The Media’s Role in Citizens’ Perceptions of Topaz, the Japanese Internment Camp in Utah

by Elizabeth Fields

The media have always played a role in our history. More than simply relaying the news, media dictate which stories deserve our attention, whether or not we are aware of it. Sometimes subtle and sometimes not, the media mold our values and opinions through careful choice of language and selection of which stories to tell. In the case of the Japanese internment facility located in Delta, Utah, the media’s influence over the public proved to be no different. Through the alienation of Japanese-American citizens and normalization of internment facilities, Utah media placated its citizens and prevented them from being able to recognize Topaz as being inhumane and unjust.

Described as being “one of the most flagrant violations of civil liberties in American history,” the upheaval and relocation of many Japanese-American citizens during World War II was set in motion on February 19, 1942, when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. (history.com) This order authorized the creation of military zones along the West Coast and stipulated that individuals who were considered a threat to national security could be relocated to internment facilities located farther inland. The order soon was used to justify the removal of Japanese-Americans who were suspected of having an allegiance to Japan. Forced to put their jobs and education on hold and to give up their homes and most of their possessions, more than 120,000 citizens were sent to internment camps in states including Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado, where they were closely monitored to ensure that they could not assist the enemy. The Central Utah Relocation Center, more commonly known as Topaz for the mountain to the west, officially opened on September 11, 1942. By the time it closed, it had housed more than 11,000 detainees. (topazmuseum.org)

American citizens who did not have ties to Japan had been primed by the media to distrust and dislike Japanese culture, both domestic and abroad, since the beginning of America’s involvement in WW II. In the months leading up to the opening of Topaz, Utah citizens were exposed to hateful, racist terminology degrading their perception of the Japanese. On January 6, 1942, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that American soldiers were “killing the cocky little invaders like flies,” quite literally dehumanizing the foreign enemy. On January 5, 1942, the Salt Lake Telegram relished the thought of American allies writing “in rivers of Japanese blood.” This violent rhetoric set the stage for internment camps to open without question or opposition from the American public. It is important to note that Utah media consistently referred to the Japanese enemy as “Japs” in nearly any article written about the progress of the war.

In September 1942, when Japanese-American citizens began arriving at Topaz, the media also referred to these camp residents as “Japs.” On September 27, 1942, the Millard County Chronicle published an article under the headline, “WRA Officials Arrive to Take Over Jap Camp.” In the same issue, a separate article advertised cheap labor provided by internees and provided details about “how the Japs can be got, the regulations, and other information.” In this particular story, the language is eerily reminiscent of historical articles advertising slave labor. Utah media did not even bother to differentiate between the Japanese enemy and the Japanese-American citizen. Instead, the media lumped the two populations together using the same racial slur. Immediately, citizens living outside of internment camps differentiated the Japanese-American citizens as being in a separate category from themselves and associated them with the enemy. In some cases, citizens may not have even made a distinction between citizens and the enemy because the two shared the same epithet.

To further Utah’s ignorance to the injustice at play, Utah media completely normalized the Topaz internment camp by publishing mundane, day-to-day happenings at the camp, none of which included any of the harsh realities of life at Topaz. One of the most insulting articles was published in the Salt Lake Telegram on December 30, 1942, with the headline, “You Wouldn’t Trade Places.” It suggested that those living outside internment camps were actually experiencing some kind of envy. The article observed: “There are all sorts of rumors—that the Japanese evacuees from California live there in style, that they are being fed far better than most Americans.” The article described the minimalistic lifestyle of internment camp, but then assured readers, “Certainly they are being treated decently … the food is wholesome…. Although not being pampered, they are being very fairly treated.” It even claimed that the Japanese-American citizens enjoyed the work they did at the camp, saying, “Work becomes desirable as a pastime.” In reality, life at Topaz was anything but fair. According to the Densho Encyclopedia,

“Many of the apartments were not finished when inmates arrived. The prisoners had to endure especially cold conditions until gypsum board was installed on the walls and ceilings… Ill health was common at Topaz… Several prisoners reported how this … traumatized them and prevented them from ever feeling fully secure in camp.”

On December 17, 1942, the Millard County Chronicle published an article detailing the plans for a Christmas party to be held at Topaz: “This will be a large scale operation, purposed by the WRA [War Relocation Authority] to promote good will, [and] to show the proper Christian spirit.” The brief article clearly applauded the righteousness of the WRA and completely dismissed the fact that internees could not be in their own home with their friends and extended family to celebrate. Many of the internees were not Christian and did not even observe Christmas as a holiday. This article reinforced the concept that they they were comfortable and happy, perhaps even lucky. This complete misconception of the reality of living in an internment camp prevented Utahns from recognizing the injustice of the situation.

The last and perhaps one of the most significant elements in keeping Utah citizens silent was the Espionage Act. This act prevented anyone from publishing material conveying “anti-patriotic” sentiments. More than an act of censorship, the Espionage Act reflected a deep-rooted fear that citizens of Japanese descent felt a stronger alliance to Japan than to America that would cause them to betray their country. On May 28, 1942, the Millard County Chronicle wrote,

“What shall we do with Japanese aliens to prevent possible espionage and sabotage?… Many of the Japanese, especially those of American birth, were loyal to the United States. But their fathers and mothers were aliens. It was to be expected that a considerable number of these would be tied to Japan by bonds of race and nationality.”

The Espionage Act only encouraged feelings of distrust toward the Japanese and furthered the media’s contempt for them. To write in opposition of Topaz would be to risk interrogation or even detainment. Simply put, it was unsafe to openly protest Topaz. Had it not been for the Espionage Act, perhaps Utah media would have exposed the truth about Topaz and the public would have had the ability to resist.

As Americans when we think of World War II, we think of bravery and sacrifice. We think of the grainy, black and white footage of victorious soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima. We think of Rosie in her red bandana, proudly pulling her denim sleeve across her flexed arm and proclaiming, “We Can Do It!” We think of the famous photograph of a young soldier home from war, in the streets of New York kissing a stranger out of pure elation. We do not think of an American Japanese family leaving their home in San Francisco to be locked away in an internment camp in Utah. We do not think of a young American Japanese student, forced to halt his education to be unjustifiably imprisoned. We do not think of thousands of people uprooted from their homes, careers, and aspirations to satiate the racism of a fearful country. We do not think of it, but we should. Through alienation, false justification, and writing within the boundaries of the Espionage Act, Utah media placated citizens and manipulated them to believe that Topaz and facilities like it were just and necessary.

Today still, our country faces prejudice every day that is perpetuated by our media. With the understanding of the injustice of Topaz, we are better able to critically analyze the sources we rely upon and protect those who our media would wrongfully have us fear.

Elizabeth Fields is studying strategic communication at The University of Utah.

Sources

 

“They Fought Like Demons,” Salt Lake Telegram, January 5, 1942, 8.

“The Japs Take a Beating,” Salt Lake Telegram, January 6, 1942, 6.

“The Story of 112,000 Japanese in America,” Millard County Chronicle, May 28, 1942, 8.

“WRA Officials Arrive to Take over Jap Camp,” Millard County Chronicle, September 27, 1942, 1.

“Utah County Wants Topaz Jap Laborers,” Millard County Chronicle, September 27, 1942, 8.

“To Hold Xmas Festivities at Topaz,” Millard County Chronicle, December 17, 1942, 1.

