Nuclear Testing: Southern Utah’s Battle for Air

by ARYAN FARAHANI

During the years of World War II and throughout the years of the Cold War, we saw many horrific acts of violence that changed many components of our society. Within these acts of violence, the rise of destructive weapons, known as nuclear weapons, were more prominently showcased throughout the world.

Not only were these nuclear weapons used for “safety,” but they were also manufactured to showcase a nation’s superiority. In 1945, toward the end of WW II, the United States was the first nation to use nuclear weapons, on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After these horrendous events, and as the quest for world dominance continued, many more nations began developing nuclear weapons. With that in mind, the competition to create the world’s best nuclear weapon was in the works. And with the United States taking on the role of global hegemon, it was clear that in order to create the perfect weapon, many tests had to be conducted throughout the US.

Nevada, with its desert-like geography and immense amounts of open space, was an ideal site for one of the nuclear testing centers operated by the United States Department of Energy. Nye County, in south-central Nevada, also was close to two cities in southern Utah: St. George and Cedar City. With the initial test-taking place in January 1951, many Southern Utahns were unaware of what exactly the nuclear tests would entail. But in the coming years, the disastrous effects of the “purple cloud” became more evident. (“Atom Explosions”) As Seegmiller writes, “Relatively few Iron County residents were aware of or concerned about nuclear testing when the first mushroom-shaped cloud rose into the western skies … but the cloud figuratively remains over southern Utah and Nevada to this day.”

The Salt Lake Telegram reported on January 27, 1951, that “residents of Southern Utah, miles to the cast of here, said they saw the sky light up and heard the distant rumbling.” This initial blast was the beginning of many tests. And although that was the case, many were not aware of the harmful toxins that nuclear tests would release on the residents, as well as on the surrounding residents of Southern Utah.

Through the initial steps of the first nuclear test, further progress needed to be achieved. Therefore, another nuclear test was conducted in April 1952. The Salt Lake Telegram reported on April 14, 1952, that “indications pointed to the testing of another atomic device rather than a full-blown atomic bomb,” which would essentially “be developed into future atomic weapons.” Many of the repercussions were still not evident to the residents, but it became clear that more nuclear tests were to be conducted in the near future.

Moreover, another nuclear test was conducted in March 1953. The Iron County Record reported on March 5, 1953, that “ranchers, miners, migrants, private fliers, and others concerned are warned that the atomic energy commission’s Nevada proving grounds will be used for nuclear experiments.” Although this was the case, many were still not warned of the harms, but instead had to find out about them the hard way.

In consideration of the above tests that were conducted throughout the years of 1951-1953, some individuals who were educated on the matter of nuclear weapons concluded that they were obliged to talk about it. It wasn’t until 1953 when some of the nuclear tests’ tragedies began to become evident. More specifically, and as reported in the May 7, 1953, issue of the Irony County Record, University of Utah research student Ralph L. Hafen noted that he was “morally obligated to warn people of the irreparable damage that may have occurred or may in the future occur” from the nuclear tests. Hafen stated in the Irony County Record that the plutonium and radiation that the tests released could affect many components of southern Utah residents’ lives, which can be summarized to include cancer, blindness, mutations, death, and climate change.

Capture

The Iron County Record reported on March 3, 1955, that ranchers were convinced atomic testing had killed their sheep.

Many individuals in southern Utah began noticing that some changes in their everyday lives could be related to the nuclear tests that had been conducted in the border state of Nevada. And although they noticed, it was clear that the tests would continue to be conducted. That being said, the March 31955, issue of the Iron County Record reported that “the third atomic blast [of 1955] was seen from Cedar [City],” which shows its severity, because Cedar City is more distant to the Nevada border. The article also stated that that southern Utah farmers were “convinced that the atomic fallout from the experiments at Yucca Flats in Nevada two years ago was the direct cause of heavy loss to sheep herds grazing in adjacent areas.” Therefore, they filed a lawsuit against the Atomic Energy Commission for its actions and incompetent behavior. Also in 1955, many citizens, including southern Utah residents, were briefly told about the harms that the nuclear tests could have on their lives. The Iron County Record reported on February 3, 1955, that “the Atomic Energy Commission, Department of Defense, has announced that it will not be responsible for patrons who might wander into the area, without proper authority.” It was also reported in the same issue that it was dangerous to be around the tests, identifying that “caution has also been advised for individuals in the general area.”

Film_transparency_of_atomic_explosions_at_the_Nevada_Test_Site_Nye_County_Nevada_circa_1950s

The view of an atomic explosion at the Nevada Test Site, located 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas in Nye County, Nevada. Lloyd Franklin Manis Collection, Special Collections, University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Used with permission.

The book Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy by Philip Fradkin discusses the government’s historical role with nuclear testing. Fradkin highlights how the Atomic Energy Commission was at fault through “the mistakes and subsequent cover-ups” that they used with these nuclear tests. (2) It is clear that the government officials involved with these tests were aware of their harms, but did not feel a need to tell residents the details. Instead, these officials withheld information, and gave them a brief warning four years after the first nuclear test took place.

Southern Utah residents were deeply affected by these events and by the actions of the Atomic Energy Commission. In the book Justice Downward: America’s Atomic Testing Program in the 1950s, a former University of Utah professor, Howard Ball, discusses the careless behavior of the government. Ball examines the events of the blasts, and quotes Frank Butrico, a Public Health Service radiation safety monitor who worked in St. George during the 1953 series of tests. Butrico testified in a 1982 wrongful death suit filed by 24 cancer victims and their relatives. He said, “The radioactive cloud hung over St. George for over two hours, fallout radiation levels peaked at a little less than 6 rads, well over even AEC standards.” (Ball, 43)

In addition to that, southern Utah residents were not truthfully told about this information. Instead, they were told, “Radiation levels were a little above normal but not in the range of being harmful.” (Ball, 43-44) Not only was valuable information withheld from residents, but they also were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation that indefinitely caused many issues to their health and surrounding environment. With a matter as severe as this, it is saddening to learn about the truths after they had initially taken place. Although there isn’t a reliable statistic proving the amount of illnesses and cancer-related deaths the exposure of the radiation levels caused, Seegmiller reports that “as of September 1994, 1,003 claims had been approved, 829 claims had been denied, and 125 were pending.” These figures illustrate just how severe the effects were on southern Utah residents.

All in all, it is clear that the nuclear tests that were conducted in Nevada are an incredibly important part of Utah’s history as a whole. Although this research focuses on the years of 1951-1955, these nuclear tests ultimately changed many people’s lives, and to this day in 2017, the effects that these nuclear tests had on southern Utah residents are extremely palpable. It is important to take into account these events, because although these nuclear tests caused many tragedies, they are an essential part of our history, and are important components in learning more about how nuclear activity had an effect on Utahns.

