Brigham Young College opened its doors the fall of 1878. It began with bachelor degrees and high school courses, eventually offering grade school classes as well. During the time this novel opens, students met in the unfinished Logan Tabernacle.
BYC was not, as is sometimes assumed, the forerunner to today's Utah State University, which is also located in Logan. BYC came first, with the Agricultural College—the real forerunner to USU—being established in 1888. The two schools offered competing classes, which eventually led to BYC closing its doors after its 1926 commencement. BYC was located near current-day Logan High School.
While coal mining is a dangerous profession, the 1877 explosion in Coalville is a creation of the author's imagination.
The area now known as Sanpete County was originally called after a man called Sanpitch. He was the brother of Chief Walker, one of the friendly Native Americans who actually invited Brigham Young to settle the area. Eventually "Sanpitch" became known as "Sanpete."
The first winter for the original settlers of Manti was brutal. Some Saints built dugouts on the south side of what would later become Temple Hill, while others huddled close to one another in their wagons. Much of the cattle died over the winter, and those that survived were weak, most unable to do farm work.
That spring, rattlesnakes came out of the hill in droves, and the men spent days fighting them, as described in the novel. The settlers quickly found another location for their homes.
Over the course of the following years, the hill became a popular location for children to play on throughout the year. In winter children sledded down the hill, and in more temperate months, couples courted there. Collecting wild flowers was a particularly popular pastime. Children collected "pearl stones" and "Bull's Eyes" just as Tabitha and her schoolmates did.
The Little Fort had walls made of the same oolite stone used for the temple. The walls were eight feet tall and two feet thick, with a three-foot thick foundation. The fort was originally built as a protection from Indians, and housed several cabins early on. It later contained a camping ground, the tithing office (which itself contained other Church administrative offices, such as for the bishop and temple superintendent), stables, campground, granary, etc. Later two other forts were built, one of which encompassed the area of the Little Fort. A historical marker, a remnant of a Little Fort wall, still stands at the northwest corner of 100 North and Main Street.
The site for the Manti temple was dedicated by Brigham Young on April 25, 1877. After that, major blasting, grading, and smoothing of the hill began, including the construction of the four massive terrace walls. Not until 1879 were the cornerstones set in place and dedicated.
No major injuries were ever reported in connection to the stone quarry or the rest of the temple construction. The only injuries ever recorded were all minor, such as a rock landing on someone's foot, something that is briefly mentioned in the story.
John Parry was master mason of the Manti and other temples. The Parry brothers had a stonecutting business that was heavily involved in temple building. The story about the Parry mules being missing and found already in place and ready to be hitched up is found in several records.
The terraced walls made the hill look like a fortress. When the temple was complete, Anton H. Lund, Manti temple's second president, reportedly compared the building and its unfinished landscaping and terraces walls to "a fair maiden of his native land, Denmark, dressed in a beautiful silk gown, but with clumsy wooden shoes on her dainty feet." (William H. Peterson as quoted by Glenn R. Stubbs in A History of the Manti Temple, p 71).
The terracing was eventually ripped out in 1907, after which the hill was smoothed out and a grand staircase built from the street up to the west doors. The stairs were removed a few decades later when new improvements were made.
Much of the oolite rock used for the Manti temple was taken blasted from the hill itself, although some came from the Parry Brothers Quarry in Ephraim. By 1884, the year the bulk of the story takes place, the main walls were completed and the towers were under construction.
Maypoles (or "Liberty Poles") were popular in Manti at this time, and they were decorated in patriotic colors as described. May Day and Maypoles have a long history and likely came to Utah via England, where Samuel would have been familiar with them too. Since they were decorated in patriotic colors, I thought it likely that one would have been used for Independence Day as well as May Day. John H. Hougard, who appears briefly at the Independence Day celebration, was the mayor of Manti from 1881 to 1885. July fourth of 1884 really was a Friday.
