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Sons of the Utah Pioneers examine the mystery of Henefer

Article Date: 
23 August, 2013 (All day)

On Aug 19, 2013, the Morgan Chapter of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers held its monthly meeting at Larry’s Chicken Inn in Morgan City.  The Inn served a wonderful chicken dinner.
Chapter President Jim Hurst presided over the meeting.  Sheldon Richins, a former Summit County commissioner and a former bishop of the Henefer Ward, was the guest speaker.  
He illustrated the history of Henefer.  He spoke first of the Donner-Reed Party that had stopped in 1846 in the area of the current Henefer Township while waiting for a man named Hastings, who was to guide them through the Wasatch Mountains.    The Reed Party waited there on the banks of the Weber River for seven days while a search party went out looking for Hastings.  They found him in Skull Valley.  When asked how they were to proceed, Hastings replied: “Didn’t you get the note I hung on the sagebrush!”
This delay, plus an extra seven days to cross Big Mountain, probably cost the Party their lives because they might have made it across the Sierra Mountains and into California.  All but one member of the Donner/Reed Party perished in the snows of the Sierra Mountains. 
Richins also told of the first settlers sent out by Brigham Young to stay in the valley.  James (or William) Henefer had come up from the Salt Lake Valley in 1853 to grow vegetables in Henefer.  For three years he did this, and then transported the vegetables back to Salt Lake.  Finally in 1856 President Young asked him to stay in the valley and settle it.  He did so, and was later joined by the Charles Richins family.
One of the biggest problems for these early settlers was Indians.  Chief Washiki’s Utes often stopped on the banks of the Weber River during the summers.  Sometimes 1,500 or more Indians would camp there. They would steal horses, cattle and sheep.  During the first years, two children were actually stolen by the Indians.  One of the children was never found, but the other was.  The Indian who stole the child took it to the river and made a small bed of moss for it.  It was found alive.  Owens Canyon is named after this family.
Henefer was always a stop-over for weary travelers trying to get to the West.  Charles Richins had built a lovely brick home in the area called the “Big House.”  He and his family would bring the travelers into the home to rest them and give them further directions.  
These early travelers did not go down Weber Canyon because the Weber River, at Devil’s Gate, was deemed impassible.  Instead they were told to follow the path of the earlier Donner Party and the Mormons over Big Mountain.  
One of the best places to work in those early days of Henefer was the brick kiln.  The residents made hundreds and thousands of bricks from the unique red clay in the area.  It has later been determined that this red clay was probably the best material in the U.S. from which to make bricks.
Another life saver for the early settlers was the contract Brigham Young made with the Union Pacific railroad.  These first settlers were able to construct 76 miles of the first railroad tracks across the United States.
Now for the mystery!  “All towns have a mystery,” Richins said.  “Henefer is no different.  On the Western side of the valley is a place called the Avalanche.  In the middle of it is a hole in the earth.  It seems to go on forever.  One can throw rocks down and they never seem to hit bottom.  Once a man was lowered into it and he went through a small opening into a great chasm.  It seemed to have no bottom. To this day no one has found the bottom.  The University of Utah geologists came up to examine the hole, and even they could not find the bottom.” 
Anyone wishing to get a full and complete transcript of Richin’s address should contact Alan Turner (801) 876-3066.