That being said, today, the government has set up funds to compensate families for the illnesses and deaths these blasts may have caused. Although it does not make up for the damages the nuclear tests have done, it does show some initiative and responsibility on the government’s part. Looking through the United States Department of Justice webpage, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act “established an administrative program for claims relating to atmospheric nuclear testing and claims relating to uranium industry employment.” (RECA) And if these nuclear tests are proven to be the cause of any harm, then families would receive compensation to make up for the indescribable damage.

Aryan Farahni graduated in May 2017 from The University of Utah. He attained a Bachelor of Science degree in political science, with minors in media studies and international studies. 

Sources

“Atom Explosion Set off in Nevada,” Salt Lake Telegram, January 27, 1951, 1.

“Spews Purple Cloud,” Salt Lake Telegram, October 30, 1951, 1.

“Scientists Arrive at Vegas for Second A-Blast,” Salt Lake Telegram, April 14, 1952, 2.

“Atomic Proving Ground Set for Nuclear Test,” Iron County Record, March 5, 1953, 3.

Ralph L. Hafen, “Effects of Atom Blasts on Southern Utah Discussed by U. of U. Student, Iron County Record, May 7, 1953, 9.

“Citizens Are Warned of Dangers at Nevada Test Site,” Iron County Record, February 2, 1955, 2.

“Local Sheep Raisers File Suit with Govt. for Loss,” Iron County Record, March 3, 1955, 1.

“Third Atomic Blast Seen From Cedar,” Iron County Record, March 3, 1955, 8.

Ball, Howard. Justice Downwind: America’s Atomic Testing Program in the 1950s. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Fradkin, Philip L. Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989.

The United States Department of Justice. “Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.” https://www.justice.gov/civil/common/reca

Seegmiller, Janet Burton. “Nuclear Testing and the Downwinders.” Utah History to Go, http://bit.ly/1nSvCYD

 

 

 

 

 

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Utah’s Role in Nuclear Testing During the Early 1950s

by ZACH CARLSON

The early 1950s were a tumultuous time for the United States of America. The Red Scare was well into effect, the Korean War was raging on, and Soviet Russia’s nuclear capabilities were looming on the horizon. These issues carried into 1951, marking the beginning of the new year with nuclear testing in what is now known as the Nevada Proving Grounds. The Proving Grounds are 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. On January 27, 1951, the United States began dropping nuclear bombs to test the effect of them.

NTS_-_Warning_handbill

The U. S. Atomic Energy Commission distributed handbills such as this one before the first series of tests was conducted. The public is advised that there is “no danger” to individuals living outside the testing area. The Downwinders of Utah Archive, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

On January 4, 1951, the Iron County Record published an article stating, “We must pull out of Korea completely and stop useless sacrifice…. The A-bomb should be used if it will help our forces in Korea.” These lines tell us how local community members felt about the political situation then. Later in the article it is stated that “not a single letter expressed actual terror at the thought of another war and the possibility of A-bombs being used against us. War … is better than attempted appeasement of aggressors.” The local citizens would rather be exposed to the effects of nuclear radiation than roll over to the enemy. Little did they know, they got what they wished for.

In late January 1951, nearly a dozen nuclear bomb tests took place. The Salt Lake Telegram published an article on January 29, 1951, discussing how the 10th and 11th atomic blasts had affected locals. The bombs rattled casinos over 60 miles away in Las Vegas. The newspaper also reported on the wide number of complaints from citizens: “Citizens generally were not pleased. The police department got four calls per minute for a half hour.” Beyond this general grumble and discontent from Las Vegas and Utah residents, public fervor died down for a while.

A conference was held at the University of Utah in May 1951 on the subject of nuclear testing and specifically how Americans had been kept sheltered from just what nuclear bombs and energy could do when compared to other countries. An article published in the Salt Lake Telegram on May 19 discussed how the United States had recently declassified and made public a large amount of nuclear information. The author rightfully draws a connection between this now-public knowledge and citizens, especially Utahns and Nevadans, having such an up-close experience with nuclear bombs.

fig1

This image was published in a February 1955 information booklet produced by the AEC for people who lived near the Nevada test site.

Later in 1951, multiple nuclear tests were delayed because “light winds” could spell death and disease for local residents of Utah. The Salt Lake Telegram reported in November that “the postponement was the third in as many days.” This tells us just how common and deadly these light winds could be.

In April 1952, the United States began testing the effects of nuclear fallout on troops. The Salt Lake Telegram discussed how from 10 miles away the heat from the blast singed the hair off of people’s faces. The heat was described as a “blast furnace.” The soldiers had dug fox holes only 4 miles away from ground zero, subjecting themselves to extremely unhealthy doses of radiation.

For over a year, the continued nuclear testing didn’t receive much attention, as it just became a part of day-to-day life except for when it caused a much greater inconvenience. In May 1953 residents of Cedar City and southern Utah, specifically St. George, were asked to stay in their homes and not leave or drive anywhere. The problem lasted longer than one would expect; the radiation lingered in the air days after the nuclear test. The levels of radiation were deemed safe by the Atomic Energy Commission. The Iron County Record reported on May 21, 1953, that “the levels of radiation produced outside the test control area were in no way harmful to humans, animals or crops.”

Poisoning from radiation takes time to rear its ugly head in the form of cancer, birth defects, and other unfortunate symptoms. Janet Burton Seegmiller writes in The History of Iron County that:

Relatively few Iron County residents were aware of or concerned about nuclear testing when the first mushroom-shaped cloud rose into the western skies and drifted to the northeast in 1951, but the cloud figuratively remains over southern Utah and Nevada to this day. Residents live with every day what the cloud left behind that the eye could not see. There are no southwestern Utah neighborhoods or communities that have not been touched by the tragedy of cancer or birth defects or lingering bitterness over human and financial losses.

These people had been promised by their own government that they would be safe throughout the nuclear testing. They had been lied to. Seegmiller discusses that declassified documents show even back in the late 1940s it was painfully aware to scientists that this was hazardous to human and livestock.

The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) proceeded to continue with the tests, anyway. Sheep began to have burns on their faces and miscarry fetuses that had deformities. Those that survived to birth would often die due to other deformities. Everyone still believed the government when it reassured the citizens that everything was fine. In 1984, the United States District Court ruled in Allen v. United States that “fallout caused human deaths and the federal government was negligent in failing to warn residents.” But the government won a reversal on appeal on the grounds of national security. On May 11, 1984, the New York Times reported that a federal district judge ruled that ”the Government was negligent in failing to warn residents who lived in the path of fallout plumes about the danger of radioactive contaminations.” The government again appealed the decision. In Utah, The Right Place, Thomas G. Alexander writes, “Although they knew or suspected the danger from the fallout, they did not tell the people… that they stood in risk of cancer or leukemia. Rather, AEC officials publicly lied about the danger.”

