Mountain Dell & Pony Express
…In 1851 Woodson subcontracted the carrying of the mail between Fort Laramie and Salt Lake City, to Mr. Feramorz Little, of Utah. The distance was about five hundred miles, much of it through mountainous country with no settlements and but one trading post between the fort and Salt Lake City. The subcontract went into effect on the 1st of August, 1851. Associated with Mr. Little in the subcontract were Ephraim Knowlton Hanks and Charles Franklin Decker. In connection with carrying the mail the contractors also carried passengers. The service was attended by great hardship both for men and teams. The first mail from the east under Woodson’s contract, for instance, though arriving in Salt Lake City as early as November 9th, was reported to have passed through snow from one to three feet deep for “seventeen days.” In 1852 Charles Decker, bringing in the mail from Laramie had a narrow escape from death at the hands of hostile Indians, on which occasion he met with “Kit” Carson, “to whose intercession he ascribed his deliverance.”
B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 4, Ch. 95, p. 29
Pony Express Station
The contract lists the seventh Utah station as being in “Mountain Dale.” It was also called Big Canyon Creek, and often, Hanks Station for Ephraim Hanks who managed the place. This is another station the exact location of which has been much debated. It stood a distance up the slope from Little Dell Reservoir, but neither study of contemporary accounts nor an extensive archeological dig conducted by researchers from Brigham Young University has answered the question of the actual station site.
Utah artist Danquart Weggeland’s painting of Hanks Station appears to show a small log house with an “L” shaped barn. An old stone house in the area, known as the Armstrong House, has often been called the Pony station, but it was not built until the 1870’s.
Station keeper Ephraim Hanks was a colorful character on the Mormon frontier. It was widely rumored that he was a leading figure among a group of Mormon “hit-men” called the Danites, or Destroying Angels. Again we quote Sir Richard:
"I had often heard of this individual, as one of the old triumvirate of Mormon desperadoes, the other two being Orrin Porter Rockwell and Bill Hickman – as the leader of the dreaded Danite band, and in short, as a model ruffian…. The “vile villain,” as he has been called by anti-Mormon writers, … was a middle-sized, light-haired, good looking man, with regular features, a pleasant smile and humorous countenance, and the manly manner of his early sailor life, touched with the rough cordiality of the mountaineer “Frank as a bear hunter,” is a proverb in these lands."
Mark Twain was not so favorably impressed. His description, as quoted from Jabusch, follows:
"I had heard a deal about these Mormon Destroying Angels and the dark and bloody deeds they had done, and when I entered one’s house I had my shudder all ready. But alas for all our romances, he (Ephe Hanks) was nothing but a loud, profane, offensive old blackguard! He was murderous enough, possibly, to fill the bill of a destroyer, but would you have any kind of angel devoid of dignity? Could you abide an angel in an unclean shirt and no suspenders? Could you respect an angel with a horselaugh and a swagger like a buccaneer?"
- Information provided by Patrick Hearty, NPEA Utah, 2005
R. G. Hardy wrote: It was at the junction of two creeks that Leonard Wilford Hardy acquired a piece of land, as well as another piece about a mile farther up the canyon which was used as a hay farm. The remainder of available lands were acquired by other men desirous of making a home in the canyon. The names that I recall were: Richard Winmill, Wm. Taylor, Bines Dixon, Wm. Hardy, Edward Laird, Seymour B. Young, Martin Garn, Sven Olson, Don Carlos Young, J. C. Neilsen, Wm. Roach and James Bullock.
As the pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley increased each year it became very urgent that a supply of timber be made available for the building of homes, and Parley's Canyon had quite a supply in the upper forks. Sawmills were built and vast quantities of lumber and timber were hauled into the Valley. Later it was found that a road could be built over the summit having a very gradual slope, and down into East Canyon joining up with the pioneer trail and making a better road than the one over the Big Mountain and down Emigration Canyon. So the road was built and the original Pioneer Trail over the Big Mountain was partly abandoned and the traffic diverted through Parley's Canyon. Grandfather Hardy had quite a supply of hay and many outfits camped at his place and adjacent camp grounds, and his home was known for many years as Hardy's Station.
