Editor’s note: Sara Sutterfield’s new column series, “The Wilkeson Weigh”, is part of the Courier-Herald’s ongoing community columnist initiative. Her columns will be published the second edition of every month.
As many of us did, I went through a very powerful human’s search for meaning over the last couple years. Then a stay-at-home mom, the center of a solar system of children (four of them mine) and hellbent on the cleverest “Pin”-spired home, I found very little time for self-discovery and putting ideas to action. It can be hard to find balance when one is a parent, often feeling selfish and selfless in the same whiplashing moment, and isolation really tipped the scale. I used this momentous imbalance and seized opportunities of learning and support as they came up. The world was upside down, but my new concept of time was now. Carpe Diem! I acquainted myself with an identity as defined by me.
I am an artist and thinker, who is also a wife, a mother and a friend. I am a Wilkeson resident of five years, neighbor to some and nuisance to others. I hoard old things and books. I sing loud and dance free. Being devalued is an emotional trigger.
I am from a small town in the desert of Southern Utah called Hurricane. I spent my early youth as a free-range child, exploring the red-rock canyons and swimming in irrigation ditches. I would stand in reverence beneath Hurricane Valley’s solitary mountain presence, a butte called Mollies Nipple. A favorite activity was to wander through the town historical museum and stare at the really old wedding cake under glass. In my young adult years, I’d take to the hills searching for gold and ghost towns.
The culture I was raised in encouraged its people to be efficient, industrious and self-reliant. I was taught to find strength in the past, love one another and share in the joy of service. The community left a lust for legacy in my heart, and a pioneering spirit in my mind.
I wasn’t the only one.
In October of 2015, my family on my husband’s side staked the Discovery Post for a mining claim in the Carbon River Mining District. My father-in-law, having been inspired by his father’s accompaniment with Ira Petty, a successful Alaska miner who looked for lost mines, hoped to give his grandchildren a real-life experience with the rewards of hand labor, picks and shovels.
Through research and planning, the family measured out the metes (distance in feet) and bounds (degree of direction bearing true north) using a known road as our Tie, or Point of Beginning, and drove the Corner Posts to our lode claim.
Unable to decide on a name, we called it Impasse, and began scratching at the surface for previously discovered mineral deposits of gold, silver, copper and molybdenum (an exceptionally hard and high melting point metal often used in the manufacturing of steel). Once the snowline has melted back far enough, the family gears up to brush the road and collect rock samples from our five-acre claim, labeling the location of where each sample was collected based on a hand-gridded map. Often, we bring the samples home, where we crush the rock, then pan the powder looking for gold flakes.
There is only one route to our claim, and that is along the Carbon River Corridor through Wilkeson. One year, we picnicked at the pre-renovated Historic Wilkeson Elementary School, built of sandstone more rose gold than the fiery red stone of Utah. We only had our first kiddo then, and they hit it off playing with another sweet child on the playground. I asked the child, now a teen, many questions about living in Wilkeson, as it was a small, history-observing town that reminded me of my roots. The child was independent, tough yet kind, and enjoyed talking about simple activities children can appreciate when surrounded by a valley of trees.
Wilkeson was The Way. I had a Pinterest board titled “Our Home, A Railroad House” and everything. We finished flipping our starter home and dug into our 1900s era forever home. Fortunately for us, previous owners had put in time and TLC to modernize and bring up to code many outdated attributes characteristic of homes built in old mining towns, although some additions still proved to cut corners. I’ve giggled in delight peeling off several silver-inked wallpaper layers. There is a visible and drastic difference in the slope of one side of my house when the weather is heaviest and damp. Four kids, one room? Challenge accepted. I sketched it out and my husband built it: a lofty bunk bed system opposite four closets within the eave.
In Wilkeson, Mt. Rainier is so big, and old things so prevalent. History is in the heads and the hearts of its people. One can hear bird song in the early morning and coyotes cackle late in the evening. The night sky is dark enough to view the stars, and I can walk the kids to school barefoot if I choose. The lahar siren sets off a canyon’s worth of dogs barking. I’ve even counted seven eagles soaring at once.
Still, over the quarantine, I saw a loss of friends and family. I was grateful for neighbors to wave at outside in the open air when so much was closed off.
But, with introspection and observation, I began to wonder – what is Wilkeson? What makes this town so special, so unique? A fire ignited within me, and I took to the books, devouring images and stories of the area. Newspaper article collections put forth by Heritage Quest Press and bought online or in-person at the Foothills Historical Society Museum quickly became not enough. I started dabbling in handcar racing clubs and Town Hall meetings.
I cannot remember dates so well yet, but I still feel I can call myself a Wilke-historian; that my thoughts about this wonderful town hold weight, despite the fact I’m so new to the area.
I’m thinking everyone should learn from and remember Wilkeson, so I’m going to tap into the history-rich veins of the town and provide a motherlode of support to its community by reconnecting the people with their roots as they move forward into an uncertain future.
My family history is growing here. I am mining for gold.