In 1990, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed. The government apologized to its very own citizens, now known as the Downwinders, and established a compensation program to help individuals who contracted certain cancers and other serious diseases. On March 2, 2015, the Department of Justice reported that it had awarded more than $2 billion in “compassionate compensation to eligible claimants” under the act.

Zach Carlson is a student at The University of Utah. He is pursuing a degree in communication with an emphasis in journalism. Zach is an avid consumer of movies, video games, and books, and loves dogs.

Sources

“Let’s Hear from the People,” Iron County Record, January 4, 1951, 2.

“Nevada Area Braces for More A-Blasts,” Salt Lake Telegram, January 29, 1951 3.

“The Big Question,” Salt Lake Telegram, May 19, 1951, 4.

“Storm Delays Atomic Tests,” Salt Lake Telegram, October 26, 1951, 7.

“Wrong-Way Wind Postpones Nevada A-Test” Salt Lake Telegram, November 17, 1951, 2.

“Mighty A-Bomb Slams Troops,” Salt Lake Telegram, April 22, 1952.

“Plan ‘Most Daring’ A-Bomb, Troop Maneuvers,” Salt Lake Telegram, May 26, 1952, 3.

“Atomic Winds – Fall-out,” Iron County Record, May 21, 1953, 2.

Alexander, Thomas G. Utah, The Right Place: The Official Centennial History. Salt Lake City, Utah: Gibbs Smith Publishers, 2003.

Peterson, Iver. “U.S. Ruled Negligent in A-Tests Followed by Nine Cancer Deaths.New York Times, May 11, 1984. http://lib.utah.edu/services/geospatial/downwinders/

Seegmiller, Janet Burton. A History of Iron County: Community Above Self. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1998.

Snow Canyon Project and the 1977 Drought

by CHELLE D. BRIDGE

The people who resided in the desert state known as Utah had an arid hit in the year of 1977. The Color Country Spectrum reported on February 27, 1977, that Gov. Scott Matteson had encouraged residents to prepare for the drought and urged the state to act as a team. Matheson asked Utah cities to help find a solution for the water shortage, particularly during the dry summer months.

Although the entire state experienced a water shortage that year, southern Utah — and the city of St. George — was particularly affected by the drought.

The city’s residents had saved water because of the shortage. The Water and Power Board enacted strict rules regarding water usage. Even so, the dryness still came.

St. George’s main water source was from natural springs and wells, but with the dry weather, the sunny city worried whether there would be enough water to last through summer. People feared that irrigation and agriculture would be hit the hardest. The Color Country Spectrum reported on February 24 that with the growth of the city and community it gave a great reason to also have the water usage shortened. The water development was worked on and was combined with the sewer project.

Fred Rendell, author of Making the Desert Bloom, wrote that “The Water and Power board were on a constant alert which made them ration the water.” (Rendell, 225) With the water disappearing, it had left residents with fear of water depletion. The almost waterless city had to find a solution to the shortage.

In fact, because of the dry weather, many residents had lost their jobs. But, the drought gave residents a new task. The Color Country Spectrum reported on March 4 that locals were asked to help in any way that they could. Ideas included limiting water usage, restricting the use of sprinklers, using water only for essential needs, and finding better sources of water. The residents would determine how much water they would have been able to use. This had made the residents look harder for water sources. The best idea was to go to local ponds, reservoirs, and lakes.

According to a story published in the Color Country Spectrum on February 24, ”The first place to drill for water was from a golf course in the sunny city. This would give hope to the residents and would save them about 88 million gallons of water a year.”

The paper reported on February 20  that “the main source was found by using pipes, from a natural spring.”

The project had begun by using aquifers. Rendell wrote in his book, “In the canyon water had been discovered. The Water, Power Company had put aquifers in the Navaho and Kayenta rock formations.” (Rendell, 445) This was an anticipated answer to come for the drought problems. Rendell also wrote that a University of Utah professor, Harry Goode, “was assured by the geology that the water could be found.” An employee with the U.S. Geological Survey also was optimistic that water would be located “beneath the floor of the canyon.”

Drilling ensued and five wells ultimately were constructed to feed “two giant underground storage tanks.” The Color Country Spectrum reported on March 4 that putting the tank in Snow Canyon Park created a water supply for residents of St. George.

Conclusion

Constant reminders to save and use water wisely were difficult for residents of St. George. However, the city pulled through, in part due to hard work and a team effort. This feeling of coming together helped to create an atmosphere of achievement and a sense that their city in southern Utah would remain.

Chelle Bridge is a senior at the University of Utah majoring in mass communication

 Sources

“Snow Canyon Arch … was source of life for Ivins,” St. George, Utah, Color Country Spectrum, February 20, 1977, 1.

“Drought program to aid West, Midwest,” Color Country Spectrum, February 23, 1977, 1.

“Washington copes with growing pains,” Color Country Spectrum, February 24, 1977, 1.

“Utah Faces Worst Drought,” Color Country Spectrum, February 27, 1977, 2.

“Southern Utah Prepares for water shortage,” Color Country Spectrum, February 27, 1977, 1.

“Weather Prompts Scare,” Color Country Spectrum, March 4, 1977, 1.

“Water Supply Deteriorates,” Color Country Spectrum, March 8, 1977, 3.

Bill Cooper,“Drought Affects Wildlife,” Color Country Spectrum, April 3, 1977, 2.

“Changing Water Rate System Encouraged,” Color Country Spectrum, April 10, 1977, 1.

About Snow Canyon State Park,” Utah State Parks and Recreation.

Rendell, Fred. “Drought Turns Eyes Toward Snow Canyon,” in Making the Desert Bloom, republished by the City of St. George.

 

 

 

The Wenner Family on Fremont Island

by ANDREW BUTTERFIELD

The Wenner family lived on Fremont Island from 1886-1891, the only family to ever call Fremont Island home. Uriah James and Kate Wenner are forever sealed into the history of Fremont Island, the Great Salt Lake and the state of Utah.

The Great Salt Lake is one of the largest lakes in the Western United States. The lake is surrounded by many islands, one of which is Fremont Island. Fremont is the third largest island in the Great Salt Lake. Discovered on September 9, 1843, by John C. Fremont and his four companions, Fremont described the island as “simply a rocky hill on which there is neither water nor trees of any kind although the Fremontia vermicularis, which was in great abundance, might easily be mistaken for timber at a distance.” Fremont was said to be so dissatisfied with the discovery that he named the island “Disappointment island.” (Miller, 219)

After Fremont and his companions had left the Rocky Mountain territory, the next group of explorers named the Mud Hen crew began investigating the Great Salt Lake. According to David E. Miller, the Mud Hen crew, the first known Mormon pioneers led by Albert Carrington, named Fremont Island “Castle Island,” a name that was commonly used by Mormon explorers during this time period. (Miller, 220)

A very important contributor to the history of Fremont Island is Howard Stansbury, who developed the first geographical outline of the Great Salt Lake. Stansbury had a meeting with Brigham Young, the pioneer of Mormonism and the migration to Utah, to develop the survey outline of the Great Salt Lake. Of the meeting, Stansbury declared, “ The impression was that a survey was to be made of their country in the same manner that other public lands are surveyed, for the purpose of dividing it into townships and sections.” (Madsen, 152) Stansbury knew of Fremont’s discovery and “in honor of him who first set foot upon its shore,” Stansbury revived the territory’s true name, Fremont Island. (Miller, 220-21) Using the created surveys, he determined that the island would excel as a territory for sheep herding.