“You Wouldn’t Trade Places,” Salt Lake Telegram, December 30, 1942, 6.

“Japanese-American Relocation.” History.com, http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/japanese-american-relocation.

“Topaz.” Densho Encyclopedia, http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Topaz.

“Topaz Camp.” Topaz Museum, http://www.topazmuseum.org/topaz-camp.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Horse Racing at the Utah State Fair and Pari-Mutuel Betting

by HALIE BERRY

The Utah State Fair has been a cornerstone of Utah history even before Utah became a state in 1896. The original development of the fair was to promote “self-sufficiency” within agricultural production. The first fair, known as the “Deseret Fair,” was held in October 1856 under the supervision of the Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society.

After its opening, the fair received little financial help from the Territorial Legislature and moved to various locations. Nevertheless, it was able to persevere as an annual event and in 1902 the Legislature purchased 65 acres for the purpose of assisting the local community. (Utah State Fair History)

In this pursuit, the fair had become a favored part of the horse racing industry in Utah. Horse races were featured on a new track and a covered grandstand welcomed spectators dressed in their best attire to enjoy the event. By 1909, horse racing in Utah developed similar rules and regulations to that of other organizations around the country and continued to gain increased popularity. Despite the success of the horse racing industry, there was rising opposition against it. Track owners were considered biased in the handling of wagering and during that time bookmakers were hired by the track. Utah had no state agency to oversee and/or regulate bookmaking of the horse races. (Westergren, 7)

By 1913, the belief of “dishonesty” within horse racing clouded the industry and the Salt Lake Herald and the Deseret News wrote lengthy editorials in 1909 and 1913 about the problems horse racing caused and why it should be banned. Westergren summarizes the reasons they offered, including: “The ‘fixing’ of races by dishonest horse owners and jockeys who ‘fleeced the public’ rather than providing, good, honest sport; the loss of spectators’ money in wagering at the track, depriving honest local merchants of sales and profits; the rise in crime that generally accompanied racing meets; and the moral impact of horse race gambling on individuals and families.” By February 17, 1913, Governor William Spry signed an anti-racing law initiated by Charles R. Mabey. The legislature passed the bill after a month-long “acrimonious debate.” (Westergren, 8)

In February 19, 1925, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that Representative Charles Redd had proposed a bill to the Legislature to legalize pari-mutuel betting and horse racing under a new state horse racing commission. Redd believed that horse racing was “the sport of kings” and should be re-established in the Utah industry. The bill proposed that the governor appoint a three-member committee to control the pari-mutuel betting system under new regulations by the commission. The bill gained traction among the legislature, but in March 1925, according to the Salt Lake Telegram, Sen. Herbert S. Auerbach considered the races “to be the most vicious forms of gambling and would bring into the state the worst riffraff of its kind.” This quote came after Auerbach admitted to not being “strait-laced” and dipping his hand in betting on a few races at the track.

State_Fair

A large crowd ventures to the Utah State Fairpark to watch horse racing in 1907. Shipler Commercial Photographers Collection, Mss C 275, Utah State Historical Society. Reprinted with permission.

Despite some pushback, the House Legislature passed the proposed bill on March 7, 1925, by a vote of 41 to 4 with ten members absent and by March 11, 1925, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 12 to 5 with three absent. The law was signed by Governor George Dern and became effective on May 12, 1925. For the first time in twelve years, the horse racing industry was revived and the pari-mutuel betting system was now legal. Many who approved the bill believed horse racing was a “clean” and “respectable” sport and that the new law would encourage breeders to produce competitive offspring, bringing in a renewed source of revenue into the state. (Westergren, 8-9)

By April 1925, the fairgrounds needed improvements. Fred Dahnken and William P. Kyne, well-known men in the horse racing industry who conducted successful races in Phoenix and Reno, proposed a deal with the state fair board and were approved for a $60,000 track deal to develop horse racing over the next ten years at the Utah State Fairgrounds. According to the Salt Lake Telegram, this agreement included improvements to the existing grandstand, paddocks, jockey room, horse stalls, and fences.

Utah_State_Fair_Association___Trotters

Two racers wait outside the fairgrounds in 1908. Shipler Commercial Photographers Collection, Mss C 275, Utah State Historical Society. Reprinted with permission.

As opening day drew nearer, things were in full swing to prepare for the event. The Salt Lake Telegram reported on June 6, 1925, that a new chute would be added to the track, extending the length of the race to run up to a three-quarter-mile. Artisans put final touches on the barns, pari-mutuel booths were set up, and jockeys and exercise boys warmed up horses on the track. On June 8, the Salt Lake Telegram announced the program of the State Fair’s “Inaugural Day” and informed readers that July 2 would kick off the horse racing season with a $1,500 purse.

The Salt Lake Telegram reported on July 1:  “Several carloads of horses, in prime condition, arrived at the track today and yesterday and still more are due this evening which will swell the number of equine nobility to participate in the coming meeting to a full 400 head.” C. B. Irwin, owner of at least 21 thoroughbreds at the races, believed his top horse that he called the “route-goer,” Lizette, would be the one to beat. “He would run her from the car to the track, that’s how good he thinks Lizette is,” observed the newspaper. At last, July 2, one of the most anticipated days of the year, arrived and the Utah State Fair officially opened the races under the new Horse Racing Commission. A large number of people ventured to the track to take in and bet on some of the top thoroughbreds competing.

The new system controlled the odds of the race; no jockey, bookie or horse owner could “fix” the race ahead of time. The minimum wager was $2.00. Bettors could choose from three types of tickets to place on a horse: win, place, or show, similar to other races. According to Westergren, “This ticket system was universally used at all tracks where the pari-mutuel system was functioning. The rules placed no limit on the number of tickets a bettor could buy. He might put down money on every horse in the race if he chose. However, payoff came only if the participant held a ticket for a horse that finished in one of the first three positions.” Tickets purchased from a pari-mutuel betting machine were cashed in to verify receipt of the wager amount. Odds were based on the wagers at the track and the money collected from their bets, rather than fixed, random odds by a bookie. Therefore, bettors wagered against themselves. Once expenses were paid to the state and licensed track owner, the remainder of the pool was divided among those with winning tickets. (Westergren, 12, 10)

The Salt Lake Telegram reported on July 3, 1925, “Women dressed in their fine summer clothes added a touch of color to the scene. The pari-mutuel machines received a good play, a fact which testified by the clicking one constantly heard as wagers were made.” The day was considered an overall success, according to William P. Kyne, the general manager of the State Fair races. On July 3, 1925, the Salt Lake Telegram highlighted, “Running strongly to the front, Lizette never placed the issue to doubt and ran to victory with more than two lengths to spare,” living up to Irwin’s expectations. It was estimated that between 3,500 and 10,000 attended opening day, including Heber J. Grant, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Governor George H. Dern, Salt Lake City Mayor C. Clarence Nelsen, and several other government officials. (Westergren, 14)

Overall, the races were financially successful as they hoped; from May 12, 1925, through the end of 1926, it was reported that racing brought in an additional $129,646 in total revenue. Business and community support was at an all-time high. But by February 1927, public concern with ethical issues of horse racing and betting affected support for the sport. Just two years after the passage of Representative Redd’s bill, pari-mutuel betting would again be banned by the Utah Legislature after accusations of corruption. (Westergren, 15)

Utah_State_Fair___P_26

Horses and buggies race to an exciting finish in 1904. Shipler Commercial Photographers Collection, Utah State Historical Society. Reprinted with permission.

