Nestled between the small towns of Beaver and Fillmore, historic Cove Fort, in Millard County, could easily be passed over as a blip off I-15. But for Brigham Young, Ira N. Hinckley and countless pioneers, it was a place of safety and rest, and on Aug. 2 and 3, thousands will come to honor its rich heritage at the annual Cove Fort Days Celebration.
“Cove Fort is a very important part in the history of Utah,” said Elder Lamar Hansen, a missionary serving with his wife and 21 other senior couples at the historic site. “There are many stories that could be told about this place. When you walk in, you can just feel the strength of the fort.”
In response to the need for more protection for Saints traveling through central Utah, Brigham Young in 1867 sent a letter to Ira N. Hinckley asking him to supervise the building of a fort in the remote area of Cove Creek. Young also encouraged Hinckley to leave his family at home in Coalville while he fulfilled this calling.
After arriving at Cove Creek, Hinckley drafted plans for the fort, and with a team of 40 men, built it in seven months using lava rock hauled from west of the property.
“The purpose of the fort was to provide an opportunity to protect the telegraph line, mail station and stagecoach office against any possible Indian attacks,” Hansen said. “Not knowing what they might run into, they built a very sturdy fort.”
So sturdy, in fact, that it is one of the only forts of the original 112 built by the Latter-day Saints in the 1800s that still stands tall, as most were built with wood and adobe.
After construction was finished, Hinckley’s family came and joined him in the place that would be their home until 1890.
The fort became an important stop on the stagecoach line as it was a day’s travel to the nearest cities to the north and south. Each day, the fort received one wagon from each direction. Weary travelers could take time to relax and enjoy a home-cooked meal while workers would change out and feed the horses from the wagons. Hinckley was also a skilled blacksmith and always offered to repair wagons and horseshoes to everyone, Mormon or not, who needed his help.
Fortunately for Hinckley and the many travelers who found shelter within its walls, Cove Fort was never attacked.
“As time went on, it didn’t take the Indians long to realize Ira was honest, and they began trading with him. There are 25 rifle ports around the fort, but they never needed to be used,” Hansen said.
“We believe that’s because it was blessed. These people lived the gospel and were obedient.”
In 1890, the Hinckleys moved and the fort was leased out for a while. But with the expansion and convenience of the railroad, the fort soon became obsolete and was eventually abandoned.
But for Hansen, those early Saints’ faithfulness and hard work did not go unnoticed.
One hundred years later, and with the help of Hinckley’s grandson and future president of the LDS Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley, the fort was restored and opened to the public.
“Ira Nathaniel Hinckley played a steadfast and indispensable role in the dynamic expansion of the early church in the West,” Hansen said. “Fittingly, his grandson, President Gordon B. Hinckley, led the church during a period of unprecedented growth and expansion throughout the whole world. Ira Hinckley was the ‘link’ from prophet to prophet. His lifetime of faithful obedience placed him on a timeline between the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley.”
This historic site was restored to teach about the history and lifestyle of those who lived and passed through Cove Fort. The Cove Fort Days Celebration takes visitors through the different parts of the fort, while also re-creating what it was like for those early pioneers.
“We have a pioneer village set up, and there are always exhibitors all over to show you how to do the same things the pioneers did, like make soap, weave a rug. And there is continuous entertainment both days,” Hansen said.
The celebration also features pony-drawn carriage rides for kids, demonstrations in the blacksmith shop, demonstrations of a horse-drawn mower in the nearby alfalfa field and free food.
“We’re trying to bring a vital part of history back to life,” Hansen said. “It’s always a lot of fun.
“We hope that people will come. You ought to come and let us show you that beautiful fort full of some amazing history. It will acquaint you with the wonderful heritage that each of us enjoys because of the faithful, strong pioneers who persevered, and were blessed, right here.”
The Cove Fort Days Celebration will be held Aug. 2 and 3 from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Activities close at 6:30 p.m. Cove Fort Historic Site is located near the intersection of I-15 and I-70. For more information, visit www.covefort.com.
Kate Sullivan is an intern at the Deseret News with features and Mormon Times. She is a student at Brigham Young University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org