This piece originally appeared in the July 25, 2013 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.
It seems like a strange place for a fort—at least in modern context. Today, the large crop field off Erda’s Liddell Lane is populated only by alfalfa, a sprinkling system, and an odd but unassuming clump of weeds. And yet there’s no mistaking the monument, a tall black sign planted across the road at the edge of an immense cornfield. It identifies the wheat field as the former location of Bates Fort—the original site of Erda’s settlement.
“The terrain down there is completely different now,” explained Joe Liddell, a third-generation descendent of the settlement’s namesake, pioneer Ormus Ephraim Bates. “In pioneer days there were a couple dozen springs in a square mile belt.”
It was Liddell who placed the sign marking Bates Fort in June of last year. Last Friday morning, he pointed toward the odd clump of weeds and explained that when the Bates family settled here 161 years ago, the spot was at the center of a lush convergence of artesian springs—dubbed “Tule Springs”—that dominated the landscape. Suddenly, the reasons for the Bates settling in this place become clearer.
When most Tooele Valley locals think of their pioneer forebears, places like the Tooele Pioneer Museum and the Benson Grist Mill immediately come to mind. But the Bates Fort sign, which was placed and dedicated just last year, is one of numerous lesser-known memorials to the pioneer era that pepper the valley floor. This article highlights several of these lesser-known sites in the valley with a focus on sites that are either publically accessible or viewable from surface streets.
Settlement of Tooele County began in 1849 at E.T. City (modern Lake Point area) and Tooele (then spelled “Tuilla”). These early communities were followed in 1852 by Bates Fort (later Batesville, then Erda) and Grantsville.
Along with the natural landscapes of these areas, relations between settlers and native Goshute Indians are key to understanding the development of these early communities. While Mormon relations with native populations were generally positive, occasional skirmishes with local Goshutes in the early 1850’s prompted settlers to “fort up.” This was done, according to Liddell, by consolidating houses close to each other to form a structural barricade. As settlements expanded, tall mud walls were constructed around their perimeters.
Bates Fort is the first stop on our tour of lesser-known monuments. Built in 1852, the wall at Bates Fort was Tooele Valley’s first. The 12 foot barrier was fashioned by pouring clay into wooden forms. The result was a sharply sloped pyramid with a two 2 foot base and a 1 foot tip. The north wall was never built because it would have blocked a wide spring runoff.
“It was all done by hand and it took them some months to build,” Liddell said, “And it was all unnecessary.”
In fact, the walls around Tooele Valley settlements were quickly deemed unneeded, due in large part to the settlers heeding President Brigham Young’s counsel to feed the Indians rather than fight them. Indian attacks declined sharply by 1854, and no more walls were built. The clay from Bates Fort’s wall was later used to bank two of the springs. Traces of it are still visible at the spring sites, which are located on private property.
No physical evidence of Tooele’s mud wall remains, but a replica segment of the barrier at the corner of 1st West and Vine gives visitors an idea of how these walls looked. The replica and an adjacent stone monument were erected by the Settlement Canyon Chapter of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers (SUP) in 2009. This is the second stop on our tour.
Built in 1854, Tooele’s mud wall enclosed the four block settlement between 1st West, 1st East, 1st South and 1st North. The northwest section of the wall was never completed.
In a letter to the Deseret News published on December 11, 1854, Tooele resident Alexander Gee proudly describes the half-finished wall as “substantial and handsome as any I have seen in all the settlements I have ever visited.”
Natural landmarks also played a significant role in Tooele Valley history. Adobe Rock in Lake Point is perhaps the most recognizable of these, but what’s less well known is the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers marker fastened to its west face. This is our third stop.
The rock itself stands behind a fence on Rio Tinto property, but unpaved pullouts north and south of it along SR-36 afford excellent views. The DUP plaque reads thus:
“On July 27, 1847, three horsemen from the scouting party sent out by Brigham Young, obtained an excellent view of the surrounding valley from the top of this rock. In 1849, Captain Howard Stansbury of the United States Topographical Engineers, built a small adobe house by this rock for his herders, hence the name “Adobe Rock.” The nearby highway follows the same route as the old pioneer trail used by explorers, trappers, emigrants and gold seekers. A spring nearby made this a favorite camp site.”
According to History of Tooele County, published by the DUP in 2012, settlers would meet visiting dignitaries at the limestone pillar and signal their arrival to their respective communities with flags or fire.
We now south toward the economic hub of Richville, located in modern Stansbury Park. This area is best known for the meticulously preserved Benson Grist Mill complex and pioneer-era homes. But the historic significance of the large, spring-fed pond immediately south of the mill is often overlooked. Prior to construction of the grist mill in 1854, the springs that fed the Millpond (then called Twin Springs Creek) formed a loose body of water that flowed freely toward the Great Salt Lake.
Twin Springs’ importance to immigrants pre-dates the settlement of Richville. Early immigrants camped at the springs. Period maps aerial photography from the 1950’s suggest that the famous Hastings Cutoff trail ran right along what is now Stansbury Parkway. A railpost marker at the southeast end of the pond marks the spot where one of the parties camped in 1850.
The creek was dammed to power the grist mill and nearby operations, forming a roughly 30 acre pond. The Millpond became a place for gathering, fishing, and performing LDS baptisms. It remains a recreational hot spot to present day.
The last stop on our tour memorializes one of Tooele County’s most unique and fascinating figures. Hilda Anderson was born in Sweden in 1859. She was just 7 years old when she crossed the plains with her mother and two brothers. She spent her early adulthood in the Deep Creek/Ibapah area caring for the sick with her husband, John Erickson. They later moved to Grantsville, where they built a small bungalow that still stands at 247 West Main Street.
Hilda Erickson was known for her industrious character and her diverse resume. She was a tailor, a licensed midwife, and merchant. She also dabbled in general medicine and dentistry. But what Hilda was best known for was her longevity. In 1964, at the age of 104, she was recognized as Utah’s last pioneer, having outlived all of the approximately 80,000 Mormon pioneers who trekked to Utah prior to the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. She died in 1968 at the age of 108.
Hilda was said to have boasted about traveling by ox team, mule team, buggy, wagon, bicycle, car, and airplane.
Joe Liddell, 90, knew Hilda well, having written annual feature stories about her in the Deseret News for nearly 20 years.
“When she was 105 years old, asked her what she missed the most,” Liddell recalled. “She said in her Swedish accent, ‘Well, I miss having a man around the house.’ The headline read ‘105 and wants a man.’”
Asked to describe Utah’s last pioneer, Liddell said Hilda was “very agreeable, but quite firm in her opinions. She was quite a woman.”
Hilda Erickson’s life is memorialized by a life-sized bronze statue commissioned by the Sons of the Utah Pioneers. The statue stands in front of Grantsville’s City Hall, and depicts Hilda riding side-saddle on a horse. Her story, like the fitted stone foundations and other adeptly fashioned structures in Tooele Valley, personifies an era of resourcefulness, independence, and grit—one worthy not just of celebration, but of deep exploration as well.