In March 1992, the Davis County Clipper reported that Utah horse breeders had filed a petition to get pari-mutuel betting on the ballot, which would give counties the right to decide whether or not they would approve pari-mutuel wagering at horse races in their jurisdiction. According to the article, “The funds collected in the pari-mutuel wagering will be used to support the public, promote economic growth and reduce taxes.” Even though the bill made it on the ballot, late opposition from the LDS church prevented the bill from passing.

It’s been 90 years since pari-mutuel horse race betting has been legal. However, the positive impact it had on Utah’s economy shows the progressive role it can play today. It’s reported that the Utah State Fairgrounds is in a state of distress. Brian Grimmett of KUER reported on March 27, 2014, that an audit by the Utah State Auditor found the Utah State Fair Corporation is highly subsidized compared to similar state fairs around the country: “The legislature has given the fair more than $6.8 million since 2004. Meanwhile, attendance has decreased almost every year since hitting a peak in 2008.” Many of these concerns are due to the crumbling infrastructure. Legislative auditors are concerned if a plan to update and improve fair park facilities isn’t in place, the State Fair will be destitute in a few years, reported Judy Fahys of KUER.

The horse racing/breeding industry is an established sport in Utah. Allowing pari-mutuel betting or a similar system would be an incentive for members of the community to get involved, support the races and generate a year-round source of income to update and maintain current buildings at the state fairgrounds. Pamela Wood of the Baltimore Sun reported on March 18, 2016, that a new track deal allowed off-track betting at the Maryland State Fair all year. It was projected to generate upward of $500,000 per year in revenue for the Maryland Jockey Club, horsemen, and building upkeep and maintenance. Passing a similar bill here in Utah would allow the state fair to create new sources of revenue while continuing the tradition of the fairgrounds for future generations.

Halie Berry graduated in May 2017 from The University of Utah with a Bachelor of Science degree in mass communication with an emphasis in sports broadcasting.

Sources

“Huge Throng Thrilled as Lizette Wins Feature of Opening Day,” Salt Lake Telegram, July 3, 1925.

Track and Equipment is Ready for Opening Event,” Salt Lake Telegram, July 1, 1925.

Program Announced for the First Five Days’ Racing,” Salt Lake Telegram, June 8, 1925.

“Fair Grounds Race Track to Have ‘Chute Added,’” Salt Lake Telegram, June 6, 1925.

“Fair Grounds Track Deal is Made,” Salt Lake Telegram, April 15, 1925.

Senate Overrides Dern’s Veto of McCarty Election Measure; Utah Horse Racing Bill Passes,” Salt Lake Telegram, March 12, 1925.

“Solon Revives Horse Races in House Measure,” Salt Lake Telegram, February 19, 1925.

Horse Breeders Want Pari-Mutual Vote,” Davis County Clipper, March 31, 1992.

Our History.” Utah State Fair, http://utahstatefair.com/history

Fahys, Judy. “State Fair Park’s Future Remains Uncertain.” KUER, June 19, 2014, http://kuer.org/post/state-fair-parks-future-remains-uncertain#stream/0

Grimmett, Brian. “Utah State Fair Under-Attended and Over-Subsidized.” KUER, March 27, 2014, http://bit.ly/2pm6r2R.

Luhm, Steve. History of Horse Racing in Utah.” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 2, 2006http://bit.ly/2plUp9n.

Westergren, Brian N. “Utah’s Gamble with Pari-Mutuel Betting in the Early Twentieth Century.” Utah Historical Quarterly 57, no. 1 (Winter 1989): 4-23.

Wood, Pamela. “Community, state fair reach deal on off-track betting at the fairgrounds,” Baltimore Sun, March 18, 2016, http://bsun.md/21ALmMz.

 

 

Creation of the WAACs and their Arrival to Utah, 1943

by NICOLE COWDELL

In September 1939, German armies invaded Poland and the world was forever changed. The resulting war involved a dozen countries, took upwards of 60 million lives and altered the worldly perceptions for generations to come. However, this story is not strictly about the war. Instead, this story focuses on a unique group of individuals who answered the call when their country needed them. This story is about strength, courage and independence. This story is about breaking barriers and smashing stereotypes. This story is about the formation of the United States Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps. The WAAC was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. The first units started training in July and by 1943 units were sent out across the nation. In May 1943, one of those units arrived in Utah.

On May 18, 1943, the Transcript Bulletin reported that a WAAC unit comprised of 92 women arrived at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Tooele, Utah. One of the first units to be sent out, their arrival marks an important point in history. The article goes on to say that “although situated almost in the middle of the desert, the morale of the detachment is said to be unusually high.” The women there were replacing soldiers in positions such as “chemical work, laboratory aides, chauffeurs, truck drivers and other work connected with the operation of the post.”

Of particular note, was the fact that the unit was entirely self-sufficient. On that same day, the Transcript Bulletin also reported the unit was doing “their own cooking, laundry and the many details to maintain the camp.”

The Dugway Proving Grounds was a unique assignment for the women, as it was tasked with a very specific goal by the U.S. War Department. The grounds were set up in order to test and experiment with chemical warfare methods due to the growing usage of such weapons in the World War II battlefields. Needing a spacious, unpopulated area, the War Department looked to Western Utah as the ideal location. There, “tests with toxic agents, flame throwers and chemical spray systems were performed.” (Ison, 1)

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to come

The WAACs’ arrival was seemingly perfectly timed, for earlier that same week the Governor of Utah, Herbert B. Maw, declared the week of May 10 to 15 as WAAC Week. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the week was to be recognized statewide for “the first anniversary of the women’s auxiliary army corps…for the purpose of taking over many of the army’s noncombat jobs.” (May 10, 1943, p.16) In his address to the public, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Governor Maw said the WAAC “has rendered important services to the army by performing more than 100 different types of work formerly done by soldiers needed on the fighting fronts.”

On May 12, 1943, the Salt Lake Tribune reported recruiting would “be the principal feature of the week.” Though the WAAC had already recruited over 60,000 members, the goal was set to quickly add another 110,000 recruits and send them off to training.

Since the primary focus would be recruitment, that week the Salt Lake Tribune featured a variety of ads for the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps. One featured on page 10 on May 15, 1943, declared largely that the women in the WAAC were “the luckiest girls alive – and we know it! The need is great – the need is NOW!,” it said, sparking patriotism and desperately trying to appeal to the American women who could help fill the wartime void. It seemed great pride was placed upon the women as they bravely entered into unknown territory to dutifully help their country during wartime.

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Ads such as this one, published in the May 15, 1943, edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, emphasized duty and patriotism and encouraged women to seek more information about the program.

The women who enlisted also received much praise from their communities. In fact, updates of women who signed up were frequently printed in the papers. Since Tooele was home to one of the units serving at Dugway, it should come as no shock that they were particularly proud of their women. On March 23, 1943, the Transcript Bulletin announced that “Miss Eva C. Brough … left Tooele Saturday for Salt Lake headquarters prior to her departure for Fort Des Moines, Iowa.” The announcement made the front page and was printed above the announcement of two marines leaving for training soon. This is just one of many examples of communities rallying behind men and women supporting the nation’s war efforts.

