By Lynn Arave
"Ogden might have been the one big city in the State of Utah."
That's was the headline in the June 13, 1914 Ogden Standard-Examiner.
After all, Weber Canyon's Devil's Gate rerouted the Mormon Pioneers a different way than they intended into the Salt Lake Valley. Here's a "What if?" scenario:
It is July 21, 1847 and Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow, advance scouts for the Mormon Pioneers, emerge into the valley of the Great Salt Lake and survey the area as the first of their group, composed of 143 men, three women and two children.
A day later, on July 22, the first wagons enter the valley. A survey of the area continues.
Then, on July 24, Brigham Young's wagon leaves Weber Canyon and enters the valley at today's South Weber/Uintah.
"This is the right place," Young proclaims, "Drive on."
If, for example, Devil's Gate, near the mouth of Weber Canyon, had not been so formidable of a fiendish gorge, this actually would have likely happened.
A Weber Canyon entrance into the Valley of the Great Salt Lake was the most direct access for the Mormon Pioneers and is where they would have traveled, if they could have.
Weber Canyon was a section of what was then called the Hastings Cutoff. An 1846 map made by T.H. Jefferson identified the Devil's Gate area as "Granite Canyon."
They found the gorge worse than Hastings had described it.
The 1914 Standard article stated that wagons had to be taken piece meal through the Gate in pioneer times and their loads had to be taken separately on pack horses on a nearby narrow Indian path.
The article also speculated that if the Donner Party had also traveled down Weber Canyon instead, perhaps The Mormon Pioneers would have done so too.
But, the scouts' recommendation to Brigham Young was to go through Emigration Canyon instead, as the Donner Party had done in early September of 1846.
Now Brigham Young was said to have seen a divine vision of the area of the Salt Lake Valley the pioneers were to settle in. Hence, why the pioneers still might have turned south and went some 30 miles to today's Salt Lake City from South Weber/Uintah, had they somehow emerged from Weber Canyon, instead of Emigration Canyon.
(If not that, then South Weber, Layton, or some nearby town, or towns, might have been today's Salt Lake City, as Miles Goodyear had already laid claim to everything between Weber and Ogden canyons.)
Mouth of Weber Canyon.
For the Mormon Pioneers, it would not be until eight years later, in 1855, that Devil's Gate was partially tamed. Then, Thomas Jefferson Thurston, Abiah Wadsworth (one of my ancestors), Ira Spaulding, Charles Peterson, Roswell Stevens and other prospective settlers had built a road from South Weber and by Devil's Gate into the Morgan Valley.
Today, it is not easy to spot Devil's Gate. Motorists zoom through the area at 65 mph, hardly slowing down for what might have been the only insurmountable barrier the Mormon Pioneers faced in their historic trek.
With more and faster freeway traffic than ever, there doesn't seem to be a safe place to even visit the site anymore.
There's just a slight bend in the interstate highway at Devil's Gate now, located just west of the Weber-Morgan county line.
The Weber River still makes a loop northward at Devil's Gate and some remains of the old Horseshoe Bend highway are there. It is more of an isolated, rocky alcove now, probably frequented only by an occasional fisherman.
A large train trestle, reminiscent of the original 1860s train bridge that crossed Devil's Gate, is found nearby too.
(-A shorter version of this article was originally published by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on July 17. 2014.)