Two of Emery County's Ghost Towns
Since the time of Desert Lake and Victor, now both "ghost towns," Emery County has had many new citizens arrive to live and work, and new generations of the old families have come along. So where is-where were Desert Lake and Victor?
They are/were both located somewhere close to the wildlife and bird sanctuary that still uses the name Desert Lake, and south and east of Elmo. There are still people who live in Elmo whose grandparents were settlers there, and some still retain acreage settled on and farmed by these ancestors.
Some of the names gleaned from the pages of history are Winders, Wells, Thaynes, Powells, and Marsings, later, Mills, Davis, Blackburns, Drapers, Olsens, Pillings, and Lisonbees.
Reading history from "Emery County 1880-1980" written by Ada Willson of Elmo, a former resident of Desert Lake/Victor, says the settlement of Desert Lake began in 1885 "when a group of men commenced to work on the Cleveland water ditch through which water was conveyed from the Huntington Creek to the country lying eastward. They also commenced to make a reservoir" and called it Desert Lake. "A ditch was also made to convey water from the Washboard Basin."
Families claimed land parcels and settled in, building little log cabins and making dogouts, some living for years in the beds of the wagons they came in until more permanent homes could be built. Up until 1888, "Only a little farming was done...as there was no water for irrigation until the ditches were completed."
In Aug. 1896, the dam which had been constructed at such great exertion and expense by manual and horse labor, broke, quickly covering the flats, and some of the people narrowly escaped.
The first boy child born there was Charles William (Bill) Winder on June 28, 1889. Faithful midwives helped with the sick and child deliveries. Some were Sarah B. Pilling Marsing, Viola Wells, Ellen Pilling Winder, Jane Griffith Davis, Sarah Cowley, Maria Christensen, Sylvia Oviatt, Freda Thorderson, Deslina Johnson, Miriam Hansen, Emelia Jensen, Adelaide Oviatt Rasmussen, Emily Wells, and a Mrs. Noyes. Doctors who came to attend the sick were Dr. Fisk and Dr. Winters, (Price), Dr. Nixon (father of beloved teacher of North Emery High School, Grace Nixon Johansen, Castle Dale), and Dr. Hill (husband of another well loved teacher, Stella Leonard Hill, deceased of Huntington).
LDS meetings were held in a small school house erected about 1895. Parents hired and paid the school teachers at first; some were John Petersen, 1896, Vivian Douglas 1898, Joseph Guymon, Dame Leonard, C.T. Hurst in 1903, Mr. Candlin, M.J. Blackburn in 1905, Ruth McFadden, Florance Winder, Hyrum Southward, Sarah Kershaw, Ruth Wood, Florence Lemmon, Gomer Arnold, Mayme Monk, Alevia Nelson, Florence Jorgensen, George Jorgensen, Miss Palmer, Don D. Woodward, Mattie Cannon, Mrs. English, William Fitt, Elizabeth Johnson, and Iris Fitt. Then Rose Ann Richard Anderson as the final teacher. Teacher, Manassa Julian Blackburn was the Emery County Superintendent of Schools from 1912-14. There were as many as 45 students in about 1914. Teachers in Victor were Raymond Wells, Rose Reynolds, William Arnold, Glen Arnold, Dave Lamph, Myrtle Peterson, Eva Dean Crosby, Maude Amoniette Marsing, Lucille Gold, Iola Jensen, Thomas Johnson and others.
In 1908, the place of holding LDS meetings was changed from Desert Lake to the new townsite where they were held in the tithing granary and private residences until a new schoolhouse was built in 1910. Early in 1914, the name "Desert Lake Ward" was changed to "Victor Ward." In 1935, the Victor Ward was discontinued and the membership was transferred to the Elmo Ward.
The National Archives show a postoffice was established in Desert Lake in 1898 with Elvira Marsing as the first "postmistress'" followed by Caroline Mills then Eliza Draper. Later the mail was carried from Cleveland by Moses Tucker, John L. Thayne, Harvey Mills, Charlie Winders, and Henry Mills. Mail was carried by horses and buggies until Henry Mills bought a Model T Ford in 1914. In 1918, Thomas Wells began transporting the mail to Huntington.
LDS Ward records show a postal name given to Victor in 1912, with Vernon E. Johnson appointed postmaster. "Evidently at some time there were two separate towns...but only one church." Some years there were postoffices in both towns, but eventually mail was delivered to boxes on the side of the roads. Mentioned was a store operated by C. Winder, as well as a "postoffice" that was a mailing station in 1895, before the postoffices were established.
The Victor cemetery is located about five miles east of Elmo. Headstones can be seen by the "Wreath of Rocks." There are about 28 or more people buried there and four more buried "in Thayn Field between Desert Lake and Victor."
When Mrs. Willson wrote the history in 1980, there was still standing, a two story brick fireplace and chimney, the remains of the Charles Winder "old mansion." The home had remained as a landmark until vandals broke in (1970s) and burned it to the ground. The Victor schoolhouse built in 1910 was still standing in 1980 when the history was published.
In 1990, Jamie Jensen Howa, a teacher at Helper Junior High, was a national census taker. She was required to "take the census of Desert Lake and Victor" even though everyone in Emery Country knew that no one had lived out there for years. Petite Miss Jensen of Cleveland, just out of college at the time, told friends that she put on her dad's irrigation boots and stomped all over the flats and mud bogs, saw many signs of former habitations, and dreaded running into anything "living" such as snakes and rodents. Perhaps some other baffled census taker will be required to wander around there again in the future, wondering why.
Because of the private ownership and federal use, most of the land around the old towns of Desert Lake and Victor is inaccessible today. But when I have time to pull on my husband's irrigation boots, I want to give my good-old friend, Verl Winder of Elmo, a call to see if he'll let me wander on his ground. I want to see for myself the remnants of history, his beautiful fields, the places still touched by the warm desert sunshine, the parched ground waiting for rain, and feel the gusty winds that have called the many varieties of birds and wildlife for hundreds of years into the area. I'll take my little "opera" binoculars and my bird book. I'll also stop to read again, the marker on the road, placed in honor of the Winder family forefathers who settled that area. I think, if it's OK, I'll take my dog to warn me of any "living" creatures that I may not want to encounter.