About 1888 a school district was organized in Mt. Dell as the 55th District of Salt Lake County. A board of trustees was elected, Wm. B. Hardy was selected as chairman and secretary of the board, which position he held until the district was dissolved in 1899. About 1892 enough money had accumulated to warrant the building of a new school. This was a two-story building, the lower part made of stone from the local quarry, the upper part being of brick hauled from Salt Lake.
Salt Lake City was growing very rapidly and a need for additional water became very evident. The city built a dam at the mouth of the canyon for the purpose of diverting the water into mains which would carry the water into the city. This dam was built about 1891. The farmers in the canyon still owned the water rights and when it became dry in the summer they used a big share of the water for irrigating, leaving only a small stream for the city which really required all the water. The city began to negotiate with the farmers for their water rights which they were not willing to give up unless the land was sold too. The city also claimed that the drainage from the stables and yards was contaminating the water, making it unfit for culinary purposes, thus endangering the health of thousands of people. So the fight went on for several years and finally resulted in a victory for the city and the farmers were practically forced to sell.
By 1900 there was not a farmer left in the canyon and the city had acquired all of the water rights. However, this was not sufficient for the fast growing city, and it was evident that storage was necessary to conserve the waters of the spring floods, etc. Shortly after the turn of the century preparations were made to investigate the feasibility of constructing a dam in the canyon which would be sufficiently large to store all the run-off water. The report was favorable so the dam was built about a half mile below the Hardy farm, which backs up the water so that our old homesite is entirely submerged when the reservoir is full. In 1899 my father, Wm. B. Hardy, sold out his holdings in the canyon and moved his family to Alberta, Canada, where I have lived ever since. I still cherish many fond remembrances of the dear old canyon where I spent my boyhood days.
From Records of Tacy Hardy Winmill: In 1850 Leonard W. Hardy purchased a farm in Parley's canyon, and moved a portion of his family there, keeping a station for Ben Holladay's Overland Stage Line. At this place he owned a seven-room log house and a large barn where the stage company kept extra horses. They drove two span or four horses at a time on each stage, which would come from Salt Lake City and stop at the station. The passengers would be served meals at Hardy's home while the hostelers changed the horses. The station was continued until the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad. We went to school in the meetinghouse, which served as recreation hall, schoolhouse and chapel. We had parties and dances in it and we danced to the music of the accordion. At our school we had only one teacher for all the grades, so we could not advance as fast as we should have done. In 1894 the new schoolhouse was built, a two-story building with the school downstairs and the recreation hall upstairs. That gave us more advantages in school as our teachers were better educated to teach.
Mountain Dell Ward consisted of Latter-day Saints residing in Parley's Canyon, in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains, and on Parleys Creek, originally called Canyon Creek and its tributaries. It was 14 miles southeast of the center of Salt Lake City, and its altitude about 5300 feet above sea level. All kinds of vegetables were raised, including potatoes, of which some samples weighed four pounds each. In 1850 Parley P. Pratt built a toll road from the main forks of this canyon, which road was opened to traffic July 4, 1850 under the name of the Golden Pass. This road, however, was soon afterwards washed out by floods. Among the first settlers in Mt. Dell were Ephraim K. Hanks and Augustus P. Hardy, who in 1858 established a trading post in the canyon for the accommodation of travelers. At their hotel meals cost from $1.00 to $2.50, and a hundred pounds of sugar sold for $125.00.
Hanks and Hardy left the canyon, and when in 1860 Leonard W. Hardy took charge of the locality and remained there for several years, it became known as Hardy's Place. For the benefit of these pioneer settlers a branch of the Church was organized in March 1867.... In 1869 a more completely organized branch, named Mountain Dell, was established, with James Laird as presiding elder, the branch being under the jurisdiction of the Sugar House Ward Bishopric. The Saints erected a log meetinghouse, which in 1894 was replaced by a substantial rock schoolhouse, which served also for religious services. On Sunday, August 20, 1882, the Saints at Mt. Dell were organized as a ward with Wm. B. Hardy as bishop. At that time the ward population, including children, was about 100. Wm. B. Hardy presided at Mountain Dell until 1895 when the ward organization was discontinued and Bines Dixon appointed as presiding elder.
Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 15, p. 274
Ephraim K. Hanks' Wayside Hotel, Mt. Dell Canyon
"Perhaps no subordinate military man, connected with the 'Mormon' Church, played a more prominent part in the so-called Echo Canyon war, during the winter of 1857-58, than did Elder Ephraim K. Hanks. So daring was he in some of his exploits that the bravest men in his company were not anxious to follow him on his reconnoitering expeditions. One dark night he crawled so near to the army officers' tents that the cook unwittingly threw scraps from the general's table over him. Nothing went on around the Officers' Headquarters that he was not familiar with; consequently he kept General Wells posted on every important movement made by Johnston's army. He captured many of Uncle Sam's teams, so as to prevent the troops from moving towards the valley, until President Brigham Young had time to make the authorities at Washington acquainted with the true condition of things.
"During the move south, in 1858, he made his home at Provo, and after his return to Salt Lake, that fall, he took up a ranch between Big and Little Mountain, east of the City, which was named by him Mountain Dell. Here he established a trading post and did a thriving business with the emigrants who passed, during the summer months. He also kept the stage station and looked after the Pony Express boys who always enjoyed with him a plate of hot refreshments before speeding on their way to the East or to the West.
"During the winter months, Mr. Hanks had great difficulty to keep the road open over the Big Mountain where the snow, near the east brink, sometimes drifted to the depth of ten or twelve feet. In opening the way through this place he generally used a yoke of oxen called Buck and Blow. On occasions of deep snow he drove the cattle into the drifts as far as possible and then unyoked them. Buck, who understood the meaning of it, moved forward until he came into snow up to his eyes. He then trampled around until he secured a good footing, preparatory to the next move. When everything was ready, that old bovine bunted into that bank of snow with such vim that Eph thought he had lost him forever; but the old fellow nearly always backed out on time. As soon as he was out of the way, old Blow lined up for the fray, and the bucking and blowing indulged in on such occasions was enough to make the student of animals smile with delight.
"The stage that passed by Mr. Hanks' place was a semi-annual affair, but when it did arrive it was generally loaded with the kind of people who appeared to have been born hungry. The fare across the plain in those days was so high that only the rich could afford to ride, consequently his visitors were a class of people who were well able to pay their way. Eph was not long in finding it out, and aimed to give each passenger his money's worth of pie, even if sugar was a dollar a pound.
"In those days beef, also, was scarce; and, in order to keep his table supplied with fresh meat, he was compelled to resort to many schemes. His past experiences had taught him that the meat of many animals not generally considered wholesome was as good as that used by the general public—it was sometimes better. When Eph was caught in an unusually tight place for meat, he would kill badgers or hedgehogs, boil the meat in several changes of water until the strong taste and smell were gone, and then serve it to the high-toned stranger in a way that made him smack his lips and look for more. On one occasion, a rich banker had enjoyed several slices of boiled badger, when he wanted to know what kind of meat it was, as he had never before tasted anything quite so good. Eph, with a twinkle in his eye, said, "Mr. Banker, that is cub, our common Mountain Dell cub." The banker turned to his accomplished wife, said, "Yes, I thought so, it is certainly the most delicious meat that has been set before us since we left home."
"About the year 1860, the road through Parley's Canyon and over the summit was completed. After that most of the travel went that way. This change, of course, affected business at the Dell, and the result was that Eph sold his mountain home and moved to Parley's Park. He found the surrounding country there in a state of wild nature; nor could a more beautiful spot be imagined. Here he built his home and commenced to raise stock. There were but two other families in the Park at that time, and the families resided about two miles apart. Indians overran the country and hence great care had to be used by the settlers to prevent the Redskins from committing depredations. Many scenes of a thrilling nature occurred during depredations, but Ephraim K. Hanks was always at his post when danger was in sight, or at its worst."
