Looking Back at Emery County Sawmills
Editor's Note: This is the final in a three-part series looking back on some on the people and industries which shaped Emery County.
Emery County has a varied past where industries have come and gone. A once flourishing industry, the sawmills have gone the way of many such endeavors with only two remaining in the county where as many as 14 have thrived at various times and places in the past.
In the early 1900s lumber was needed for the many building projects that were going on during this period of time. Many schools, churches, public buildings, homes and farm structures were constructed around the turn of the century. In Edward Geary's book, A History of Emery County, he said, "Most of the lumber used in the county continued to be locally produced. With the establishment of the Manti National Forest regulation was brought to the lumber industry and sawmill operators were required to obtain permits to cut timber. A significant number of sawmills were regularly in operation during the summer months. The Huntington Lumber Company, incorporated in 1907 by John F. Monson, LeRoy Strong, George M. Miller and Joseph E. Johnson operated a sawmill in Huntington Canyon and a planing mill in Huntington for several years. Ferra Young and sons, Martin Jensen and sons, operated sawmills in Huntington Canyon.
"Carl Wilberg operated a mill near Seely Creek for several years then sold it to A. Gardner Jewkes, Frank Killian and Clyde and Arthur A. Van Buren. This sawmill operation continued in the Van Buren family until 1950. Claiborne Elder had a mill in Reeder Canyon, and Henry Lord operated one near the Cap on Horn Mountain. George Petty and sons ran a sawmill in Ferron Canyon for many years in a canyon known as Mill Hollow, where there was plenty of water for the steam engine. In August, 1910, George Petty sold the sawmill to John Broderick and Jim Simonsen. On July 5, 1912, the sawmill caught fire and burned to the ground. There was no one at the mill at the time so nothing was saved. The fire was of unknown origin, but it was thought the mill could have been struck by lightning. It was soon replaced with another one which they put in at the head of Mill Fork. The original mill established in the Muddy Creek drainage by Rasmus Jacobsen, Ed Torgensen, and Chris Jensen in 1893 was acquired by Hans Jensen, G.M. Burr, and Joe Christiansen in 1912. This operation remained in the Jensen family until 1945. A sawmill also operated on Cedar Mountain for a time, harvesting the small stands of Ponderosa pine.
"There was a mill on Henningson Reservoir in the early days owned by Chris Henningson, the grandfather of LeGrand Beal. He dammed off the water and started the reservoir that is still there. It now belongs to the Muddy Creek Irrigation Company.
"All of the lumber sawed by the first mills had to be hauled out from the Pines Pasture area, down Box Canyon, along the Muddy Creek and into Emery until the great flood in 1912. The road through there was completely washed out and a new one had to be made. Instead of trying to fix the old route, a new one was made down Wild Cat Canyon. This was a much shorter distance," according to Geary.
The roads and trails which exist in the Manti-LaSal Forest today are the hard work of men who came before and built those roads long before the time of road graders and other equipment available today. The roads were built with picks and shovels, horses and wagons and a lot of men working together to see the job through. These roads came into existence to bring the lumber from high atop the mountains to the valleys where the lumber was put to good use by the settlers.
According to Geary, "The mill owned by Hans Jensen, Joe Christiansen and Charles Worthington sold and delivered lumber in Sevier, Sanpete and Emery Counties. Many settlers came and picked up their own lumber. Sawdust from the mills was also put to good use in packing winter ice for summer use.
"Hans ran the machinery, Joe fed the hogs and Charles stacked the lumber. They hired Ashmun Miller to tend the locomotive that supplied the steam power. Three men were hired for logging and hauling the logs to the mill with teams and wagons. All trees had to be spotted and marked by Ranger David Henry Williams before any were cut. Scrap lumber was used for heating.
"Each man took his wife and family to live at the mill during the summer. They lived in frame houses with tent tops, used wood burning stoves, homemade tables, stools, benches and bunkbeds. These men ran a thriving business for years and created jobs for a number of men.
