Way We Were: Ephraim Hanks | ParkRecord.com

Way We Were: Ephraim Hanks

Sally Elliott, Park City Museum Researcher
Ephraim Hanks in 1889
Ephraim Hanks in 1889. Photo credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Ephraim Hanks in 1889

The fascinating Ephraim Hanks caught my attention many years ago as I researched the early mining pioneers of Park City. So much has been written about him, you can’t possibly learn it all in a one-hour lecture, so I’ll give you a broad overview here. He was born in 1826 in Madison, Ohio and left home at 16 to work on the Erie Canal. He joined the Navy and became a Mormon in 1845 to unite with his brother Stanley as the Mormons headed west to Utah. As a member of the Mormon Battalion, he accompanied them to San Diego and then returned to Salt Lake.

He fully embraced the polygamist lifestyle, wedding four women: Harriett Amelia Decker (m. September 1848), Jane Maria Capener (m. March 1856), and Thisbe Quilley Read (m. April 1862). With these women, he had 26 children. He never lived with his 4th wife, Hannah Hardy and their marriage was dissolved in 1856. With 26 children, it’s no surprise that there are many descendants remaining in Utah.

From 1851-53 he carried the mail from Salt Lake City to St. Louis, crossing the plains more than fifty times. His deeds, misdeeds, and exploits are favorite stories of Mormon Pioneers. He operated the Mountain Dell Stage and Pony Express Station on the shores of Mountain Dell Reservoir along the Mormon Trail. With the advent of the telegraph line and the demise of the Pony Express, he devoted more time to prospecting the hills around Park City.

Brigham Young discouraged his faithful followers from pursuing mining lest it attract non-believers to Utah, weakening his power. Brigham believed that agricultural communities were more stable. Nevertheless, Ephraim located many claims very early in the rush to file claims.

He must have known of several outcrops because when the Flagstaff claim was filed by former Ft. Douglas soldiers, he followed immediately with 4 or 5 of the earliest claims. I’ve found no record of his search for knowledge about locating outcrops of ore, but he was quite prolific. I’ve always suspected that he knew where the ore was long before the first public mention was made in 1868.

Regardless of Brigham Young’s urgings against mining, George Snyder, Bishop of Wanship, moved to Park City to open a boarding house and livery, serving prospectors. His son Wilson I. Snyder became a highly esteemed mining attorney. Ephraim Hanks and George Snyder were well acquainted because they are listed as partners on numerous old claims.

Of the many stories about Ephraim, his fondness for local whiskey, known in Utah as “Valley Tan,” was widely reported. He was also a favored bodyguard for Brigham Young and reputed to be a “Danite.”

Several descendants of legendary, colorful Mormon Pioneer Ephraim Hanks live in Park City. County Attorney Margaret Olsen will present a lecture on her great-great-grandfather on August 16, 5 p.m., at the Museum’s Education and Collections Building at 2079 Sidewinder Dr. Register at parkcityhistory.org. Also in attendance will be Mary Lou Toly and her granddaughter, City Council Member Tana Toly, who are also descendants of Ephraim Hanks.


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