—Improvement Era, Vol. 18.
Heart Throbs of the West, Kate B. Carter, Vol. 5, p. 340
The Mail in 1851-52
On July, 1851, Feramorz Little contracted with Mr. Woodson to carry a monthly mail between Salt Lake City and Laramie, Wyoming for eight thousand dollars a year, for two years and eleven months, the remainder of the term of four years for which Mr. Woodson had contracted. He employed Ephraim Hanks and Charles F. Decker. Carriers on each end of the line were expected to meet at Laramie on the 15th of each month. The only settlement between Salt Lake City and Laramie was Fort Brid-ger, one hundred ten miles east of Salt Lake. On August 1, 1851, Little and Hanks took their first mail over the route to Fort Laramie. Between the Green River and South Pass they met Messrs. Harris, Brocchus and Brandebury, the newly appointed officials for the Territory of Utah.
“Perhaps the most remarkable mail trip between Laramie and Salt Lake City was that made by Feramorz Little in November, 1852. He was accompanied by a Canadian Frenchman named Contway and four other passengers. They left Salt Lake City, November 1, and arrived at Laramie on the 15th. Because of heavy storms the eastern mail had not arrived and the contractor was compelled to wait twenty days before leaving for Salt Lake. At the close of November Mr. Little in mounting a mule sprained his ankle, yet despite the advice of the army surgeon at Laramie not to use his foot, he started for Salt Lake early in December. He was ten days getting to Devil‘s Gate. There he was advised by the proprietor of the trading post that it was useless to go further on account of the snow. The party continued, however, and were soon lost on a trackless wilderness of snow in what was called "Bad Lands," far to the southeast of South Pass. Blinded by the drifting snow storm, so they could discern no mountains or beacons to direct their course, with the weather so cold that they did not dare close their eyes during the night for fear of freezing to death, lost for two days and during that time without fire, food, sleep or grazing, the little company finally wandered into Fort Bridger on December 22. There Little was again advised that he could go no farther because of the snow. Nothing daunted, however, the wiry contractor, procured some of the best horses known as the Flat Head breed, and broke his way to the Weber. For convenience in packing, the postmaster at Laramie had divided the mail into two sacks, each weighing seventy-two pounds, but the letters were all in one sack, which in turn was put into what packers call a par-flesh, an Indian tanned buffalo skin. The paper, mail and other valuables were stored in a large iron boiler. An attempt was made to get down into the valley on the ice of the Weber River, but this being found impracticable, the horses were turned out to pasture until spring and the party determined to drag the mail over the snow to Salt Lake. ”Leaving the horses at Weber,“ writes the editor of the Deseret News, ”Mr. Little commenced drawing the mail bags of one hundred fifty pounds on the snow in par-flesh but after a few miles hauling found it impossible, cached the news bags and continuing with the letter bag, arrived on January 25, having dragged the mail by hand nearly forty miles over snow in the Wasatch from ten to twenty feet in depth in many places.“ ”Utah and the Nation“ by Creer
Letter Written in the Early 50's
Mail Items, 1851
THE JANUARY MAIL, from Independence, we understand (Thursday morning,) is in the mountains, and is expected at the office Tuesday next.
Mr. Hanks is coming. Mar. 22, 1851
THE MAIL, due from Independence on the first of January, arrived on the 12 instant in charge of Mr. Wm. H. Arnolls. Mr. Arnolls says he was detained four days at Fort Laramie, where he found the November mail from Independence; that he brought as much of the same as was given him, a portion of books and papers having been detained for want of suitable bags; that he brought the mail to Laramie in a wagon, from hence on pack mules; that the snow was presumed to be 100 feet deep in some places on the Upper Sweetwater, where he was detained three days: that he had four mules frozen to death at Strawberry Creek, where he was detained four days by the blowing of the snow; and that from the 25th of January to the 22nd of February, he was obliged to go into winter quarters near the South Pass, the snow being not less than five feet on an average. The mail was brought down the Weber. According to Mr. Arnolls report, he is entitled to great credit for his diligence and perserverance in coming through at the season and under the circumstances which he did.
