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Front Page » November 24, 2009 » Carbon County News » Historic cabin fever
Published 1,772 days ago

Historic cabin fever


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By JASON BAILEY
Sun Advocate writer

While the communities of Castle Valley have long since entered the 21st century, many forlorn and desolate structures lie beyond the day-to-day boundaries of civilization, and serve as a reminder of a bygone era that helped make the valley what it is today. While their reasons for existence vary, each are a part of local folklore and tell tales of adventure, boom, or hardship.

One of today's most popular is a cabin that Joe Swasey, his sons, and several members of the Nordell family built back in 1921 near the Head of Sinbad. According to various sources, the cabin was built from Douglas Fir that was hand cut and hauled from nearby Eagle Canyon.

It's an interesting place to build a homestead. Behind the cabin is a tall, distinct rock formation known as The Broken Cross that stands guard over the area. There's also a nearby spring that empties into a watering trough, and not far from there is a unique crevass, 40 feet deep and 40 feet high, that stays about 60 degrees even during the peak of summer. Many say the family kept many perishables and food stuffs inside, away from the sunlight, to keep them cool.

Several historical accounts tell that the Swasey family built a number of cabins throughout the Castle Valley. In fact there are accounts that paint the Swasey brothers as big practical jokesters. One such tale attests that Sid and Charlie arrived at one of their cabins, only to discover that a bear had beaten them to it. Charlie pushed Sid inside, bolted the door, and told him to fight the bear. As the story goes, the bear lost.

But probably one of the most distinct and possibly the most unique of all the cabins in the region was, according to the June 5, 2007 edition of the Emery County Progress, built by Clayton Kofford and his sons in the late 1930s on top of Sid's Mountain, with the intent to establish a grazing homestead there, under the accords of the federal Homestead Act that had been signed by President Lincoln. What makes the cabin so unique, however, is that it was built atop wooden stilts topped with up-side-down pans, or pie tins, which was supposed to keep rodents and other vermin from getting inside.

Clyde and Newell Kofford later hauled a wood stove via horseback and placed it inside the cabin. They also hauled cedar shingles to the site which were added to the roof.

The Smith cabin, which came to be known as the Old Cow Camp, lies south east of the Kofford cabin, along the fringes of the San Rafael Reef, north west of the town of Green River. According to a historical account by Dee Anne Finken, Betty Smith spent a great deal of time at the camp with her kids, while her husband Wayne watched the cattle.

In Finken's account, Smith reported that someone, probably in the 1940s, had drilled a well to the north of their cabins, hoping to strike oil. Instead, they hit water, which drastically changed the way water flowed from the Smith's nearby spring. It affected the way they watered their cattle, as well as their small collection of cherry, peach and apricot trees.

Along both forks of Gordon Creek are some lonely cabins that would certainly have made for some very lonely nights. One is made entirely of wood, and the other containing stone walls and a roof made of timbers. One cabin isn't not far from a cistern made of stone and cement that held water for safe keeping.

But not all Castle Valley cabins and shantys were made for homesteading. Many served as boarding houses for miners working in the industry of oil and mineral exploration, particularly Uranium and Vanadium.

Much has been mined in the Castle Valley and it's surrounding regions, from coal, uranium and vanadium, to gold, silver, copper and gypsum. Although many of these endeavors were ultimately fruitless, many of the boarding houses and dugouts still exist. Places like Copper Globe, Lucky Strike Mine and the Dirty Devil Mine (Tomsich Butte) still contain relics from that era.

Temple Mountain, located in the south eastern region of Emery County, has been a part of the uranium and vanadium venture since the late 1800s. Early miners built a number of rock structures just south of Temple Mountain, near what is now called South Temple Wash. While the wood ceilings have rotted and weathered away, many of the buildings' rock walls still exist.

At the time Uranium was a sort of wonder element and was used many products, from painted glass to ceramics, and as such, a market existed for it. But demand changed during the advent of nuclear power.

Several early accounts say that the ore mined from Temple Mountain was sent to France for Madame Curie's experiments. While there is no evidence to the fact, some say Curie proclaimed that it was the purest uranium she had ever seen.

In the 1950s, Temple Mountain went through a dramatic transformation at the hand of the uranium boom. A shanty town sprung up known as Temple City. But most of these homes were modulars and are no longer visible, unlike their rock-built predecessors.

Although Castle Valley has changed over the course of many years, these cabins, and others like them and other structures, still exist in some semblance, and dot the local landscape in such a way that reminds residents of what existed days long since past, helping pave the way to what Castle Valley is today.

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