Eph Hanks Pioneer Scout

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Eph Hanks

Pioneer Scout
A Thesis

Presented to the

Department of Church History and Doctrine

Brigham Young University

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the Degree

Master of Arts

Richard K. Hanks

April 1973

Call No.





Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9


Chapter 10


Chapter 1


In the rugged wilderness of southern Utah, among the slashed valleys and barren red hills that turn to fire with the setting sun, a single shaft of sandstone stands piercing the empty sky like a finger probing the heavens. In spring a few desert flowers grow around its base. In summer the red dust simmers in the air. During the day the dark mouths of deserted Indian caves stare hauntingly out at the endless vista of sagebrush, and the silence of the night is broken by the scream of a mountain lion.

This pinnacle, standing firm and alone in the bold emptiness of its surroundings, is more than an impressive product of nature; it is a monument, a monument to a man whose life, like that of the pinnacle, seemed destined to stand alone with nature in all her savage beauty. This man was Ephraim (Eph) K. Hanks, pioneer scout and Brigham Young's trusted emissary. He was a man loved and revered by his many friends for his warmth of character and generous understanding; a man feared as an alleged "desperado" and "vile villain" by anti-Mormons who knew of his mountaineer exploits and disparagingly linked him with notable contemporaries, Porter Rockwell and Bill Hickman.

Eph Hanks was a frontiersman, the product of a rugged environment whose courageous feats and daring escapades equaled, if not surpassed, his reputation. He was a man seemingly void of fear, surprisingly self-sufficient, and disarmingly generous. These characteristics, coupled with an unpretentious faith in God, engendered a mingling of attributes which produced a rare individual who portrayed his unwavering devotion to his God and church through deeds of lifesaving heroism and near superhuman courage. His capacity for physical accomplishment was remarkable. His deeds of skill and endurance at times may seen incredulous to the reader.1

From the day Eph ran away from his Ohio home at the age of sixteen until the day of his death, June 9, 1896, his life was one continuous adventure, conspicuously interlaced with Utah history and events of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.2 His name is recorded among the thousands who, in the winter of 1846, were exiled from their Illinois home due in part to their peculiar religious beliefs, to begin an unprecedented migration westward. He was among those five hundred able-bodied men, who in that same year enlisted in the Mormon Battalion in response to a call from President Polk for Mormon volunteers. Their subsequent march to California to insure possession rights for the United States during the Mexican War was one of the longest forced marches in military history.

Following his discharge from the army Eph took to pioneering the U. S. mail between Salt Lake City and the Missouri River. In this vocation he excelled, and in seven years he made the twelve hundred mile journey over the plains and mountains more than fifty times, pitting his skill and endurance against nature's forces and hostile Indians. It was during these trips Eph came to know the Plains Indians intimately, learning to speak their dialects and successfully healing their sick.3 These friendships not only assured his own safety while traveling the plains but the safety of other travelers as well. From 1856 to 1863, he devoted most of his time visiting hostile tribes of the plains in the interest of Mormon emigration.4 In later years, when living in southern Utah, Eph and his sons administered to and reportedly healed a group of thirty sick Indians who had come to him for help.5 But there was also less agreeable meetings with the Indians. During the winter of 1850, Eph, along with one hundred comrades, fought renegade Indians on the banks of the Provo River. He was one of the touted "fifteen invincibles" who captured the stronghold of the redmen on that occasion, and the following summer found him riding hard against marauding Goshutes in Tooele County's Skull Valley battle. His work among the Indians, however, was for the most part constructive, as was recorded by Solomon F. Kimball:

He was certainly an instrument in the hand of the Lord in helping to make it possible for the thousands of emigrants who came to Utah in those days to dwell in peace in these valleys of the mountains. The Indians of the plains learned to love and respect him; and in later years he wielded an influence among them that was nothing short of marvelous. There was not a man in the Church who had more influence with them than he.6
During the severe winter of 1856, when members of the Salt Lake bound Martin Handcart Company lay starving and helpless on Wyoming's Sweetwater, Eph Hanks received a call from Brigham Young to locate the long, overdue company of six hundred emigrants. Leaving Salt Lake City days ahead of the relief wagons, Eph, mounted on horseback and leading a pack animal, fought his way in blizzard conditions to the dying Martin Company. Most of the two buffalo he carried into camp was snatched from the packsaddles and devoured raw by the starving pioneers before it could be distributed.7 He then remained with the company as guide and doctor until they reached the Salt Lake Valley.

