Monday, October 14, 2013

Ogden: 'This is the Place?'

                    The Devil's Gate area today, not so rugged.

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."
The wild Weber River roared over rocks in a deep, narrow crevice at the bottom of Devil's Gate. The canyon was only wide enough to handle the river, let alone wagons. 
Heinrich Lienhard, a frontiersman in Jefferson's frontier party, described his wagon passage through Devil's Gate as the wildest part of his journey across the wilderness of the west. 
In his diary account for Aug. 6, 1846, he recorded:
"The Weber River had broken down the steep, high Wasatch Mountains; it was a deep cleft through which the waters foamed and roared over the rocks.
"We ventured upon this furious passage, up to this point decidedly the wildest we had encountered, if not the most dangerous. We devoted the entire forenoon and until fully one o'clock in the afternoon to the task of getting our four wagons though. . . .
"In going back for each wagon we had to be very careful lest we lose our footing on the slippery rocks under the water and ourselves be swept down the rapid, foaming torrent."
That same year, the Allen and Avery group recorded its passage through the "Granite Canyon" area and for them it required grueling teamwork and sturdy rope to hoist wagons and oxen through the narrow passage. 
(However, the Granite Canyon name on that early map apparently wasn't scary enough for the Mormon Pioneers. After all, they had likely thought that the Devil himself may have stirred people to force them westward. So, the `devil' was a perfect name for a natural gorge that prevented safe wagon passage to their promised land -- and it was the more unpleasant cousin of the "Devil's Slide, " 23 miles to the east, that they had passed by days earlier.)
 The legendary Porter Rockwell led some advance Mormon Pioneer scouts in a survey of lower Weber 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. 
Thurston had viewed the Morgan Valley accidentally while scrambling over the mountain ridge above his Centerville home. He thought the lush valley similar to his former home in Ohio. Only primitive tools were used for this road building, and sometimes huge rocks would simply be pushed off from the walls above the gorge so that the road could be made on top of such fill material. That first road was completed by 1856.
(Thurston is today's namesake for Thurston Park, the highest point in both Davis and Morgan counties.)
There was one angelic side to Devil's Gate too, in that the railroad having to conquer it gave Mormon settlers two years of employment by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1868-69 in Weber Canyon and areas east. This paid labor was timely, since the pioneers were struggling after the grasshopper invasions of 1866-67.
Years later, Devil's Gate was opened to one-lane passage with the construction of "Horseshoe Bend," a loop in the road around Devil's Gate.
 Families entering from either side of Devil's Gate by horse and buggy would send one person ahead on foot to stop traffic on the narrow path while they passed through.
An 1887 article in the Ogden Standard-Examiner referred to the west end of Weber Canyon as "The Devil's Road," thanks to the rough and rocky conditions of Devil's Gate. And, disputes over which county, Weber or Morgan, would maintain the bridge at Devil's Gate also reached a climax then.
At that time, a "Devil's Chair" rock formation was also infamous, just east of Devil's Gate.
"A snow slide and wreck at Devil's Gate" was a Jan. 10, 1892 headline in the Salt Lake Herald newspaper.
An 80-foot deep and 100-foot wide slide happened in Devil's Gate and a freight train going through couldn't stop and smashed into it. The result were six smashed rail cars and a dead engineer.
A Dec. 21, 1893 story in the Davis County Clipper newspaper described Devil's Gate/Horseshoe bend as a "man trap."
This article described passage through the area as not just perilous because of the "old banging bridge" that had to be crossed (and that hung precariously by the side of the mountain), but because the greater danger was 100 tons of rock hanging over head and about ready to cut loose and fall downward.
The article also mentioned Devil's Gate as truly lurking in the realm of "Satanic majesty" and that anyone who safely crossed through the place would thank God on the other side for safely haven done so.
Yet, by the early automobile age, the road through Devil's Gate was widened dramatically to two lanes.However, it also earned several new nicknames, like "Scrambled-Egg Curve," because of the frequent accidents involving egg transports there --  as well as other cargo spills -- livestock, vegetables and even oil. "Horseshoe Bend" was another moniker for the area.
 This spot simply had more accidents than any other portion of Weber Canyon. So, the "Devil" was still not conquered.
 After the wet winter of 1952, flood waters cut off travel through Devil's Gate for several weeks. Commuters from Morgan County to the west had to park their vehicles on the east side and walk around Devil's Gate to get rides to work from the other side.
It required  lots of dynamite and heavy equipment in the early 1960s to clear the path for the construction of two 583-foot-long concrete bridges, key components of creating Interstate 80-North (now I-84), finally conquering the bugaboo of Devil's Gate/"Scrambled Egg Curve" and the like. (It cost $2.5 million then, or $19.4 million in 2014 dollars to build the three-mile section of freeway in the area of Devil's Gate.)
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.)

                         Devil's Gate area and I-84 westbound.

. .

                       I-84 over the Weber River today at Devil's Gate.

               Center and left of the power pole: A look inside Devil's Gate Alcove today.

    I-84 westbound and into the curve that is all that's left of Devil's Gate travel today.

    South Weber City today ... it could have been "This is the Place," if not for Devil's Gate.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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