The community, both local and farther away in Salt Lake City, welcomed the Dugway Proving Grounds unit and continued to encourage more enlistments. The WAAC even received praise from the nation’s president. Printed on page 12 of the Salt Lake Tribune on May 16, 1943, President Roosevelt said, “I congratulate the WAACs and express the gratitude of our nation for a task well commenced.”

The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps became simply the Women’s Army Corps in July 1943 but the units’ story doesn’t end there. Women continued to dutifully, though separately, serve in the military until 1978 when the WAC was finally fully absorbed into the United States Army. Even then though, the battle for equality and recognition still continued. Though the creation, implementation and ultimate success of the Women’s Army Corps worked to break down gender stereotypes, women were still not seen as fully fit for combative military positions. Even once absorbed in the army, they were withheld from holding combat positons for years to come. Not until December 2015, close to 74 years after the creation of the WAAC, would women finally be allowed to occupy combat roles in all areas of the United States military.

On December 3, 2015, the New York Times published an article which stated “the Pentagon would open all combat jobs to women.” The newspaper also called this decision a “historic transformation,” a “groundbreaking decision” and “the latest in a long march of inclusive steps by the military.” As the fight continues around the nation, and the globe, for women’s equality the WAC and its legacy are a heart-filled reminder of all those who came before us and the accomplishments they strived to achieve.

Nicole Cowdell is a senior at the University of Utah. She is majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism.

Sources

“Maw Signals Start of WAAC Week: Governor Cites Opportunities Waiting Recruits,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 10, 1943, 16.

“Conference Opens Drive to Hike WAAC Total,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 12, 1943, 14.

Advertisement for WAAC Enlistment, The Salt Lake Tribune, May 16, 1943, 10.

“The WAAC…Its First Birthday Just Passed…On They March,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 16, 1943, 11.

“WAACS Gain Praise of U.S. President,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 16, 1943, 12.

“92 WAACS Arrive at Dugway: Morale High as Ladies Adjust to Desert Life,” The Transcript Bulletin, May 18, 1943, 1.

“All Combat Roles Now Open to Women, Defense Secretary Says,” The New York Times, December 3, 2015, 1.

Ison, Yvette. “Chemical Weapons Testing Created Controversy at Dugway.” The History Blazer (July 1995): 41-42.

Williams, Vera. WACs: Women’s Army Corps. Osceola, Wisconsin: Motorbooks International, 1997.

University of Utah Among the Founders of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC)

by ALEX PAGOAGA

The Western Athletic Conference (WAC) was originally formed in 1962 after three years of discussions among several university officials of what would be the founding schools: Arizona, Arizona State, Brigham Young (BYU), New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. With this new cluster of teams all located in the Mountain Time Zone, the conference was set to establish itself on the national stage. Over the years, the WAC lost schools (Arizona and Arizona State) and gained schools (Colorado State, Texas-El Paso, San Diego State, Hawaii, and Fresno). The WAC was a success for thirty-four years despite having its ups and downs in athletic performance. In the late 1990s, the WAC tried to maintain pace with other conferences’ TV deals and revenue streams throughout the country and ended up losing almost everything.

The falling out of the original WAC started in 1994 after the announcement that the Southwest Conference would be disbanded. An article published in The Salt Lake Tribune on April 20, 1994, stated that the expansion had to happen for the WAC to improve. Otherwise, it would continue in the shadows of the true national power house conferences. The newly disbanded conference provided the perfect opportunity for expansion. But nobody was ready for the size of the expansion that was about to take place. In an attempt to catch up in the television ratings race that was happening throughout the country, the WAC attempted a TV market power grab. The WAC extended invitations to three schools from the newly disbanded conference (Rice, Texas Christian, and Southern Methodist) along with two schools from the Big West (San Jose State and Nevada Las Vegas) and one school from the Missouri Valley Conference (Tulsa). These new teams brought in the Bay Area, Houston, Dallas, and Las Vegas TV markets.

Rice University basketball coach Willis Wilson stated to the Deseret News on April 23, 1994, that being in the WAC would provide a level playing field for his team for the first time because of all the sanctions that the old Southwest Conference had a tendency to accrue from the NCAA. These feelings of excitement to be included into the new WAC was a common theme among the incoming schools after being abandoned by or unhappy in their old conferences. However, the feelings did not extend to the longstanding members.

As pointed out by the Chicago Tribune, the new WAC had 16 teams compared to 12 in the next largest collegiate conference. These 16 teams covered four time zones, 4,000 miles, and nine states. This caused a strain on all of the existing members of the WAC to try to accommodate the sheer time and energy it took to travel to all of the new schools in the conference. With the increased stress of the expanded league school officials started to doubt if this was the best choice. In a May 27, 1998, article published in The Salt Lake Tribune, President Bernie Machen said, “I asked myself: ‘How do we fit into this organization? Is this the best place for the University of Utah to be for the future?’”

WAC

The Western Athletic Conference, formed in 1962, was successful for more than three decades.

With the expansion of the WAC, it was no longer possible to play everyone in a season. To fix this the conference came up with a revolutionary idea to have quadrants that would swap divisions every other year. This caused several long-standing rivalries to be split up. As described by Jeff Call in BYU Magazine, the loss of familiar teams on the schedule was a vocalized cause for unrenewed season tickets. Losing rivalries and tickets caused more tension between the older teams that were no longer playing in rivalry games every year, and the new teams that were geographically far away from the older schools. After two years of awkward quadrants, a revamp of the divisions/conference was a necessity.

According to Patrick Kinahan of The Salt Lake Tribune, athletic directors of the conference voted during the last week of April 1998 to disband the use of quadrants and split the conference into two separate divisions. Their vote passed 13-3 and was scheduled to be passed on to the presidents of each school, who would then vote among themselves the following month. However, the dissatisfaction of the older schools was simply too much. BYU athletic director Rondo Fehlberg told Joe Baird of The Salt Lake Tribune, “The problem was, nobody could come up with a way to say, ‘Here’s how it’s going to get better.’ All we could see were the costs going up and the revenues staying flat.” (“BYU, Utah”)

Spearheaded by the two Utah schools, the presidents of Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, Utah, and Wyoming met at the Denver International Airport two weeks before the scheduled vote of divisions to find a new solution. The answer? Create a new conference again. Eight schools in total decided to split from the WAC. They notified the NCAA of their intention to form what would eventually be known as the Mountain West Conference (MWC) taking effect on June 30, 1999. (Edward) The eight defecting schools were: Air Force, Brigham Young, Colorado State, Nevada Las Vegas, New Mexico, San Diego State, Utah, and Wyoming.

After the abrupt rupture of the WAC many doubted how long the conference could survive. In the aftermath, Darren Wilcox of the Daily Universe said, “The only question remaining is how long the WAC can survive with leftovers. Sure, throw them in the microwave oven, stir them up a bit and they may look appetizing. They may even smell delicious. But they are leftovers just the same.” The leftover teams did lack an athletic prowess that was taken to the new conference. Due to this defect in arguably the most important trait of an athletic conference, many, including Joe Baird of The Salt Lake Tribune, theorized that the new WAC would require expansion and possibly include Utah State on the short list. (“WAC Defection”) Despite local support, Utah State University was not included in the first expansion after the split, citing market size as the cause for dismissal.

