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Sunday, July 4, 2010

GREAT 4TH OF JULY STORY

Kerry Ross Boren


MARK ANSON

UTAH'S OLDEST SHERIFF

by Kerry Ross Boren

His house, in which he lived with his wife Sarah, was a huge, oblong building, constructed of peeled-and-squared pine logs which had been cut and hauled from the nearby Uintah Mountains during the 1920's. The house had a green tar-paper roof and sat on the crest of the high knobby hill looking down upon the little town of Manila, Utah, like an overlord and his fiefdom. The only access was by a graded road which snaked its way around the hill from a swinging gate at the intersection of a frontage road.

Few people ever saw Mark Anson, the sheriff of Daggett County, Utah. For that cause he was held somewhat in awe by the local populace, and remained something of a mystery. Part of the reason was due to his age, for Mark was past eighty-five. If the criminal element should think of this as an advantage, however, it was always to their detriment. Sheriff Anson always got his man.

Daggett County, during the late 1940's and early 1950's, when I grew into boyhood there, was the smallest, least-populated, and most isolated county in the State - a virtual throw-back to the Old West. Many of the county's older residents - Willard Schofield, Tom Welch, Tom Jarvie, Minnie Rasmussen, Jim Lamb and others - had been personal acquaintances of Butch Cassidy; so had Mark Anson.

Mark was not originally a resident of the county. He was the son of Tom Anson, an early pioneer of the Henry's Fork country in southwestern Wyoming. Mark was born at Burnt Fork, Wyoming, on his father's ranch, during the late 1860's. Burnt Fork was, however, barely across the Utah-Wyoming border, some thirty-five miles, as the crow flies, west of Manila.

I came to know Mark Anson, and to learn his life's story, in a very unusual way.

When I was ten or eleven years of age - in about 1951 or 1952 - I followed in the footsteps of many an earlier errant child and ran away from home. My older brother had taken a new litter of kittens belonging to my pet cat, put them in a gunny-sack, weighted it with rocks, and drowned them in the pond. I felt badly abused and determined to run away and live as a hermit in the nearby mountains.

Our family ranch was some six miles south of Manila, on the lip of Sheep Creek Canyon, in the foothills of the massive Uintah Mountains - Utah's highest. I had grown up in the Uintahs and felt perfectly at home there. I had been hunting, fishing, and exploring the canyons and rivers of that region since the age of five or six, and lived like a prodigal wild child in their midst without apprehension or concern.

I bridled my horse - "Jewel," a pinto - and rode off bareback into the hills south of the ranch, feeling simultaneously unloved and yet elated at my new-found sense of freedom and independence. It didn't last too long.

I hadn't gone many miles when I discovered that, in my haste to leave, I had overlooked provisions. By day's end I was hungry and had nothing to eat. I hadn't even considered until that time how I was going to provide for myself in the mountains.

I happened to be near my uncle Roy Boren's ranch in South Valley. I knew that he and my aunt were away on a visit, so I dropped by the ranch and helped myself to food from the pantry, my uncle's best fishing rod, and, for good measure, I took a pocket watch from a dresser - in case I needed to know the time of day. I was to learn that the watch had belonged to my aunt's father, Charles Potter, and was an heirloom. I felt bad then, but at the time I took it, it was the least of my concerns. I had never stolen anything before, and because of the lesson I was about to learn, never would again.

I camped that night on Sheep Creek, caught trout for my supper, to supplement some of my aunt's bottled fruits and vegetables, and made my bedroll next to a campfire. In the middle of the night I was awakened by the sound of an automobile coming up the canyon. I doused the fire, bundled up my few belongings, and climbed upon Jewel's back. Nearby was a branch of old Outlaw Trail, winding its way up the cliff-side for some two thousand feet to the crest of the canyon. It had been constructed in the 1890's by Cleophas Dowd, whose grave lay at the bottom of the trail: he was murdered in the canyon in 1898. Few people could navigate the trail in daylight, especially with a horse, but I did it by night, and was feeling quite proud of the accomplishment.

What I didn't know, but strongly suspected, was that the car contained members of my family, frantically searching for me. The next morning my worried mother went to elicit the aid of Sheriff Anson to find me. By noon the old man was on my trail.

I spotted him early on, several miles down the valley, slowly walking along in front of his horse, pursuing my tracks. I rode hard toward an escarpment, hid my horse behind an outcropping of ledge, and climbed to the top of the ridge to watch his progress. At this point the "game" was enjoyable, like cowboys and Indians - or Butch eluding a posse. I didn't know it then, but Sheriff Anson had once pursued members of the Wild Bunch, over this same terrain. Had I known it, I might not have been so smug.
 
PART TWO COMMING SOON!
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1 comment:

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