A water spring on Fremont Island. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

A water spring on Fremont Island. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

Fremont Island first served as a cattle territory organized and controlled by Henry Miller and his family in the late 1850s. The Miller family had established a fresh water spring on the southeastern tip of the island, the only true source of fresh water. The Miller family decided the island would be best for the sheep because of the lack of natural predators, restrictions in sheep migration, naturally rural land area, and the privacy the sheep would enjoy to keep them protected. (Eckman, and Miller, 161-62)

The story of the Wenners begins with their arrival in Salt Lake City in 1880. Uriah James Wenner launched a small law office, which transformed the family into some of Salt Lake City’s most successful and recognizable citizens. Eli A. Smith, a judge, was relieved of his duties due to a violation of the Edmunds Act of 1882. Salt Lake City Governor Eli H. Murray proclaimed in the September 9, 1882, Deseret News, “Know ye, that by virtue of the anthority in me vested, I, Eli H. Murray, Governor of said Territory, do hereby appoint” Wenner to fill the vacancy. The article reported that Murray had announced several new positions, one of which was probate judge of Salt Lake County. Uriah James Wenner had been tapped to serve on the bench. Wenner, a non-Mormon, accepted the position.

Shortly after his appointment, the community became skeptical toward the Wenner family due to their lack of interest in the dominant religion. Many opposed his rise to the title of Probate Judge of the county. According to the September 20, 1884, Desert News, “Mr. U.J. Wenner, was in dense obscurity, being almost totally unknown in Utah, until a few months ago Governor Murray gave him a bogus appointment to the office of Probate Judge of Salt Lake County, a position which is elective and within the gift of the people.”

Uriah Wenner’s time as judge was short-lived. In 1886, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and it was recommended the family move to a remote location to better his health. In the years leading up to his diagnosis, Wenner had become friends with the Miller family. Wenner had visited the Millers on Fremont Island several times. (Eckman, and Miller, 163-65)

The family's residence on Fremont Island. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

The family’s residence on Fremont Island. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

The story of the Wenners’ first purchase of Fremont Island is a hazy one, one that has not been confirmed. After two years witnessing the tranquility and privacy of the island, Uriah James Wenner had gone to the Union Pacific Railroad Company, which owned Fremont Island, and bought a portion of the territory under the Desert Land Act of 1877. (Eckman, and Miller, 164) Wenner acquired the most significant piece of land on the island, where the only fresh water supply was located. This was made in an attempt to move the Miller family off the island. With their sheep and livestock no longer having a sufficient water supply, they would not be able to survive. (Eckman and Miller, 164-65) Upon receiving the news that they were being evacuated, the Miller family, infuriated and betrayed, wrote to Union Pacific stationed in Omaha. By the time the Millers had received a reply from Union Pacific, they had already moved off the island. The letter stated that the Wenner family had no right to the land nor a record of purchasing property on Fremont Island. Jacob Miller, who had succeeded his father Henry, wanted to take the Wenners to court. However, due to his practicing polygamy, Miller decided against taking real action. Polygamy had been recently found unlawful and against the practice of the Mormon faith. The Wenner family officially purchased a vast majority of Fremont Island and in 1886 called Fremont home. (Eckman, and Miller, 171-73)

Life for the Wenner family had changed drastically. Kate Wenner, née Noble, who had always enjoyed a life of luxury, was now a housewife. According to the November 21, 1891, Dalles (OR) Daily Chronicle, she “cheerfully gave up her luxurious home in this city and went with him.” The original journey to Fremont Island took three days. “It seemed fun at first, but with calms, head winds, squalls, and seasickness,–for hours that treacherous body was like ‘a tempest in a teapot.’” (Noble, 225) By being able to rely on a boat shipment that came once or twice a month, the Wenner family rarely returned to the mainland. Kate Wenner addressed the matter in her personal account of life on Fremont by stating, “On that unsteady trip I made up my mind I would not take my family back to the mainland very soon, and perhaps I would wait until the lake dried up.” (Noble, 225)

Island living seemed to come naturally to the Wenner family. Kate Wenner wrote, “In the afternoon a swim in the lake, after supper a walk over the hill where a glorious sunset held us, and then the moon lit up our little world and hope built happy days ahead.” (Noble, 225) The three Wenner children seemed to be the greatest supporters of the move to the island. Like any family throughout history, Uriah and Kate Wenner set rules and restrictions. Living in semi-isolation, the Wenner adults did not have many worries about their children’s safety. In fact, there was “only one ‘do not’ on the children’s lives and that was not to go in the lake unless we were with them. If the briny water is swallowed it brings on a terrible strangulation!” (Noble, 226)

The Wenner family had been able to explore and rediscover life. The family was able to appreciate the natural beauties of both the island and of living in peace and solitude. These were the main highlights of their time spent on Fremont. Living in solitude forced the family to try new things. In “A True Story” of island life, Kate Wenner described an episode where she milked a cow: “His (Uriah Wenner) greatest surprise on the Island was my bucket of milk, and I am sure it was the cow’s greatest surprise too.” (Noble, 231) When the Wenner family was missing an ingredient or supply, they would simply say it was not needed, that it was an attempt at something new. That seemed to be the reality of island living, only the true necessities mattered, it was an eternal happiness for the Wenner family.

Unfortunately, the joyous times did not last. As the years went by, Uriah Wenner had begun losing his battle with tuberculosis. He stopped working, he needed the assistance of a walking cane, and when he was bedridden he was forced to call upon his wife for all his needs. Wenner died peacefully in 1891, lying in his bed on his beloved home, his island Fremont. According to Kate Wenner’s story, her husband’s final words to her were, “I love you, love the children.” (Noble, 232) With those words he rested for the final time. In a stunned fear, she used the island’s only distress signal with the mainland. Kate set off multiple fires on the highest hill, but it took several days until she was able to see a fire lit on the mainland shore. This signal meant that help was on its way.

Uriah Wenner's gravesite on Fremont Island. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

Uriah Wenner’s gravesite on Fremont Island. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

Several newspapers published accounts of Uriah’s death in 1891. According to the September 30, 1891, issue of the Ogden Standard Examiner, “The husband had expressed a desire to be buried on the island and his faithful wife determined to heed his request.” The Wenners had become a family loved by many. In another issue of the Standard Examiner, published on October 4, 1891, the paper wrote, “Many residents of this City and valley have been their guests and were charmed by the grace and refinement of the Islanders.”

