Oh no! Not Lee Benson, too! Each year when the July 24 Pioneer Day celebration nears, the mystery of the Lone Cedar Tree monument located in the island on 600 East between 300 and 400 South once again becomes the interest of local media. Because I am the marker chairwoman of the International Society of Daughters of Utah Pioneers, I take interest in each article and can't help wondering who originated the "myths." True, sometimes it is hard to prove historical facts. No one is alive today who can set the story straight, but today our best source of information is what the pioneers themselves wrote. Stories of events that were passed down by word of mouth and recorded are the next best source, but articles that have appeared in past publications, while helpful, can often be inaccurate and many times reflect only the writer's opinion.
In the editing room at the Salt Lake City DUP museum is a four-drawer file cabinet containing packets of histories of the 546 markers that the Daughters have erected throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. The file on the Lone Tree Monument is very thick. Information on this marker goes back many years and is available to anyone who wants to do original research.
One piece quotes John R. Young, a pioneer, who wrote, "From our cabin at the mouth of City Creek canyon in 1847, one could see a lone cedar tree on the plain southwest of us." Since most pioneers called every tree of this type a "cedar tree" it really doesn't matter whether it was a cedar or juniper. It was a tree. He also wrote, " . . . on the south fork of the creek, about where Main and Third South streets intersect, stood seven windswept, scraggy cottonwood trees. On the north side of City Creek stood a large oak tree. . . . No other trees were visible in the valley."
Calling the tree a "lone" tree does not mean that it was the "only" tree in the valley, but it must have stood out and been prominent enough that early travelers used it as a landmark and often a meeting place as they traveled down Emigration Street and on to the Pioneer Fort.
The tree finally died in what had become the front yard of Mrs. Edward Home. She planted vines around its trunk hoping to protect it. I doubt she would have spent the time and energy to garden around it if it was only an old post stuck in the ground.
When the corner was leased for a store, what remained of the tree needed to be moved. People referred to it at that time as the "Old Cedar Post." By then, it had been dead for many years and certainly could have been sawed off and moved more than once. We'll never know all the details. Interested citizens decided to save the old relic, and it was moved to the center of the street parking. The trunk was imbedded in cement and an iron railing surrounded it.
With the help of City Commissioner Harry L. Finch, the Daughters of Utah Pioneers sponsored the erection of a cupola about one-third down the block in 1933, and the remains of the historic tree were moved under it. The cupola was designed by Anderson and Young Architects, with Lorenzo Young supervising its erection at no cost. The trunk was moved under the cupola to be preserved. An impressive dedication was held that summer as part of a July 24 celebration.
Vandals cut most of the trunk down sometime in September 1958, according to a police report. Only about a 20-inch stump was left. It was encased in a new monument that was dedicated in 1960. This stump was later sawed off and stolen.Even though only the monument and plaques remain under the cupola, the memory of the "Lone Cedar Tree" lives on to help future generations appreciate the history of those early pioneers. Let's not assume something is a myth just because someone living generations past the time of the event decides that it is.
Dawna D. Thayne is marker chairwoman for the International Society of Daughters of Utah Pioneers.