After being in the shadows on the national stage, the WAC attempted to expand the league to an unheard-of 16-team league. The loss of rivalry games paired with more difficult logistics to accommodate the size of the league ultimately resulted in concerned and unhappy members. Taking the lead, both BYU and Utah sought to rid themselves of these concerns and decided to create a league of their own, thus removing the league that they had helped create from the state of Utah.

Today, 19 years after their split from the WAC into the MWC, both BYU and Utah find themselves yet again in different conferences. BYU left for an independent football bid and landed in the West Coast Conference for all other sports. Utah accepted an invitation to the Pacific Athletic Conference. The WAC found its way back into Utah by way of an eight-year stint with Utah State from 2005 to 2013. Currently, Utah Valley University is among its full members. The WAC has acted as a steppingstone for three universities in Utah, and while all three have gone on to bigger and better opportunities, the conference still stands as a symbol of opportunity for student athletes across the western United States.

Alex Pagoaga is a senior at The University of Utah, majoring in journalism.

Sources

John McFarland, “SMU, TCU, Rice Ecstatic to be in Expanded WAC,” Deseret News, April 23, 1994.

Dick Rosetta, “Expansion Gamble Will Make WAC Bigger,” The Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 1994, C1.

Darren Wilcox, “WAC leftovers won’t survive alone,” The Daily Universe, May 27, 1998.

James Edward, “Utes Seceding From WAC,” The Daily Utah Chronicle, May 27, 1998, 9.

Joe Baird, “WAC Defection Might Open a Spot for Utah State,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 27, 1998, C6.

Joe Baird, “BYU, Utah Make a ‘Bold Move’ – Abandon the WAC,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 27, 1998, C1.

Patrick Kinahan, “WAC Collapses Under Its Own Weight,” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 27, 1998, A1.

Stephen Nidetz, “8 Schools Defect From WAC to Form League Of Their Own,” The Chicago Tribune, May 27, 1998.

“Another Wacky Move?” The Salt Lake Tribune, May 28, 1998, A10.

Call, Jeff. “The Great Divide: BYU and Seven Others Leave WAC.” Brigham Young Magazine, Fall 1998. http://bit.ly/2qfSYZE

Utah Mountain Meadows Massacre, and the Execution of Ryan Lee, 1857

by SPENCER WILLIAM URE

Between September 7 and 11, 1857, there was a series of attacks on the Baker-Fancher emigrant wagon train at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah. Will Bagley wrote in Blood of the Prophets, “Alexander Fancher’s Party was said to consist of eleven families with twenty-nine children and sixty-five total members, traveling with eleven well-stocked wagons and large herds of cattle and horses.” (63) But why the Baker-Fancher party? It has been speculated that the attacks occurred because of the supplies individuals were carrying for their journey from Arkansas to California, and because the wagon train was passing through the Utah Territory during a time of civil unrest. Bagley quotes John D. Lee as saying, “As this lot of people had men amongst them that were supposed to have helped kill the Prophets in the Carthage jail, the killing of all of them would be keeping our oaths and avenging the blood of the prophets.” (381) Today, said Steven Lund, these series of attacks have come to be known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

According to both Bagley and Lund, Major John D. Lee of the Nauvoo Legion, Utah’s territorial militia, “led a ragtag band of 60 or 70 Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormons, and a few Indian freebooters” in the assault on the wagon train. (Bagley, “Wild West”) The only emigrants who were spared were 17 small children. (Lund)

Bagley writes in Blood of the Prophets, “The murder at Mountain Meadows raise larger questions about the human condition, particularly how decent men can, while acting on their and best firmest beliefs commit a great evil.” (xiii)

The significance of the Mountain Meadows Massacre comes from the scattered facts and myths that have been raised by this event. George Barclay stated in The Life and Confession of John D. Lee, the Mormon, that there is much speculation regarding what was truly the reasoning behind these attacks and what was covered up by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (43)

On August 5, 1857, one month before the massacre, Brigham Young wrote that martial law was declared in the Utah territory. (Proclamation) During this time, there were multiple escalations in the state that likely contributed to the massacre at Mountain Meadows. Most notable was the start of the Utah War. Lund explained that the Utah War is known today as the confrontation that Utah Mormon settlers had with the United States government over disputes in the Utah Territory. Lund states, “In mid-1857, Latter-day Saint leaders heard rumors that the federal government might replace Brigham Young with a new governor of the Utah Territory, who would be backed by large numbers of federal troops.” These facts have shown that through the pressure from the federal government on the newly created Utah Territory, LDS leaders feared that members would again be driven from their home.

It has been said that this attack was an inside job and part of a larger conspiracy within the Mormon church. Barclay wrote in 1910 that the “extermination of these emigrants was duly presented to the priesthood, and was discussed at considerable length.” (Barclay, 40)

John D. Lee, who led the attack on the wagon train, was executed for his crimes two decades after the fact. In 1875 and 1876, he was tried twice and found guilty for his participation in the massacre. During his first trial, there were no witnesses to testify about his crimes. In order to create legal and due process, a second trial was held. Members of the LDS church were able to find additional witnesses who then testified against Lee. (Barclay, 40) A few months later, on March 23, 1877, Lee was executed, though “he denied any intent to do wrong.” (Barclay, 42)

The Mountain Meadows Massacre has many implications for Utah history. The most notable is that the LDS church has taken responsibility for the event. On September 11, 2007, the 150th anniversary of the event, The Salt Lake Tribune quoted a Mormon leader as saying, “What was done here long ago by members of our church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct.” Henry B. Eyring offered an apology for the church’s role and said, “We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here.”

Spencer William Ure graduated in May 2017 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in communication studies.

Sources

George Barclay, The Mountain Meadows Massacre with the Life, Confession and Execution of John D. Lee, the Mormon (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Barclay & Co, 1877).

T. R. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons, from the First Vision of Joseph Smith to the Last Courtship of Brigham Young (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1873).

“Message of the President of the United States to the 36th Congress, 1st Session,” May 4, 1860, http://bit.ly/2mf1oC1.

Brigham Young, “Proclamation by the Governor,” August 5, 1857, http://bit.ly/2lUTrRu.

Bagley, Will. Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

Bagley, Will. “Wild West: The Legacy of Mountain Meadows,” Wild West, October 2007, http://www.historynet.com/mountain-meadows-massacre.

Lund, Steven E.The Utah War & Mountain Meadows Massacre,” presentation to the members of the Highland Utah Stake in Alpine, Utah, March 10, 2017.

Ravitz, Jessica. “LDS Church apologizes for Mountain Meadows Massacre,” The Salt Lake City Tribune, September 11, 2007, http://bit.ly/2pD7f61.

A Quest for Speed: Athol Graham and His Home-Built Racer

by JOSIAH JOHNSON

Every late summer, as winter and spring runoff evaporates from the salt beds of the Great Salt Lake Desert, a site is revealed. (Hogue, 38) A site with great history, both of peril and excitement. A place so flat you can see the curvature of the earth with the naked eye. (Hogue, 32) And a place where highest speeds are most attainable.