After Uriah’s death, Kate and her children moved from the island. Shortly after their move, Kate died. Her second husband along with her family honored the request that she should be buried on Fremont Island, next to Uriah James Wenner. To this day Uriah and Kate Wenner have their graves on Fremont Island. Although currently owned by a different family, only the Wenner family called Fremont Island home. (Miller, 234-36)

Andrew Butterfield is a senior at The University of Utah. He is majoring in mass communication and minoring in sociology.

 Sources

Everett L. Cooley, “Great Salt Lake — Fremont Island p.13,” Utah State Historical Society, Mountain West Digital Library.

Everett L. Cooley, “Wenner, Uriah J. — Residence P.2,” Utah State Historical Society, Mountain West Digital Library.

Shipler Commercial Photographers, “Wenner, U. J. — Grave P.1,” Utah State Historical Society, Mountain West Digital Library.

Kate Y. Noble, “A Great Adventure on Great Salt Lake: A True Story,” Utah Historical Quarterly 33, no. 3 (July 1965): 218-236.

Faithful After Death,” The Dalles (Oregon) Daily Chronicle, November 21, 1891, 4.

J.H.K., “U.J. Wenner,” Ogden (Utah) Standard Examiner, October 4, 1891, 6.

A Heroic Woman,” Ogden Standard Examiner, September 30, 1891, 1.

The Alleged Reception,” Deseret News, July 23, 1884, 8.

Proclamation of the Governor,” Deseret News, September 9, 1882, 5.

Arave, Lynn. “Fremont Island is no disappointment,” Deseret News, April 16, 2009.

Eckman, Anne M. and David H. Miller. “Seymour Miller’s Account of an Early Sheep Operation on Fremont Island,” Utah Historical Quarterly 56, no. 2 (Spring 1988): 163-165.

Madsen, Brigham D. “Exploring the Great Salt Lake: The Stansbury Expedition of 1849-50,” Utah Historical Quarterly 56, no. 2 (Spring 1988): 148-159.

The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Building of Zion National Park

by AMY D. WILDE

Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Zion National Park is one of the United States’ natural hidden treasures and would not be the utopia that it is today without the efforts put forth by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Also known as the CCC, this program was created to help sustain jobs and to give opportunity to the young unemployed men of the United States as well as to improve public lands during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Signed as a national park in 1919, Zion is one of Utah’s best-kept secrets and the first national park of the state. Mukuntuweap Canyon, which was the original name for Zion Canyon, was the  “cool habitat that became the home for the first people of Utah … around 11,000 B.C.,” writes David Oswald in his book, A Journey Through Mukuntuweap: The History of Zion National Park. Located in the southeast corner of the state, Zion is a spectacular Park that can only be accessed by one double-lane state road, which is closed to public traffic in the summer months. Instead, visitors ride park-run busses that help keep the park almost emission free, clean and pristine. One thing that is more than likely forgotten by the visitors who come to the park is the history and how it came to be. Zion not only has a rich history of Native American culture but also an opulent history that involves the growth sustainability of the United States as a country.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the CCC on March 31, 1933. The organization was created to fight against soil erosion and declining timber resources by utilizing unemployed young men from large urban areas across the country. It is said that “the speed with which the plan moved through proposal, authorization, implementation and operation was a miracle of cooperation among all branches and agencies of the federal government. It was a mobilization of men, material and transportation on a scale never before known in time of peace.” (CCC Legacy) After establishment the program boomed, and held great public support with hundreds of thousands of young workingmen enrolling every day.

Zion Canyon, Zion Lodge, circa 1930. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

The Zion Camp was established in June 1933 and began to flourish not too long after. A newspaper ad from the Garfield County News on September 9, 1941, ran with a title, “Openings Announced in Zion CCC Camp.” An excerpt reads, “During this period of National Emergency there is a great demand for trained workers and the Civilian Conservation Corps performing its share of training young men for better jobs.” It gave insight into the demand for workers and the scarcity of position openings at the camps during their peak years. During the nine years that the CCC spent creating Zion, members “built and improved many of the Zion Canyon’s trails, created many of the parking areas, fought fires, eradicated invasive plants, helped build campgrounds, built park buildings, and reduced flooding of the Virgin River.” (NPS)

The booming year for the CCC camps was 1935 and by the end of the year, there were over 2,650 camps operating in all states. In total, $322,682 was spent expanding the Zion National Park through the CCC, according to Wayne K. Hinton in his 2011 Utah Historical Quarterly article. California had more than 150 camps, each housing over 6,000 people. CCC enrollees were performing more than 100 kinds of jobs and skills. Some of the specific accomplishments of the Corps included 3,470 fire towers erected; 97,000 miles of fire roads built; 4,235,000 man-days devoted to fighting fires; and more than three billion trees planted. (CCC Legacy)

For payment, the men were given somewhere to sleep, food to eat and clothing to wear, and made about $30 a month. Most of them kept $5 and the remaining $25 was sent home to their families. (Oswald) Topics regarding the “hearty Army meals and menus,” the clean hospitality that was given to the workers, as well as the hefty budget that was dedicated to running the camps can be seen in an article from the Kane County Standard on February 15, 1935. The reporter writes, “When the American boy of today goes into the woods he takes his appetite with him no less than his older brother took and appetite to war in other days.” Men gained an average of “9 ¾ pounds” after working in the camps for only three months, according to an article form the Iron County Record published on March 8, 1934. This information was noteworthy news because of the Great Depression in which the rest of the country was rationing food and supplies. Working for the CCC was not only beneficial to the country, but also for the workingmen who got the opportunity to enroll.

The men spent all week completing backbreaking jobs around the park, including building the 1.1-mile tunnel through a solid mountain. But they still had the energy to spend time taking hikes throughout the park on the weekends. One example of this is from the diary of Belden Lewis, a CCC enrollee who worked in the park from 1934-1935.

“I went on a long hike. First to West Rim, then on the way back Widdison and I went to Angels Landing and signed our name in the autograph book. The hike was at least 25 miles long round trip and we were tired.”

These places that Belden mentions are some of the most popular hikes in the Park and today are very frequently traveled trails, which were created by the CCC. “The main roads and trails of the canyon were built, including the trail to The Narrows by the men of the CCC.” (Larson) The men worked extremely hard on creating the beautiful park that we see today, but also had the amazing opportunities to explore the park themselves.

The CCC did wonders for Zion and almost the entire park holds the history of this hard time for the United States. When the Civilian Conservation Corps’ work in Zion was ended in 1942, many of the men were able to transition from structured CCC life to the structured life of a military man as they fought in World War II. The CCC was essential in the creation of Zion and without their work it is hard to say what would have became of the canyon, if anything.

Today, more than 2.5 million curious patrons visit Zion National Park annually, and many hope to catch a glimpse of the sun rising on the Towers of the Virgin. In the summer months, busy sightseers crowd the paths like sidewalks in New York City during rush hour, and walk upon trails created by the CCC. Zion National Park holds nothing less than the jaw-dropping landscapes and awe-inspiring cliff faces one would assume. There is nothing like it in the world and without experiencing this veiled sandstone treasure with your own eyes, you cannot say that you have seen the earth’s natural true beauty.

Amy D. Wilde is a senior at The University of Utah. She is majoring in mass communication and minoring in international studies.

Sources

“Openings Announced in Zion CCC,” Garfield County News, September 9, 1941, 1.

“Supt. Patraw Praises CCC,” Kane County Standard on February 15, 1935, 1.

“Men of CCC Camp in Good Condition,” Iron County Record, March 8, 1934. 1.

“CCC Camp Now Located at Zion Nat’l. Park,” Iron County Record, August 2, 1934. 1.

Wayne K. Hinton, “Getting Along. The Significance of Cooperation in the Development of Zion National Park,” Utah Historical Quarterly (2000): 313.

Karl A Larson, “Zion National Park—Park with Some Reminiscences Fifty Years Later,” Utah Historical Quarterly (1969): 408I.

David Oswald, A Journey Through Mukuntuweap: The History Of Zion National Park (Scotts Valley: CreateSpace, 2009).

J.L. Crawford, Zion National Park: Towers of Stone (Albion Publishing Group, 1988).

Zion National Park Museum, “The Diary of Belden Lewis,” 1934-1935.

National Park Service, “Civilian Conservation Corps,” http://1.usa.gov/HjZiGs

“CCC Brief History,” Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy, http://bit.ly/Hiaym9

Flood Watch 1983: Newspaper Coverage of the Flooding of Thistle and Salt Lake City

by JAMES STARBUCK

During the spring of 1983, Utah was awakening from one of the wettest winters on record. The previous year saw record precipitation and, in the latter part of 1982, summer rains continued through the fall. Rainfall eventually turned to winter snows and, in the process, saturated the ground beyond its capacity. What was left in the spring was an unusually large snowpack that was waiting to release its moisture down the mountain streams. In normal years the snowpack melts slowly due to air temperatures that gradually warm through late June. This particular season, however, saw a very rapid warm up that created an equally rapid snowmelt and high run-off that overwhelmed local streams, buried a town underwater, and turned streets into rivers.

Throughout this record water year, each new storm was adding to a narrative that would become the prominent news story from mid-April through mid-June 1983. This narrative was conveyed through the two local newspapers, The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and each story seemed to be a precursor to the subsequent stories that followed.

What would follow was a flood that had a lasting impact on Utah’s capital city and northern Utah, in general. This flooding was the result of heavy precipitation that accumulated during the 1981-82 water year, which began in October 1981, and culminated in September 1982. According to Linda Sillitoe in her article, “Floods,” it was a “water year that had broken all records; then September 1982 climaxed with ten times more moisture than normal.” Within this last month of the water year, saturated ground turned to mudslides that closed Big and Little Cottonwood canyons and flooded creeks to the point that the state’s Governor, Scott Matheson, declared a state of emergency, although federal aid was denied. (Sillitoe) September’s floods paled in comparison to what the following spring had to offer.

By spring, March again saw record rain and snowfall on top of soil that had reached its limits of absorbing water, and this record moisture continued on through April 1983. The soil limitations became evident on April 15, when a mountainside in Spanish Fork Canyon began to move and forced authorities to close the canyon. This mudslide was threatening U.S. Highway 6 and two railroad tracks and could potentially disrupt transportation and interstate commerce. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Saturday, April 16, 1983, that during the previous afternoon, “the highway was measured at rising about a foot an hour. It is now about 15 feet higher than the original roadbed.”

In contrast to the reporting in The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News took the opportunity to report on the impact the slide would have on the last run of the Rio Grande Zephyr, “the nation’s last privately owned, inter-city passenger railroad,” that was scheduled to run on April 24. (Fackrell) Inclusion of this bit of information brought a somewhat personal, or humanistic, approach to the paper’s reporting.

As the slide began to dam off the Spanish Fork River, rising waters were threatening the nearby town of Thistle. On April 17, 1983, the Deseret News stated that crews were giving up on “trying to keep the road or the railway open through Spanish Fork Canyon and will now concentrate on keeping residents of Thistle and nearby areas from being flooded.” The Tribune reported that within Thistle, 72 families were evacuated “as water backed up behind millions of tons of heaving, sliding mud.” (Clark)

By Tuesday, April 19, 1983, this rising water was now being called Lake Thistle. The township of Thistle was doomed. Already, the 22 homes that occupied the area were inundated by the lake, now as deep as 50 feet, and The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the town “is up to its rooftops in gray water. Thistle may be no more.” The Deseret News again added a human touch by reporting that “some of the residents are staying with friends and relatives and others in trailers set up in the Canyon Ward church house.” (Ward, Martz)

Federal aid finally came to the residents of Thistle on April 30, 1983, as President Ronald Reagan approved Utah’s request for disaster status for the Spanish Fork slide.  The Salt Lake Tribune reported on May 1 that the “emergency declaration could provide family financial relief grants and temporary housing assistance.”

In areas surrounding Thistle, similar slides were beginning to form, such as in nearby Payson Canyon. The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Utah County Sheriff’s Lt. Gary Clayton as saying that the slide was “a loaded gun up there just waiting to go off.” (Raine) This was a common sentiment felt across all of northern Utah as other streams and rivers were beginning to feel the strains of the spring runoff.  On May 1, 1983, an article in The Salt Lake Tribune prophesied on the floods that would threaten Salt Lake City. The article noted that the National Weather Service expected heavy rains that would cause “flash flooding and standing water in intersections and underpasses throughout the Wasatch Front.” The article also noted that the snowpack, which was only beginning to melt, contained 33 percent more water than the previous year and would strain the streams already swollen with run-off and steady rain. (Clark)

It would be nearly a full month after the Spanish Fork slide that the areas located in Salt Lake County felt the brunt of the melting snowpack. Spring storms were still falling on northern Utah throughout May, and by mid-month it was evident that disaster would soon strike Salt Lake City. On May 17, the result of these storms was beginning to show as “the rain and snow filled Red Butte and Emigration Creeks to overflowing and in some areas the bubbling water flowed into curbs and gutters.” (Sorenson) It was the same story in the surrounding suburbs of Salt Lake City, and the nearby towns located in Davis and Utah counties, as the groundwater began to push above ground. Eventually, the rains were reduced to isolated storms, but in their wake the makings of a “worst-case scenario” was brewing.

