Historical society learns about Cass Hite
The Historical Society President Evelyn Huntsman welcomed everyone and introduced the program. She announced that an Emery County Chapter was being started to preserve the memory of the Old Spanish Trail.
For entertainment Tina Cordner of Huntington sang a musical number titled "I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart".
Dottie Grimes introduced Tom McCourt from Price as the featured speaker for the evening. She said, When he worked as a young lad in Nine Mile Canyon for the Nutter Ranch he found many sites containing Indian rock art. Because of these finds he developed a great interest in the study of archaeology. McCourt has written several books centered around cowboy life and what he has learned about Utah outlaws.
McCourt said, "I have always wanted to write, but didn't until I lost my job at the coal mine, when the Willow Creek mine blew up. I had an office job and I was too young to retire. My wife however encouraged me to fulfill my dream of writing books. Since then, I have written half a dozen books and this latest one is very special to me, because I had spent time with my grandparents, as a child in the area where Cass Hite lived.
"The book I have written is called "The King of the Colorado." This is a story about Cass Hite, Utah's legendary explorer, prospector and pioneer. If any of you have been down to Lake Powell, you know about the old Hite Ferry the Hite Marina and the old town of Hite."
McCourt said, "When I was little boy. I spent a lot of time down in Cass Hite's White Canyon with my grandparents. I've always been interested in archaeology, anthropology, and the Indians in that area. A lot of my information comes from White Canyon at the top end of Glen Canyon, which is down on the desert between Hanksville, and Lake Powell. My grandfather used to take us camping there near a spring. While we camped. I was able to explore several pictographs, one of which appeared to be an Indian painting of a woman and a dog on a rock wall. I also found the signature of Cass Hite on a rock wall high above the river.
"My grandparents, during the 1950s were in the uranium business. My maternal grandfather's name was Jon Lauren Winn," said McCourt.
He then showed the group a slide of his family at Temple Mountain, where his grandfather was digging for uranium. After his grandfather's mine lease ran out in 1951 or 1952, he got a job at the uranium mill in White Canyon located near Dandy Crossing and across the river from where Cass Hite's home had been.
"While my grandfather and uncle went to work in the uranium mill, my grandmother went to work running a boarding house. My brother and I went exploring. Grandmother cooked three meals a day for 75 to 80 men. Many of the people working at the mill lived in tarpaper shacks and most of the men working there were World War II ex-soldiers.
"At one time there was a ferry that was used to cross the river at Hite. The ferry was pulled back and forth by an old model A Ford. This ferry operated during the 1950s and early 1960," said McCourt.
He showed photos of the old ferry, the old uranium mill, Cass Hite and his cabin.
"On the east side of the canyon above the town of Hite on a rocky ledge there rested an old Indian fort made of rocks. My brother and I explored there often. The crumbling fort was originally 20 feet square and 12 feet high. There were a large number of pioneer names written on a huge flat sand stone rock at the base of this rock fort. Indian granaries could be seen under the hill below the fort. All of this is now under about 100 feet of water held back by Glen Canyon Dam.
"Lewis Cass Hite was born March 3, 1845 in Marion, Ill. The family later moved to a place near St. Louis, Mo. When Cass was 21, he went west to seek his fortune. He spent a few years prospecting along the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers in Montana and Wyoming and the Salmon River in Idaho. Because he didn't like the cold weather of the Rocky Mountains he moved back to Missouri and then on to Utah. In Utah, Cass explored along the Colorado River and around the White Canyon from 1879 to 1914. He also did some gold prospecting in the Uintah Mountains.
"Cass started out in 1879 prospecting on the San Juan River. That is where he learned about the lost Mitchell and Merrick silver mine. From this incident Cass Hite learned the Navajo Indians had silver on the Indian Reservation.
"The story is that two adventurers, Ernest Mitchell and James Merrick were crossing the Indian reservation where they shouldn't have been, and they found a silver mine. They then returned home with some of that silver. However when they went back to get more silver, they were killed by the Navajo Indians.
