Helping to found South Jordan, Utah
“1859 March 1. Alexander Beckstead and Isaac J. Wardle, first settlers of South Jordan.”
We plow, we sow and irrigate,
To raise the golden grain;
And diligently labor
To independence gain;
Some haul the wood from canyons wile,
Some tend the flocks and herd,
And all our moments are beguiled
By industry’s reward.
My Valley Home, my Mountain Home,
The dear and peaceful Valley.
(Arrington and Bitton p 142)
After the hostilities of the Utah War settled down, Isaac returned to work with the Beckstead family on their farm in West Jordan. Salt Lake City was abandoned in 1858 as part of the Church’s response to the invading army. This likely included West Jordan. “The valley was abandoned and the troops set up Camp Floyd to the south in Utah County.” (Wikipedia Salt Lake County) Isaac and the Becksteads would have returned to their homes after the army marched through.
As early as 1855, the possibilities for the South East of Salt Lake Valley had been noted. Piercy referred to a report from Lieutenant Gunnison:
On the south of the lake, and above the alkaline barrens lie the more fertile valleys of the Jordan and Tuilla, separated by the Oquirrh Mountain; …Here is fine grazing during the entire year, and the east of the Jordan Valley is watered by bold streams that traverse a trip of alluvial 20 m long, by 8 in width, to the banks of the Jordan. …The chalky waters of the Jordan can be used for irrigating 80 additional square miles of the valley, and furnish water power very accessible, and to any required extent, for milling, machinery or manufactures. (Piercy p 95)
Johnston’s Army had marched through the area in 1858. “The earliest road in South Jordan followed the hill west of the Jordan River, according to one pioneer. In the Utah War of 1857 , Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston marched four thousand troops and three thousand suppliers through the city of Salt Lake, across the Jordan River, and south to Camp Floyd.” (Bateman p 39)
Isaac did not return to coal mining after arriving in Utah. Instead he turned to agriculture. The opportunities for Isaac to continue in his career of mining were very limited if he had wanted to do so. Between 1850 and 1869 at least 1200 miners sailed from Britain headed to Utah. As of 1870 there were only 170 miners in all of Utah. The Utah economy was based on agriculture rather than industry.
Isaac helped found South Jordan, Utah. “1859 March 1. Alexander Becksted and Isaac J. Wardle, first settlers of South Jordan. They hollowed dugouts in a bluff west of the Jordan River called “Signal Hill” (used for sending smoke signals) at 1050 West 11100 South.” (Bateman p 241) “In 1859, he went with Alexander Beckstead to homestead land, and he and Mr. Beckstead were the first to build homes there.” (Bateman p 6) “In 1858  he and Alex Beckstead, Jr. took up homesteads in South Jordan where they together built a house for each other. These were the first homes built in South Jordan.” (Wardle, Orrin) “The rural community of South Jordan began in 1859 as part of a sparse string of settlements along the Jordan River plain from West Jordan on the north to the Point of the Mountain on the south. (Bateman p vii)
South Jordan was an area with vistas on all sides:
South Jordan City is located to the southwest corner of the Salt Lake Valley. The average elevation of South Jordan is about forty-five hundred feet. The Wasatch Mountain Range rises majestically to heights of more the eleven thousand feet only fifteen miles east. The mineral-rich Oquirrh Mountains flank the community on the west.
Utah Lake lies to the south, through the point of the Mountain pass. This freshwater lake empties into the Jordan River which flows northward until it reaches the shores of the Great Salt Lake, a dead sea. The combination of lakes, river, and mountains embraces South Jordan vistas.
(Bateman p 216)
Alexander Beckstead and some of his family, including adult children, and Isaac came to South Jordan in March of 1859. Other families joined them in the fall. The land showed promise:
South Jordan was originally covered with foliage typical of arid desert land. Native vegetation abounded in an earlier era. Sagebrush, greasewood, and rabbit brush grew abundantly in the flat plain overlooking the Jordan River and extended to the foothills of the Oquirrhs. Along the riverbottom wiregrasses and sedges flourished in combination with willows, cattail, and bullrush. Bluegrasses and dropseeds dominated the meadowlands. Tamaracks, box elder, and scrub oak are indigenous in gulleys and other scattered locations in the region.
