increased, it became necessary for the cattle owners to seek more and better grazing territory. The Latter-day Saint Church, President Brigham Young of the Church and others, owned several thousand head of cattle. President Young called the cattle owners together and suggested that a company be formed to take a good portion of the stock into Cache Valley where the feed was good and furnished the best kind of grazing. Every season Cache Valley was covered with a thick growth of rich grass and with the many streams of water and cold springs, made it an ideal place for the grazing of stock.
A company was organized with Bryant Stringham as captain. He was in charge of the church cattle while Andrew Moffat had charge of President Young’s cattle. The company organized to go to Cache Valley consisted of the following: Bryant Stringham, captain; Simon Baker and Andrew Moffat, lieutenants; Brigham Young, Jr. and Joseph Baker, son of Simon Baker, privates; Thomas Clayton, cook; George Twist, Thomas Kendall, William Naylor and Samuel Roskelley, hired help.
The company arrived in the Valley over the Sardine route July 20th, 1855 and camped at the Haw Bush Spring just south of the place where Wellsville in now located. Captain Stringham, Simon Baker, Andrew Moffat and Brigham Young, Jr., acted as a scouting party and for three days they rode over the Valley on horses and finally decided to locate the ranch at a point about one-half mile south of where the Logan Sugar Factory is on the west Millville road, this was on July 24th, 1855. There was a large spring of water here and it was the center of a good grazing area. This was the first group to come to Cache Valley and commence building operations and establishing a ranch.
In the settlement of Cache Valley, it is very noticeable that the rivers, creeks and springs determined to a great extent where the settlements would be. In every case where it was possible to locate near a spring, creek, or river, it was done so. Even the first ranch established in 1855 and in fact the Indians and early trappers, always had their wintering places or headquarters near some spring, creek or river. The springs, creeks and rivers were well distributed over the Valley so that settlement in practically every part could take place. There was no better watered Valley in the intermountain country than Cache. The later development of the springs, creeks and rivers for irrigation purposes also determined to a great extent the growth of the settlements in wealth and population.
Captain Stringham and the party began immediately to build some log cabins and their corrals for the other herders and cattle that were soon to arrive. Martin Ensign, of Brigham City and John C. Dowdle of Willard, carpenters, were employed to assist in the building of the houses and corrals. In the Blacksmith Fork River basin, just south of Millville, were large groves of cottonwood trees where the ranchers secured their house logs and poles for the fences and corrals. Captain Stringham and Joseph Baker cut the first log in the Valley.
August 1st of the same year, John T. Garr, William Garr, Abel Garr and Benjamin Garr, known as the “Garr Boys,” Lloyd and Barnes, Vince Shurtliff and other cattle owners and John C. Dowdle, arrived in the Valley with the Church cattle and their herds. George Baker brought in Simon Baker’s cattle a few days before. The Garr boys and Miles and Franklin Weaver, who later came to the Valley had helped to head the Church cattle with their own on the Antelope Island and Promontory, just west of Brigham City near the shores of the Great Salt Lake. The site where Captain Stringham and other members of the scouting party had decided to locate the ranch, was later named the Elkhorn Ranch, and finally called the Church Farm. A large elk head was fastened above the gate to the main corral for entrance.
In his diary concerning this period, Mr. John C. Dowdle states that after his arrival August 1st with William Garr and others, he was set to work with others of the company to get the house logs. Martin Ensign of Brigham City was employed to hew the logs and get them prepared for use. Mr. Dowdle did most of the scoring of the logs for the hewers. He and William Garr put the logs in place for the house under the direction of Martin Ensign. In a short time the house was finished and was the first one ever erected in Cache Valley. A large number of fence poles were also cut with the idea of fencing the farm the next season. About two hundred tons of wild hay was also cut and stacked at the ranch. This was gathered along the small creeks and Little Bear River in the center of the Valley where the grass was high. By fall nearly 3.000 head of cattle and horses had been driven into the Valley and 2,000 of these belonged to the Church. The other cattle belonged to Bishop Edward Hunter, A. O. Smoot, the Garr boys, Weaver boys and others.
The winter of 1855-1856 was perhaps the most severe winter ever experienced by the people of northern Utah. A heavy snow came early in November and the ranchers at the Elkhorn Ranch became fearful that many of the cattle would starve to death before spring, as they had only a little hay comparatively and the forage would be exceedingly scarce and difficult to get. They began at once to round up the cattle and drive them into Box Elder Valley by way of the Sardine Canyon. The snow fell so fast that he herders had to drive the stock night and day to keep the grail open. In a short time the snow was four and one-half feet deep on the level and ten feet deep in places in the canyon. Only the cattle in good condition were driven over the trail and many of these perished before they arrived at their winter feeding ground at the mouth of the Weber River.
