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The Wasatch Behind: Adventures of Uncle Spud

Sun Advocate reporter

Since I began writing this column a few weeks ago, I've had people stop me on the street to ask who Uncle Spud is. As you will recall, Uncle Spud is the wise old guy I talk to when I want to write about controversial subjects like where all the deer have gone.

My relationship with Uncle Spud began a few years ago when my LDS ward did a pioneer project. As a part of the project, members were asked to write stories about their pioneer ancestors. I was jealous.

My fathers' family came from Ireland in the late 1800s and they don't have any great pioneer stories. So, after listening to some nice people talk about family links to such notables as Porter Rockwell, Alfred Packer, and Butch Cassidy, I did what any Mormon Bishop with a sense of humor would do - I made up an ancestor. It was easy. I simply went to my computer and started a genealogy file that I named, Create an Ancestor File. Anyone can do it.

I now have a famous ancestor whose exploits top any pioneer story, anytime, anywhere. Uncle Spud from Ireland is quite a guy. I am constantly doing research on Uncle Spud and we are finding many amazing facts about his life and times.

For instance, when Uncle Spud first came west, he was stopped by a large body of water called Old Man River. Someone wrote a song about it. Uncle Spud couldn't swim, and so he went for miles along the river looking for someone to ferry him across. Finally, he found an old Italian lady who owned a boat. Her name was Mrs. Sippi. Uncle spud hired her to row him across. He was so grateful for her help that he re-named the river in her honor.

Also, back when Uncle Spud came west, the Gateway to the West in St. Louis Missouri was made of barbed wire. Uncle Spud was sure to close the gate behind him. But, just a few years later, someone left it open. That's what really happened to all the buffalo. They got out.

Uncle Spud actually came west a year before Brigham Young and the Mormons. There is a rumor that he was banished from the church after a torrid love affair with Brigham Young's bounteous daughter, Tooele. The church practiced polygamy in those days, and Tooele practiced often. Fortunately, she had no competition. She was a girl of biblical proportions who counted as a plural wife all by herself. Uncle Spud was lucky to escape.

When he first came to Utah, alone and down on his luck, Uncle Spud met the chief of the Ute Indians, a man named Williams, at his camp, known as Camp Williams. Uncle Spud had discovered a marble monument at the mouth of Immigration Canyon that said "This is the Place" and so he knew that Brigham Young would want to settle there. So, he bought the Salt Lake Valley from the Utes. Actually, he traded them Skull Valley and the University of Utah, home of the running Utes, for surface rights to the valley. A renegade named Kennecott still owns the mineral rights.

Chief Williams was so impressed with Uncle Spud's negotiating skills that he made him a chief of the tribe. He even wanted to make him a blood brother. But, when Uncle Spud saw the dull, flint knife, he declined. So, the Indians called him, Chief Timpa-noguts. They named a mountain in his honor.

Uncle Spud married Chief Williams' daughter, an Indian princess named Winnemucca. He named a town for her somewhere in Nevada. Winnemucca had a twin sister named Runnamucca. Runnamucca turned her back on the Indian ways and ran off with a riverboat gambler. They started the first gambling casino in Las Vegas, Nev.

And so, as you can see, Uncle Spud is quite a guy. I expect to consult with him often as we discuss local issues and topics of concern in this column.

Uncle Spud doesn't get out much. So, if you come across any gems of historical significance that might be of use to my illustrious family genealogy, please forward them to my attention. We are discovering more about Uncle Spud all the time.

Be sure to stay tuned.

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