President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, played a dual role of giver and receiver, as the deed to historic Cove Fort was presented to the Church Aug. 13 by descendants of the Ira Nathaniel Hinckley family.
President Hinckley is the grandson of Ira Hinckley, who was called by Brigham Young to spearhead construction of the stone fort in 1867. And on behalf of the Church, he accepted the legal papers of transfer and keys to the fort from his niece Betty Hinckley Nibley and his nephew Robert Hinckley Jr., great-granddaughter and great-grandson of Ira Hinckley.President Hinckley then told the audience of more than 2,000 people – most descendants of Ira and his brother, Arza Erastus Hinckley – of the faith and sacrifices of those who built the fortress.
"More solid than the foundation on which these rock walls stand was their faith, which they have passed to their posterity," President Hinckley declared. "We thank them. We praise them. We honor them. We love them. May we never forget the price they paid. May we remember always that they built well, not only a rock fort still standing solidly in the desert, but more importantly, their character and love and faith."
He pointed out, as a tribute to the builders' skills and the care that has been given the structure through the years, that Cove Fort is the only pioneer fortress in Utah still standing. It is located in central Utah's Millard County near the intersection of Interstates 15 and 70.
In 1867, Arza E. Hinckley and his oldest son helped Ira construct the fort, along with workers called from LDS wards in Beaver and Fillmore. Those who worked received tithing credit for their labors.
The 10,000-square-foot fort was substantially complete by November 1867. Walls were made of volcanic rock, and the mortar of lime. Wood came from the surrounding hills.
Both Hinckleys were from Coalville, Utah, east of Salt Lake City. Arza returned to Coalville upon completion of the project. Ira managed the fort and raised his family there for a decade.
The Church maintained ownership until the early 1900s, when President Joseph F. Smith sold the property to the William H. Kesler family. The fort – with walls 100 feet long and 18 feet tall – continued to be operated as a major way station between Salt Lake City and California.
Ownership changed hands through the years, until descendants of Ira Hinckley recently organized the Cove Fort Acquisition and Restoration Foundation. The group acquired the fort and 11 surrounding acres, with water rights, and presented the package to the Church.
"We worked awfully hard on this project," said Arza A. Hinckley, President Hinckley's cousin and a foundation trustee. "The family is very happy we were able to do it."
Members of the Kanosh (Utah) Ward and family members donated many hours cleaning the fort inside and out. And the ward's elders quorum ran a water line into the fort from mountains two miles to the east.
"In behalf of the family, the foundation and the First Presidency of the Church, I express sincere gratitude to the many who have worked so hard to make this day possible," said President Hinckley. "I regard it as a miracle that it has come to pass."
The fort has special significance to President Hinckley not only because his grandfather built it, but also because his father, Bryant S. Hinckley, spent his boyhood years there.
"I have heard and read many accounts of the fort," he expressed. "My father was 85 years of age when I brought him here with my children. We sat in the old fort as he told them of his own childhood days. He lived the first 10 years of his life here."
President Hinckley noted that the location of the fort was important to early settlers: "It was practically a midpoint between Fillmore and Beaver, and in those days of slow travel, it was recognized by Brigham Young and others that there was need for a telegraph station, a place for protection and a hostelry."
Though the Black Hawk War was in progress when the fort was built, the structure never suffered an attack.
President Hinckley read the letter from Brigham Young that called his grandfather to erect the fort. President Young said the Church was looking for a "good and suitable person to settle on and take charge of the Church ranch at Cove Creek, Millard County. Your name has been suggested for this position. As it is some distance from any other settlement, a man of sound practical judgment and experience is needed to fill the place. . . .
"If you think you can take this mission, you should endeavor to go south with us. . . . It is not wisdom for you to take your family there until after a fort is built. Should you conclude to go let me know by the bearer of this letter. . . ."
Ira told the messenger to tell Brigham Young that he would go, and that he would be ready to leave with the company.
Upon his arrival at the site of the fort, Ira found "only desert, with insufficient water, a few Indians, many snakes, rabbits and other wildlife, and silent loneliness," according to President Hinckley. "When Brigham Young and the others left and he reflected on the task that confronted him, I think he must have lifted his eyes to heaven and cried out, `Why, oh why, should I be asked to do this?'
"If ever he said such, he never repeated it to others. It was spring, and there was too much work to be done if a fort was to be built by fall."
Future plans for the fort include converting it into a visitors center.
Explained President Hinckley: "Through the years to come, traffic will roar along the freeways a short distance to the west and to the south. Many will turn off and come here and spend a short time walking about. Hopefully, they will sense in some small measure the spirit of gratitude which we experience here today."
Besides President Hinckley's comments, the Aug. 13 program included posting of the colors above the fort, singing of the national anthem, musical and dance numbers, and remarks from Sister Nibley.
The benediction was offered by Colleen Hinckley Maxwell, great-granddaughter of Ira Hinckley and wife of Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve.