Historical Report #9
Cache Junction, Union Pacific's "Pride" crossing the Bear River
From the latter half of the 1800s, the West was synonymous with change. From the moment the pioneers set foot on western land, from the moment they started harvesting logs to build their first dugouts and cabins, the West began to change--and for many years without the railroad's help.
Read a history of Cache Valley and estimate the surprisingly short time that passed between the first, rough-hewn days of settlement and the active, busy communities that grew up around them. General stores, woolen mills, and schools; dance halls, opera houses, and churches; town squares and post offices--all up and working inside a decade. Most impressive was the change from dugouts and rough log cabins to houses built of sawn lumber and channel-lap siding, roofed with shingles, and filled with furniture manufactured locally by skilled artisans. Much of this furniture can still be found in homes and museums throughout the Intermountain region, such as the United Order bed pictured below. In fact, early Mormon furniture has become an antique collector's item all over the West.
For the pioneers who were driven from their homes in Nauvoo, however, the homes and life styles they attained by the time the railroad came to Utah was about what they'd been forced to leave behind in Illinois. This was an impressive accomplishment in so short a time, and owed much to Brigham Young's directive to move as soon as possible from temporary shelters to surveyed town sites and permanent houses and public buildings. But except for the knowledge that they were then relatively secure in Zion, for many of them their way of life had more or less gone back to normal. It was mainly among immigrants from England, Europe, and Scandinavia that we find the people who would experience change beyond their wildest dreams.
Life among the shipbuilder-farmers of Scandinavia and England, for instance, was one of little compensation for unrelenting physical labor in all kinds of weather. Their homes were not simply humble but primitive, even when compared to the first pioneer shelters in the West. In nineteenth century Scotland, things were no better Life-spans were short. Lung ailments, especially, were a constant scourge caused by stuffy, dust-filled factories in which workdays ran from fourteen to sixteen hours, six days a week. Moreover, they could expect nothing better for their children who worked in the factories beside them all the way down through the age of nine.
No one would argue that the lives of many immigrants after coming to Utah had not improved markedly in terms of comfort and security, and even wealth. ome of these people, in fact, became millionaires. And in creating millionaires is where the railroad earns one of its places in history.
David Eccles and Charles Nibley, both involved in railroading and lumbering, were two of Utah's turn-of-the-century millionaires. Born into grinding poverty within three months of each other in 1849 in Scotland, both David Eccles and Charles Nibley learned early in life to take advantage of any opportunities available to them--which in nineteenth century Scotland were vanishingly few. The virgin, wide-open West, however, was another story.
David Eccles had been something of an entrepreneur since eleven years old in Scotland when he went about the countryside near his home peddling kitchen utensils, bobbins, and other oddments from a pack on his back. These were the items that his father, blinded by cataracts early in life, turned on his lathe by feel. William Eccles, David's father, and his mother, Sarah, had by that time been converted to the Mormon church, and in 1863 when David was fourteen, the Eccles family managed to gather together enough money to enable the parents and their six children to leave Scotland and emigrate to Utah for a new life.
Charles Nibley's family, also Mormon converts, emigrated to the United
States before the Eccles family--in 1855
--but spent five years in the East before moving to Utah's Cache Valley. Charles' frugal mother saved an impressive $3,000 from five years of the family's wages from the woolen mills of New England and this they used to outfit themselves for their trip westward.Young Charles wasted no time when, just out of his teens, he shifted from working on the looms back in New England to clerking in a Wellsville store By the early 1870s--a little more than a decade later--Charles Nibley had become an accomplished and successful businessman.
Both of these men would leave estates of millions. David Eccles was considered at the time of his death to be the wealthiest man in Utah. But they were not cut from the same cloth as the robber barons of U. S. history--they were both praised at their deaths as open and generous to their communities and their church. Nor did either of them enrich himself at the expense of others. Rather they were shrewd and gutsy entrepreneurs who took advantage of the unique convergence of two things--the availability of vast, untouched natural resources with little or no legal impediments and a railroad that had just then managed to span the continent.
Nibley and Eccles embarked upon their first partnership in 1883 in the United Order of Logan. By that time, Nibley was general manager of Logan's UO and worried about the economic slump brought on by the end of intensive nationwide railroad building on the one hand and the lack of trees for the UO's lumber operation on the other. In fact, Logan's United Order in the latter half of 1883 was showing every indication of going bankrupt.1
Nibley convinced Eccles to take out a controlling interest in Logan's UO, and between the infusion of Eccles' capital and his meticulous business sense, the organization not only weathered the crisis, but showed a profit at the end of the year, issuing a seven percent dividend to its stockholders.
Leonard Arrington characterizes Charles Nibley as a man of wide vision, always able to see the big picture. Nibley, then, coupled with the precise, detail-oriented David Eccles led to an unbeatable business team. This fact was nowhere more evident than in their next--and enormously profitable--business venture, in which they formed in 1889 one of the largest lumber companies of its time in the Pacific Northwest, the mammoth Oregon Lumber Company. It led into a partnership that would result in their impressive wealth, add to the settlement of many Mormon communities in lumber-rich Oregon and Idaho, and increase the prosperity of Cache Valley and northern Utah in general. It would, in time, lay the groundwork for the formation of one of the nation's first bank-holding companies, The First Security Corporation.