The vast and desolate Bonneville Salt Flats are located on the western edge of Utah’s Great Salt Lake Basin. According to the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees it, the area occupies 30,000 acres; that is 12 miles long, five miles wide and over 46 square miles in total. The Salt Flats are primarily made up of leftover minerals from what was once ancient Lake Bonneville. (Bonneville Salt Flats Brochure)

In his Utah History Encyclopedia entry, Kevin Hallaran credits Jedediah Smith as being “the first white man to cross the salt flats.” He did so in 1827 on the way back from an expedition to California. In 1833, fellow trapper Joseph Reddeford Walker explored and mapped the Great Salt Lake area, naming the salt flats after his employer, Benjamin Bonneville. Hallaran also notes that the early history of the Bonneville Salt Flats even includes the demise of the 1846 Donner-Reed Party who, after getting stuck in the mud on the Flats, later perished in the Sierra-Nevada mountains.

Perhaps a more well-known association, however, is that of its racing history. The Bonneville Salt Flats were first promoted as a racing venue by William Randolph Hearst with little success, until, in 1925, Ab Jenkins raced a train across the Flats in his Studebaker and won. (Hallaran) In a piece for Landscape Journal, Martin Hogue explains that as automobile racing grew in popularity (and speeds), Bonneville became a racing mecca for its various racing qualities. In the 1920s, cars started to be designed with the land speed record in mind, and between the years 1935 and 1970, the land speed record was broken at Bonneville no less than 18 times. (Hogue, 32-33)

On August 24, 1939, The New York Times reported that British racer John Cobb had set a new land speed record at 368.85 mph. Cobb would return to Bonneville multiple times, and in 1947 he raised the record to 394 mph. That record would stand for over a decade and, as can be seen through many Salt Lake Tribune articles, was on the minds of all participants leading up to the 1960 racing season.

One of those racers with his eye fixed on the land speed record was 35-year-old Salt Lake City “garageman” Athol Graham. According to a Salt Lake Tribune article published November 28, 1959, Graham had been planning his land speed record attempt for 12 years. His home-built racer was made from an old B29 belly tank and powered by a 12-cyllinder Allison aircraft engine capable of 3000 horsepower. After a horrible first attempt in 1958, Graham rebuilt the car completely. (Hawley, 25) In early 1959, it reached 280 mph before experiencing mechanical problems. For his attempts in November of the same year, Graham requested no spectators.

GrahamsCityofSaltLake

Athol Graham’s home-built racer, the “City of Salt Lake,” on the Bonneville Salt Flats of western Utah. Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society.

Athol Graham’s quest for speed and obsession over the record had roots that ran deep. As a boy, his interest in racing was piqued after watching British racers on the Flats, according to a Salt Lake Tribune article published August 1, 1960. “I’d get goose pimples reading about them and I always imagined myself out there driving one of those beautiful cars across the salt,” Graham once said. (Hawley, 24)

On November 30, 1959, Tom Korologos of the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Graham’s “City of Salt Lake” missed the speed mark despite averaging 307 mph over two runs. Mechanical trials were once again a factor. In a statement for the paper, Graham said, “I’ve still got confidence that I can break the record but it looks as though we’re finished for this year.”

Dates for the 1960 season were announced in the Salt Lake Tribune on January 16, 1960. Graham was originally scheduled for the second block of attempts from August first through the fourth, and, after his run a few months before, Graham was listed as the fastest driver behind Mikey Thompson. In July 1960, the Tribune reported that fellow Salt Laker Marv Jenkins had surrendered his time slot, meaning that Graham and his rear-wheel-racer would have the first shot at the record in 1960.

In his book, Speed Duel, author Samuel Hawley highlights the giant expectations for the summer of 1960. High-profile racers, namely Thompson and Donald Campbell, would be returning to the Flats, and newcomer Nathan Ostich would be racing a jet-propelled car for the first time. (23) Bill Dredge of The New York Times referred to Athol Graham as the “Cinderella boy of the salt beds” and said of him, “He has no other pretentions than an ability to ramble down the salt bed faster than anyone believed he could.”

Graham was the obvious underdog. His home-built racer cost $2,500 but would be competing against Campbell’s Bluebird, a car with a $3 million price tag and support of 69 British companies, according to Marion Dunn, a sports writer for The Salt Lake Tribune. (July 10, 1960)

Buzz in local newspapers was especially focused around Graham, and numerous Salt Lake Tribune articles were published leading up to his record attempt in 1960. In addition to owning Canyon Motors, a Salt Lake City garage, Graham was a devout Mormon who served a mission to New Zealand. He also enlisted in the United States Army motor pool where he used his mechanic skills in WW II. (Hawley, 24) After returning from the war, he married his wife, Zeldine, and began building his racer. (“Whodunnit”)

As the first day of August approached, salt ripples on the Flats became a concern. Dave Mead, another sports writer for The Salt Lake Tribune, reported on July 27, 1960, that the “flats are not good enough for racing” and that “heat has severely buckled the course.” Just a day before, Graham had unveiled his newly improved racer with new Firestone tires and wheels (the source of previous failure), a stiffened body and frame, a rebuilt tail section and locked differential. According to Mead, Graham had three truckloads of spare parts with him, just in case.

It was becoming uncertain if the course would be fit to use, but “Graham himself ended that doubt,” reported the Tribune on July 28, 1960. After crews did their best to scrape and repair the two miles of ripples leading up to the measured mile-long course, Graham walked the stretch and said he would race.

The night before what he referred to as Graham’s “four-day date with destiny on the Bonneville Salt Flats,” Marion Dunn interviewed the Salt Lake City racer at his motel room in Wendover. “I feel that we’ll get the record,” Graham said, “but I certainly wish that all the people would say a prayer or two for me.” (“Graham Slates Record Assault”)

Graham planned to make his first pass at 9 a.m. on Monday, August 1, 1960, and told Dunn he would pack up and head home if his two-run average set a new record. (“Graham Plans Fast Halt”) According to the Tribune’s report on August 2, weather was once again a factor as gusty winds of 22 mph postponed the morning start.

Before the attempt, Graham told race spectators not to be alarmed if his bright red City of Salt Lake went into an early skid. (“300 mph Crash”) If Graham succeeded in reaching the coveted speed mark of 400 mph, he would be the first American to hold the land speed record since Ray Keech achieved it 32 years before, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. (August 1, 1960)

In the book Speed Duel, Samuel Hawley wrote of a final interaction that Graham had with his wife before setting off down the course in pursuit of his speed dream. Hawley described it as a private moment where the couple kissed and Athol said, “See you at the other end.” (Hawley, 30) It was later reported by The Salt Lake Tribune that Zeldine planned to make a run of her own for a 300-mph mark if the car ran well. (“300 mph Crash”)

Graham climbed into the cockpit of his race car around 11 a.m., got the engine running and, with a little help from his young assistant, Otto Anzjon, was closed in by the canopy. Soon, Graham was off, cruising across the salt, picking up speed as he went. (Hawley, 30) He made it nearly to the halfway mark before the measured mile before disaster struck. (“300 mph Crash”) An excerpt from the August 2 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune described the scene saying that “within seconds, his handmade racer skidded and flipped end-over-end at 300 miles an hour.” The New York Times reported that the accident took place at 11:02 a.m.

Borge Anderson, a photographer for the Tribune, and Marion Dunn were among the first to arrive at the scene of the crash, 600 yards from where spectators stood. (“Eyewitness Tells of Crash”) In his eyewitness account for The Salt Lake Tribune that ran on August 2, Dunn described the series of events beginning with seeing objects flying off the car. The City of Salt Lake then slid sideways, went airborne, landed on its top, bounced, landed on its top once more and slid to a stop, pinning Graham inside. When he arrived at the scene, Dunn believed Graham to be dead already.

