Adus F. Dorsey II
It was in 1848 that A.K. Thurber read the news gold had been discovered in California, and like the flushed feeling one gets when falling in love, Albert immediately came down with a fever, the gold fever. Two days later A.K. was sitting astride a new saddle and his horse’s nose was pointed in the direction where sun sets.
If you have lived in Utah more that week you know that during 1847 and 48’ every dusty wagon rutted trail west was crawling with Pioneering Mormons. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that A.K. Thurber hooked up with a few of them on the trail and became quite impressed with the likes of Brother Ephriam Hanks and Andrew Lamoreaux. Shining like the land of Oz on the horizon and to keep the pioneers moving west they were told that Salt Lake was just over the next hill, or maybe it was the next one after that, but it was out there, in a fevered frenzy A.K. was not the type of person to be deterred, his sights were set on the California streams filled with gold.
Estimates of gold rushers who passed through the Salt Lake valley is 1849 ranged from 5,000 to 10,000. Most gold rushers stayed about one week to catch their breath then pushed on. Often they traded their worn out trail teams for new stock. Albert’s gold seeking companions didn’t want to linger long in Salt Lake City but saddle sore Albert decide he wanted to check it out. At once, twenty three year old Albert found himself a stranger in the new two-year-old city of Salt Lake.
In Albert’s diary he writes that on the 24thof July 1849 he was in the midst of a huge party. There was a parade with marching bands, dignitaries, flags and constant cannon and musket fire. One of the most amazing things he had ever been witness to. This 24th of July Mormon celebration would eventually go down in history as the longest running celebration west of the Rockies.
By trade Albert was a factory worker, an adept comb maker but he quickly found that almost all of the Salt Lake residents were farmers, not his favorite thing to do but he desperately wanted to fit in. Albert was good with teams of horses so finding work was not a problem for the young easterner. Albert instantly found employment on the farm of Benjamin F. Johnson and worked along the side of another young man named Jacob D. Burnham, a Mormon. Albert discussed Mormon teachings with Benjamin Johnson and observed how Mormons lived their religion. On one hot sweaty day Albert observed a Mormon ordinance being performed on a sick man and as if it was meant to be, he immediately understood the principle and why it was being administered.
Albert had made a promise to his mother that he would return to Rhode Island in twelve months but was now struggling with his pledge. It was also about this time that he felt he was destined to embrace Mormonism and be baptized. In short order Albert asked his friend Jacob Burnham to baptize him, Jacob agreed and on September 2nd1849, Albert was confirmed a member of the Mormon faith by his employer Benjamin Johnson.
On September 28th, 1849 a gold train of eight wagons and fourteen men arrived in Salt Lake from California. Earlier in the year, in April, Apostle Amasa Lyman, Porter Rockwell, and some others had gone to California to collect tithing from several hundred Mormons working in the gold field. Elder Lyman sent back the gold train carrying $25,000.00 to $30,000.00, mostly in gold. The gold cargo triggered a flurry of activity at church headquarters and the gold was quickly minted into much needed currency. Again Albert felt the old fever feeling, but during the gold rush year the Mormon leaders had warned the Saints against the signs and symptoms of gold fever and the great temptations it provoked.
Albert got his big gold chance when President Brigham Young authorized a band of merry men to go to the gold mines “for their own advantage,” so Albert jumped at the opportunity. Like many others that were sick with the gold fever, it didn’t pan out, so disillusioned and broke Albert high tailed it back to Utah where he found adventure and purpose beyond his wildest dreams.
About this time Albert wrote in his diary that he was finally able to fulfill his lustful appetite for riches in the gold fields of California. And upon his return to Utah in 1849 he brought back with him his total fortune of $4.50, just enough to pay for a hot bath, a shave and haircut, a real meal and a bed in a boarding house on State Street.
To me this is where the real meat of the story of A.K. Thurber, Mormon Pioneer and conqueror of Rabbit Valley begins.
Within a week from when Albert arrived back from California he meets Millie Berry, mother in-law to John D. Lee, and goes to work for her. What is fortuitous about the happenstance meeting with Ms. Berry is her single daughter Thirza that like gold Albert came down with a sever case of fever for. In time Albert marries Thirza, which in turn provides a not so by chance meeting with Brigham Young, President of the Mormon Church who sees something special in young Albert and tells him so.
Albert recall’s his first meeting with the bearded big man. The President was sitting when he entered Brigham’s home, but “He arose,” Albert said, “came up and placed his hand on my shoulder, thus producing the most singular sensation to the ends of my toes,” and Brigham explained to the Mormon neophyte: “You have entered in a good work, the work of the Lord Almighty.” It wasn’t long after that meeting with Brigham that Albert was commanded to go south in to the hinterlands of Utah and settle new communities. Of which Albert did, first off was Spanish Fork and other settlements like Chicken Creek (Levan).
