History of Roosevelt
Roosevelt, Utah is a small town in Eastern Utah. It is short, only an outline gathered from records here and there and from fading memories and writings of the late George Stewart. This history covers a period when the Old West was still here but was rapidly ending, slipping into the age of technology.
In 1861, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by proclamation, set aside a reservation for the Ute Indian Nation. No survey was made before hand; it had merely a general description as comprising all the lands from the tops of the mountains to the north to the tops of the mountains to the south draining into what later was defined as the Duchesne River.
This area thus set apart was vast. It was larger than some of the states of the Union and larger than some of the nations of the world. Here lived a few Nomadic Indians, Government employees and some Episcopalian Missionaries.
The Ute Indians were moved here when the Mormons settled the Wasatch Front and there began to be wars between the white settlers and the Indians. As Utah grew, the Ute Reservation in the great Uintah Basin was opened to white settlers in 1905 and 1906 by an act of the U.S. Congress.
The big land rush was on! It was not like the land race along the Cimarron in Oklahoma, the government had learned its lesson there, so in the Big "U" Country the red tape made the rush much more orderly. But the homesteaders came by the hundreds.
An old Ute said. "When the Americats came they came by the many manys. They came nose to tail like a string of black ants crossing the sand." Some came from Colorado through Vernal some through Strawberry Valley, but most came along the stage road from Price through Nine Mile Canyon.
An old timer who lived at the Strip (Gusher) before and during the "the opening" said, "it was like the touch of a fairy's wand, yesterday there was nothing but wilderness and desert, today there are fences, ditches, plowing, plantings, houses and towns; settlers were everywhere…it was almost magical."
It has been said that Ed F. Harmston was an enigma. He was an engineer and mathematician on one hand and a dreamer on the other; which he was when he founded Roosevelt City, no one knows.
Way out in the middle of nowhere was a small, flat topped mesa or bench overshadowed by a higher bench to the west. Nothing grew there but shad scale, rabbit brush and desert grass. There was a prairie dog town in the center and wild horses grazed across it everyday. The little bench had a dry gulch on one side flanked by a dry gulch on the other. The nearest stream of running water was miles away!
Ed F. knew the country like the back of his hand; he had surveyed part of it long before the opening, yet in spite of his knowledge, he chose that dry little desert bench for his homestead claim. One wonders if he was planning or dreaming, it could have been a little bit of both.
Under the law, you picked your land, paid $2.25 an acre for one hundred and sixty acres. You must then move on the land, build an abode, improve it and live there five years. After you "proved up", you received title in "fee simple" by way of a patent from the U.S. Government.
Ed. F. Harmston made his entry and paid his money, but he was to busy a man to move on and make improvements. He erected a boarded up tent and installed his two sons A.C. (Craig) and Floyd (Nick) Harmston to begin living out his time for him. These sons were the very first residents of Roosevelt, Utah.
A.C. Harmston said, "Early one morning father showed up with all his surveying equipment and we began that day to lay out the streets, alleys and lots of a town. I thought maybe my old man had been sun struck and Nick knew darn well he had, but we kept on working day after day until the job was done."
Craig pulled from the old files in his office, a plat of a town drawn on linen paper, it was labeled at the top "Dry Gulch City", when asked what it was, he answered "Well, you see, Dad and I at first called this town Dry Gulch City, and that lasted just long enough for my mother, Mary, to hear it, then she raised the roof."
Mary said, "Not on your life, not if I live here, I'll never be known as a drygulcher."
So Mr. Harmston replied, "Alright Mama, you name it."
Mary Harmston, was a personal friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. He was, in her belief, the best president this country ever had, or ever would have for that matter. She corresponded with Teddy, his missives being on White House stationary. So when Ed gave her the opportunity, she spoke up quick as light, "This town will be named Roosevelt City."
The plat was redrawn, the name was changed and now it bears the name of Roosevelt after Teddy Roosevelt.
Ed F. Harmston along with others formed the Dry Gulch Irrigation Company, and soon there were canals, ditches and laterals. Water flowed down many streets and alleys of the town.
On the drawing board were plans for a reservoir on the Pickup's Bench, the higher bench to the west, and pipeline and waterworks for the new city with plenty of pressure. It wasn't long until even this was accomplished.
In "The Early Days" Roosevelt was a tent and shanty town. Even some of the businesses began in tents. But, of course these were only temporary, lasting until something more substantial could be built. When the wind blew hard, as it seemed to do quite often in those days, it raised havoc all over the place, but the people would mend and patch, and with laughter settle down again.
Soon more substantial building began to appear including C.C. Larson's rock store, The Rough Rider Saloon, the Consolidated Wagon, a machine company's brick building, the Co-op store, and others.
There it was, it sprang up almost overnight, a town; rocky, dusty, rough and raw with a purely frontier flavor. And it grew, heaven knows why, but it did.
Even before the tents came down there was a school and some churches of several denominations. The kids from the Reservation were not to grow up "nincompoops" or irreligious either; that is, not if their parents could help it. The schools were better than you would think. A surprising number of those reservation kids, vernacular and all, who had slept in hollow logs and drank muddy water, made it to the storied "Halls of Ivy", and returned one day with sheepskins from colleges and universities.
A.C. Harmston, when he was asked why Roosevelt grew in its desert setting, while other places which seemed to be much more favorably located reached a stalemate and some died, replied, "Well, after the opening, Roosevelt was on the main stage road between Price and Vernal. It also was the mail distribution center for the Reservation. Besides, it had telegraph and telephone connections with the outside. It was the "central". Aside from that it was the "hub of the whole Uintah Basin." Pointing to a map of the Uintah Basin with a red circle around Roosevelt, he pointed out what he meant, east and west, north and south, do this and you'll see that's what it is, "The Hub".
