FEATURE — “How come it’s free?” asked a female visitor at the Cove Fort Historical Site.
“Because it’s Utah,” her male companion said.
“How come it’s so clean?” she asked.
“Because it’s Utah,” he said again.
Cove Fort is located about 24 miles north of Beaver in Millard County. It was first constructed in 1867 at the direction of President Brigham Young of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In time it passed through other owners until it was donated back to the LDS Church, restored and dedicated by LDS general authority Gordon B. Hinckley on May 9, 1992 and opened to the public in 1994 as a historic site.
If one visited every room of the Cove Fort Museum inside and out after eavesdropping on the Cove Fort visitors’ conversation, they might answer the woman’s questions this way:
You can feel the presence of those who called this place home. How could you not?
Every item in the Cove Fort Museum conveys life during a time Ira Hinckley and his family lived in the fort from 1867 to 1877. Cove Fort was renovated and restored to that specific period.
Every display has a tale to tell with items purposed, repurposed and repurposed again as they were in that day: Trousers were salvaged from partly worn mattress ticking. When the trousers wore through, they reclaimed strips and loomed them into rugs. Worn rugs were recycled into pieces of fire starter. And ashes gathered from the hearth were used to make soap.
The historians worked hard to authenticate every article displayed. They excavated a chip of china with a manufacturer’s name on it that led them to find and purchase a complete set of matching dishes from an East Coast secondhand shop. A found single domino made from leather and bone is now displayed as a game set. One large unique ceramic bowl challenged a local artist to match it with a cupboard full of comparable pottery.
In the kitchen sits a black Glenwood double cast-iron stove, just like Ira Hinckley described in his journal. A massive stack of cast-iron pots and pans might rouse memories of grandmother frying chicken in her heavy pan. One can almost smell a whiff of that fried chicken sizzling on the big black stove and imagine sitting at the table as Lucy and Brigham Young and Col. Thomas and Elizabeth Kane arrived for dinner.
Hinckley’s wives filled their oversized bread pans with 5 pounds of dough and baked 10 or so loaves daily. They fed between 30 and 70 guests at the dinner table, three meals a day. Most travelers paid 50 cents for a meal that included a half-bed. Patrons never knew who might be sleeping next to them. (Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows”?)
If lodgers didn’t have 50 cents then a song or dance would do; however, their hostesses could always find some chore that needed to be done.
Every piece of wood furniture in the fort is made of pine and hand-finished to resemble other exotic woods — that’s what crafty people did in that day. The beds and chests are stained red with ox blood and finished and sealed with buttermilk.
Coverlets were either loomed with the date crafted woven into them or painstakingly quilted. Linsey-woolsey quilts were woven with a linen warp and a woolen weft. Color patterns emerged as wool takes dye readily and linen does not. On each bed lays a handsome quilt.
Headboards built with rolling pins attached on the top were used for pounding the mattress, plumping it up and then rolling it smooth. This also upset bedbugs and encouraged them to flee. A wooden key was used to tighten the rope under the mattress. This explains why Mother would kiss her children goodnight and say, “Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
It’s hard to imagine so many niceties in such a rough and wild setting, but travelers appreciated the culture along with a safe haven — shelter, fresh water, warm food and fires on the hearth, horses fed and cared for.
The fortress has gun whales situated around the top and guards did stand by, though no guns were ever fired from the lookout.
One of Hinckley’s wives, Adelaide, wrote in her journal of two of the Hinckley children, Bryant and Edward, finding a gun while their parents were away; it went off as they were playing, she said. Bryant was shot in the knee. A doctor was called but could not remove the bullet. Bryant lived his whole life with that bullet in his knee and bragged that he was the only person shot at Cove Fort.
Solid walls built of native timber and black lava stone made a sturdy fortress that also served as a working ranch, a stagecoach and Pony Express station. Visitors may be amused at the “didt-didt-didt” in the telegraph room as they learn this communication center was a major reason for building the fort.
Architect Truman O. Angell and Hinckley supervised the construction of the fort with 40 men and many teams and wagons. The fort, an unusual design for a home in the first place, had six doors that opened to the north and six that opened to the south. All rooms are connected to the next room by doors. Residents could move from room to room and keep warm and dry during winter snow storms.
One impressive structure at the fort is the magnificent barn, roomy enough for 27 horses stabled all at one time. The only thing missing is that sweet-salty smell of a horse. In Hinckley’s day, several stable boys slept in the barn or in the bunk house. Their job was to take care of the oxen and guarantee fresh horses for mail riders, young as 14, and stagecoaches.
Stable boys would use the ox hanger strapped around the belly and lift oxen up for shoeing. Oxen cannot lift one foot like a horse because they fall over. A blacksmith would fashion any size horseshoe or special oxshoes and repair wagon wheels for the ranch as well as travelers. A collection of well-rubbed-and-oiled tack and harnesses is draped over the stalls today in an atmosphere that is dusted daily.
A circular fenced corral helped prevent stampeding cattle and horses, especially on breaking days. The barn is constructed with wooden pegs and lap joints, no nails except in the floor.
A pond reflects a broad-board ice shed. The Hinckley boys chunked frozen pond water and placed it in the sawdust-insulated shelter and the cooks used ice until the middle of July.
For those attracted to lush gardens, they’ll find long immaculate rows, not a weed around. At the fort, the flowers bloom and vegetables produce.
Who are these people dusting and sweeping and turning the soil? Volunteers. Friendly, pleasant and willing people volunteer at the fort and answer questions. They are confident that this fort will serve as a spiritual way station to the thousands upon thousands who visit each year.
Cove Fort stands as a monument to the much cherished pioneer tenacity and faith. It attracts passersby and welcomes everyone with an open door to the past.
Read more about visiting Cove Fort and the upcoming Cove Fort Festival following the photo gallery.
Click on images to enlarge, use left-right arrows to scroll.
Visiting Cove Fort
Cove Fort is at a cooler elevation, when the author visited it, she found it 20 degrees cooler than St. George.
The Cove Fort Festival is open to the public and takes place on the first weekend in August complete with period clothing, artisans and entertainment.
From St. George, take Interstate 15 north 125 miles. Take the exit at Junction 70 and follow the signs. Summer hours are 8 a.m. to dusk; the park closes one-half hour before sunset.
The fort is shaded by tall black locust trees and the site includes tours, parking, restrooms and shady picnic tables. There is neither a charge nor anything to buy.
However, Beaver’s 79-year-old dairy, the Dairy Farmers of America Cache Valley Cheese Store, located at 330 W. 300 South, sells yummy ice cream and squeaky cheese and other snacks. To get there, take I-15 south 25 miles from Cove Fort. The dairy is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Cove Fort Visitor Center | Highway 161 Southeast, Cove Fort | telephone 435-438-5547 | Facebook page | LDS web page on historic Cove Fort
- Cove Fort Days – August 5 and 6 (details to be posted on Cove Fort Facebook as the date approaches)
- DFA Cache Valley Cheese (the dairy) | 330 W. 300 South, Beaver | telephone 435-438-2421 | website | web page
About the series “Days”
“Days” is a new series with St. George News contributor, feature writer and photographer Kathleen Lillywhite. She said:
I write my stories for people who say, ‘What is there to do around St. George?’ and for new folks just moving into this area.
See prior features in the series: “Branding day; today’s cowboy,” “Fishing day; the B-4-Reel and a really bright trout at Otter Creek” and “History day; Virgin Town walkabout, once ‘a dreadful place’“
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.