Shauntie, Elephant City, North Camp, South Camp, Frisco and Newhouse were mining towns located in central Beaver County in southern Utah Territory between 1870 and about 1928. As one town would die another would rise. The camps were located on the flanks of the San Francisco mountain range ten to twenty-five miles west of the present town of Milford. Shauntie took its name from the Shauntie Hills on which it sat.
Shauntie was more of a camp than a town, with tents and shacks for houses, a few wooden stores and the mill. The town was built near the bottom of Elephant Canyon, which led to the Moscow Mine. Why a canyon in southern Utah would be called Elephant Canyon is a mystery. Surely the canyon wasn’t as big as an elephant — winding as it did up the western slope of the Star Moutain Range.
Shauntie was the base camp for the South Star Mining District. Back in 1875 the area west of the present town of Milford was known as the “Silver Crescent” because of the large number of claims that had been filed in a half circle that began in the South Star District, swung northwest to the North Star District, then further northwest to the San Francisco Mining District, then slightly northeast to the Carbonate area, then more northeast to the Beaver Lake District.
The rolling hills beyond this range to the west are still called the Shauntie Hills, but are accessible only with four-wheeled vehicles these days.
Of all the camps in the South Star, Shauntie was the largest of them because the first mill needed to crush the ores from the various mines was located there.
The little town was squeezed into the bottom of a small canyon – or “draw.” There was only one street in Shauntie, it snaked up the bottom of the draw and was lined with the buildings of the town all bunched together.
Except for the chalky whiteness of the single general merchandise store all the wooden buildings looked alike. They blended under the early summer heat that day in June, 1875.
At the north end of the street, near the top of the draw stood the mill. Heavy plumes of pale blue smoke billowed from the boiler stacks. From the bottom of the draw to the south this wooden frame building looked like all the rest, except it was a little larger and stood at the end of the street in an official-looking position.
The inside of the building was like an open barn, one big room with wooden pillars to hold up the roof. On the west end were the two big boilers that drove the steam engine. This was coupled by a large flywheel and belt drive to the shaft that turned the banks of ball crusher mills used to pulverize the ore.
The engine foreman had the steam up on the boilers. These units needed to be stoked constantly to make sure the steam pressure was high enough to keep the ball mills turning. The mills smashed the ore from the Moscow Mine into a consistent powder smelting texture.
The ore was brought to the mill by large freighting wagons and mule teams. After crushing it was then freighted by wagon to the Riverside Smelter south of Milford for smelting into bars of metal. The boiler consumed a lot of juniper wood and kept the cutters mighty busy bringing wood from the hillsides. Much of the ash was light enough to be carried up the stacks with the smoke, if the fire was hot enough.
The two metal smokestacks were not tall but did dominate the whole structure. They were guyed at two levels, but the wires were loose, and the pipes shifted back and forth slightly in the wind, squeaking and belching smoke at the end of each short swing.
Down the street B.F. Grant, owner of the whitewashed store, swept his porch. He added a little linseed oil to keep the dust down and rubbed it into the wood. B.F. did this little ritual every day. He found that it kept his store cleaner to have oil on the planks inside and out.
The pump-handled well was the only source of water in town, and all paths from shacks and dugouts led to the pump. Few people in town drank the water. It tasted heavily of metals — especially sulfur — but it was the only water in town, so some people drank it. Like most mining camps in the area, drinking water was hauled in daily from the wells on the Milford Flat. Large tank wagons provided the service — for a fee. The water from the Milford Flat wells was excellent – clean and cold.
So, life in Shauntie this June day started out no different than any other day. But in the future when the former residents of Shauntie discussed this particular day, no one could figure out exactly what went wrong. All they knew is that sometime in the late afternoon some sparks flew up the smoke stacks at the smelter and landed on the roof. This happened almost every day, but the constant wind normally cooled the embers so they weren’t a threat, or the wind would merely blow them away with the smoke. This day, however, the wind failed them. The hot embers settled on the roof and began to eat slowly into the tinder-dry shingles. The roof must have simmered most of the afternoon.
The clanging of the town alarm unnerved everyone, it meant one of only two things — fire in town or a cave-in at the Moscow Mine. People poured into the street.
A water brigade was started at the trough in front of B.F. Grant’s store. It was a drill everyone was familiar with.
There weren’t enough buckets in town to form an adequate brigade, there wasn’t much water in the trough, and there weren’t enough people either. It was soon obvious that the mill would be lost.
In the summer afternoons as the warm air of the desert valleys rises, the wind shifts from blowing up out of the valley to blowing down off the cool Shauntie Hills — drainage winds, they are called — bringing cool air to fill the void left by the rising heat in the valleys. It was at this point in the fire that the drainage winds took over.
As everyone watched from the street, the smoke and sparks hung lazily in the air. Then they began to drift slowly down the draw. The smoke burned the eyes of the townspeople and they retreated.
Soon large pieces of burning debris began falling all around. Panic grew. Small fires were everywhere.
The agent at the stage stop next to B.F. Grant’s store was one of the first to see what was happening. He rushed into the depot building and to the telegraph key attached to the only two lines of communication to the outside world. He only had time to tap out “The town is burning” before he grabbed the key and ran.
The tent-saloon was the first to go. B.F. Grant’s store was perhaps the most spectacular as the flames found the linseed oil on the floor.
Shauntie burned to the ground in little less than an hour. Little remained of the town … only foundations and ashes. Much of the equipment of the mill was still usable. The fire devoured the tinder-dry building in a few minutes. Because of its quickness it was hot, but not hot enough nor long enough, to destroy the heavy boiler and roller mills.
No lives were lost. No serious injuries were sustained. The people of this mining camp had seen it before. They’d probably see it again. It was part of life in the small mining camps of the west. If they caught fire, they burned. There wasn’t enough water to stop it.
It was a way of life for the miners and mill workers. They merely packed up and moved on.