Sandbagging efforts created manmade rivers in Salt Lake City over Memorial Day weekend in 1983. Courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

By the end of May, the rains had given way to higher temperatures that soared into the 80s. (Sillitoe) As The Salt Lake Tribune put it, “The sins of Winter have been visited upon the Spring.” On May 26, crews began setting up dikes and stacking sandbags along the east-to-west thoroughfare of 1300 South to convert it into a river that would run from State Street westward to the Jordan River. Things then went from bad to worse during the Memorial Day weekend as temperatures rose into the 90s. (Sillitoe)

Water began flowing down the makeshift river on Friday, May 27, between dikes that were seven feet high. The waterway was also extended six blocks eastward to accommodate the overfilled reservoir in Liberty Park. The Deseret News noted that “traffic was snarled … as crews blocked major roads and turned them into rivers.” (Davidson) Around the Salt Lake Valley, the melting snowpack was overfilling the numerous creeks and streams and prompted Salt Lake’s mayor, Ted Wilson, to declare a state of emergency for the city. City and state officials also began pleading with the public to supply volunteers to help with the sandbagging efforts in and around Salt Lake.

The next day, May 28, in a downtown park known as Memory Grove, water surged over a pond and sent City Creek rushing down both Main Street and State Street. (Ure) It was this event that made the flooding front-page news in the Sunday paper as the water flow from the creek “set a record of 234 cubic feet per second; the old record was 156 feet per second.” ( Ling, Dowell, Pressley) Previously, the coverage of the flooding had been placed in the local sections of both papers, but this changed once the capital city was affected. That night, road crews and volunteers began the construction of a second river to divert City Creek southward down State Street.

To save the local businesses from water damage, volunteers worked on through the morning of Memorial Day rerouting the creek from Temple Square to 400 South in downtown Salt Lake City, turning the city into a modern Venice. Whether it was in the spirit of the holiday, or the fact that disaster had been averted, once the water began to flow an impromptu “street festival” broke out among the 4,000 or so volunteers who helped build the waterway. (Ward, Davidson)

City Creek flows down State Street as pedestrians cross makeshift bridges. Courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

This festive sentimentality was also evident as the Deseret News attempted to add a little tongue-and-cheek humor to the situation. In its Sunday edition, the paper laid out instructions on “how to turn a street into a canal,” and listed the four necessary ingredients: “thousands of tons of dirt, a multitude of volunteers, a few thousandths of an inch of plastic, and, of course, water.” (Warchol) Already, these rivers in the middle of the city were becoming something of a novelty.

In the few weeks to follow, wood bridges were constructed to allow for pedestrians and vehicles to cross the river and linked downtown with Interstate 15. Restaurants also capitalized on the novelty as office workers navigated around the waterways during their lunch hours. (Sillitoe) At times, an occasional fisherman could also be seen casting his lure into the brown waters from one of the bridges.

Eventually, the streets dried up and the numbers were tallied. On June 9, 1983, The Salt Lake Tribune relayed the figures calculated by the Utah Department of Transportation, which put the damage to roadways at around $63 million. The Great Salt Lake had also risen over 4.4 feet and was continuing to rise. This was five feet above what was called the “compromise level.” (Fehr)  In a controversial move, Gov. Norm Bangerter ordered giant pumps that were installed in 1987 to lift the water out of the lake and into the desert to evaporate, to the cost of $65 million. (Fidel)

Both The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News built upon this story as it evolved with each storm throughout the spring of 1983. Although television news covered the events, it was the newspapers that really captured the narrative with each article. Television was better able to show the devastation through aerial views, but only once the events took place. The newspapers were able to begin their coverage much earlier. Not only did they report on the events as they happened, they also helped to predict what was to become.  Within each weather forecast throughout the spring, the papers gave predictions for air temperatures as well as the effects that the ongoing precipitation would have on future flooding.

The newspapers also helped the public to be informed on flood areas around the state. Although the events in Thistle and Salt Lake City were the prominent news stories, there were several other areas that were affected by the flooding as well. By the end of May, updates were regularly printed that gave accounts of flooding in specific areas. The narrative that came out of each article, fully told the story of how “the desert did more than bloom like a rose. It became waterlogged.” (Fehr)

James Starbuck is a junior at The University of Utah.  He is majoring in mass communication with an emphasis in new media and is minoring in arts and technology.

Sources

Jerrie S. Fackrell, “Crews give on canyon roads, tracks,” Deseret News, April 16,  1983, B1.

Ann Shields, “Shifting Mud Clogging Spanish Fork Canyon,” The Salt Lake Tribune, April 16, 1983, B1.

Doug Clark, “Mountain Collapse Stops River, Destroys Town,” The Salt Lake Tribune, April 18, 1983, B1.

George Raine, “Wall of Debris Holding Water Back,” The Salt Lake Tribune, April 18, 1983, A1.

John Ward and Maxine Martz, “Slide turns mountain town into a lake,” Deseret News, April 18, 1983, A1.

Douglas L. Parker, “Reagan Approves Disaster Status for Slide,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 1, 1983, B1

Doug Clark, “Crews Monitor Streams Rains Threaten Floods,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 1, 1983, B2.

George A. Sorenson, “Storm Provides Flood Control Crews With Preview of Coming Disasters,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 17, 1983, B1.

Lee Davidson, “Crews Turn Streets Into Rivers,” Deseret News, May 27, 1983, B1.

“Warm Days Heat Up Utah Flood Battle,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 27, 1983, B1.

Glen Warchol, “How to turn a street into a canal,” Deseret News, May 29, 1983, A6.

Jon Ure, “Flooding Erupts From Memory Grove,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 29, 1983, A1.

Ben Ling, Thomas R. Dowell, and Roderick Pressley, “Sandbaggers Turn State Street Into Aqueduct,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 30, 1983, A1.

John Ward and Lee Davidson, “Storms threaten to aggravate flood nightmare,” Deseret News, May 30, 1983, A1.

Will Fehr, ed., Spirit of Survival: Utah Floods 1983, Indianapolis, IN: News & Feature Press, 1983.

Steve Fidel, “Chiefs from ’83 remember Salt Lake Floods and their impacts on conditions now,” Deseret News, April 20, 2011, http://bit.ly/higJCe

Linda Sillitoe, “Floods,” Utah History to Go, http://1.usa.gov/9GmOKI

The Scofield Mine Explosion

by JESSIE WARMOTH

On the morning of May 1, 1900, the most deadly explosion the United States had witnessed up until that point tore through the Winter Quarters Mine in Utah. The coal mine, owned by the Pleasant Valley Coal Company of Carbon County, was located just west of Scofield. Work at the mine provided the incomes for many of the families in the area. The explosion occurred when a significant amount of coal dust in the tunnels caught fire, resulting in the deaths of at least 200 men and young boys.