From the diary of Josiah Rogerson, Sr., a member of the Martin Handcart Company, we read the following tribute to the participants in this rescue:

Before closing I wish to mention the names of the heroes and hardy pioneers that were instrumental in saving one or two hundred of our lives and whose record for self-sacrifice and courage is almost incomparable.

At the head of the list stands the late General R. T. Burton, George D. Grant, Jr., then William H. Kimball, eldest son of the late Heber C. Kimball, and his younger brother, David P. Kimball; then the brave and generous Ephraim Hanks, who deserves the second place, if not the first place, in the list.8

In the year 1857 when Johnston's army, under order from President Buchanan, attempted a forced entrance into the Salt Lake Valley to install new federal officers in the rebellious "Mormon Colony," Eph Hanks was on hand to help enforce the peaceful resistance orders of Brigham Young. Solomon F. Kimball writes:
Perhaps no military man connected with the "Mormon" Church played a more prominent part in the so-called Echo Canyon War, during the winter of 1857-58, than did Elder Ephraim K. Hanks. So daring was he in some of his exploits that the bravest men in his company were not anxious to follow him on his reconnoitering expeditions. One dark night he crawled so near to the army officers' tent that the cook unwittingly threw scraps from the General's table over him. Nothing went on around the Officers' Headquarters that he was not familiar with; consequently, he kept General Wells posted on every important movement made by Johnston's Army.
Farming in the Salt Lake Valley had little appeal to Eph during his early life, hence one spring morning in 1870 he left his plow in the furrow and set his face towards the hills. A Utah newspaper in the same year records:
Eph Hanks was no longer a farmer; he was a prospector. He walked over into what is now Park City mining district and chipped a few chunks of rock of an outcropping. Eph Hanks organized a company. The claim was called The Green Monster.9

At any rate, Eph Hanks was the father of Park City. The success of The Green Monster was noised abroad and location followed location in rapid order.10

Immense riches hovered near Eph in his newfound role of prospector and mine owner, but a call from Brigham Young to purchase and settle Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River banished all dreams of ore and riches he might have had. Preparations were made to move his family to Lee's Ferry, but the plans were interrupted by the death of Brigham Young in 1877. Having already sold his home and mine, he moved to Burrville, Wayne County, Utah, at the advice of President John Taylor. He later established a homestead a number of miles east of Burrville in a box canyon on a small tributary of the Fremont River called Pleasant Creek. Here he built a comfortable home, planted several hundred fruit trees, and lived the last adventure of his life--that of settler and colonizer. He passed away June 9, 1896, at the age of seventy.

Chapter 2


Ephraim Knowlton Hanks was born March 21, 1826, the sixth child of a family of twelve belonging to Benjamin and Martha Hanks of Madison, Lake County, Ohio. His early life was devoted to working on the farm and assisting in his father's roadside blacksmith shop. Eph was an observant lade and learned much from his industrious father. At the age of twelve he could fit shoes on horses and oxen, make trap springs, and do most of the things his father did. His early aptitude for the profession earned him a neighborhood reputation and nickname, "The Young Blacksmith."11

Young Eph displayed an active and original nature. When his duties did not require his services in the blacksmith shop, he was hunting the squirrel filled woods with the family dog, Ring. Even though Eph occasionally neglected his farm chores to tramp the woods with his rifle, he was seldom reprimanded, for more often than not, he returned home with a generous supply of squirrel meat for the family table.

On a Saturday following Eph's sixteenth (16th) birthday, his father instructed him to harness up the favorite mare to the new buggy and drive into nearby River Ridge to make a collection from a customer. As this was the first time he had been entrusted with the family rig, he proceeded cautiously into town after being reminded of his new trust. After completing his errand, he headed the mare toward home and she needed little coaxing in that direction. At first young Eph tried to hold the spirited animal back, but then his boyish enthusiasm overshadowed any thoughts of a father's anger and he sent the buggy racing over the narrow dirt road at a dangerous pace. Also Eph could not resist impressing a friend who lived a considerable distance out of the way with his new outfit; and by the time he arrived home that evening, the hard driven mare was white with lather.12

Father Hanks was furious the next morning when he found the mare covered with dried mud and sweat and had it not been Sunday Eph would have been handled on the spot. Only the Puritan faith of his father, prohibiting punishment on the Sabbath, saved him. But there was little question in his mind that Monday morning would bring a sure reckoning from an enraged father.

