When it was settled by a family named Carson, back in 1855, Fairfield, was a quiet farming town. It's a quiet farming town now.
But Fairfield, Utah County, hasn't always been a quiet farming town. For three years it was home to Camp Floyd, the largest military base in the country. From 1858 to 1861, Fairfield had a population of 7,000 and was the territory's third largest city.Today, Dale Berge, professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University looks out over the tiny town surrounded by rabbitbrush and says,"This is the kind of place that really gets my adrenalin going." There is very little to be seen of Fairfield and nothing of Camp Floyd. Berge, however, has imagination.
He is looking at the site where General Albert Sydney Johnston's army was headquartered, and he is seeing not just the bottles and buttons and foundations of buildings he is about to unearth - he is seeing people.
Each summer for six years he and his students and volunteers have spent several months excavating at Camp Floyd. Last summer they uncovered the bowl of a clay pipe on which a soldier had scratched his name: John Dowling.
This past winter, Berge made his annual research trip to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. He found Dowling's recruitment records.
"John Dowling was 5 feet 9 inches with blue eyes and a fair complexion," recites the professor. "He was a recent immigrant from Ireland, a member of Company I, 10th Infantry, who made corporal in 1860 at Camp Floyd and made sergeant a year later, during the Civil War. He was mustered out of the Army in 1862.
"That's what I like about historical archaeology," says Berge, "you can recreate a life. Some archaeologists are fascinated by prehistoric cultures - I'd rather identify individuals."
Camp Floyd sits on private property, grazing land owned by Marvin Carson, a descendent of the original pioneers. Because it's never been plowed, the land preserves what is left of Camp Floyd under a layer of soil and sagebrush. In six years the BYU team hasn't touched a tenth of the site. They carefully rebury each excavation when they are finished.
At the site, Berge keeps a table on which he displays what they've found - bone-handled knives and forks, 58-caliber bullets, broken china. He has bright gold replicas of brass buttons and buckles, as well as the actual rusty insignia they uncovered. When school children drop by, he lets them compare the two and explains what the various symbols stand for. (many of the officers were West Point graduates and proudly displayed that insignia; some were Masons who established Utah's first Masonic Order.)
Berge also shows visitors a map of Camp Floyd - made by Army surveyor James Simpson - and leads them out onto the desert to see the foundations of the officers' quarters.
Last year they uncovered some barracks; this year they are looking at the officers quarters. The officers quarters were apparently just like the enlisted men's: a simple whitewashed room, 18 feet square, with a fireplace. But where enlisted men slept 6 to 12 in a dirt floored room, officers only had two men in a room and their's had wooden floors.
Visitors also get a chance to sluice. Elementary students, especially, seem to enjoy standing at a line of screens and dissolving clumps of dirt with a garden hose. The dirt is dug from what were once the camp trash pits and outhouse trenches. The water comes from a nearby pond, pumped by a small battery-powered generator.
The water runs through the sluice back to the pond. In the screen, rocks, twigs and an occasional treasure remain.
"This is the best way for children to learn about history. How much better you can understand the Army and what it was like for those soldiers out in the middle of nowhere, when you have this three-dimensional perspective," says Berge. "It gives them a deeper appreciation of what's gone on in their country."
Carefully the archaeology students and the children sort out egg shells, pieces of glass, metal. A button or a bullet is a find. A pipe bowl is an exciting find.
From what they found in the garbage pit, Berge has been able to define the soldiers' diet: Pinto beans, coffee beans, cattle bones. "All the bones were hacked off in big chunks. Not T-bone steak size. None were burned on the edges the way you'd expect if the beef had been roasted on a spit." From this, he deduces that most of their beef was stewed in a big pot.
"We did find some chicken bones, peach pits, and other seeds, which told us they had a little variety in their diet."