According to Floyd A. O’Neil, author of “Utah’s Twentieth Century History: Reprise and Nostrums,” published in the Utah Historical Quarterly in spring 2006, “It was one of the worst mining disasters in the history of the nation and the worst in Utah’s history.” (O’Neil, 6) Among the dead were 20 boys and 61 Finnish immigrants. O’Neil also noted that caskets holding the bodies of the deceased were gathered at the Scofield train station to be sent home to their families for burial. (O’Neil, 6)

Many of the deaths were not caused by the explosion itself, but by the carbon monoxide gas that was released in the blast. Some of the men trying to escape made their way through the Number Four mine, the quickest way out of the mines, but were suffocated before they could reach the opening. A similar incident took place seven years later, when a West Virginia coal mine exploded causing the deaths of 362 men and boys. According to an online article published by Boise State University, titled “Monongah Mining Disaster,” that explosion disrupted the ventilation system and also blocked several mine entrances, causing poisonous gas to accumulate and remain trapped within the tunnels.

According to an article published on the Utah History Encyclopedia Web site, families grieving the losses of their fathers, grandfathers, and sons each received $500 from the Pleasant Valley Coal Company as compensation, and were also supplied with the coffins and burial clothes for their dead. As an added contribution, the mining company forgave $8,000 of the debt incurred by the miners at the company store. (Powell)

The media coverage had a tremendous effect on the community’s response to the mine tragedy. The Deseret News, as well as other news sources, brought reports of the disaster into American homes and helped to create a strong sense of community in the area. Perhaps most important was the media’s ability to spread awareness. Newspapers at the time not only gave details about the incident, but also painted a vivid picture of the grief and destruction that the affected families faced.

The Deseret News, a Utah newspaper, tirelessly covered the events of the tragedy as they unfolded. Readers of the paper could find news about the funeral plans, fundraising efforts, and the struggling families of the dead miners. Reporters captured the suffering caused by the explosion by using both eloquent and stirring language to describe the scene.

In an article titled, “Agony of Bereaved,” published May 4, 1900, it was stated that, “Death’s winding sheet seems to envelop Scofield this morning. Every house, without exception, is a house of mourning and every household is preparing to receive its dead.” The article also added this description: “The awful scene of yesterday had passed away when the sun dawned this morning and the awful calm of despair had taken its place. The agonizing shrieks of the widows and the moans of the fatherless were no longer heard.”

The detail and imagery used in many of the newspaper articles, like the one mentioned, likely influenced the public to feel sympathy for the grieving widows and children. Donations and fundraisers continued for months after the disaster. An article published in the June 5, 1900, Deseret News stated, “Philanthropic ladies raise nearly one thousand dollars more,” referring to a ladies group that was still meeting to collect money for the mine victims’ families. Also influential in the public’s willingness to give were the petitions of the Utah governor of the time, Heber M. Wells, for support of the grieving community. According to an article in the Deseret News published May 8, 1900, Governor Wells quickly established a relief committee to aid the families of the deceased. He also made an eloquent appeal to Utahns, and later one to the whole American public, to be generous in their support for the poor Utah women and children.

Leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also encouraged support. An article, titled “Jordan Stake Conference,” published May 8, 1900, in the Deseret News recorded the speech of Apostle Brigham Young, in which he stated that those of the faith “should be liberal in their donations to the bereaved in order that the cries of the widows and orphans should not go unheeded.”

People everywhere wanted to know more about the disaster and to find out what was going to be done to help the community. In a May 8, 1900, article, “Agony of the Bereaved,” the Deseret News reported, “All along the line of travel the people are greatly agitated over the mine disaster; papers are in such demand that five times their price has been refused; they are read aloud to listening groups at the post offices.” The news of the tragedy was also far reaching. Within the days following the disaster, the news had reached the White House. According to the May 4, 1900, edition of the Deseret News, President McKinley sent a telegram to Governor Wells on May 3, expressing his sorrow over the tragedy.

News of the mine disaster also helped to make the public aware of the plight of the widows and orphans created by the explosion. Many of the families were left without a means of support. Perhaps even more problematic was the fact that a great many of the women had immigrated with their husbands and could not speak English. Thus they were left isolated in a foreign land without the support of relatives or close friends. According to a Deseret News article published May 8, 1900, a 21-year-old immigrant woman proclaimed upon watching the coffin of her husband being lowered into its grave, “What will become of me? I am alone. I have no relatives in America, nowhere to go. They cannot give them back to me and I only want to die.”

The Scofield Mine Disaster was one of the most damaging coal mining tragedies in the United States. On the surface, the incident was the cause of grief and major losses for the wives and children from Manti to Coalville. It cost families both their livelihoods and their only means of assimilation into a foreign society. However, the common grief caused by such a massive loss helped to create a stronger sense of community. Newspapers like the Deseret News vividly described the days that passed between the first news of the explosion, and the heart wrenching funeral services where the dead found their final resting places. Both Utahns and those living outside the state were touched by the stories of the women and children struggling to accept their losses. They were quick to offer their support and their sympathies. The newspaper offered a means for connectedness to exist among those affected and those interested in the story of the mine. The Deseret News provided a vantage point from which those affected could step back and see the bigger picture of what had happened. It also created a road map for outsiders to follow along and have an understanding of what was going on in the Scofield area in the aftermath of the explosion. Thus, the paper was critical in not only chronicling the event in history, but also in shaping the public view of what had taken place May 1, 1900.

Jessie Warmoth is a senior at the University of Utah. She is majoring in mass communication.

Sources

“Agony of Bereaved,” The Deseret News, May 4, 1900, 3.

“Arrival of the Dead – A Fortunate Misfortune,” The Deseret News, May 8, 1900, 8.

“Eleven Coalville Citizens Among the Victims – Escape,” The Deseret News, May 8, 1900, 7.

“God Help Her,” The Deseret News, May 8, 1900, 5.

“Jordan Stake Conference,” The Deseret News, May 8, 1900, 5.

“Last Rites at Ogden,” The Deseret News, May 8, 1900, 5.

“McKinley Extends His Sympathy,” The Deseret News, May 8, 1900, 5.

“Official Report on Mine Disaster,” The Deseret News, June 5, 1900, 7.

“Scofield Fund Increased,” The Deseret News, June 5, 1900, 5.

“Utah Now Appeals to the Nation,” The Deseret News, May 8, 1900, 6.

Yvette D. Ison. “The Scofield Mine Disaster in 1900 Was Utah’s Worst.” Utah’s History to Go. State of Utah, 1995.

Floyd A. O’Neil. “Utah’s Twentieth Century History: Reprise and Nostrum,” Utah Historical Quarterly (Spring 2006): 6.

Allan Kent Powell. “Scofield Mine Disaster.” Utah History Encyclopedia.

My Darling Clementine.” Monongah Mining Disaster. Boise State University.