Eventually all roads lead to the legends and Wayne County has more than its share. For Sure, Uncle Earl was one of them. As it turns out Uncle Earl is more of a legend in death than he ever was in life. Stories of Uncle Earl swirl through Wayne County like a dirt devil, coming in from the south, and end up like everything else as dust, twisting aimlessly somewhere east of Hanksville.
Today Uncle Earl lies in an unmarked grave somewhere in Grover, but Earl’s exploits live on in the minds and memories of many that humorously remember him. Recollections from some reliable Wayne County locals have it that Uncle Earl never married, but also known is the fact that Uncle Earl was not with out love his life? Without mentioning names, it is said that Uncle Earl was in the only gunfight anyone can ever remember around these parts. (Actually, there is a more recent occurrence, but that is a different story). And like many love triangles it resulted in a gun being drawn. Not just any gun but a five-shooter, not a six. “I have the very gun right here and I’ll show it to ya”, an old timer proudly told me.
“Just to clear, Uncle Earl was not the handsomest of men, but in them day’s men was in rather short supply because of the war,” the crusty old timer tells me. “Bastard” he spits at the fire and says. “Uncle Earl gave new meaning to serving his country, if you know what I mean. It was well known that Uncle Earl was spooning so and so, but what Uncle Earl didn’t realize was that them war boys was used to shootin the enemy.”
“When the war was done, and Ward comes back home he hears all the rumors, and he goes a lookin for Earl in Grover, and he knows just where to find him.” Five shots were fired and Uncle Earl dives out an open window while bullets from the five-shooter whiz by. Uncle Earl gets away. In refuge he goes down to hide out in the canyons, down where Capitol Reef National Park is now. He hermits around down there for a couple of years until the folks at the monument call his brother Cass to come get him, “cus he is scarin the tourist.” Ward was my brother, and he made Sheriff, is why I have the five shooter”. The old timer says as he spins the bullet cartridge of the five-shooter he is showing me.
Uncle Earl’s real claim to fame came to be after the two years of hiding out in the canyons and caves in Capitol Reef National Park. And, right after his brother Cass came to get him, (“much to the delight of the park rangers and all the scared foreign tourist”). Once back at his bullet ridden cabin in Grover, Uncle Earl took to the drink. “You know the stuff that comes in the bottle,” with a gesture of tipping an imaginary bottle to his lips. Uncle Earl had money, “they owned most of the land down in the park, and the government gave ‘em; a good price fer it”. Uncle Earl and his brother were well off, but Earl never bought a car “he walked everywhere he went after he got shot at, surely because the new Sheriff was always looking for a reason to throw him in jail. “It was a weekly ritual to see Uncle Earl shuffling down the side of road between Grover and Bicknell somewhere’s.” Evidently, the years of living among the rock confines of Capitol Reef took its toll on Uncle Earl, and his gait took on more of a slow shuffle than real foot steps. “Uncle Earl always wore his pants tucked into his boots, and old cowboy habit, so’s they wouldn’t get caught in the bushes when riding a horse on Boulder. You could see him a mile off, just shuffling along. It never took long before someone would come along and give Uncle Earl a lift, much like if it were present day and anyone was walking along side of the road and looked like they needed a ride; people in those days were like that in Wayne County”.
“Mostly it was the unsuspecting underage alcohol drinkers that Uncle Earl would suck in, you know the type. You could tell ‘em if you get me to the liquor store I’ll buy you a bottle,” the old timer said with a laugh. Works ever time. Ole Earl would go in the front door, leavin‘em sittin out front siting in the pick up and slip out the back. When they would come in asking where Uncle Earl was, the guy at the counter would tell ‘em he went out the back twenty minutes ago. “The bastard”, the old timer said in a voice of dissatisfaction. “When the kids got old enough to buy their own booze it got to the point Uncle Earl was trying to bribe the Meals on Wheelsfolks to buy him a bottle, but they refused do it. So Earl died. Now, Uncle Earl he is buried out there in Grover in an unmarked grave, sorta sad old fellar, the ole bastard” the old timer said as he slowly slid the five shot pistol back in a drawer from where it came from.
Uncle Earl does have a last name, but no one around here dares use it because local folks just expect you to know who he was. Kind of like how today we use the names of Madonna, Oprah, and many others. Just the mention of Uncle Earl in these parts dredges up memories of an old timer slowly shuffling down the road between Grover and Bicknell on his way to Johnson Springs, and then there is the bullet-ridden single room cabin, and the five-shot pistol.