Oregon's vast timber resources had attracted Eccles more than a decade before the logging-out of Cache Valley's forest. Both men were part-time residents of Cache Valley, so the area's need for good, easily imported lumber products was obvious to the two men long before 1889.2 However, the nation's Timber and Stone Act prohibited the shipment of natural resources between territories--for instance, between the territories of Idaho and Utah--but allowed such shipments from states, such as Oregon and Nevada, to a territory. This situation was the impetus for Eccles moving a lumber operation in 1886 from the Beaver area of Idaho to Baker, Oregon (see logo below), to increase supplies for his mills and lumber retail outlets in Ogden. Then, in 1887, the Union Pacific reached into Oregon with the Oregon Short Line. By that time, the railroad spearheaded in 1871 by Brigham Young, the Utah Northern, had long since reached up through Cache Valley to Montana. The resulting rail connection between the Oregon Short Line and Utah Northern unleashed a direct means by which a free flow of timber from Oregon could reach Cache Valley from the newly formed Oregon Lumber Company.
The extent of David Eccles investment interests were extraordinary. Though he considered himself basically a lumberman, his holdings included not only lumber and railroads, but land, livestock, canneries, and construction, even an electric power company in Oregon. And since Eccles always encouraged fellow Mormons to follow him for employment in these ventures, these invitations resulted in many Mormon enclaves now in existence in Oregon and Idaho.
Eccles also held controlling interests in several sugar refineries including the Lewiston Sugar Factory which he constructed in 1905, serving as its president throughout his lifetime. He also founded or held controlling interests in banks and insurance companies in both Utah and Idaho. The later outcome of David Eccles' banking interests, the formation in 1928 by his son, Marriner, of The First Security Corporation, encompassed seventeen Eccles-controlled banks in Utah and Idaho, three of which were in Cache Valley--Hyrum State Bank, Richmond State Bank, and Logan's Thatcher Brothers Bank.
Charles Nibley's interests were also diversified, but lumber holdings constituted most of his wealth and they ranged widely, apparently even into California. In a 1971 lecture given at BYU on the environmental impact of the lumber industry, Charles' grandson, Hugh Nibley, spoke of a fabled grove of 2,000-year-old giant redwood trees near Santa Cruz, California, that no longer existed. "My own grandfather," he said, "had converted them all into cash." Dr. Nibley added that his grandfather realized, belatedly, that inside of twenty or thirty years he had used up natural resources that had taken thousands of years to create. "Let us not confuse the ethic of work, " the younger Nibley concluded, "with the ethic of plunder."
Hugh Nibley's admonition conforms to our present-day environmental concerns, as well it should, for we've learned by now how easy it is for natural resources that were once viewed eternal to disappear. But we must also beware of judging the early pioneers by the standards of the twentieth century. Scotland, the birthplace of David Eccles and Charles Nibley, has only four percent of its original forest remaining today and by the nineteenth century, most of the other 96 percent had been long gone. For all these two men knew, the country might always have been barren, and the wealth of trees they saw here could well argue for an unending resource, ripe for indefinite exploitation.
Moreover, as one researcher pointed out, though we shudder now at the shortsightedness of those who had so quickly logged off our own Cache forest--it had essentially disappeared inside of fifteen years--we can't say those early settlers wasted what they cut. What wasn't used for construction was used for shingles and lath, and what was left over from that was used for firewood. And as for the hundreds of thousand of ties that found their way under steel rails throughout the West, they would have come from somewhere else if they hadn't come from Cache Valley. The very prosperity that followed the lumber and railroad booms led to the leisure that allowed Cache Valley citizens to forget about mere survival and lament the centuries-old virgin forest that the railroad sped so quickly out of their mountains.
Yes, the railroad accelerated change and not all of it bad. It brought thousands upon thousands of settlers into the West in more safety and comfort, which in itself added to that change. It brought efficiency in farming with more sophisticated tools and with it the ability to feed more and more people--an enormous change. It brought a huge infusion of eastern capital, new industries, and government installations. And it brought to a few people a great deal of wealth.
2Eccles' first wife, Bertha, lived with her
family in Ogden, where he did a good part of his lumber and banking business.
His second wife, Ellen, lived at first in Logan, then in Oregon, and then
again in Logan. The separation of his two families and his discretion
in traveling to and from each one were what kept him out of trouble during
the period of intense harassment of Mormon polygamists by the federal
government. Charles Nibley, with three wives, was equally discreet.
And though at one time arrested by US marshalls in Idaho, he was released
on a technicality--the warrant had been issued in Salt Lake and was not
valid in Idaho.
Cache Junction photo courtesy of USU Special Collections
United Order hgih-backed bed, 1880s, marked on the side rails as made by the United Order of Logan owned by Alan and Joan Shaw, photo by Joan Shaw
Logo of the Oregon Lumber Company courtesy of USU Special Collections