In the book, "Emery County 1880-1980," Thelma Mills writes a history of the sawmills," she said, "In 1928 Cyril McArthur, Vick Ungerman. Martin Leamaster and others bought a sawmill, located in Snyder Canyon, from Clear Creek Coal Company. They sawed for the first two years at that location sawing mainly mine ties. What lumber was brought out had to be brought around by Clear Creek and Scofield where it was loaded on the train and transported to Price where it was loaded on wagons and brought back into Emery County. The next year McArthur bought all the shares of the mill and moved it from Snyder Canyon to the head of Nuck Woodward Canyon. He began building a road from Huntington Canyon up Nuck Woodward for approximately 10 miles in order to take supplies in by wagon rather than pack horse and to be able to haul his lumber to Huntington with a 40 mile haul instead of the 100 mile haul. This road was dug around the side of the mountain and across the meandering creek by plow and scraper drawn by horses and by hand shovel and pick work with the help of blasting powder. It made this area of the mountains available to public use.
"After this road was made passable, he took the family to the mill where they lived for the summer with cows and chickens to help with food and horses to skid logs. The trees were felled with two man hand saws, trimmed and logged into 12-18 foot logs, then skidded with a horse down the steep mountainside to the cart-road, they loaded one to three logs on the rear axle of the wagon that had one end of the log on the ground while the front end was elevated on the cart, to the sawyard and piled up until there were enough logs to saw lumber for several days at a time.
"The mill was powered by a large steam engine that fed on the waste lumber and dead aspen logs which were cleaned from the surrounding side hills. He operated the mill in this canyon until 1939 when he sold it to Carlos Otterstrom of Castle Dale. He moved it to the mountains up Straight Canyon then to the mountain back of Hiawatha.
Thelma Mills said, "Once my father was coming down with a wagon load of lumber when the lumber wagon hooked in back of a rock and the horses went over the side and their backs were hanging over the edge of the mountain. Dad cut the harnesses loose on the horses and they rolled down the mountainside getting almost to the edge of a sharp drop off when they caught on a pine tree. My dad went down and led them back up to the road where he hooked their harnesses together and he hooked them up to the back of the wagon, pulled it back up on the road and then unhooked them and hooked them back up to the front of the wagon and proceded on down the road just like nothing had ever happened.
"They couldn't haul a full load of lumber down the hill, but only part of a load each time. They would take the half load down to the camping spot and then go back for the other half and bring it down. Then the full load was put on the wagon for transporting to town. We had a really nice camping spot near where the ranger station is now. Later on my dad had a big red truck for hauling lumber. Back in those days they didn't have regular bridges just creeks that were filled with logs. I was the only girl on the whole mountain and I was respected and watched out for by the crews. It was a wonderful time in my life," said Mills.
Kathaleen Davis Rowley's family ran a sawmill in Reeder Canyon up Joes Valley. She said, "There was a pond just below where the houses were and it was used for the mill. They would soak the wagon wheels in it and the water would run down through the mill and wash the sawdust away. We loved playing in the sawdust as kids. We had lots of kids to play with and we had lots of fun. We went to the mill and spent our summers there. In 1936 the CC crews came to the mill and purchased lumber to build the San Rafael swinging bridge. This bridge is now a historical marker. The Davis family went down to the dedication in 1937.
"My Grandmother Davis would cook for the men at the mill. We had many picnics with my family and grandmother up at the mill," said Rowley.
The Manti-Lasal National Forest at the present time has an infestation of the bark beetle and thousands of trees are infested. According to Rue Ware who used to work for the forest service during the summers, "The beetle infests the bark around the bottom of the tree and kills the tree. These trees which have been killed in this way are still good for lumber. I have been interested in sawmills since I was a young boy when my dad hauled lumber from the mill to different people around town. It was a neat experience. It is my dream that we develop a brochure for our county to explain the old sawmills and guide people to those sites to look around. There were at least 14 different sawmills in the county. I would propose to find out all the information possible in regards to each mill site. I would like to erect signs at the beginning of each trail head to explain how far it is up to the site and what kind of a hike it is.
"I would also like a monument with a plaque erected at each site with some of the history of that site on it. I think old sawmill sights are every bit as interesting as old ghost towns. It would be a reflective time on a hike to the sawmill, a time to picture in your mind what life was like for the saw mill workers. Let your thoughts linger there and hear the steam locomotives, hear the whistle calling the workers to lunch, hear the sound of the saw as it gnaws its way through a bark covered log, smell the fresh baked bread as its aroma fills the air. The mill cook always knew that the amount of food consumed by the workers was in direct proportion to the amount of work accomplished by that worker. These ghost sawmill sites would carry the memories of the past and a renewed interest to protect and preserve the past for future generations to enjoy," said Ware.