Friday, February 8, 2013

Who Killed Sarah Jane Kilkausky?

Something that came out of my research on the Fish Springs mining camp is a riddle of a few alleged murders. One in fact did occur, and my attempt to unravel it is frustrated by my inability to confirm two alleged murders that proceeded it and may have been connected, but which seem to have vanished from the historical record. There was, however, a mysterious lover, a jealous husband, a shooting, a saloon, and a dead body found in the bottom of a mine.

While mysteries remain about exactly what happened at Fish Springs in the summer of 1907, I have been able to unravel much of it. Click to read, Who Killed Sarah Jane Kilkausky?

Special thanks is due to Ken Puchlik, a geology consultant currently employed by Lithic Resources, which is planning to develop a large Zinc deposit near the site of historic mining in the Fish Springs Range. Not only did he facilitate a visit and my photography of the area, but we had a useful interview and he provided me with several interesting, though undated, photographs from the era of historic mining at Fish Springs (1891-1914). Thanks is also due to the Special Collections Dept at BYU's library, who send me a transcript of an invaluable interview conducted with a former resident of the area.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fire and Fire Water Take a Toll

In the Escalante Desert of Iron County, UT, Lund sits alone and largely forgotten along the Union Pacific Railroad line. Once a mecca to tourists arriving by rail, and before that, to homesteaders eager to try their luck dry- farming, today a few buildings still stand to mark the former community of almost 200 people.

The highways that radiated from Lund to Cedar City and Parowan made the town a central corridor for the transport of alcohol into Southwest Utah towns, and the presence of a railroad provided the area with colorful characters and motivations most rural agricultural communities of the day were unable to appreciate. In its time Lund was a rather exciting place, with numerous robberies, murders, and tragic deaths occurring over the years. In 1922 the entire town was inundated to a depth of four feet by an apocalyptic flood from rapidly melting snow. Water, Fire, and Firewater proved as dramatic as any human factors in the exciting, and oft tragic, history of the forgotten town.

Below are a few excerpts from a chapter on Lund I wrote this week:

Fire and Fire Water Take a Toll

Lund's reputation was unfortunately tarnished early one morning in May 1911 when an employee of The Corry Brothers' stage company decided to take one of the vehicles out for a joy ride in what would become one of Iron County's first drunk driving accidents. The unnamed driver had spent his Saturday afternoon and evening drinking fortifying quantities of alcohol, and in the course of his evening was joined in his activities by a Daniel Dix of Cedar City, a Mr. O'Donald who was the Lund railway station attendant, and two unidentified Mexican men. Evidently festivities continued unabated until 3 or 4 AM, at which point the gentlemen decided to take an automobile for a ride across the desert flats until time for breakfast. All this of course was strictly in violation the Corrys' policies.

While attempting to take a turn at high speed the vehicle crashed mightily, instantly killing the two Mexicans, crushing Mr. O'Donald, as well as injuring Dix and the driver. O'Donald was transported to Salt Lake City with five broken ribs, a broken leg, and internal injuries, while Dix was taken to Cedar City where he lay in a comatose state for several days. The two Mexicans, whose names the Iron County Record  never bothered to ascertain, were buried without coffins in two holes dug into the desert by their countrymen. O'Donald would be missed during his lengthy recuperation, though it was unfortunate for the railroad they were able to replace him with an equally responsible man. In September the new station attendant Mr. Sheppard left with a ticket for Milford saying he would be back the next morning. To the railway's consternation he neither returned the next day nor any day after, and greatly missed was $1400 of express money that had previously been entrusted to his care.

Unfortunately this was not to be the last of Lund's automobiles violently destroyed within a year and a half. In August 1912 driver B. F. Knell was in his garage servicing an automobile he operated between Cedar City and Lund. As months had passed innumerable drips of gasoline and oil had soaked into the ground, and as Mr. Knell moved about the place his shoe collided with a dropped and long forgotten match in such a way as to ignite a spark which quickly caught the ground afire. The efforts of Mr. Knell were insufficient to prevent its spread, and soon a can of oily rags was alight and Knell himself was crawling for his life out the smoke filled building. Shortly after his escape a forty gallon barrel of gasoline and an adjacent drum of oil caught fire and blew up, taking with them what was left of the automobile.

The growing community of Lund might have had much more difficult beginning were not several men in town in anticipation of the morning's train. Working together they were able to contain the flames, which lapped menacingly at Mr. Root's hotel as well as the store of J. David Leigh.

