A Town Called Juniper


History books are full of stories about how this country was settled - including the west. But they don't tell you everything. In fact, the people who wrote the history books probably didn't even know some of the most interesting and funniest tales. For instance, I bet you never heard how the little town of Juniper Valley got its name, so I guess it's up to me.

See, there was this very pretty valley down in a canyon, with high rolling hills on both sides and a river running straight through the middle of it. Long before the gold rush of 1898 men were still trying to find the ‘mother lode’ and get rich. Down in this valley an old prospector found a few nuggets in the river one day. I’ll tell you about him another time but, to make a long story short, word of his discovery got out when he used gold to pay for some big purchases in a nearby town.

When the old prospector returned to his site, others followed and pretty soon there were a dozen or more prospectors in the valley. There was room for everyone because the river and the canyon stretched for a long distance. The source of the river was an underground spring which bubbled up from underneath some high rocky cliffs that blocked one end of the canyon. And it didn’t take long to discover that the cliffs were also the source of the gold.

Getting the gold would be difficult and dangerous but would be easier and safer if they worked together so they formed a mining company with 15 partners who had equal shares and Jacob, the old prospector, was declared as head of the company because he had discovered the gold and was willing to share. Any newcomers to the town could buy a share in the company but no separate claims were allowed.

Next they set up ‘homesteads,’ which were nothing more than hastily constructed lean-tos, and the married men went to get their families. It was an exciting day when the wagon train rolled into the valley. The sound of happy voices and children’s laughter filled the air as belongings were unpacked and carried into their new homes. Some things had to be left in the wagons for storage until cabins could be built the following year. For now there was just one log cabin in the valley, a tiny one-room place belonging to Jacob.

After the first winter they built log cabins, cinching the seams and covering the roof with sods for extra warmth. Extra rooms were added to the cabins as needed and when time permitted. Bedrooms could be crowded, depending on how many girls or boys were in the family and some slept in the loft but no one complained. They were content to have a home that was wind and water proof and where there was food on the table.

The women planted gardens to feed their families and made a little profit by selling some of their fall crops to the men who weren’t married. With help from their husbands, or whoever was available, they dug or built root cellars to store their crops during the winter. As the miners and the town prospered, the miners were able to hire carpenters to build larger homes while they were working.

Shortly after the families arrived, a preacher came to town and somehow persuaded the men to stop their mining activities for a few days, long enough to build a small log chapel with a tiny cabin next to it for the preacher to live in. Of course the preacher rolled up his sleeves and helped with the building. It was all part of God’s work, he said. Preacher Bob stayed in the town until he died peacefully in his sleep at the age of ninety-nine.

Pretty soon a general store was opened, and a saloon. Next came a blacksmith, a cobbler and then someone opened a hotel. Someone else drifted in and set up a barber shop.

Five years after the first gold discovery the town was prospering though still small, with a population of just under 500 people. By now it was decided they needed a bank to store their gold and a Sherriff to protect it. Every man in town would make an annual contribution to the Sherriff’s wages which would be administered by the Banker. The Banker’s wages would come directly from the fees paid by each deposit holder at first and later from interest paid back on any loans. The jail, with a Sherriff’s office, was built the year after the Sherriff was hired.

Back then they called the place Gold River Valley. I know, it didn’t take much imagination to come up with that one, did it? Following the death of Doc Francis, the people in the town got together and decided that Juniper East would be the town's name, in honour of Doc and the trees he (she) brought from back east. Pappy Pike volunteered to put up a sign 'cause he said if it weren't for Doc Francis, ’the rhumatiz would'a put me in a wheelchair years ago.’

Oh, by the way, there is no Juniper West, never was, and over the years the town became known simply as Juniper. Sadly, there’s not much left of it anymore, just a few structural ruins and a few old rotting wagons and carts.

© Fay Herridge

Wagon Trail

Juniper Valley

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