Mendon, One of the First Settlements in Cache Valley
Whether you look into its past history or view the town of today, nestled against the beautiful mountains on the west, you are inclined to say that there is probably no community in Cache Valley which demonstrates more strikingly then does Mendon the qualities of initiative, civic pride, vigor and unselfish cooperation for the common good.
In 1857 Robert and Alexander Hill, who were among the early settlers of Maughan’s Fort now known as Wellsville, were attracted by the excellent streams of water, west of the present site on Mendon. They located some claims and constructed a dugout on the bank of Deep Canyon Creek, though they still made their headquarters in Maughan’s Fort.
A general move to the south was ordered in 1858 due to the approach of Johnston’s Army and the few settlers of Maughan’s Fort left the valley temporarily, a fact which briefly delayed the permanent settlement of Mendon.
The first permanent settlers came in 1859. For a time the infant colony was known as the North Settlement from its position north of Maughan’s Fort. Later Heber C. Kimball names it after his birthplace—Mendon Ohio.
The planting season was well along when the settlers arrived in Mendon. They began at once to make wooden beams for their plows and triangle harrows with wooden teeth. Breaking up the land was difficult work, especially since the oxen were poor and weak. It proved necessary to cooperate by putting two or four yoke of oxen on a plow and breaking land for one man one day, for another the next day and so on until a piece of land had been prepared for each settler.
Since the Indians in the vicinity were rather threatening, the settlers thought it best to have their families remain at Maughan’s Fort, while the men traveled back and forth to care for their crops. But in August 1859, a fort was surveyed at Mendon and laid out in lots for buildings.
The plan was to build two rows of log houses facing each other with a six-rod street between, extending north and south. The Sorensens’ and the Hills’ were the first to complete their houses. The roof of these houses were built of small poles, covered with straw and dirt. During the fall and winter rains the pioneers were obliged to set pans and pails to catch the water that leaked through in order to protect their bedding and other articles of clothing.
In 1864 the Indians stole a fine band of horses from the corral of the Baker brothers, in back of their house in the fort. A. M. Baker, hearing the noise in the night rushed out and was shot through the hand by an arrow. Shortly after, the horses were recovered in Box Elder County where the Indians had sold them to the white settlers there.
Chief Pocatello, who led a small band of Indians, placed a spy among the villagers of Mendon for the purpose of keeping him informed as to every movement of the whites, their food supplies and measures of protection. Pocatello was hated as well as feared by the whites all through Cache Valley—the hunting ground of this outlaw chief.
Here in Mendon his spy was as hateful as the chief and became a public nuisance always listening, peaking, meddling.
If two or three folks stopped to talk at a corner, there this old buck would be leaning idly against a post, listening. While the saints were gathered at church this old fellow could be seen moving about peeking into everything, then off he would go each morning to report to his chief.
At a meeting of several of the leading men of the village, it was decided to drive this old Indian from its borders and forbid him to enter again. Three men were delegated to carry out this decision. The three men moved in on the old fellow just as it was getting dark and drawing their knives, ordered the spy to leave. Whether he misunderstood this as an attack, we do not know but he drew his own knife and rushed at one of the men who plunged his knife into the Indians heart. As he fell dead at their feet it was remarked rather sourly, “Well, that’s one more good Indian gone.” The rest of the men did not take it so calmly and wrapped the body of the Indian in a buffalo robe and carried him to the outskirts of town nearby a pond and buried him in the field, carefully collecting all the dirt from the bottom of the grave in a blanket to insure that no trace would be left. After the dirt was placed back in the grave, the field was plowed that night with ox teams on hand plows.
The next morning as if by magic, Chief Pocatello and twenty of his braves appeared on the streets of the town and without a word began to search for the “Old Spy.” All day long they looked everywhere and in and under everything that might hide a body; they even walked over the very field that held the secret grave.
As the long shadows heralded the coming of night, Chief Pocatello and his braves came again to the center of town and the Chief, standing like a bronze statue, shook his fist at the silent, closed doors and shouted so all could hear, “I’ll make you pay for this.” The Indians left and a sigh of relief could be heard from every house. Then life went on again as usual.
The threat was almost forgotten in the rush of spring work, but on Wednesday, May 2, 1866, thirty days later, the valley was aroused by the news that George Thurston’s baby girl, three and one-half years old, had been stolen from their home by Indians.
George Thurston and Kelsy Bird had built a flourmill on Gardner’s Creek in the summer of 1864 and Thurston with his family lived at the mill, which was about two miles south of Mendon, and managed its operation. This afternoon of May 2 while the old water wheel turned the squeaking machinery of the mill, an April shower came up. Mrs. Thurston called the children in but Rosie did not come in with the rest of the children. Everyone was called out to search for the baby. The millpond was drained and every foot of ground carefully searched for tracks. At last in some tall grass was found a spot where 2 Indians had hidden—the baby girl’s footprints ended here.
Pocatello had struck. Little Rosie was never recovered, but in later years an old Indian told how the little girl had died a few years after she was stolen, of pneumonia.
In the middle of the 1860’s Mendon along with other communities in the valley, began constructing private homes and some public buildings of stone in place of logs. The first stone house was built in 1865 by Joseph Baker. The masons were Robert Crookston and Robert Murdock. In the same year the foundations and walls for a rock meetinghouse were constructed and completed in 1866. In this rock meetinghouse were scenes of happy times. All their social activities were held here. Theatricals, provided by home talent were enjoyed, but best of all were the dances. We can picture the pioneers, graceful and refined, enjoying themselves in the Danish skate–off, heel and toe polka and square dances. Seems as if we can still hear the music.
Of all the public buildings constructed in the Valley, the one at Mendon (the old rock meeting house) was still in use in 1947. The Mendon Camp of the D.U.P. held their meetings during the fall and spring and kept their relics there. One could just feel the sweet spirit of the pioneers present. A few years later the meetings were held at the homes of the Daughters. Then it was that some of the younger generation wanted to tear it down. But the Daughters of these valiant pioneers protested. A poem, “The Old Rock Meeting House” was composed by Hannah Baker Buist, daughter of one of the 1847 pioneers, Amenzo Baker and sung in the camps. It is as follows:
Let’s Save the Old Rock Meeting House
For memories we revere,
Let’s save it for a monument—
To Pioneers so dear,
Let’s never let the wrecker’s hand
Remove it from the land
Where Mendon Pioneers built it,
That sturdy little band.
God bless the Old Rock Meeting House
Our parents built for us;
They hauled the rocks with old ox teams
And never made a fuss;
They gave us all the best they had,
And now we have their town.
So I will ask both great and small
To never let them down.
They built the Old Rock Meeting House
In eighteen sixty–six
Some say it isn’t up to much
And Isn’t fit to fix.
We’ll save the Old Rock Meeting House,
In spite of all our foes.
T’will blossom as the rose.
As a result, the Old Rock Meeting House is still standing and is one of the old landmarks of Cache Valley.