The Jordan River marshlands provide a refuge for amphibians, reptiles, waterfowl, mammals, and fish.
A variety of fish lives in the waters of the Jordan River near South Jordan. …Carp, suckers, sunfish, bass, mountain sucker, dace, and redside skinner live in the water…
Seasonal waterfowl commonly use the river. Ducks, geese, blue heron, and coots can be found there. Game birds of the field, like quail and pheasant, are also found. Hawks, owls, and more rarely, eagles may be sighted in the area.
The waters of the river and nearby canals are attractive homes for garter and gopher snakes, frogs, toads, lizards, and horned toads. Mice, shrews, gophers, rock squirrels, bats and skunks are some of the native mammal species. Larger mammals such as bobcat, red fox, elk, and deer may be observed occasionally.
(Bateman p 217)
South Jordan is an area with four seasons. The summers are hot, and the winters cold, with plenty of snow:
South Jordan experiences four distinct seasons yearly. The climate is semi-arid continental. Summers are hot and dry with little humidity. The nights are generally cool. July is the hottest month with temperature averages exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit. … Average winter temperatures are 30 degrees in daytime and 19 degrees for nighttime lows. … Snow continually covers the ground for an average of twenty-nine days per year. Spring and fall are usually moderate with less severe temperatures.
The nearby mountains affect the weather and climate of South Jordan. The Oquirrh Mountains protect the area from the force of southwesterly storms. Nevertheless, because much of South Jordan is located on a flat plain overlooking the Jordan River narrows, no natural features past the Oquirrhs protect against southwest prevailing winds. In fact, at one time, the interurban train stop at South Jordan and the community itself was officially called “Gale.” The winds are generally light, but high winds have been recorded during every month of the year.
… Snowfalls throughout the Salt lake Valley, including South Jordan, tend to be greater than elsewhere in the intermountain area because of the Wasatch Mountains to the east and the Great Salt Lake to the northwest. Weather forecasters refer to the phenomenon as “the lake effect.” The average yearly snowfall is sixty inches… (Bateman p 217)
In South Jordan Isaac raised an orchard. He had a few animals and eventually a herd of sheep. He helped to build the first saw mill in South Jordan as well as the Beckstead Ditch. He also helped build the road to Bingham Canyon.
Irrigation was vital to farming in the arid Utah desert country. Gustav Larson pointed out this could only be done in a cooperative fashion.
The first lesson in cooperative action in the Basin involved utilization of land and water. It was an arid, forbidding region which to Mormons chose for their home... Nothing else so confirms their faith in supernatural guidance as the fact that they dared plant their families in the midst of such a barren wasteland… Small wonder that predictions of Mormon failure in the Basin were popular. Yet a decade of successful irrigation and hard work transformed the scene into fields of waving grain, flowering orchards and extensive gardens. (Larson p 282)
Quoting John Widstoe, Gustive Larson continues, “ The Mormon pioneers possess the honor of having founded modern irrigation in America, not because of the initial irrigation on July 24, 1847, but because the Mormon people continued the work, dug extensive canals, brought thousands of acres under irrigation, devised methods of irrigation, established laws, and rules for the government of populous settlements living ‘under the ditch’,--in short, because they developed permanent irrigation on a community scale. (Widstoe as quoted in Larson, p 282)
Speaking of Alexander Beckstead, it was noted that he obtained the land through a Spanish land grant:
In 1859, he moved his family to South Jordan. He settled on a tract of land that extended southward along the west side of the river bottoms from what is now 9400 South to 12500 South and west to about 1300 West. He purchased land form George A. Smith, who had obtained the land through a Mexican land grant. The land was sub-divided and sold to other settlers. Seven of Alexander’s sons helped begin the settlement of South Jordan: Henry, Thomas Wesley, Samuel Alexander, George Washington, John Alma, Joseph Alonzo, and Robert. The first homes were nothing more that holes dug into hillsides west of the river. Such available materials as willows, cane, and dirt were piled on top to form a roof. These were called dugouts. (Bateman p 8)
The pioneers in South Jordan, knowing the importance of water, took care of this need before focusing on housing. “The still-used Beckstead Ditch can be seen west of the Jordan River as it winds its way northward. It was once the lifeblood of the agricultural community. In fact, the pioneers dug the ditch before they built permanent homes.” (Bateman p viii)
Isaac took a wife from the relatives of the Beckstead family the month following homesteading South Jordan. Martha Egbert was a cousin of Alex Beckstead Jr. He likely met her while he was living with, and working for the Beckstead family in West Jordan. “He [Isaac] married a young relative of the Becksteads, Martha A. Egbert, on 17 (18) April 1859. The brides’s father had to loan the groom a white shirt for the wedding ceremony. He took his new bride to the home he had built on his homestead in South Jordan. She was just fifteen years old and Isaac was only twenty-two or twenty-three years old.” (Wardle, Orrin) However, he more likely took her to his temporary home of a dug-out, which was not located on his homestead, until he could build a more permanent home.
