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Lynn Arave: In 1902, Utah’s 2 oldest pioneers had visited Utah first in 1846; plus, the state’s lost gold mine

A plaque at the base of the This is the Place obelisk tells the story of the Donner Party that paved the trail down Emigration Canyon that the Mormon Pioneers followed into the Salt Lake Valley.
A plaque at the base of the This is the Place obelisk tells the story of the Donner Party that paved the trail down Emigration Canyon that the Mormon Pioneers followed into the Salt Lake Valley.
Lee Benson, Deseret News

The first pioneers to come to Utah who were living in the Beehive State in 1902 were not from the vaunted 1847 arrival. They were a brother and sister pair from the infamous Donner Party that traveled through Utah in 1846 — a year earlier.

Brother and Sister who came to Utah in 1846” was a July 23, 1904, headline in the Deseret Evening News.

“… It is indeed interesting to know that there are now living in Utah two persons who traveled the sites of many Utah settlements one year before the advent of the Pioneers,” the Evening News stated. “They are Mrs. Lucinda Rhoads Dodge of 1321 East South Temple Street, this city, and Caleb Rhoads, who lives on his ranch in Carbon County, near Price. They are daughter and son of ‘Father’ Thomas Rhoads, who led the section of the Donner Party that escaped hardship and later headed the relief expedition that found the ill-fated immigrants living upon human flesh in the tops of the Sierras.”

In 1902, this brother and sister were believed to be the only remaining survivors of the Donner Party.

(In fact, in 1902, only 16 of the original July 1847 Mormon pioneer party of 147 people were still alive.)

Dodge was 66 years old in 1902 and her parents were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She said her father was determined to head west early — to California, where he thought the future home of the church would be. And, if he was wrong, he would return to where the church settled in the future.

“My father was a natural-born pioneer,” Dodge said.

She also said that even though her father was working at Sutter’s Mill when gold was discovered, he wanted to return to Utah, where church members had settled. And he did, with his family, in 1849.

“Coming across the plains from California, we buried innumerable skeletons, the gruesome evidence of Indian massacres, but still we were unharmed. Our family seemed to bear charmed lives,” she told the Evening News.

Dodge also noted that her brother, Caleb, was often associated with the remarkable story of a mysterious mine in eastern Utah.

The Evening News story continued: “They used to say that about once a year he would disappear for two weeks or more and return with a sack of gold dust. If so, he has never revealed the whereabouts of the mine, except the known fact that there is a gold-producing property somewhere on the reservation. It has been said that the Indians threatened him with death if he ever revealed the location, but most of these tales are regarded by Mrs. Dodge as largely legendary.”

“I know there is gold on the reservation,” Dodge told the Evening News, since she said she handled a lot of it that her father possessed. She said he brought some of the gold from California, but then people thought they had the secret of a gold mine near Vernal.

Dodge then stressed that even though some believed her brother still visited that secret mine yearly, he had been an invalid for several years.

She said she had visited the Donner site in the Sierras about 15 years earlier. She also told the Evening News what she knew about some of the hardships that the snowed-in Donner Party had endured.

Utah’s Lost Gold Mine …” was a May 28, 1953, headline in the Roosevelt Standard newspaper by Morton Wardle. Here the legend of the lost gold mine in the Uintas was also recounted. This story said Caleb Rhoads took his first gold trip in 1855, having been shown by Indians where the metal was and promising not to reveal the location.

Rhoads then made several more trips to the mine until somehow the Indians believed the promise was broken and Rhoads was to "tell Brigham Young no more money rock.” Rhoads supposedly said he didn’t know why the Indians felt the promise was broken, but that he may have offered leaders in Washington, D.C., to pay off the national debt, if they’d allow him to stake a claim on the mine, located on the Indian reservation.

The federal government refused the offer, the Roosevelt story stated. Rhoads then made still more pack trips to the mine, though he never returned from one trip, presumably either dying by accident or killed by the Indians.

“Will this secret ever be known?” the story stated. “Some say yes, some say no, but down through the years it has been a prospector’s dream, to find the Rhoads mine.”

Editor's note: Rhoads is also sometimes spelled Rhoades.