Ashley National Forest, Utah
Steve Wilk sent me the following account by e-mail and
has given me permission to post it on this website. Steve
volunteers his time and muscles at historic sites throughout
the West and is to be commended for his volunteerism.
— Diane Merkel]
promised to share with you my recent vacation working
on the Carter Military Road. This was through the Forest
Service's Passport In Time program. This is a volunteer
program involving archaeology and historic preservation.
This was my second project since discovering the program
a few years back. My first was at Camp Rucker, Arizona,
a small outpost active from 1878-1880. If you are ever
down in Cochise County, northeast of Douglas in the Coronado
National Forest, up the dirt road into Rucker canyon you'll
find this remote outpost. You can view the adobe post
bakery, still standing, with its recently restored shingle
roof, which I helped put on.
Since I found out about the PIT program, they have had
at least one frontier military related project each year.
Last year they surveyed an area near Big Hole, trying
to locate the site of the 7th Infantry's supply train
at the time of the battle. Another project a few years
ago involved surveying at Warbonnet Creek battlefield.
Another in Dog Canyon, New Mexico, site of skirmishes
with Apaches. Most recently there was a project at Ft.
Ruby, Nevada. This post, abandoned in 1869, was dubbed
the loneliest outpost in the west. (Ft. Fetterman may
have taken that title afterward).
But on to the Carter Road and the findings. The road was
built from 1881-1884 as a supply road between Ft. Bridger
Wyo. and Ft. Thornburgh Utah. This latter post was established
to guard the Ute Reservation, named of course for Maj.
Thomas Thornburgh, Fourth Infantry, killed the battle
of Milk Creek, Colorado in 1879. The location was about
six miles northwest of present day Vernal UT. The areas
we surveyed are about 20 miles southwest of the tiny town
of Manila UT, (near the south end of Flaming Gorge) in
the Ashley National Forest. The road was named for Judge
William A. Carter, a Virginian who had fought in the Seminole
War in Florida, and who, when he could not obtain a commission
in the army, became post trader at Ft. Lauderdale. When
Johnston's army was sent to Utah to quell the "Mormon
Rebellion" in 1857, Carter accompanied the troops
as civilian supplier. He amassed quite a fortune as trader
at Ft. Bridger. His business ventures suffered when troops
were withdrawn from Bridger in 1878. However the Ute War
flared up the following year and Carter lobbied Washington
for a return of troops. He was successful. Troops returned
to Bridger and in addition a new post, Ft. Thornburgh
was to be established. Carter was of course awarded the
contract to supply the new post, but first a wagon road
had to be built through the rugged Uinta Mountains. The
route for this road was shortest, though not the easiest,
and chosen to accommodate Carter. The route was approved
by General George Crook (and his forked beard) and work
began immediately in 1881. Judge Carter took ill and died
in November; his son Willie returned from Cornell University
to assume supervision of the building of the road. The
first freight wagons rolled over the road in May of 1882.
During that summer and the next, infantry companies from
Ft. Bridger and Ft. Thornburgh were sent to work on the
road. In addition they erected a telegraph line between
the two posts. Several of these posts still stand today,
125 years later. I saw four of them myself, two being
in the meadow across from our campsite.
This year's project included surveying three suspected
army campsites from summer of 1882. These were on the
north slope of the Uintas. ( Last summer the south slope
was surveyed.) The areas were Sheep Creek, Icy Brook,
and Lodgepole Creek. The surveying involved, of course,
metal detectors. I don't own one but luckily another volunteer
brought an extra detector and was kind enough to let me
use it. I found nothing but junk; ie pull tabs, beer cans,
metal scraps and two cartridges but they were modern.
Several period artifacts were, however found by others
with more sophisticated detectors. Other than the ubiquitous
square nails, of which dozens were found, some of the
period finds follow:
-several .45/70 cartridges and casings
-horseshoes and pieces of horseshoes
-tent pegs (army issue pegs were wooden, unsuitable for
the rocky soil of the Uintas;iron pegs were made by the
blacksmiths out of horseshoe pieces
-knife handle from a mess knife
-a heart shaped lock
-a few trouser or shirt buttons
-yet more square nails!
Some of the more interesting finds were:
-a hat vent (likely from the 1876 campaign hat)
-uniform "eagle" buttons; three or four cuff
buttons and one blouse button
-coins: an 1858 dime and get this; an 1828 half cent piece!
Perhaps dropped by a fur trapper? Can't see a soldier
in 1882 carrying a half century old coin
However my two favorite finds were
-shoes: at the Icy Brook site, amongst the rocks adjacent
a dry creek bed were the remains of shoes. One sole still
intact, with screws still in them. As if some soldier
had taken them off one summer day in 1882, maybe to wash
clothes or bathe in the creek, and left his shoes on those
rocks. Perhaps they were worn out or the screws were killing
his feet. At any rate they lie there for 125 years until
found just last month.
What I think was the artifact of the week:
-found at Lodgepole Creek was a Ninth Cavalry forage cap
insignia. The saber handles and tips were broken off but
the safety pin fastener was still intact along with the
regimental numeral. Wow. What a thrill for me to hold
it the palm of my hand! This find dates to 1886; in August
of that year two troops of the Ninth passed along the
Carter Road on their way to establish the new post of
Ft. Duchesne, Utah. This was a likely bivouac site. Just
imagine, some Buffalo Soldier dropped that insignia; maybe
he took his cap off and it came loose and dropped off.
He didn't notice this and rode on; his insignia lie there
in that meadow 121 years. Until found by some guy with
a metal detector just last month. Oh, by the way, who
was in command of those two troops of the Ninth? None
other than old "Gray Head" himself, Major Frederick
I had never heard of the Carter Road until I volunteered
for this project. None of the scores of books I have read
on the Indian Wars have ever mentioned it. Yet it is typical
of the type of work performed by the average soldier on
the frontier, especially the infantry. It was a thrill
for me to hold these artifacts and examine them before
they end up behind a glass case in some museum. I look
forward to possibly returning next year to survey more
sites. I felt rather bonded with those "dougboys"
who worked on the road. I camped where they camped, bathed
in the creek where they must have bathed. Only thing missing
was the hardtack!
I'll send a couple links with more information on the
road and telegraph line. You and Chuck should look into
volunteering on one of these. There was one retired couple
from Alabama who came up in their motorhome. You can check
out the PIT at passportintime.com.
more information about Carter Military Road in Ashley
National Forest, see: