Hanksville

Adus F. Dorsey II

Hanksville, Giles, Blue Valley, and Caineville all have a lot in common in that geologically they are physically set a part from the rest of Wayne County by a natural barrier in what is now called Capitol Reef National Park. 

     I can’t think of Caineville without hearing Joni Taft’s voice describing a movie Al Adamson made about Caineville in the sixties. To hear Joni say Caineville in a drawn out Orwellian voice brings to mind scenes of old wooden gates swinging in the wind and late fall leaves blowing through an abandoned eerie graveyard. Scenes like you would imagine the dust bowl days in the 30’s would look like.  

     And like Caineville I can’t even say Hanksville without thinking of Barbra Ekker. To me Barbra will forever be synonymous with of the most eastern settlement in Wayne County, without a doubt. Never to be forgotten is Barbra Ekker, Ms. Hanksville, the belle of the ball, the very essence of all things Wayne County, independent, and an out spoken fabric of earth as we will ever know, (except for maybe Jack King).  

     Back in the days when Barbra Ekker migrated to Hanksville from her childhood home in Green River, southern Utah’s county lines were a blurred line in the sand that nobody paid much attention to. In the desert north of Hanksville there were no real distinguishing geological features that defined one county from another, and there was many a cowboy that on any given day the front of his horse might have grazed in one county and pooped in another and neither horse or rider knew any better. 

     To get a true sense of what life was like in and around Hanksville nobody said it better than Pearl Baker in her book “Robbers Roost Recollections”. It was and still is a rough life, but there isn’t a town in the Southwest more intriguing to me than Hanksville. In Miriam Murphy’s book “A History of Wayne County” she describes Hanksville in clinical terms, and to me there is nothing personal in her book about what life in Hanksville was or is like. Hanksville, in rural Wayne County, represents the ruggedness of the American Southwest that the Utah pioneers had to conquer to prevail and there is nothing clinical about it, it is just plain and simply rough.  

     In 1881 A.K. Thurber was the President of the Sevier LDS Stake (of which Wayne County was then part of) when he first ran into Ebenezer Hanks. Hanks was a rugged Mormon frontiersman “always on the move” but “wanted to find a place where he could make a permanent home”. Thurber knew just the place, a beautiful valley on the Fremont River north of Henry Mountains where there was plenty of grass for cattle. 

       As debatable as it might seem Hanksville actually owes much of its settlement credit to the adventurous Albert K. Thurber along with assistance of Ebenzer Hanks. It was A. K. Thurber that negotiated the 1873 treaty with the Indians and to the eventual dismay of the Indians A.K. and Ebenezer began to run the some of the first cattle in the Hanksville area.

     And as history would have it, Hanksville was born. 

     The story of Hanksville’s history would not be complete without knowing just how Beaver, Piute and Wayne County are intimately and forever connected. 

      In 1850, when congress created the Utah Territory, six so-called counties already existed, five of which were along the Wasatch front and another irregular shaped one that was called Iron County. Brother Brigham had wasted no time. 

     In the Wayne County book of Genesis it states that the Utah State Legislature created Beaver County by simply placing a lumberyard yardstick on the Utah territorial map and drawing two parallel latitudinal lines. The resulting lines that dissected the area on the territorial map was much like the action the infamous Teasdale quilter Barbra Pace or her sisters would do to a piece of fabric and thus Beaver County came to be. 

     By 1865, the valley between the Tushars and the high plateaus were being settled by white settlers faster than a Pony Express rider could deliver the mail, much less find all of them to do so. As the population began to grow exponentially in the large swath of Beaver County east of the Tushars, the arduous task of traveling some times weeks back and forth to the Beaver County Seat to record deeds or pay penance to the court, a noticeable rumbling began taking place among the populace for local governance. 

     Thus in 1865 Beaver County, in a moment of celestial clarification, probably provided by powers that be in Salt Lake, eventually Beaver County succumbed and thus beget Piute County. 

      As if ordained, ten years later, the first settlers and live stock would slowly make their way into eastern Piute County and begin to wear out their boots in the fertile soil of what was and still today is called Rabbit Valley. 

      Exactly when the growing communities of Fremont, Loa, Thurber, Teasdale, Torrey and Hanksville, in eastern Piute County began to envision a county of their own is as unclear as the Fremont River is after a thunderstorm. But my guess would be it had something to do with a bad call at a basketball game, just my opinion. After all, the early records of those days were lost in a fire at the Piute County Court house and there isn’t anyone still around that remembers much about what really happened, so it is open range on what really transpired, so as for now I will just stick to my basketball rivalry theory.  

     In a nutshell and despite the opposition, the residents of eastern Piute County would eventually win the battle to form their own county and an action by the Utah legislature moved ahead at rather a rapid rate. On February 3rd1892 Representative Charles Adams of Parawan presented a petition signed by George Chappell and two hundred others, residents of the eastern part of Piute County, asking for the creation of a new county. On February 29thCharles Adams introduced “An Act to create the county of Wayne and the appointment of officers, etc”. On March 4ththe Committee on Counties recommended passage of the amended bill and Adams moved that the bill be made a special order on Monday the 7th, his motion was voted down. At 11:05 a.m., during the third reading of the bill, some legislators wanted a recess in order to look at the maps of the area. After the third meeting was completed, sixteen House members voted for the passage of the bill, one voted no, and five were absent. On 9 March the Senate passed the measure as well. On the 10 March, the last day of the session, the bill was enrolled, officially recorded and signed by the Speaker of the House and President of the Council. Soon Governor Arthur L. Thomas would sign the act, and Wayne County’s creation would be official.   

     And now you know why any Wayne game against Piute is so full of passion. 

References; Barbra Ekker

Pearl Baker, Robbers Roost Recollections 

Miriam Murphy, A History of Wayne County (read Rainbow Views instead) 

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