Graham was removed from the mangled car and flown to a Salt Lake City area hospital. Just one hour after the crash, around 12:20 p.m. on August 1, 1960, Athol Graham died of extensive head, neck and chest injuries, according to the front-page story printed in The Salt Lake Tribune the following day. The local racer was survived by his 29-year-old wife and their four children. (“300 mph Crash”)

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Athol Graham was the first driver to be killed on the Bonneville Salt Flats in a land speed record attempt. There is speculation, of course, but officials did not believe that the winds or the course had anything to do with the crash. (“300 mph Crash”) In the same Tribune article, Joe Petrall, an official observer representing the U.S. Auto Club, was quoted as saying, “It looked as if Graham was accelerating very fast and the rear wheels were beginning to spin forward throwing the car sideways before it flipped end over end.” Many sources, including an article for Motorsports Magazine recounting the tragedy, claim there was no safety harness in the home-built race car.

Athol Graham’s fellow racers were disheartened by the event, and Mickey Thompson was himself one of the 25 men who helped remove Graham from the crashed vehicle. Dr. Nathan Ostich was quoted in The Salt Lake Tribune as saying he was “deeply shocked” by the fatal accident but would still race. (“Race Season to Continue”) In one of the many Salt Lake Tribune articles published on August 2, it was reported that W. R. Shadoff would take over Graham’s racing dates. (“New Record Try”)

Many tragic ironies came to light following Graham’s death. According to Hawley in Speed Duel, August 2, 1960, would have been Athol and Zeldine’s tenth wedding anniversary. Hawley also noted that, on his comparatively minuscule racing budget, Graham couldn’t afford the $150 to have a doctor on site at the record attempt that morning.

In his article for Motorsports Magazine fittingly titled “Ghosts in the machine,” Peter Holthusen briefly discussed the fate of Graham’s racer, the City of Salt Lake. The year after the fatal crash and death of Graham, Otto Anzjon convinced Zeldine to let him rebuild and race Graham’s car. The 17-year-old mechanic got the car up to 254 mph before a tire blowout led to a crash during another record attempt. On October 12, 1963, Zeldine’s second husband, Harry Muhlbach, ran the rebuilt racer once more, only to result in yet another crash. After countless mechanical problems, rebuilds and three crashes, sponsors STP and Firestone withdrew all support of the project.

Graham’s City of Salt Lake would be rebuilt one last time, this time by Athol’s only son, Butch. In July 2010, KSL News reported on the unveiling of the 27-year-long restoration project. The car was put on display at Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Murray for the 50th anniversary of Athol Graham’s fateful day. More than 100 people came to see it, according to the article by Alex Cabrero. (“Man Restores Race Car”)

Though the crash and death of Athol Graham in 1960 stained the site with tragedy, the legacy and spectacle of the Bonneville Salt Flats carries on as a world-famous site for racing. Many “speed freaks” have forgotten, or perhaps never even heard of Salt Lake City “garageman” Athol Graham, but his story speaks to the real consequences of speed-related sports and activities.

Despite the dangers, racers from around the world continue to push themselves to the fastest speeds, and some do so on the salt in westernmost Utah. Speed Week is still an annual event at the Bonneville Salt Flats, attracting racers and racing fans alike. As much as the geography itself, legendary racers like Athol Graham, John Cobb, Mickey Thompson and others have done their part to make the Bonneville Salt Flats a premier, world-renowned racing destination. As a result, men and women are still inspired to embark on their own quests for speed.

Josiah Johnson, a student of strategic communication at The University of Utah, graduated with his Bachelor of Science in May 2017. His interest in automotive culture has been increasingly inspired by his younger brother, Jeremiah, to whom this article is dedicated. Josiah has a passion for art, design and creative communication, and he hopes to travel the world observing it.

Sources

Alex Cabrero, “Man Restores Race Car in Father’s Honor,” KSL News Online, July 31, 2010, http://bit.ly/2oSKU4r

“Driver Killed in Bid for 400 M.P.H. on Salt Flats,” The New York Times, August 2, 1960, 36.

“New Record Try Looms Today,” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 2, 1960, 17.

“Race Season to Continue,” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 2, 1960, 17.

Marion Dunn, “Whodunnit,” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 2, 1960, 15.

“300 MPH Crash Kills S.L. Racer,” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 2, 1960, 1, 5.

Marion Dunn, “Eyewitness Tells of Crash,” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 2, 1960, 1.

Marion Dunn, “Graham Slates Record Assault,” The Salt Lake Tribune, August 1, 1960, 24.

Marion Dunn, “Graham Sets First Dash Across Flats,” The Salt Lake Tribune, July 31, 1960, D5.

Marion Dunn, “Graham Plans Fast Halt When, If, Record Falls,” The Salt Lake Tribune, July 29, 1960, D5.

“Graham Seeks Land Mark Monday,” The Salt Lake Tribune, July 28, 1960, 26.

Dave Mead, “Salt Ripples May Halt Graham Run,” The Salt Lake Tribune, July 27, 1960, 19.

Marion Dunn, “Drivers Set for Speed Shots,” The Salt Lake Tribune, July 10, 1960, B9.

Bill Dredge, “1960 Goal for Salt Flat Races,” The New York Times, April 17, 1960, A14.

“Race Dates Set for Flats in ’60,” The Salt Lake Tribune, January 16, 1960, 19.

Tom Korologos, “Auto Speed Mark Eludes Salt Laker,” The Salt Lake Tribune, November 30, 1959, 35.

“Salt Laker Maps Assault on Auto Speed Record,” The Salt Lake Tribune, November 28, 1959, 21.

Associated Press, “Cobb’s Red Lion Roars to World Land Speed Record on Utah Flats,” The New York Times, August 24, 1939, 30.

U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Bonneville Salt Flats Brochure, https://on.doi.gov/2p11Hix

Hawley, Samuel. Speed Duel: The Inside Story of the Land Speed Record in the Sixties. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books, 2010.

Hogue, Martin. “A Site Constructed: The Bonneville Salt Flats and the Land Speed Record, 1935-1970.” Landscape Journal 24, no. 1 (March 2005): 32-49.

Holthusen, Peter. “Ghosts in the machine,” Motorsports Magazine, April 2002: 68-72.

Hallaran, Kevin B. “Bonneville Salt Flats,” Utah History to Go, http://bit.ly/2lEMktJ

Lagoon, the Roller Coaster, and the Kilee King Investigation, 1989

by JOHANNA M. MELIK

In the late 1800s, Utah’s beloved amusement park, today known as Lagoon, was located in a different area along the shores of the Great Salt Lake, along with other “recreational resorts.” Not only was Lagoon’s location different back in the day, but its name was too. The resort was called “Lake Park,” and was open to the public on July 15, 1886. “It was one of the most attractive watering places in the West.” (127 Years) However, in 1893, the Great Salt Lake began to recede, leaving this once wonderful paradise surrounded by “a sticky, blue mud that was miserable to swimmers and guests.” (127 Years) This nasty inconvenience, among other reasons, basically forced Lake Park to switch locations and relocate to its current address in Farmington in 1896. The new home of this park was situated on the banks of a nine-acre lagoon, two and one-half miles inland from its original location, providing the park with its new name: Lagoon. (127 Years)

Department of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

The thrill ride, Shoot-the-Chutes, was popular in 1896. Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

The same year of its relocation, Lagoon presented its first thrill ride, Shoot-the-Chutes, which is similar to today’s Log Flume ride. Later, in 1921, one of the most well known rides of this amusement park was finally introduced and “the roar of the Roller Coaster began.” (127 Years) “Almost 90 years old,” Arave writes, “the Lagoon Roller Coaster remains one of the most popular attractions at the park and is one of only a few wooden coasters between Denver and the West Coast.”