Roosevelt being the hub, along with its other early advantages, quickly became the principal trading center for all the western area of the Uintah Basin. In the days of horse drawn transportation, and even today, it is easier to get to, shop and return home in the shortest distance and time.
At first the settlers hurried in, hoping against hope that they'd beat the railroad in; they might be lucky enough to get a piece of land the right-of-way had to cross, (although the route was always kept secret). If they got the right land, they knew it meant a fortune for them. The question wasn't if the rails would come, the only question was when? The months stretched into years, and the years into decades and still the railroad didn't come. It was close a time or two, but failed to arrive. The legend is that David H. Moffat, the railroad magnate, missed getting financed by two hours in Denver. Old Man Gould said he would advance the money, then within two hours changed his mind and pulled his support back.
Then one day, the automobile coughed and spat and purred in; and after the automobile came the motor trucks. Soon no railway was needed. One old timer said, "We needed them trains once, but not anymore; I'd feel put out if them long drags started to come through here now."
Still, looking back, we know that in the beginning, a railroad would have been a God-send because, as it was, everything a homesteader had to buy had to come on freight wagons winding slowly over mountains and across deserts from Price along the Nine Mile Road from some eighty miles away. Prices were to darn high. Not only that, but everything the farmers had to sell had to go out the same way. It was hardly worth it.
The farmers could raise most of what they needed for food; he might have patches on his pants and mamma might have to dress in calico, but they set a might hefty table.
What people of the Reservation needed most was a "cash crop", to buy the incidentals and pay their taxes, so they went to livestock. Everybody went for either sheep or cattle, and sometimes both. The country with its wide open spaces and good grazing land was made for that. They didn't have to haul these products they could drive them to market on their own four feet. Some went up Avintaquin and over the Ridge to Colton; some went up Indian Canyon and over the Hump to Price; some went up Willow and Hill Creek to Thompson Spring; but by far the largest number went out the Nine Mile Road to Price.
At times of the year, the stagecoach would be late because it had to pass through so many herds of cattle on the way to market along the Nine Mile Road.
Then the creamery companies were founded because the Uintah Basin was a wonderful dairy country. There was a time when every little settlement, Bluebell, Mt. Emmons, Mt. Home, Altonah, Boneta and others had stations where cream, butter and eggs were bought. Roosevelt at one time had six cream stations in it. Usually cream was saved up through the week and taken to the station on Saturday for sale. Needless to say, De Laval cream separators sold like wildfire.
Saturday was the biggest day of the week in Roosevelt, the trading center. Things would really hum as the people came to town to spend their cream, butter and egg money. The bank stayed open until five o'clock and the stores until nine o'clock. Roosevelt took it in stride, but strangers stood gaping and surprised. This gave rise to the expression only the old timers understand, when things are busy they will say, "Why this is like cream day in Boneta".
After World War 1, a depression struck; banks went broke, mortgages were being foreclosed right and left. One couldn't sell a thing for a decent price. Cattle, sheep, wool and hogs weren't worth a dime a dozen. The situation looked black and it actually seemed to be the end after all the years of struggle. Roosevelt was so quiet, even on Saturdays; you could hear a pin drop.
Then out of the blue, without warning, the miracle came rolling in called the "Billion Dollar Crop". It was alfalfa seed. By this time most of the usable land in Uintah Basin was planted to alfalfa to feed livestock, and the experts found it could produce the best alfalfa seed in the world. The new land, the cool nights, the hot days produced seed of premium quality and plenty of it.
The seed industry is faded and gone now. It is hard to explain what happened when the seed industry hit this town without being accused of lying or greatly exaggerating the facts. But there are those still around who know, and they all agree on the impact to this country of the hayseed.
The seed companies came in, erected seed cleaning plants and bought seed by the tons. Literally millions of dollars were paid into the Uintah Basin each year. It was better in a way than oil because every farmer raised seed, sold it and walked away with the loot.
At that time most people still traveled by horse and buggy, but then came the cars of every kind and model from the Hudson Super Six, the Rickenbacker and the Cadillac, down to the "Tin Lizzy". Most people held their heads and bought Fords, Chevrolets and Buicks.
Roosevelt rolled….business had never been so good. Well, the seed business has vanished now. It died from the lack of fertilizers, insecticides and innovation methods. However, with the new technology in these areas, sooner or later, the seed boom may come back again.
A side product of the alfalfa seed industry was honey; the blossoming alfalfa fields produced honey by the car load. There were both big and little bee outfits and our honey, because of the its quality, became famous from coast to coast. It too was a ready source of money that helped Roosevelt grow.
What we have written will seem to some like old, old history, but it isn't. Roosevelt is a very young town; one of the newest in the state. We are now a thriving, modern community. We have one of the best Medical facilities in Rural Utah, Utah State University has a branch campus here. We have a Technology Center with one of the finest nursing programs in the State. Roosevelt is host to one of the finest 18 hole golf courses. We have two co-operatives located in Roosevelt one being Moon Lake Electric and the other Uintah Basin Telephone, which employee many of out citizens. We have come a long, long way in the time we've had. We have the oil fields and many other resources. They have always been here, but are just now being developed. Roosevelt's tomorrow looks as bright as our stars of night in our clear blue sky.
-George E. Stewart