As if by design, the threat of fire had not long abated before it returned with a vengeance to claim a victim it had been denied. Mrs. Pace, the foster mother of Mrs. Root was partially invalid and living with the family at Lund. For the sake of her mature age and disability she had her own quiet room in a separate building than that occupied by the rest of the Roots. Just two months after the garage burned, Mrs. Root had not long left her side to prepare dinner for her when the cry of fire was again sounded. Apparently the very quilts that had just been adjusted to keep her warm had gotten too near a stove that was left on for its heat. Mrs. Pace was unable to be saved and was speculated to have died by a combination of burns and suffocation. She was soon after taken to New Harmony for burial.

The deeply tragic events of her death elicited great sorrow from among Lund's residents. Undeterred, the tenacious Mrs. Root continued to live in Lund and run the hotel until January 1920 when she leased its operation to two women from Cedar City. After this reprieve, she returned again to work for several more years.

In consideration of the above sensational facts so remarkable in their chronological proximity to one another, the author must not be allowed to leave an inaccurate reputation lingering upon the name of the Corrys. Apparently it was much more than passengers that the able driver was so interested in transporting between Lund and Cedar City. In the later town, "the frequency of intoxicated persons" so inflamed local option that an extra-legal body composed of sober citizens assembled itself for the purposes of intimidating the area's known and suspected providers of spirited beverage. Corry was among those approached and instructed to cease in his transport of alcohol. Apparently the stage driver refused to be intimidated, and a week later the sheriff had succeeded in intercepting a shipment of hard alcohol over his company's route.

By August arrests were being made in Lund in an attempt to stop the trafficking through that town. In 1917 Andrew Corry was finally caught red handed with a dozen pints of whiskey and six bottles of beer by sheriff Joseph Fife. From Lund he was taken to Cedar City where he was unsympathetically delivered a $75 fine by that city's Justice of the Peace. There traffic on Main Street briefly came to a halt while the people of that town observed the seized contents being opened and poured out on the road as a warning to all.

Perhaps the most notorious unrepentant bootlegger in Lund was Ollie Norris, operator of the Lund garage for at least thirteen years between 1923 and 1936. After a long period of suspicion, Norris was first arrested by Sheriff Leigh for the violation of prohibition laws in May 1926. After losing on appeal he was found guilty of two charges and sentenced to 60 days in jail and a $250 fine. In September he was caught again in possession of alcohol and brought to trial once more, though he may have succeeded in getting this case dismissed. Unrepentant, In November 1927 a pair of undercover agents purchased from Norris a gallon and two quarts of liquor before informing him of their true identity and placing him under arrest once more.

Two years later Norris was again arrested. This time a partner and himself were caught with 48 pints of moonshine between them. By then he was being written of publicly as a "persistent violator." This did not change the fact that the the logic of prohibition continued to trouble Norris in its rationality. In March 1930, agents scrutinizing his home found inside a flask of spirits and a bottle of beer. Buried outside, just in front of a small outhouse was located a 10 gallon keg containing 3 to 4 gallons of alcohol.

Just a few days before going on trail for this offense an unknown person broke into the Parowan jail where the evidence was being held. After prying open the door, the invader  removed the moonshine from Norris' keg and flask and replaced its contents water and tea. For good measure, a second keg waiting next to it for use in another case was drained and refilled with water as well. Days later, against the testimony of federal officers a jury found Norris "Not Guilty." The subsequent fulminations of the Iron County Times accomplished little to change the sentiment that kept the Lund garage owner a free man.

After "an unusually long interval of silence concerning him," Norris was back in the spotlight in September 1932. This time he was driving along the Cedar City - Lund Highway when he lost control of his car and overturned it, breaking three of his ribs and injuring two women in the car with him. Alcohol was probably a factor, and agents surveying the scene hid in darkness until the husbands of the two women he had been driving with with returned to dig up a keg of moonshine, suspected to have been hastily hidden after the wreck. Oddly, no subsequent trial or conviction was reported.

One would hope that this accident would have finally convinced Norris to moderate his use and sale of hard drink, but most likely the repeal of prohibition in December 1933 was most responsible for keeping him out of subsequent headlines and restoring him to respectability. In a 1935 bond election Norris was one of the Lund election conductors, and in 1936 he was Lund's representative to the State Convention of the Democratic Party.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Three Murders at the Finn Saloon

Almost done on a long chapter about the ghost town of Newhouse on the West Side o the San Francisco Mountains in Beaver County. Newhouse was designed as a model community by progressive capitalist Samuel Newhouse. Houses of prostitution and saloons were banned from the land the company controlled. However, while the town was still under construction in December 1904, the town's boosters had to grudgingly admit that "One energetic liquor dealer has taken advantage of this and has established a saloon about a mile from the main part of town."