As Eph sat staring at the sparks dancing from the birch logs in the fireplace that Sunday morning waiting for the family to return from church, he reflected on the flushed face of his father and the anger in his eyes that morning. He could think of little else but his father's promise and the ensuing beating. The more he thought the more convinced he was as to a course of action. With a sign of despair Eph arose, trudged up the stairs to his room, rolled a few clothes into a bundle, tucked a loaf of bread under his arm, and after a long last look at the homestead, reluctantly started down the road with his pal, Ring, close at his side. His decision to leave home had been made.13

Ironically, the Hanks' had always been a clannish race dating back to Alfred the Great. For hundreds of years members of the family never left their native home in Malmbury, England. A member of the Hanks family, at one time, was shot by other members of the family because he ventured to leave home; and they feared he would "mix the bread."14

However, in 1699, Benjamin and Abigail Hanks broke the family ties and sailed for America landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This Benjamin Hanks was the great grandfather of Nancy Hanks, mother of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States, and also the great great great grandfather of Ephraim Knowlton Hanks, the subject of this paper.

Caroline Hanks Hitchcock, in her book, Nancy Hanks, presents the following brief history of the Hanks family in America:
From the old records we find the history of the descendants of Benjamin Hanks is interwoven in the annals of New England, where they are known as `a remarkably inventive family' and `a family of founders.' The first bells ever made in America were cast on Hanks Hill in their old New England farm. It was one of the descendants of this Benjamin Hanks who placed in the steeple of the old Dutch Church in New York City, which formerly stood where the post office now is, the first tower clock in America, a unique affair, run by a windmill attachment. The bells and chimes made by this family are now ringing all over the world, on land and sea, one of them being the bell in Philadelphia which replaced the old Liberty Bell, and another being the great Columbian Liberty Bell, which hung in front of the administration building at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. This bell weighed thirteen thousand pounds, to represent the thirteen original States, and was made from relics of gold, silver, old coins, and metal sent from all parts of the world.

Other members of this family have sent the first libraries far away throughout the world to those toilers who `go down to the sea in ships, that do business in the great waters.' They have also erected the first silk mills in American run by waterpower, and made the first cannon carried by the Connecticut artillery into the battles in which many of them gave their lives for their country. For the United States Army and Navy during the Revolution, their inventions in almost every department are unnumerable (sic). Their Sunday School publications and work in the Hebrew language and literature, in connection with the history of the Bible, are well known everywhere. Graduates of almost every university in America, there have been among them noted doctors, lawyers, ministers, and writers. The mineral, "Hanksite," was named after its discoverer, Professor Henry G. Hanks, State Mineralogist of California.15

Suffice it to say that as Eph Hanks hustled along the road in the direction of Lake Erie that pleasant summer day, little did he realize that he was embarking upon a life's adventure, which would add considerably to the Hanks' name and to the history books of the West.

Eph walked all day and night, and in the forenoon of the following day stopped at a village blacksmith shop. Fatigued and hungry, he asked the smith if he might blow the bellows in return for something to eat. The smithy was making trap springs and much to the merriment of several onlookers had already broken three springs as he bent them to make the final test.

Eph asked the disgruntled blacksmith if he might try one, and the hecklers insisted the lad be given a chance. Eph put the steel in the fire, as he had done many times before in his father's shop, and then held it for the smithy to shape until it was ready for tempering. Taking some fever powder from his pocket, which his mother insisted her boys carry with them, he mixed it with water in the tempering trough, after which he took the glowing iron from the fire and placed it in the water. Then removing the iron from the trough, Eph carefully placed his foot on the spring and bent it down. When he withdrew his foot, the spring bounded to the ceiling amid the laughter and cheers of the audience.16

The chagrined, but impressed smithy, fed the young runaway and invited him to remain and work at the blacksmith shop. But Eph was too close to home. After hearing the lad's story, the sympathetic smithy suggested he inquire at the Chambers' farm for work, which was further down the road.