The original dugouts were located below the hill, just south of the current cemetery:
When pioneer families first settled South Jordan, they were obliged to dig shelters into the hillsides near the Jordan River bottoms, hence the term “under the hill.” Wood was scarce and had to be dragged long distances. The men spent much of the first year digging the Beckstead Ditch and probably grubbing the fields of brush so they could farm. Consequently, they built dugouts because they could be done relatively quickly with available material. Only later did people begin building higher up on the flatlands.
…William M. Hold gave a brief description of his family’s first home. He was only two years old at the time they lived in the dugout in the hillside. He gave the dimensions as fourteen feet square. The roof and floor were covered with dirt. Cooking and heating were furnished by a fireplace at one end of the room. (Bateman p 11)
Another description, of a more elaborate dugout home was provided by Oliver Stone:
The dugout was a good size room, the walls were of large sun-dried adobes. The back part went into the hill and the front faced the east. Adobes made the front wall. Large logs were laid across the top to form the roof. On these were laid cane taken from the marshes to make a thatch, then covered with mud and dry dirt. If the roof leaked, dirt was put on. This made a good protection when a huge log was burning in the spacious chimney. Quite often cattle and other animals would walk down the slopes of the hill and stop on the roof until driven off. Cattle driven by the storms would take shelter in front of the Dugout and their horns would knock upon the door as they chewed their cuds until driven away.
Often wolves would come and howl on the roof and sing their chorus to the sleepers underneath. The floor of this mansion was made of mud pounded down smooth and hard. The bedstead was made of adobes, covered with slabs and straw tick for a mattress. In the fall of the year and [with] the threshing done, the granary was open space under the bed. The windows were made of cloth or greased paper; the boxes or stools made of slabs with holes bored in to hold the legs. The table for a long time was one of their trunks that clothes were kept in. (Bateman, pp11-12)
The general dugout was described in this manner:
Allen G. Noble states that the typical Mormon dugout was “a ‘nearly square room measuring somewhere between 12 and 18 feet and dug to about 3 or 4 feet below the surface.’ Sometimes the earth walls were lined with logs, and sometimes the upper walls were merely logs laid on top of the ground. The roof, composed of layers of light poled, willow branches and dirt, was not unlike that used in the Southwest. Roofs were mostly gable form, but shed roofs also have been reported for early dugouts. The entrance to the structure was in the gable wall. These dugouts had all the disadvantages common to sod dugouts elsewhere and were usually abandoned within a year or two.” (Bateman p 262)
Isaac’s permanent homestead would be at about 10000 South; about at the end of the Beckstead Ditch. Another early task was to prepare land for farming. “The silver sage that flourished along the flats above the Jordan River marshlands was tall enough for a man on horseback to ride through without being seen. When land was taken for cultivation, the sagebrush had to be laboriously grubbed away by hand.” (Bateman p 12)
It would have been with some pride that the pioneers watched water flow through the ditch as a result of their efforts:
In 1859, Alexander Beckstead, Isaac Wardle, and others began work on another ditch to divert water from the Jordan River, two and a half miles south of the settlement. It began at the Draper Bridge (at 12600 South in modern-day Riverton) and traveled northwest to the community. The settlers used picks and spades to painstakingly etch out the ditch. A spirit level was used to survey and grade the entire ditch.
