A January morning in Myton, Utah. In the modern brick elementary school, the fourth-graders of Boyd Lemon's class take their seats. Mr. Lemon himself isn't there. He's in the office doctoring the head of a boy who fell while playing in the gym before school.
Students always play inside on such mornings in the Uintah Basin. Outside, wind is whipping the snow. The temperature (with chill factor) could stay below zero all day.The bell rings. A student stands and leads the others in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Lemon hustles down the hall. He's pleased but not surprised to see his class conducting itself without him. He says, "I always designate one student to take charge. We call him `the wagonmaster.' "
The term "wagonmaster" is Lemon's way of encouraging the children's pride of place. Because he was born here and has studied the history of the area, Lemon wants to teach his fourth-graders this fact: Theirs is a rich heritage.
And wagons were important in Myton's past. Myton was once a gateway and the largest town in the Basin. At the turn of the century, Myton sat between the only bridge over the Duchesne River and the only road (through Nine Mile Canyon) to the coal mines and railroad of Price.
Plenty of wagons and stagecoaches rolled through Myton. The town had three banks, a hotel and an opera house. Trappers, traders, soldiers and Indian agents walked its streets.
"It was a Gentile town," says Glenn Thomson, minister of the Presbyterian church - built in 1907 and now Myton's oldest public building.
"It was a Mormon town," says Boyd Lemon, as he describes the growth of farming and ranching.
In point of fact the Presbyterians and Latter-day Saints seem to have shared the town. Thomson says they worshiped separately but taught their children in a common Sunday School and joined together for a community dinner after service.
But long before 1905, when the U.S. government decided to allow homesteaders to establish a township named after Postmaster H.P. Myton, there were people living there. On the Ute reservation. In fact long before the 1860s, when the government moved the Timpanogos tribe from the pretty valleys of the Provo River to this harsh land, there were people in the area. The Fremont Indians.
Lemon takes his class on a field trip through Nine Mile Canyon each spring. They hike to see foundations of ancient dwellings and granaries, look at pictographs on the rock and wonder together about those who came first.
Present-day Myton is a more prosaic place.
Today, Myton is a small dot on the map of U.S. 40, southwest of Roosevelt. Population: 436. The township is one square mile of city and privately owned land in the middle of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.
When touring the town you see many empty lots. Yellow stubble pushes through the snow where homes and shops once stood. Some were destroyed by three large fires that devastated the town before World War I. Others were burned recently by the city, before vandals had a chance to do it.
The last grocery store closed this fall. The Tri-County Food Pantry has taken over a deserted cafe; there, Inez Kettle helps as many as 12 needy families a day get clothes and food. These are sad signs, sadder for the fact that in the early 1970s, when the energy boom was on, Myton was projected to have 1,300 residents and a thriving economy this year.
On the other hand, two trucking companies, Lamb's and Link's, and Ross Brothers Feed and Seed are still in business. So are several alternative schools, including a Headstart and the Con Amore special education school. The old American Legion hall has been refurbished as a community center. People have begun to rent it out for weddings.
The Ghost Town convenience store is located right on the highway. That's where the Myton museum can be found, too. They both get a good number of visitors, proving Myton isn't a ghost town yet.
By afternoon the wind stops. Dogs appear on the streets. Here a young German shepherd races happily, chased by a tiny, hairy mutt. A block east a poodle yaps and runs. To the west, a spaniel trots. You can count six dogs chained in one yard _ sniffing each other and barking and wagging.
There doesn't seem to be a person outside. For the moment, the town belongs to delighted dogs. They may be celebrating the fresh snow and the sunny day. Or they may have somehow learned that Myton no longer has an animal control officer.
This was a recent decision by the City Council, Mayor Ludy Cooper explains. "We decided it at our town meeting last September. That was an amazing meeting to me. The silent majority came out _ because there had been some rumor about disincorporating."
The rumor had no basis, Cooper says, but the large turnout pleased her. She felt the townspeople supported their mayor and council and she was anxious to hear what the majority wanted.
"They want our old water system back," she says. "Last year was a drought and we had to start getting our water from Strawberry Reservoir. No one likes the way it tastes.
"And no one wanted to let our contract go with the sheriff, so to save money, we voted to give up the animal control officer." The city maintenance man will have to deal with the dogs, she says.
This is her second term. "I came in during the golden years," she says. "When Texaco, Shell and Chevron were here." As a sign that times have changed, Cooper cites her proudest accomplishment lately as developing low-income housing.
Myton has 20 to 25 units _ mobile homes and houses _ that have been winterized and refurbished and which young families or handicapped and elderly people are either renting or buying. No one pays more than $36 per month.
"We are starting a lot of people toward self-sufficiency," says Cooper.
In the evening, at the City Council meeting, she and the other council members give new meaning to "self-sufficiency."
"How about cleaning up the three entrances to town," Cooper says. One of the female council members volunteers to go pick up the scraps of tin she sees on city property.
"We need to decide what to do with the '76 Ford. The city vehicle. It threw a rod."
Another council member volunteers to check the blue book on what it was worth and get an estimate on repairs.
And then another council member reminds the group she is currently training more volunteer firefighters, if anyone is interested in joining them.
Myton is no longer a gateway to anywhere. And it's not a wealthy town. But if all of its residents are as self-reliant as the mayor and City Council members or as proud of their heritage as Boyd Lemon, Myton must be a good place to live.