President Joseph F. Smith was the second counselor in the First Presidency at this time, and Church leaders periodically visited Manti. Once when Brigham Young came, the Saints created a floral arch for him to drive under, like the one depicted in the book. Canute Peterson was both the stake president and superintendent over the temple construction during this time.
The Sanpitch Sentinel is entirely a creation of the author's imagination. Manti's earliest paper, the Manti Messenger, didn't begin publication until 1893. The printing press in the book is modeled after the Stanhope press, which was invented in the early 1800s and had significant advances from previous presses. It's possible that Tabitha could have had access to a newer press, but since the Deseret News, based in Salt Lake City, was originally published by an even older press, I doubted that Manti, a much smaller community, would have had access to one of the fancier, steam-run presses that large newspapers back east would have used in this period.
Theater was popular at this time in Manti, including Shakespeare performances and plays written by Sister Adela B. Cox Sidwell, an influential early resident of Manti. Other community events included debates, dances, and recitations, and many of them took place in the South Ward Assembly Hall. Benefit concerts to raise money for a final push to raise money for temple fund began in 1886, a couple of years after this story ends.
Many people are under the impression that no wages were ever paid to the Manti temple workers, quoting Brigham Young when he declared shortly after the site dedication, "Now, bishops, if any person should inquire what wages are to be paid for work done on this temple, let the answer be, 'Not one dime.'" (See The Manti Temple, Manti Temple Centennial Committee, p. 6. Capitalization and spelling modernized.) However, volunteer labor didn't last. When John Taylor succeeded Brigham Young as president of the Church, he determined that workers would be paid wages in cash. On May 21, 1878 new instructions were created, setting the pay rates for quarrymen, carpenters, and others. Labor tithing was still given as well, even by paid workers.
Cash was in short supply during this time. Church leaders encouraged members to donate to the temple fund in cash instead of in kind whenever possible, to enable the temple committee to purchase construction supplies typically unavailable with bartered goods.
The city of Manti did not have a bank at this period. The law enforcement and jail systems were invented for the sake of the book, after the author did not uncover anything specific on how either functioned in the Sanpete area in the 1880s.
A Folk History of the Manti Temple, a thesis by Barbara Lee Hargis, from which much of the information was drawn for this book, also includes a recipe for bear tallow ointment. I attributed the recipe, which was used by some early Manti residents to Wilhelmina Hall.
On a Sunday in August of 1928, a thunderstorm came upon the city of Manti quite suddenly, and lightning struck the southwest corner of the temple's east tower. Because the fire was so elevated, the people had a hard time fighting it—the water pressure was too weak. The fire burned for three hours but was eventually extinguished. Some said it was the slowest burning fire they had ever seen, and damage was minimal.
Eve Nielson, who was a young girl at the time, told scholar Hugh Nibley about her experience. He retold the story in his book Temple and Cosmos (see pages 29–30). According to Nibley's account, she and her family fearfully huddled together at home during the storm, looking out at the temple. As she clung close to her mother, young Eve asked if the temple might be struck by lightning. Right when her mother started to assure her that the Lord wouldn't allow such a thing, the temple tower was hit, setting the east tower aflame.
Following the fire, city water was connected to the temple grounds for emergency use, and a lightning rod system was installed. Which people involved with the construction were for or against a lightning rod is unknown to the author. As such, the representation of the debate over adding a lightning rod is invented.
Eve's father was part of the crew that went up to fight the fire, and when he returned, the children asked him why such a thing had been allowed to happen. He explained that during the construction, debate had gone on about whether to add a lightning rod. The decision was made against one, as they were certain that the temple would be protected. Eve Nielson reported her father as saying that the Lord had given the workers means to protect the temple, and since they neglected to do so, they had no right to expect miraculous interventions.
This remarkable structure has a rich history and is often admired by tourists. Below is a favorite quote regarding the Manti temple, according to William Peterson (quoted by Stubbs, p 74):
"This is indeed marvelous," said an eastern tourist as he stood with a group of fellow tourists on bright angel point on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. "But have you seen the white temple on a hill near a town called Manti?