The man-made water channel became known as the Beckstead Ditch and was essential to the permanency of the population. With a sense of satisfaction, the ditchdiggers allowed water to flow through the winding excavation about the first day of June 1859. They irrigated and raised a small grain crop and vegetable garden the first year of using the water course. The ditch still passes through the city today. Alexander, his family, and friends also dug wells by hand for drinking water. (Bateman p 8)
In addition to the Beckstead ditch of 1859, the South Jordan Canal, finished in 1876 (Bateman p 36) would provide water to the upper part of Isaac’s homestead property. “
The Utah economy, similar to that in England, was centered upon agriculture. However different than England, was the dependence of agriculture on irrigation:
One of the first tasks, when the Mormons arrived in Salt Lake in 1847, was developing irrigation. Plowing and planting commenced at once. Oxen strained at plows eager to break ground for seeds of the Kingdom. The ancient art of irrigation, all but lost in the Basin region, was reborn when mountain streams were lifted from their beds to flood the thirst lands with life and reproductive power. (Larson p 74)
Water was not the only challenge to farming:
Alexander and other early colonizer had to contend with grasshopper or mountain crickets. At times the insects appeared as a thick carpet, completely covering the ground. The pioneers would plant tree seedlings, small potatoes, or grain only to see hordes of crickets descend from the mountains. The insects would eat every green leaf and stem in sight. Tens of thousands of tender fruit tree seedlings were eaten down to the ground. Attempts to kill, but, or drive away the crickets with brush failed. Potato seedlings were covered with sheets and tablecloths, only to have the crickets eat holes in the cloth, leaving the “short, naked stem” of the potatoes remaining. The hope of raising a sufficient supply of grain to make bread expired as the families fought in vain to keep the crickets from climbing the stalks of wheat. The crickets would “cut it just below the head.” (Bateman p 8)
Another peculiar part of Mormon farming was ownership of the land. Gustav Larson quotes Brigham Young, “No man should buy any land who came here—that he had none to sell; but every man should have his land measured out to him for city and farming purposes. He might till it as he pleased but he must be industrious and take care of it.” (Larson p 75)
Isaac improved himself, establishing a homestead with a small farm, animals and orchard. “He worked hard to improve and enlarge his farm and home. He prospered. He planted two large orchards. He built a larger home. He added various farm buildings.” (Wardle, Orrin) He was like many who came with the help of the PEF:
Morally and spiritually, as well as physically, the protégés of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund gain by being transferred to the Far West. Mormonism is emphatically the faith of the poor, and those acquainted with the wretched condition of the English mechanic, collier, and agricultural laborer, …must be of the same opinion. Physically speaking there is no comparison between the condition of the Saints and the class from which they are mostly taken. In point of mere morality the Mormon community is perhaps purer than any other of equal numbers. (Larson p 246 quoting R.F. Burton)
Leo Tolstoi told The U.S. ambassador “The Mormons teach people not only of heaven…but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis.” (Larson p 309) Larson talked about the Mormon economic system:
So to survive and continue their assigned task [Build the Kingdom of God] they learned to work together. Through cooperation they overcame obstacles. They found individual salvation through group solidarity. They endured because they had something to endure for. The Kingdom depended upon their building. People with a purpose will not down…
So “the Kingdom found social and economic expression in the wilderness. The result was a widespread pattern of towns and villages representing a thriving cooperative brotherhood. (Larson p 310)
Larson further wrote, and I think this helps us understand the philosophy, and the ideals that Isaac had as he set out to establish himself:
Thousands of converts from many lands converged upon the Great Basin to engage in a literal building of God’s Kingdom. The conviction that they were participating in the realization of this ideal was the source of their power and the key to their success. It gave impetus to thousands of missionaries who shared with the Church a deep sense of mission in the world. It gave hope to tens of thousands who “gathered to Zion.” It gave purpose to the labor of those who felt responsibility for the progress of the Kingdom. Their daily labors in factory and field assumed the nature of co-partnership with God. It was upon this religious basis that the Mormons built—and built successfully. (Larson p 318)
