Many communities throughout Utah built forts for protection. Thomas Rhoades and his companions built a “crude fort” or stockade on their arrival in the Valley in 1858, and W.W. Phelps named the settlement he laid out in 1857 “Fort Peoa”. But the Black Hawk War led to the building of more effective forts.

Echoes of Yesterday says: “The Indians, who were in the habit of using [Kamas] Valley for their hunting ground and grazing land, resented the invasion of the white settlers.”

They would leave the Valley with the animals by going up the Provo River or through Weber Canyon, making it difficult to follow. The settlers considered themselves in a state of open warfare and enlisted in the Utah Militia, with James McCormick as Captain and Levi Pangburn as Lieutenant. William Gibson was Captain of ten cavalry, with John C. Lambert as Lieutenant. William Gibson wrote: “We kept guards out night and day, which was very hard on our small settlement”, and On May 2nd 1865, Church authorities warned the people of Summit and Wasatch counties to “put yourselves and your animals in such a condition that the Indians will be deprived of all opportunity of taking life and stealing stock.

Soldiers of the Utah Militia

The people of Kamas Valley responded by building two forts. The first was in Peoa, where both Kamas and Peoa settlers lived. We featured the first fort in the Valley – Sage Bottom Fort – in the 2022 calendar.

In the fall of 1866 the Kamas folks returned to their homes and began to build their own fort, which was finished in 1867 and became known as Rhoades Valley Fort. Sarah Ellen Neibaur O’Driscoll, one of the inhabitants of the fort, records that it was Levi Pangburn and Calvin McCormick (who was boy of about eight years old at the time) who did the first work on the fort.

Typically, forts in Utah were built using whatever material was available in the area – often stone or adobe bricks.

Fort Willden – a typical pioneer fort built in 1860

In Kamas Valley the most available material was logs from the nearby canyons. The Deseret News of June 23rd 1869 reported:

The Rhoades Valley Fort walls were 16 feet high (six feet higher than most fort walls). The logs formed the back walls of the cabins, with gates in the east and west walls. By building their cabins into the walls of the fort, the settlers conserved building material as well as time.

A corner of the fort (from Alma Warr’s model)

The logs were held together with wooden pegs. More logs were split into long narrow pieces and driven into the cracks between the logs, which were then plastered with clay. This was called “chinking.” The roofs were made of logs split in half with the flat side down and then covered with clay or gravel to prevent them from leaking so badly (they did still leak!).

Hewn logs with chinking

In the center of the fort were two community buildings.

Store and School / Meeting House (from Alma Warr’s Model)

One housed a co-op store to provide the settlers with the basic necessities of life. The co-op was founded by nine of the settlers, with Willet Shave Harder acting as president. The first load of supplies was brought into Kamas to be sold in the store in February of 1869. Alma Warr was one of the first clerks. Sarah Spicer Harder also served as a clerk for two years. 

Willet and Sarah Harder outside their home in 1898

The other building was the schoolhouse, an 8×24-foot building moved into the fort from its original location on the north side of Beaver Creek.

In her history of her mother (Sarah Harder (above), who taught in the school for two years), Pamilla Herder Anderson writes: “it was built of round logs, the floor of rough lumber and full of knot holes, the roof was covered with dirt, the benches were made of slabs with the smooth side up…[with] in one end of the room, a hole in the ground, a rock chimney to carry part of the smoke away.”

Because space in the fort was limited, this building served a variety of purposes – a meeting house where church services were held as well as an amusement hall for dancing, parties or plays enacted by local actors and actresses.

Alma Warr wrote: “in the fort meeting house we sometimes had concerts and made some attempts in the dramatic line… We did not do so badly, considering our benighted condition and limitations.”

Alma Warr

We are also indebted to Alma Warr for his model of the fort as he remembered it. This is now housed in the DUP Cabin.

Alma Warr’s model of the Rhoades Valley Fort

George Bradford Leonard served as postmaster for the fort (Thomas Rhoades was the first postmaster for the Valley), with the post office in his house. William Woolstenhulme was the first mail carrier, with a route that extended to Echo and back.

The fort occupied roughly the block between what is now Center Street and 100 West. Laura E. Blazzard in Echoes of Yesterday says that “it extended a little further west that the present block and not quite as far east as Main Street.” A flagstone on Center Street still marks a corner of the fort.

The settlers were always on the alert for potential attack. Echoes of Yesterday has this story: “At one time, a band of Indians, a war party, under Chief Black Hawk, himself, came into the Valley and camped a little west of the fort. They raised poles on which were displayed the scalps of white people, and their manner indicated that their mission was not a friendly one.” The settlers gathered in the fort, and the women and children were placed in the schoolhouse for extra protection. Guns and ammunition were gathered, and the settlers spent an uneasy night in anticipation of an attack. Imagine their surprise when the Indians left early the next morning, without any explanation.

Willet Harder wrote: “At one time Black Hawk came and camped near the fort with almost thirty lodges. They stayed several days and were very saucy. Black Hawk would go each morning to [my] place and demand his breakfast.”

Although it’s unlikely that Black Hawk ever ventured this far north. William Gibson’s history in Heartthrobs of the West says that these Indians were renegades who had “left Black Hawk’s band and joined with other renegades from Tabby’s tribe and from Southern Colorado and New Mexico, who … took advantage of the Indian trouble to run off the stock as many as twenty or thirty at a time.”

Brigham Young, the First Presidency and Twelve visited the Fort in 1869, as reported in the Deseret News of September 29th.

The fort was abandoned in about 1870. The Deseret News of March 1st 1871 reported that: “the settlers [of Kamas Prairie] are pulling down their old fort with the intention of enlarging and beautifying. Success attend their efforts at improvement.”

Echoes of Yesterday states that at first about thirty-two families lived in the Fort. Some moved out and others moved in, so that by the time the fort was abandoned about forty-seven families had lived in the fort at some point.

Below is a list of the families. Is your name on the list?

  • Allred
  • Burbidge, Jesse
  • Carney, Pete
  • Carpenter, John Sincere
  • Clark, John
  • Cloward, Heber
  • Cook
  • Davies, James
  • Davies, Thomas
  • Duhamel, John
  • Duluche, Betsy Ann
  • Ercanbrack, William
  • Gines, George
  • Gines, Samuel
  • Goodworth, Richard
  • Green, Riley
  • Harder, Willet S.
  • Hoyt, Samuel P.
  • Larsen, Chris
  • Larsen, Hans
  • Leonard, George Bradford, Sr,
  • Lewis, Daniel
  • Lewis, Morgan
  • McCormick, James
  • Merritt, Philip
  • Miller, Samuel
  • Miller, William
  • Mitchell, Jerome
  • Mitchell, Joseph
  • Neibaur, Hyrum
  • Nugent
  • O’Driscoll, John
  • Pack, Lucy
  • Pack, Ruth
  • Pangburn, Levi
  • Pangburn, Dick
  • Russell, Charles L.
  • Shields, Jim
  • Selk, William
  • Simpson Thurston
  • Smith, Louis
  • Tolbert, William
  • Turnbow, John G.
  • Turnbow, Milton
  • Wheeler, Jim
  • Wilgus, James
  • Williams, Alma
  • Williams, Clinton
  • Williams Newman
  • Williams, Samuel
  • Woolstenhulme, James
  • Woolstenhulme, William