The following three tales of murder have never before been reported by any ghost town books about Newhouse. The projected model of the town as an orderly place has been oft repeated, but the actual dramatic and violent history of the small bar that perched itself on the outskirts of town for little over 4 years are more interesting than any story a manufacturer of tall tales could have made up. Here, at my station in the Grand County Public Library, I have spent about 15 hours in the past two days going through the newspaper record of this one town. Many more exceptional gems have been extracted, and I look forward to setting the record straight with my upcoming book on the subject of Utah's ghost towns and mining camps.

"But despite these efforts not everything at Newhouse was always orderly or peaceful. Three
quarters of a mile North of town, a Saloon had been constructed and was owned independently. It was
known as the "Finn" saloon for its Finnish owner, John Erickson. In just over a year three murders
occurred here, two of them involving the owner. The first brawl to turn deadly occurred in late May
1907 when Erickson in his establishment had a fight with miner John Ryan in which the latter was
reportedly kicked to death. Ryan was loaded onto a train bound for medical treatment Salt Lake, but
died of his injuries before it reached Milford. At his trail Erickson claimed he assaulted the man after
seeing him strike a boy. This story may have convinced the jury and after 10 hours of deliberation
they convicted him on the reduced charge of battery and he served only a year in prison."

"While the saloon's owner was detained and awaiting trial, a second murder occurred at his
establishment. On the Monday night of December 2nd, 1907 Matt Long, a man of ill reputation, was
drinking heavily in the saloon. At the time he was allegedly competing with bartender Arthur
Kingsbury for the affections of a woman. The tow began a conversation which escalated into a fight.
After striking Kingsbury with a pistol, Kingsbury himself produced a weapon and in the midst of the
ensuing scuffle shot Long three times. Public sentiment was with Kingsbury, who defended himself on
grounds of self defense."

"By July 1908, Erickson was out of prison and back at his saloon. While playing a well
lubricated game of cards into the wee hours of the morning with a man named Henderson, a
disagreement over a hand arose which quickly escalated into a physical altercation. As the Beaver City
Press reported the next day, along with a bit of editorializing on the character of the deceased, 'Knives
were used by both men. Henderson is badly cut up and may die of his wounds, while Erickson is dead,
his throat having been cut from ear to ear. For several years Erickson has been a terror to Newhouse
and neighborhood and a great many people will be glad to know that the desperado is no more.'"

"A month later at a meeting of Beaver County Commissioners, the board refused to grant a new
license to the saloon, an act the Press anticipated to meet with "unqualified approval from all the
people of the county." The building itself where these events transpired was unfortunately lost to
history after it burned down in a 1913 fire. It was unclear how it started, and the building had been
unoccupied for a long time. Reportedly, nothing of any value from inside was saved."

Incidentally, in a 1913 referrendum on alcohol, every single one of the Newhouse precinct's 81 votes cast were in favor of making the county "wet."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dividend and the Tintic Standard Mine

Read entire document as a PDF here.

Few today know the story of the Tintic Mining District, but over its long life it produced enough precious metals to have made it one of the richest mining areas in Utah. In total production it was an equal to Park City, and by 1959 the district was ranked 20th in the top 25 gold mining districts of the United States with 2,648,000 ounces produced. Figures for other metals are equally impressive, with 250 million ounces of silver, 250 million pounds of copper, 350 million pounds of zinc, and 2.2 billion pounds of lead produced district wide. By 1976, the estimated value at the time of production of all metals mined was an astounding $568,620,003, a figure which places the Tintic district second in state production behind the massive Bigham mine.

On all sides of the long, North- South Tintic Mountain Range, several mining camps sprung up, lived, and died during the 133 year period mining took place. Unlike some of Utah's better known mining districts, the lower and drier Tintic mountains are geographically unsuited to be revived by ski development, and has like so many other West Desert mining camps faded into near-obscurity. Historically the largest town in the district, Eureka, is today a shadow of its former self with approximately 600 residents. Over a ridge, Mammoth clings to life with only a few dwellings occupied year round. The other towns are today entirely deserted with only a few foundations and structures remaining to park their passing. This is the story of one of those towns, the town that would be known as Dividend...

East Tintic


The North Lilly

The Eureka Lilly

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ghost Towns and Gilsonite

Of the Uinta Basin...

Read it in PDF form here.