An obstacle to the life in the valleys of Utah was the lack of a plentiful wood supply in the valley. “”There was virtually no timber in the valleys, although an occasional clump of cottonwood and box elder grew along the streams. Nearby canyons and mountains, however, provided supplies of softwoods, primarily pine and fir, adequate for initial development. Church leaders early recognized that timber, as well as water, had to be carefully husbanded to ensure a supply for future needs. (Arrington and Bitton p 112) Isaac helped to establish a road up Bingham Canyon, where they went to obtain wood for their homes. (___)
The wind could also damage crops. . The train station in South Jordan was called “Gale.” Bateman provides this description “The wind caused considerable trouble for the first farmers in South Jordan. Freshly cut hay was sometimes whisked away by powerful gusts of wind. In some areas ‘the sandy soil would blow, cutting off the new seedlings and leaving vast stretches of barren ground.’ (He quotes Theodore Hutchings, the history of Joseph Nephi Hutchings.) The sand drifted like snow, and newly planted areas had to be covered with manure or straw to hold them in place. (Bateman p 19)
Coyotes could threaten the smaller animals:
Coyotes roamed the prairie in packs. In the evenings they would often serenade the settlers in South Jordan. If the coyotes got near homes and barnyards, the farmers would shoot into the air to scare them away. Sometimes the farmers shot the hungry coyotes outright, especially if they got near the chicken coops. (Bateman p 16)
Some of these issues, along with trouble with the Native population, would plague the settlers for several years. “Henry Byram Beckstead born 1850, came to S. Jordan with family 1861: He witnessed grasshopper invasions as thick as a carpet, completely obscuring the ground. He experienced the menace of horse thieves and invading Indians.” (Bateman p 56) “Gordan Silas Beckstead born July 13, 1854 came to S. Jordan 1861: After moving to South Jordan with his parents, he helped dig the Beckstead Ditch, fought the grasshopper invasions, and contended with roving bands of Indians.” (Bateman p 62)
Early in South Jordan’s history, the predominant crops were alfalfa hay and grain. At first haymen used hand scythes to harvest hay. Scythes were cutting tools with a bent wooden handle and a long, curving blade. The men swung the tool from side to side in a curving motion. (Bateman p 17)
Isaac primarily settled on sheep farming. In the South Salt Lake Valley, during this time there was plenty of rangeland on which to raise sheep. At the reunion in 2010, one of the speakers mentioned that the family ran sheep in the area where there are now three temples, South Jordan, Oquirrh Hills and Draper. Some of the tasks involved in raising sheep, included shearing, required a group effort. “Sheep shearing required strong backs and willing hands during the spring.” (Bateman p 17)
The sheep industry was dependent on range land, which did not always accommodate the sheep in winter. The sheep industry received a big boost from alfalfa. “In 1857 a shipload of converts arrived from Australia and settled in the Mormon Colony of San Bernadino. At least one of the party brought with him a supply of alfalfa seed. After proving itself in southern California the seed appeared in various parts of Utah.” (Larson p 254)
In many parts of Utah another help to the sheep industry was cooperation. Often sheepherders would form cooperatives and ran their sheep together. In another incidence the Territorial Government came to the aid of the sheep industry by exempting all sheep from taxation: (See Larson p 254.)
I feel the poem cited at the beginning of this chapter gives us some idea of Isaac’s struggles to find his place. It lists some of his activities, plowing, sowing, irrigating, raising grain, hauling wood, tending flocks. I see Isaac in several lines of this poem. He helped establish the road up Bingham Canyon to get wood. He also grazed sheep over a large expanse of the South Salt Lake Valley. At the Isaac Wardle reunion June 2010 someone mentioned that the grazing area for his sheep extended through the areas of three Mormon Temples, Jordan River, Draper and Oquirrh.
1867 proved to be a hard year for South Jordan farmers, particularly those closer to the river, “June 10: Much of the land and grain under water from Jordan River flooding.” (Bateman p 242) Isaac’s homestead was along the river, and likely his lower fields were flooded.