After working for Mr. Chambers several months Eph took a day off and drove into town to watch the Fourth of July celebration and happened to meet an old friend, Bill Reed, who had grown up in the Hanks' home.17 He bought Eph a sorely needed suit of clothes and after a lengthy talk induced him to give up farming and to work with him on the Erie Canal. Before joining his new partner, Eph bade farewell to the Chambers family, thanking them for their kindness and expressing regret at leaving them so soon. As a parting gesture he left his dog, Ring, with Helen, their blind daughter, who had grown attached to the dog.

In those days freight was carried through the canal by horse-drawn boats, and Eph's job was to drive the horse along the bank while Bill worked the rudder of the boat. To avoid entanglements, the Canal code specified that the boat traveling downstream slacken its ropes, thus permitting the horses pulling the upstream boat to walk over the lines.

Because Eph was young and inexperienced, some of the drivers failed to extend this usual courtesy to him. At one such encounter when a driver failed to recognize his rights, Eph stood his ground, thereby upending a downstream horse into the canal. After helping to pull the horse from the water, three ruffians threatened to stretch the boys' necks. During a lively scuffle, when the ruffians succeeded in putting a rope around Bill's neck, Eph sprang forward to his friend's rescue, pinning the head of one of the attackers to the wall with a two-tined pitchfork. Wheeling suddenly around, he speared another in the seat sending him scurrying with Bill, likewise sprang for safety when convinced of Eph's determination.18

Both Eph and Bill enjoyed the work on the canal and were saddened when winter came and the canal froze. Being out of work, the two traveled to Boston where they signed up for what they thought was a freighting job on the ocean, but turned out to be a three year hitch in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Columbus.19 Eph learned to love the sea and the life of a sailor appealed to him. He often commented on how easily he had adapted to it.

Solomon F. Kimball writes of Eph's enlistment as follows:
Being of a roaming, restless disposition, Ephraim K. Hanks enlisted in 1842 as sailor on the United States man-of-war Columbus. He served for three years. During that time he visited many interesting parts of the world and gained knowledge of earthly things that proved of great value to him in later years.20
One day aboard ship, Eph was mending his duffle bag when three shipmates looking for some sport approached him. The leader of the trio gave his spool of thread a kick across the deck. When Eph good-naturedly reached for it, another stepped on his hand while the third whisked the cap from his head and sailed it on to the deck where it was used as a spittoon. Angered by this purposeless challenge, Eph grabbed a belaying pin, which he swung to the head of one lad. He then repulsed an attack by the remaining two when he knocked one sprawling down the hatchway and wrestled with the third until the appearance of an orderly on the scene.21

Sharks often followed the ship for days at a time and Eph, who was determined to land one of the big blue killers, wrangled the Captain's permission to try his luck. He used the ship's blacksmith shop to forge a large strong hook to which he tied a rope for a line. Outfitted with an improvised block and tackle and a chunk of pork for bait, Eph, the fisherman, was ready. In a matter of minutes after setting the line, a shark was savagely fighting the homemade hook. With the help of other sailors, Eph succeeded in landing the still thrashing shark on the deck of the ship. The incident caused considerable excitement and provided the crew with some spirited entertainment.22

Another sea experience that almost ended in disaster is related by Kimball:
On one of his ocean voyages during a heavy storm, he and two of his companions were thrown from the fore-royal yard into the rigging below. One of his mates was instantly killed and the other fell overboard, the big, blue sharks eating the body. Ephraim, who seems to have been born an athlete, grabbed a dangling rope, and amid shouts and cheers form his companions below, slid to the trembling foretop, where he calmly waited for further orders. This marvelous escape from death made him the hero of the crew, and from that time on Eph enjoyed the best that the ship could afford.23
With his three years' enlistment nearly up, Eph was undecided about re-enlisting. While the U.S.S. Columbus was docked in New York, a visit from a stranger influenced his decision. Eph relates that a man approached him as he and a number of others were working the pumps on the ship's deck. He talked with Eph only a short time, but succeeded in influencing him to quit the sea and return home.24