Through commissary records, regimental records, general orders ("You know the Army keeps records in triplicate, but finding them in the National Archives isn't easy") Berg has been able to confirm many theories. And expose a few fallacies. "We continually interpret and reinterpret what we find," he says.
For example, the records show the Army had a herd of 10,000 cattle, which supports the idea about the soldiers' diet. On the other hand, the BYU crew is remaping the site and finding that Simpson's map was "idealized a little bit." The buildings weren't in perfectly straight rows as he drew them. Not an earth-shaking discovery perhaps, but it does make James Simpson and the other military men seem more real to us. They were human; they wanted things to look shipshape even if they weren't.
So much for the particulars. Berge and his students will spend the winter months counting and cataloging. And while pinto beans and buttons will help the archaeologist recreate the life of an individual soldier, Berge's knowledge of history lets him place that soldier in the broader landscape of America.
In 1858, President James Buchanan was trying to hold a nation together. One of the most influential Southerners in his cabinet was John B. Floyd, Secretary of War, who authorized the expenditure and for whom Camp Floyd was named.
It was the eve of the Civil War and Buchanan had just urged Congress to admit Kansas to union and let the state be self-determining on the question of slavery. Then he turned around and sent Johnston's Army to Utah to let the Mormons know they could not determine their own fate _ at least on the subject of polygamy. He had heard rumors that they were about to rebel. Now the Mormons certainly supported the idea of self-determination, Berge says, but he scoffs at the notion that they were planning an armed rebellion.
He says, "Buchanan sent 3,500 troops to Utah. And he planned on sending 5,000 _ fully one-third of the Union Army. Can you imagine what the media would have to say about a modern president who committed that many troops because of a rumor of a rebellion?"
Ironically, the army that was sent to quell the Mormons ended up being a boon to their economy instead. Camp Floyd cost the federal government $40 million. The Union would desperately need that money a few years later during the war.
The camp's 200 buildings were built in only six months. How? "The Army has plenty of privates," explains Berge. Then too, they hired more than 1,000 local laborers. LDS workers contracted to make 1,600,000 bricks at 1 cent each. The church contracted to sell the army grain and hay. Carpenters and others who had been bartering their skills found themselves with cash in their pockets for the first time since coming West. Farmers had a market for all the eggs and vegetables they could produce.
Since each room had a fireplace, Berge surmises that the pioneers also sold the firewood to the soldiers. He looks at the bare hills surrounding Fairfield in what is called Cedar Valley. He has a theory about what happened to the cedar trees.
Johnston's Army was called home in 1861. Albert S. Johnston would become a general and John Floyd brigadier general in the Confederacy. Before leaving, Johnston sold $4 million worth of goods for $100,000 _ most of it to the LDS Church.
They blew up the arsenal and may have put a canon down the well to prevent the Mormons from getting it. (Berge plans to excavate the well next year.) Then they left.
When Colonel Patrick Connor's California volunteers arrived in October 1862, Camp Floyd had disappeared. "People say the Mormons burned it to the ground," says Berge. "But we haven't found any ashes or other evidence of burning." Another rumor dispelled.
Berge believes the pioneers scavaged at Camp Floyd after the soldiers left. Before the railroad came, building materials were hard to get and terribly expensive. He thinks the Mormons took the roofs, window sills, even the nails. "And without a roof the adobe walls were exposed to the weather. They could have easily disappeared within a year, covering the foundations."
Berge doesn't want Camp Floyd to disappear again. He hopes it will eventually be listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. "It's such a significant site, both locally and nationally, within an hour's drive of Salt Lake and Provo," he says.
He'd like to see it become an ongoing archaeological dig. The public could come and stand under an awning and watch the work. They could see a city in the desolate desert. Meanwhile, Carson, the local sheriff, and park rangers from the nearby Stagecoach Inn, keep pothunters away.
"It would be a shame to see all of this go," says Berge, again. "When you lose a part of your heritage you lose a part of your identity. We all need to know who we are and where we came from."