I first came to the Uinta Basin as a guide for Centennial Canoe on the White River. Launching from Bonanza, I was intrigued by the large industrial structure of the American Gilsonite plant in this remote corner of the desert. The trip through the White River canyon was beautiful and the scenery was amazing. I also knew there were a few ghost towns nearby that were somehow tied into the history of Gilsonite mining. I had ridden up there in fellow guide's car and was not at the time able to convince them to drive 20 miles further out of the way to stare at a few ruins after the trip. This of course only served to intrigue me further.

Since 2008 I had been researching Utah's Ghost towns and since 2010 I had committed myself to writing about them professionally. Talking to the owner of the canoe company that winter, he asked if I would be interested in guiding the White again next summer. I said of course I'd love to, and set out to write the first in depth study of the ghost towns on my list. Unfortunately, as the schedule worked out all my trips were on the Gunnison and the Colorado, and I missed the excitement of high water on the White.

However, I did get shuttled back and forth a bit from Green River to Vernal to run the Green through Dinosaur National Monument. On two such trips I took the scenic route to see for myself what was left of the towns of Dragon and Watson, where from 1904 to 1939 mining communities with schools, barber shops, saloons, stores, American Red Cross chapters and baseball teams established tenuous outposts of civilization in one of the most remote parts of the state.

I have received no compensation for this article, but I did receive a great deal of help in writing it from several institutions. Among them are the Western History / Geneology Department at the Denver Public Library, the Special Collections Department at the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah, the Uintah County Public Library, and the Green River Public Library.

Special thanks is due to the Southwestern Studies Department at FT Lewis College in Durango, where I found rare copies of two very helpful books on the history of the Uintah Railway and the American Gilsonite Company. The librarians at Fort Lewis not only gave me a library card even though I wasn't a student, but they were extremely helpful with library resources, from geologic maps to laminations and photo copies. Another institution whose work I benefited from immensely was the University of Utah. The "U of U's" J. Willard Marriott Library is hosting many historic photographs for county libraries around the state, some of which I have with permission used in this article. Perhaps even more significantly, archivists at the U have made this article possible through the Utah Digital Newspapers project.

The digitization of newspapers is in the process of revolutionizing the way history is written. Now anyone with a computer and a little free time can search back issues of historic newspapers that previously took weeks of tedious page by page flipping by hand to accomplish. This of course was only possible for people who could take enough time off work to spend, potentially, weeks at some archive. Digitization is bringing a tremendous access to the level of "ordinary" citizens. In writing this article I have relied heavily upon digitized issues of the Vernal Express, who since its inception has enthusiastically covered developments in the Gilsonite industry, and whose articles over the years provided me with a level of detail of daily life in the Gilsonite camps that it would not have been possible to obtain from previously written history books or passing references in geologic articles alone.

Lastly, tremendous thanks is due to Holiday River Expeditions, and in particular to Green River Operations Manager Tim Gaylord, for allowing me to spend countless hours between river trips last season doing the research for this article on the company internet from the air conditioned comfort of the Green River warehouse.

Ghost Towns and Gilsonite is being released here for the benefit of anyone interested in learning more about Gilsonite mining history. Unfortunately that is still a fairly limited method of distribution. If you are interested in helping me to publish this this article elsewhere, please contact me at

The Towns...




Pipeline (over White River) and Gasoline Plant (at Loma)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fall in Sevier County

(First published Oct 4, 2011)

Went out to Clarion, just West of Centerfield. It may have been a ghost town once. I am not sure. But today it hardly fits... though you could take the right photos and pretend it was once. But I found it, camped out, built the tarp as a big lightning and rain storm provided a welcome upon my return, at long last, to The Great Basin...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Ghost Towns Have Always Capitvated the Attention

The ghost towns have always captivated the attention of millions of people...

Yet, most who have ever read or wondered about Ghost towns have never had any concerte plans to ever actualy visit one.

And therein lies the true value of so much of the American West.

The wilderness, the open spaces, the mountain ranges, the deserts, the gold, the history and the dreams... The value of these places as intellectual resources have always been neck and neck with their value as material resources. For no matter how much we market ourselves, the great majority of our fellow citizens will be unable, or unwilling, to visit these places in person- and, if they should- only the tiniest minority will have the time and fiance to ever come close to seeing it all. Culturally, however, the idea of The West has perhaps been our country's most valuable export. Every year new films, songs, paintings, books, and even fashions are gobbled up by a public thirsty for an escape, a thrill, an inspiration. And so, in the steady march of time, do our actual histories and our fictionial histories merge and blend in the public consciousness...