"Cass Hite became very interested in finding that silver mine of the Navajo Indians. Cass gathered a group of men and started out into the Indian Reservation. They were almost caught and killed by the Indians on their first venture into the reservation. Gathering some more information about Navajo customs Cass decided he would visit the Indian encampment and meet with their Chief Hoskininni. As a result, Cass spent nearly two years living with the Navajo. Cass Hite was given the Indian name of Hosteen Pish-la-ki and became a blood brother to the Chiefs son Hoskininni Begay.
"Near the end of Cass's stay with the Indians he told the chief that he wanted to find silver and bring riches to the tribe. The chief told him I knew why you were here and I will not tell you where to find the silver. If you will leave this alone, I will show you where to find gold that was once mined by the Iron Hat Mexicans on your side of the river. Hoskininni then showed Cass where there were several old Spanish gold mines. The Indians also showed Cass a good place to cross the Colorado River. He named this crossing the Dandy Crossing. There were sandbars in the river at this crossing, thus giving a person on horseback or a wagon crossing the river a place to rest before going the rest of the way. This was considered a friendly river crossing.
"As soon as Cass was shown where the Spanish had been mining Cass took his gold pan and started checking out these mines. Sure enough, he found gold there and that is how he came to settle there by the river. He put his first claim stake in at Dandy Crossing and staked a large number of mining claims along the river. "Cass knew the Dandy Crossing was a key to the whole area and set up his headquarters there. It was 100 miles to the next river crossing. Anyone with a wagon wanting to cross the river had to cross at Dandy Crossing. There were river crossings at Lee's ferry and another at Moab. The railroad bridge was built at Green River in 1883. This crossing had flat land on both sides of the river and no steep cliffs to contend with. Dandy River Crossing gave Cass the ability to find out who was in the country and who was passing through. Cass started a little store and got a post office and that is when the town of Hite came to be," said McCourt.
A photo of Cass's house was shown and at one time there were five or six cabins at Hite.
"Cass was staking mining claims up and down that river for hundreds of miles. He was staking all of the gravel bars. He actually started a gold rush down in Glen Canyon. When Cass took his gold to town the public found out that he was getting gold from the Colorado River. Two of his brothers were invited to come from Missouri to help him sell mining claims. His brother John ran the store, took care of the farm, the garden and the orchard. His brother Homer worked the gold claims. There were placer mining using sluice boxes and pans. Several men were employed to work the mining equipment.
"Tens of thousands of dollars worth of gold was taken off of the river, but it cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars to get it. Most of Cass Hite's gold mines were in other people's minds. That may be how he came to become a hermit down there. He may have been hiding out from the investors, to whom he had sold shares in his gold mines.
"Cass had a big colt revolver and was known to be quick on the draw. He cut the 7-inch barrel down to 1-inch. He put the gun in a 7-inch holster. He became very proficient with the gun and would whip the gun up and shoot through the end of the holster. Cass later spent a year in the Utah State prison for killing a man in Green River. The Emery County attorney said it was justifiable homicide.
"Cass was proud of his Indian name and often signed his name as Hosteen Pish la ki. Hosteen means Mister and Pish la ki means white metal or silver. The Navajo's called him Mister Silver and he loved that name.
Cass Hite died in 1914 at Ticaboo, Utah at the age of 69," said McCourt.
The following is a brief summary of some of the events in the life of Cass Hite. If you would like to read more about this interesting Western character, the book is available from Tom McCourt of Price.
Cass Hite discovered Utah's Natural Bridges National Monument, explored the wilderness of Glen Canyon and the San Juan River drainage, lived among the Navajos as an adopted son of Chief Hoskininni, found and named the Dandy Crossing of the Colorado River, searched for The Lost Mitchel and Merrick Silver Mine in Monument Valley, worked old Spanish gold mines along the Colorado River, inspired the Glen Canyon gold rush, founded the town of Hite, served time in prison for killing a man in a classic Old West gunfight, buried the victims of the Indian fight at Soldier Crossing, searched for The Lost Rhodes Mine and found gold in the Uintah mountains, became a high-roller socialite in Salt Lake City, lived his golden years as a hermit in hidden Ticaboo Canyon and sleeps for ever beneath the waters of Lake Powell.
Parts of this article were taken from the book King Of The Colorado, The Story of Cass Hite written by Tom McCourt, published by Tom McCourt 2012.