According to Lagoon’s press kit, a fire in 1953 destroyed the front of this coaster. It was rebuilt the following year, and sections of the Roller Coaster have been rebuilt each year since then. In that same press kit, Lagoon ensured the ride was, and would be, safe for the community. “The tracks are walked and thoroughly checked over each day before being put into use for the public.” (127 Years) As true as this may be, there have still been a few accidents, even fatal incidents, which occurred on this very ride. However, it seems that in all of those situations, Lagoon was not at fault. Arave writes that those deaths were caused by the “patron’s own negligence or recklessness.” In fact, the odds of being killed on one of these rides are about two chances in 43 million. (Arave) Rep. Blaze Wharton, D-Salt Lake, “compliments Lagoon’s safety record and doesn’t think, given information about the recent accident, that inspections could have prevented the deaths.” (Deseret News, June 25)

In the specific case of Kilee King, a 13-year-old girl of Bountiful who died on the infamous wooden Roller Coaster in 1989, investigation proved that no criminal negligence was involved. (Rosebrock, June 14) According to a June 29 story in the Deseret News, the Farmington police detective who investigated the incident found that the death of this teenage girl was a “fluke combination of her physique, actions and the laws of physics.” (Rosebrock, June 29) King was a slim, 5 feet 3 inches tall girl who only weighed 71 pounds. “In effect, it was a quirk of physics, combined with what the girl did and her height and weight,” said Detective Sgt. Jeff Jacobson after investigation of the incident. (Rosebrock, June 29)

Deseret News reporter Joel Campbell wrote on June 11 that Kilee King died at the park after falling from the front seat of the ride’s carts. “Witnesses said that the girl stood up from beneath a locked retraining bar, lost her balance and fell to a grassy area beneath the coaster.” According to that same article, the coaster had just gone over the curve of its second hill when she lost contact with the cart. The girl pushed herself up against the safety bar as the cart was at the peak of the hill, raised her arms above her head and lifted up off her seat as the cart took its ordinary “downward plunge.” The momentum from her forward and upward motion caused her to slip from under the bar, falling 35 feet to the ground. (Deseret News, July 29) The South Davis Fire Department officials said the girl was pronounced dead before any emergency medical personnel had arrived. (Deseret News, June 11)

The victim was the daughter of J. Wayne and Susan King. After the terrible incident, Susan filed a lawsuit against the amusement park, charging it with negligence. (Deseret News, July 29) According to Deseret News reports on July 29, 1989, Mrs. King stated that the design and operation of the park’s roller coaster was dangerous and that the lack of sufficient safety restraints is what had allowed her daughter to be thrown from the ride. Lagoon officials choose to not disclose much information about the lawsuits filed against the park, but according to Detective Jacobson’s findings, this was not the case. (Deseret News, July 29) According to Deseret News reporter Don Rosebrock, King had a season pass to Lagoon and had ridden the roller coaster multiple times prior to the deadly accident.

Department of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

A postcard view of Lagoon. Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

Being a part of the LDS church, King’s passing was a topic of discussion during one of her church’s meetings. “We discussed the fact that her spirit had left her body, that she was still living…. We explained she will continue to live and they [young people whom she was friends with] should not be fearful and they would see her again,” stated Bishop Sherman Fuller, in an article written by Deseret News on June 12. “There was an air of peace.” Friends and neighbors remembered King as “vivacious, energetic and a natural leader.” She was thought of as someone whom everybody liked. (Deseret News, June 12) She was the type of person who did not care about what others had, “maybe they weren’t as popular or energetic. She tried to bring those people forward. She tried to involve them,” said Fuller in the article. (Deseret News, June 12) One of her “lifetime” friends, Katie Gardiner, was one of the people whom she “went out of her way to make feel accepted by a group of friends.” (Deseret News, June 12) Another one of King’s friends, Jeremy Christoffersen, said, “Next year in eighth grade I will think about her a lot and that she is gone. We spend a lot of time together. I used to go to Lagoon a lot with her. We went to a restaurant as a presidency. She was always laughing and smiling…. I still don’t understand what happened on the roller coaster.” (Deseret News, June 12)

The park itself remained opened after this accident, but the ride was shut down for inspection. (Rosebrock, June 14) However, “two studies, using research by doctors, scientists, astronauts and engineers, say amusement park rides are very safe.” (Deseret News, Jan. 21) J. Clark Robinson, a worker at Lagoon for 27 years who was president of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, said that the studies “have brought to light scientific proof that our rides are safe.” (Deseret News, Jan. 21)

People should not worry about accidents when visiting Lagoon, because cases such as Kilee King’s are very uncommon. Over the 127 years that Lagoon has been running and available to the public, there have been 16 deaths overall, including incidents not involving any of the rides themselves (such as heart attacks). Nearly half of those were caused by “the patron’s own negligence or recklessness.” (Arave) So it is, however, important to know how to keep yourself safe when riding these rides, in order to avoid a tragic accident. There are just some things that cannot be controlled by a safety restraint.

Johanna M. Melik is a junior at The University of Utah, majoring in mass communication.

Sources

Joel Campbell, “OFFICIALS PROBING DEATH OF GIRL, 13, WHO FELL FROM ROLLER COASTER,” Deseret News, June 11, 1989.

Joel Campbell, “KILEE WAS HAPPY AND CARING GIRL FRIENDS RECALL,” Deseret News, June 12, 1989.

Don Rosebrock and Joel Campbell, “BOUNTIFUL GIRL’S DEATH NOT THE 1st ON LAGOON’S WOODEN ROLLER COASTER,” Deseret News, June 13, 1989.

Don Rosebrock, “TEEN’S DEATH ON ROLLER COASTER AT LAGOON IS RULED ACCIDENTAL,” Deseret News, June 14, 1989.

Joel Campbell and Ray Eldard, “LEGISLATOR WANTS INSPECTIONS OF CARNIVAL, PARK RIDES,” Deseret News, June 25, 1989.

Don Rosebrock, “ROLLER COASTER DEATH CALLED A FLUKE A QUIRK OF PHYSICS, TEEN’S PHYSIQUE AND HER ACTIONS, DETECTIVE SAYS,” Deseret News, June 29, 1989.

“BOUNTIFUL MOTHER FILES LAWSUIT IN DEATH OF DAUGHTER AT LAGOON,” Deseret News, July 29, 1989.

Lynn Arave, “Lagoon questions data on injuries,” Deseret News, August 15, 2000.

Lee Davidson,“2 studies declare roller coaster safe,” Deseret News, January 21, 2003.

Arave, Lynn. “It’s About Fun: A History of Lagoon Amusement/Theme Park.” The Mystery Of Utah.

127 Years of Family Fun!” Lagoon Corp. Media Resources.

 

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.