Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A 'Bear' of a Misspelling in Davis County: Baer, not Bair

                        Runners in a past Bair-Gutsman race at the top of Bair Canyon.

DAVIS COUNTY has one bear of a spelling problem in one of its larger canyons. Signs, histories, newspaper articles - just about everything - still spell the canyon's name incorrectly. It isn't BAER, it's BAIR. Pioneer records prove that.
 Some have even misspelled the name as Bear.
Georgia W. Memmott of Bountiful, a descendant of the original namesake - John Bair - said years ago that she's been concerned over the many such misspellings in recent years. over her family name.
Her biggest gripe, though, is the major sign located at the mouth of Bair Canyon in Fruit Heights that reads: "Baer Creek Trail."
Bair Canyon is a five-mile-long deep canyon that ends at a jeep road just north of Francis Peak. It is the canyon just north of Shepherd Canyon and directly above the historic "Rock Loft" in Fruit Heights.
The newest United States Geological Survey Maps are finally using the correct family spelling of Bair. However, lots of older maps with the wrong spelling are still in use.
Maps began misspelling the name "Baer" because Davis County records had apparently spelled the name that way.
The "Bear" misspelling likely came because bears were once a prominent resident in the canyon, which is two narrow valleys north of Farmington Canyon. Bears ate corn left out for oxen at the canyon's original sawmill. When people heard "Bair," they likely thought of the animal.
The family's original German spelling was "Bahr," making things perhaps even more confusing.
The water flowing out of Bair Canyon is also the Bair stream.
(The Bair-Gutsman footrace, which I ran 7 times in the 1970s-1980s, always got the spelling of the canyon correct, though.)
John Bair was born in 1810 in Somerset, Pa. He was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1834, possibly by the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was also later bodyguard for Smith and then for Brigham Young. Bair came to Utah in 1850 with an ox team company.
Bair settled in the Kays Creek area of Davis County in 1853. He built the first sawmill in Davis County, near the mouth of the Fruit Heights Canyon in 1855 that's named in his honor. He made his cabin on the canyon mouth's south side and the sawmill on the north.
Indians were said to have greatly respected Bair because he knew their language well. Many Indians called him "Chief Bear John." Like Joseph Smith, Bair liked to wrestle and apparently won some Indian respect through that sport.
By 1859 he had sold the sawmill and moved to Richmond, Cache County.
Bair was also known for operating the first ferry boat in Utah, during 1852, on the Bear River.
During his lifetime, Bair worked as a shoemaker, lawyer (the first in Davis County), farmer, soldier, land management agent, marshal, grist mill operator, interpreter, stock raiser, frontiersman, colonizer and pioneer.
He died at age 74 on Oct. 11, 1884, in Richmond, Cache County. He didn't accumulate wealth, but he had numerous descendants and most live in Cache County today, though there are some scattered about in Davis County - Sunset, Layton and Bountiful.

(-Expanded from a Dec. 29, 1995 Deseret News article by Lynn Arave.)

-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: lynnarave@comcast.net  

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