It was thought the stock would get more feed and stand a better (chance) to live through the winter on the low lands at the mouth of the Weber River near the Warm Springs in the Salt Lake Valley. There were rushes and other high grass among the sloughs and the snow was not quite so deep as in Cache Valley. The cattle were therefore driven to this place and the herders wintered there. Along the entire trail hundreds of cattle perished through cold and starvation. All the rushes and everything above and under the snow that could be eaten by the cattle were devoured by the hungry herds. Of all the Church cattle making a total of more than 2,000 head driven into Cache Valley in 1855, only 420 were alive in the spring after this severe winter.
The cattle in poor condition were kept at the Elkhorn Ranch (Church Farm). Joseph Baker, some of the Garr boys, George Twist, Thomas Kendall and George Warner were snowed in and had to remain at the ranch all winter. To keep the cattle alive they made trails to brush patches, cut tender willows and fed them to the cattle. The snow was frozen so hard and so deep that the cattle could not break through and get what little grass or forage there was under the snow and many died before spring.
In his diary, Mr. John C. Dowdle further states that he and William Garr, who were with the cattle at the mouth of the Weber River during part of this sever winter, were ordered to go to Elkhorn Ranch in Cache Valley and see how the herders were getting along and help look after the property. About the middle of January in 1856, they rode their horses to Brigham City and left them and started for Cache Valley on Indian snowshoes and had a few food supplies. The snowshoes consisted of a birch hoop in the form of a circle with rawhide strings running across in a web-like shape. A small circle was made with strong cord at one end into which the toe of the shoe was inserted. The heel of the shoe was allowed to swing free so the toe would not dig in the snow. During the first ten miles the route was on the sidehill in the Brigham City Canyon and through the Little Valley and was easy gong because the snow was not so deep. After leaving the place where Mantua is now located, they found the snow very deep and they were nearly overcome before they reached the summit. On the route they found a wagon that had been snowed in and left the fall before. They found some frozen onions in the wagon and took them. They did not stop as they desired to reach the Elkhorn Ranch before night. Late in the afternoon they arrived at the Sardine Spring and rested. Before reaching the Haw Bush Spring just south of where Wellsville is located, William Garr was completely exhausted and Mr. Dowdle had to urge and help him along as he would keep falling asleep. It appeared at times that Dowdle would have to leave Garr and go for help. They finally arrived at the Little Bear River about twelve o’clock at night and Dowdle gathered some dry willows and made a fire. Their clothing was wet and frozen and they were nearly overcome by the cold and fatigue. William Garr took off his shoes and his feet were frozen. Dowdle took the frozen onions, thawed them out and made a poultice and put it on Garr’s feet with good effect. Before morning they had a struggle to keep from freezing to death. As Garr was not able to walk, Dowdle at once started for the Elkhorn Ranch for help, seven miles away. At the ranch they had one little Indian pony and an Indian with one of the herders started back for William Garr. The snow was frozen so hard that it held the pony up and made travel much easier; otherwise it would have been impossible to have taken the horse. They arrived at the ranch before night with Garr and by using the onion poultices, Garr’s feet were saved.
The provisions for the herders became low and it appeared they would have to go hungry for several weeks before messengers could get through the canyon to bring supplies. What cattle were alive were too poor to kill for beef. Luck was with the herders however; the heavy snows had driven many of the wild chickens from the foothills and other parts of the Valley, to the ranch. Joseph Baker and William Garr each had a small rifle and they were good marksmen. One morning they killed 280 of the wild chickens, cleaned them and placed them in cold storage in a snow drift by the cabin. This made a good meat supply for the herders. At the ranch Captain Stringham had left a large strong box which belonged to the church. Thinking it might contain some supplies, the herders opened it and found considerable ammunition and other articles to trade to the Indians. They also found one-half bushel of seed peas and one bushel of wheat. They were overjoyed and made pea soup to go with the chicken meat and each took turns grinding the wheat through a small coffee mill. From this they made wheat cakes. Later, messengers got through the canyon with supplies. It was April of that year before the first thaw came.
In the spring of 1856, the herders plowed and sowed about sixty acres of barley but the crop was a failure and they did not get their seed back because the soil had too much alkali. The farm contained about one-hundred acres of land and lay north and east of the cabin. During the summer the herders fenced the entire farm with a post and pole fence.