Eph invited the stranger to go ashore with him, but he declined saying he would remain and watch his trunk until he returned. After purchasing a few souvenirs for his family, he returned to the ship to pick up his belongings just as she was ready to sail. From the dock, Eph and his friends contended they saw the stranger sitting on the trunk just as they had left him earlier, but when they reached the trunk the stranger had disappeared.25

A description of Eph during this period of life is given by Kimball:
Ephraim, who was now in his twentieth year, developed into as strong a specimen of manhood as could be found in that section of the country. He was qualified for the work that Providence had marked out for him. Being of a spiritual-minded nature, he possessed really at this early period in his life the gift of prophecy to a considerable extent, though at that time he little understood such a gift. He as certainly a man who was destined to perform a work which in later years caused even the savages of the plains to consider him with wonder and amazement.26
Eph pocketed his honorable discharge and immediately set out for his Ohio home he had not seen in four years. He was stunned, however, to learn of his father's death two and a half years before. During his maturing years at sea, he had come to fully appreciate his father and had anticipated the reunion. His grief deepened upon learning his concerned father had willed him one dollar with instructions to buy a New Testament and read it.

Eph also learned that his older brother, Sidney, had been taken captive by the Mormons and was being held under a spell in Nauvoo, Illinois. Infuriated, Eph determined to visit the Nauvoo stronghold and redeem poor Sidney from his Mormon tormentors.

Before rescuing Sidney, however, Eph had another visit to make. With his dog, Ring, who had been waiting for him at home, he headed down the same road he had traveled four years earlier when escaping a wrathful father. His arrival at the Chambers' farm where he had worked as a runaway, prompted a happy reunion. After instructing Helen how to keep Ring from running away a second time, Eph entertained the Chambers family with stories of the sea. Mr. Chambers, who was now, well along in years, offered his farm to Eph if he would stay and take care of his blind daughter. At the moment, however, Eph could think of little else but his brother, Sidney, and the Mormons. Politely refusing the generous offer, he returned home and made preparations to start for Nauvoo.

After traveling for a day and a half on the road to Illinois, Eph arrived at a fork in the road. Starting down the right fork he was nearly overwhelmed, for no apparent reason, by a stream of tears, flowing from his eyes.27 Bewildered and annoyed, he retraced his steps and proceeded down the alternate fork of the road only to experience the same phenomenon. Finding himself unable to explain this sudden burst of emotion, he returned to a nearby grove of sycamore trees prayed for the first time in years. Impressed not to continue on his journey but to return to his family, Eph reversed his course toward home. Upon reaching the house, there was Sidney, who had arrived home shortly after Eph's departure two days before. Kimball describes the circumstance of the meeting:

Shortly after the [Ephraim] returned home, his brother, Sidney, who was living at Nauvoo, Illinois, had a dream that made such a firm impression upon his mind as to cause him to return to his mother's home to learn its meaning if possible. Once there the interpretation was made plain to him as he beheld his long, absent seafaring brother, Ephraim.28
Sidney enthusiastically related the Mormon story to his mother and seafaring brother. He bore a strong testimony of Joseph Smith's calling and testified how he had been healed through the administration of the Mormon priesthood.

Such discussions aroused Mother Hanks, however, who in defense of the family faith promptly invited the most able sectarian ministers in the neighborhood to contest Sidney's beliefs. The ministers soon arrived and an earnest if not heated discussion ensued. When the ministers became abusive, calling Joseph Smith and his follower’s uncomplimentary names, Eph, who up to this time had been a silent listener, grabbed a chair and pointing to the door demanded the ministers to leave.29 They departed so quickly that one of them left his silk hat behind.30

The next morning the two brothers found much to talk about as they sat on the woodpile in back of the house. Sidney spoke more of his dream and of Joseph Smith and the Mormons. Eph listened attentively. Sidney's sincerity was convincing and Eph found himself believing the incredible story Sidney had to tell. He was so impressed he agreed to cast his lot with Sidney and travel with him to Nauvoo for a firsthand look at the Mormon capital.

As Mother Hanks had made it plain that her two misguided sons were no longer welcome at home, the pair reluctantly bade the homestead goodbye and struck out for Nauvoo.

Chapter 3

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