Mr. Ephraim Hanks, who left this place with the mail on the first of January, passed Fort Bridger and took the south route to Laramie, consequently did not meet this mail. There was no mail expected from Independence in January or February, the contract requiring only the passing and repassing of ten mails per annum, starting on the first of the month. The next mail leaving on the first of March will be due here on the first of April, but if it arrives by the middle of April it will do well, unless traveling improves very rapidly.
In making out the quarterly returns for the Post Office for the last quarter, the income of the office was six dollars per month, which did not pay for a third part of the wood burnt while attending to business; we therefore suggest that our brethren will pre-pay their letters, so that it will help keep up this office. The mail that went out on the 1st instant had 800 letters, which, together with the business appertaining to the office took two clerks night and day to get ready, and the paid for letters did not amount to eight dollars.
Heart Throbs of the West, Kate B. Carter, Vol. 12, p. 56-57
1856-7. During the winter of 1856-7 no regular mail service was performed on account of the severity of the season. The postmaster at Salt Lake City contracted, however, with Messrs. Little and Hanks to carry mail to Independence for $1,500. They made the trip in 78 days, having suffered severely from cold and hunger. Mr. Little had been connected for several years with the mail service.
Heart Throbs of the West, Kate B. Carter, Vol. 12, p. 62
Tuesday, June 16th (1857): This morning Clarke left us early. I cooked breakfast, then one of the boys went to the station and borrowed an axe to cut some timber for the purpose of building a corrall and Bro. Jones and Jackman went up the creek to view the country, while the remaining four worked at the corrall. I wrote a letter this morning to Thomas Clayton who is on a mission to the Western Isles and another to James Currie in G. S. L. City. We then finished the corrall; in the evening Bro. Jones and Jackman returned and gave a good account of the country timber, etc. Soon afterwards Bro. E. Hanks came to our camp. He is taking up the June mail. He also brought news of the death of P. P. Pratt who was killed by the mobbers in Kansas. He also said that our enimies are boiling over in Independence, Mo. and that he barely escaped with his own life, also that the boys with him were hard pressed to get safely away. They were also annoyed by having their best mules taken from their teams.
Heart Throbs of the West, Kate B. Carter, Vol. 12, p. 87
On July 24, 1857, the Saints were up in Cottonwood Canyon for a celebration. While they were up there, Porter Rockwell and Ephraim Hanks, who were carrying the mail at the time, brought word to President Young that two thousand government soldiers were marching towards Utah to destroy the people.
An Enduring Legacy, Volume Three, p. 302
The first U. S. contract to carry the mail from Independence, Missouri to Salt Lake City was awarded to Samuel H. Woodson. The monthly stage service began July 1, 1850 and the contractor was to receive $19,500 per annum for four years. Woodson chose Ephraim K. Hanks and Charles H. Decker to assist him. Feramorz Little, later a mayor of Salt Lake City, received a sub-contract from Woodson in July of 1851, to handle the mail between Fort Laramie and Salt Lake City for $8,000 per annum. During the four years the service was carried on between the Missouri River and Salt Lake City the delivery was quite satisfactory, although sometimes late and the mail damaged by inclement weather.
Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 3, p. 335
- Day of the Buffalo - Fictional account by Laird Roberts
- Stage Station - A log hollowed out for wooden pipe, at Eph Hanks Stage Station above Mountain Dell. Donor and photographer: Charles Kelly, 1935. It was also called Big Canyon Station, and often, Hanks Station.
- Wagon Road
- Topozone Map of Mt. Dell.
- USGS Map of location of Ephraim Hanks Station Pony Express Marker, Utah
- Terra Server satellite image of Mt. Dell.
- History of the Pony Express
- Route and Express Stations
- Brigham's Mailman - Excerpts from Wild Bill and the Mormon Frontier by Hope A. Hilton
- Rockwell Station
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