By 1857 Albert had already been ordained into the Quorum of the Seventy, was a Lieutenant and had fought in the Walker war, settled numerous communities and was about ready to experience the wrath of Johnson’s army of which the President of these United States Buchanan had sent west to wipe from the face of Earth those practicing polygamy. Now a Major in the church army Albert had just received word of the Mountain Meadows Massacre an event that his Brother in-law John D. Lee would be soon held accountable for. As far as Mormon and Utah history goes A.K. Thurber seemed always to be right in the thick of it, and at the ripe old age of 31 Albert had already experienced the life of a man three times his age.
Fast-forward a few years to 1872… the Indian troubles known as the Black Hawk war had come to a slow simmer in the Sevier valley when Albert was enlisted by Brigham to again move south and live, work and farm with the Indians. The dutiful Albert didn’t hesitate. In mid June 1873 a “Grass Valley Expedition” consisting of Albert, William Pace, Judge Bean and some other fellars left Provo on a twenty-day pack trip. On June 24th by mid-afternoon they reached the picturesque Fish Lake. This is where the famous Wayne County incident of the troop coming across an Indian fishing in a stream comes from. They spotted an Indian who was fishing, but when the Indian saw them he leaped on his pony and rode off. Judge Bean unsaddled, ran to where the Indian was fishing and found forty fish on the bank of the creek and thousands in the water. The rest of the men joined in and with both hands they took about 200 fish back to camp where they cleaned and salted them. Soon after this famous fish episode the Indians would relinquish their water rights to Fish Lake.
The “Grass Valley Expedition” continued on to explore the area east of Fish Lake in what is presently Fremont, Loa, Lyman and Bicknell and even camped at what is today called Pine Creek, on the Bicknell Bottoms fish hatchery road. On July 1st the Albert and Beans expedition arrived back at cedar grove in Grass Valley in the middle of a severe snow-storm (in midsummer!) The Fish Lake tribe, 50 to 100 Indians were in the grove. At this meeting a peace agreement and a “hand shake treaty” was agreed to, the pledge was never broken. On August 22nd, 1959 the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers thoughtfully erected a rock monument (located on Highway 24 west of the Koosharem turn off) commemorating the event.
Albert continues his Utah exploits becomes a Bishop in about every community he spends more than a week in, entertains dignitaries to the area, helped launch the United Order and continued to put many other accomplishments under his belt. During this time Albert was also part of the Indian Skirmish at Red Lake (now Bicknell Bottoms.)
Remembering the lush fields of stirrup high grass in Rabbit Valley, Albert began taking herds of Church cattle to the area along with Beason Lewis in 1873. It was there that Albert built a small cabin near where Government Creek empties into what is now known as the Bicknell Bottoms. It didn’t take long for others to follow and begin to settle near him and they called the peaceful little place near the Fremont River, Thurber.
In the early 1890’s it was ultimately determined that the water supply in the old town site of Thurber was making the people sick and as a group were strongly advised to move to higher ground. It was there, near the slopes of the red hills that the Thurber settlers soon began to build homes and businesses and also felt honor bound to call their new digs Thurber too.
All was going hunky dory until 1914 when the good folks of Thurber were apprised of an announcement from a wealthy easterner named Thomas William Bicknell that he would generously provide a thousand-volume library to any needy Utah town that would adopt his name. A fledgling one plow horse town in San Juan County called Grayson also caught wind of the same “to good to be true offer”and at a town hall meeting in 1914 made the somewhat hasty decision to pursue Bicknell’s book offer. With delusions of library grandeur, the good folks of Thurber also decided to put in a bid for the book deal with Thomas William Bicknell.
The story goes that in the book split, and before the books were even thoroughly examined, both Thurber and Grayson would both receive 500 volumes each. Thurber agreed to become Bicknell and Grayson became Blanding, Thomas William Bicknell’s wife’s maiden name. After much fanfare and gnashing of teeth the town fathers of Thurber officially changed the towns name to Bicknell in April of 1916. When the much-anticipated 500 volumes of library books finally arrived in the back of a buck board wagon in Wayne County, to the complete amazement of the Thurber-ites the books turned out to be technical manuals and rather useless to anyone except those with a severe case of insomnia, but the names of the towns Bicknell and Blanding stuck.
Coincidently, A.K. Thurber was born in Rhode Island on April 7th, 1826 and surely went to heaven March 21st, 1888 a true Utah Pioneer, community builder and statesman. Thomas W. Bicknell was also born in Rhode Island on September 6, 1834 and died in 1925. Tomas W. Bicknell never visited Utah much less the southern Utah town that bares his name. The two born Rhode Islanders, Thurber and Bicknell never met but their names will be forever entwined in Wayne County history. And as Paul Harvey always famously said, “Now you know the rest of the story!”
Reference: Another Kind of Gold The life of Albert King Thurber by William G. Hurley and Blue Mountain Shadows, The Magazine of San Juan County History Volume 32/ Summer 2005