Utah was settled in a manner completely different from the rest of the United States, “and so the stories that come out of that settlement are unique,” a musician who specializes in Utah history told an audience during a concert at the Church History Museum July 21.
With three fellow musicians Clive Romney presented a combination concert, lecture and story-telling event for the Evenings at the Museum Lecture Series.
“In the rest of the United States, farmers would go out and establish their homesteads,” Brother Romney explained. “And after there was a sufficient number of farmers in the area, then perhaps a blacksmith would move in, and then a merchant, and then a banker and, you know, a town would kind of grow like an oyster shell — by accretion, depending on where there was a sufficient population base.”
Not so with Utah, he said. “It took a community to settle Utah. That’s the way Brigham Young designed it.”
The Beehive State’s varied geography and climate make for a rich treasury of stories, which Brother Romney has assembled into a collection of original songs.
A singer, guitarist, storyteller, composer, teacher, entrepreneur, recording producer, descendant of Utah pioneers and arts advocate, Brother Romney is the executive director of Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts and coordinates the non-profit Legacy series of art books and CDs through Story Road Utah, a mobile app and internet platform.
His presentation at the museum included his band: Bob Morphis on percussion, Nathanael Davenport on bass and Curtis Woodbury on fiddle. All three joined Brother Romney on vocals.
He shared stories he has collected county-by-county as part of Story Road, augmenting them with songs by the band that have been specially composed for each story.
For example, one from Kane County highlighted the pioneer motto:
“Use it up; wear it out; make it do, or do without.”
Another had to do with Peter Shirts, the blacksmith who forged the locks and keys for the Nauvoo Temple. In Utah, he settled in the Paria River Valley, 30 miles east of present-day Kanab in southern Utah.
During a drought, there was unrest among the Native American population and talk of war.
“Well, when the Blackhawk War did erupt in 1865, his friends back in Parowan sent a message to Peter to come back where he would be safe in the fort,” Brother Romney recounted. “And Peter said, ‘OK, but I need to harvest what meager crops I can for seed for the next year.’
“Well, as he was finishing his harvest he looked around to find his oxen. They were gone. His starving Native American friends had taken them and butchered them and fed the whole tribe with his oxen.”
He had no way to pull his wagon to Parowan and, worse, no way to plow and plant his crops in the spring.
He and his family hunkered down, barricading themselves in their cabin in case of possible attack. “But every time he heard a knock on the door and saw one of his Native American friends gesturing for food, he gave them something to eat,” Brother Romney said.
That winter, the family milk cow also disappeared, eaten by the starving Native Americans. “Peter still cured the local chief of a painful case of boils and kept feeding his friends,” Brother Romney said.
In the spring, his friends from Parowan sent a rescue party, hoping the family had survived.
“As they got to the ridge overlooking the Paria River Valley, they saw Peter pushing his plow, and at the end of the reins where the animals should have been were his Native American friends,” Brother Romney said.
Another story and song during the program told of a group of pioneers sent eastward in 1864 over the Old Spanish Trail from Parowan to establish a town they eventually named Panguitch.
Late that summer they hoped to harvest their first crops, but were surprised by an early killing frost and deep snow. Their last hope to avoid starvation was to send an expedition back to Parowan, 40 miles over the trail and the 8,100-foot mountain pass, where they could get flour from a mill.
At the 7,000-foot level, they could go no further because the crust of the deep snow would not support their weight.
One member of the party unrolled his bedroll and spread his quilt over the snow, and they knelt in prayer.
“One of them said, ‘Brethren, I believe the answer to our prayers is underneath our knees. As long as we’re on the quilt we don’t break through the crust of the snow.’ The quilt acted like a giant snowshoe, spreading their weight over a larger surface area.”
Brother Romney said they took out a second quilt, laid it in front of the first, and, pulling the quilts in turn from rear to front, advanced for 19 miles to the mill at Parowan. There, they obtained the flour and returned over the 19 miles back to their wagon. They hitched up the waiting oxen, went back to Panguitch.
“That’s why to this day in the second weekend of June, Panguitch has a quilt walk festival to honor these men, who saved the town from starvation,” Brother Romney said.