Ogden: ‘This is the Place?’

Thursday , July 17, 2014 - 3:41 PM


"Ogden might have been the one big city in the State of Utah."

That was the headline in the June 13, 1914 Ogden Standard-Examiner.

After all, Weber Canyon's Devil's Gate rerouted the Mormon Pioneers a different way than they intended into the Salt Lake Valley. Here is a "What if?" scenario:

It is July 21, 1847 and Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow, advance scouts for the Mormon pioneers, emerge into the valley of the Great Salt Lake and survey the area as the first of their group, composed of 143 men, three women and two children.

A day later, on July 22, the first wagons enter the valley. A survey of the area continues.

Then, on July 24, Brigham Young's wagon leaves Weber Canyon and enters the valley at today's South Weber/Uintah.

"This is the right place," Young proclaims, "Drive on."

If, for example, Devil's Gate, near the mouth of Weber Canyon, had not been so formidable of a fiendish gorge, this actually could have happened.

A Weber Canyon entrance into the Valley of the Great Salt Lake was the most direct access for the Mormon pioneers and is where they would have traveled, if they could have.

Weber Canyon was a section of what was then called the Hastings Cutoff. An 1846 map made by T.H. Jefferson identified the Devil's Gate area as "Granite Canyon."

The wild Weber River roared over rocks in a deep, narrow crevice at the bottom of Devil's Gate. The canyon was only wide enough to handle the river, let alone wagons.

Heinrich Lienhard, a frontiersman in Jefferson's frontier party, described his wagon passage through Devil's Gate as the wildest part of his journey across the wilderness of the West.

In his diary account for Aug. 6, 1846, he recorded:

"The Weber River had broken down the steep, high Wasatch Mountains; it was a deep cleft through which the waters foamed and roared over the rocks.

"We ventured upon this furious passage, up to this point decidedly the wildest we had encountered, if not the most dangerous. We devoted the entire forenoon and until fully one o'clock in the afternoon to the task of getting our four wagons though. . . .

"In going back for each wagon we had to be very careful lest we lose our footing on the slippery rocks under the water and ourselves be swept down the rapid, foaming torrent."

The legendary Porter Rockwell led some advance Mormon pioneer scouts in a survey of lower Weber Canyon.

They found the gorge worse than Hastings had described it.

The 1914 Standard story also speculated that if the Donner Party had also traveled down Weber Canyon instead, perhaps the Mormon pioneers would have done so too.

Now Brigham Young was said to have seen a divine vision of the area of the Salt Lake Valley the pioneers were to settle in. Hence, why the pioneers still might have turned south and went some 30 miles to today's Salt Lake City, if they had went through Weber Canyon instead.

(If not that, then South Weber, Layton, or some nearby town, or towns, might have been today's Salt Lake City, as Miles Goodyear had already laid claim to everything between Weber and Ogden canyons.)

For the Mormon pioneers, it would not be until eight years later, in 1855, that Devil's Gate was partially tamed. Then, Thomas Jefferson Thurston, Abiah Wadsworth (one of my ancestors), Ira Spaulding, Charles Peterson, Roswell Stevens and other prospective settlers had built a road from South Weber and by Devil's Gate into the Morgan Valley.

Years later, Devil's Gate was opened to one-lane passage with the construction of "Horseshoe Bend," a loop in the road around Devil's Gate.

Families entering from either side of Devil's Gate by horse and buggy would send one person ahead on foot to stop traffic on the narrow path while they passed through.

An 1887 article in the Ogden Standard-Examiner referred to the west end of Weber Canyon as "The Devil's Road," thanks to the rough and rocky conditions of Devil's Gate.

By the early automobile age, the road through Devil's Gate was widened dramatically to two lanes.

However, it also earned several new nicknames, like "Scrambled-Egg Curve," because of the frequent accidents involving egg transports there -- as well as other cargo spills.

It required lots of dynamite and heavy equipment in the early 1960s to clear the path for the construction of two 583-foot-long concrete bridges, key components of creating Interstate 80-North (now I-84), finally conquering the bugaboo of Devil's Gate/"Scrambled Egg Curve" and the like. (It cost $2.5 million then, or $19.4 million in today’s dollars to build the three-mile section of freeway in the area of Devil's Gate.)

Today, it is not easy to spot (or stop at) Devil's Gate. Motorists zoom through the area at 65 mph, hardly slowing down for what might have been the only insurmountable barrier the Mormon Pioneers faced in their historic trek.

Lynn Arave is a veteran journalist who started writing for newspapers in 1970 at Roy High and for daily papers starting in 1976 with high school game reports for the Standard-Examiner. He has been an avid history researcher for three decades. He can be reached at lynnarave@comcast.net.

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