Beginning in late 1853, Union Fort was erected as protection for pioneers who had been homesteading along Little Cottonwood Creek since April 1849. Skirmishes erupted from Sanpete to Salt Lake Counties between warriors of Timpanogos Ute Chief Walkara and settlers. Walkara had become upset by Mormon efforts to stifle Indian slave trading and the increased intrusion of settlers into traditional Indian hunting grounds.
Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Utah territorial governor, ordered every community to “fort up” and the people to move into the enclosures as quickly as possible for protection.
Jehu Cox, one of the first settlers, was appointed to a committee to select the fort site. Cox offered to donate ten acres of land surrounding his 1849 two-story adobe home. His offer was accepted and construction began immediately.
Each family was assigned a section of the wall to build. Foundations were dug 4 feet deep and filled with rock and clay. The 12-foot-high walls were constructed of rock and adobe and were 6 feet thick at the bottom, tapering on the inside to 2 feet thick at the top. The outside walls were vertical. Gun portholes were placed in the walls every few yards, and bastions were built on the northwest and southwest corners. Only three walls were completed by late 1854 because the north side of the fort was protected by a large irrigation canal and steep embankment that provided adequate protection.
The fort had two, 33-foot-wide roads dividing the interior into three east-west rectangular blocks which were further subdivided into 24 building lots each. The roads ended at huge gates that were kept locked at night. Another 15-foot-wide road was laid out along the inside of the fort walls for movement of military supplies and men. A gravel path, running north and south, gave the citizens a walkway through the middle of the fort.
Twenty-three log and adobe homes were finished by 1854. Some built new two-story adobe dwellings while others living along the creek tore down their log cabins or small adobe brick houses and reassembled them inside the fort. Each family was also allocated a lot outside the fort to corral their livestock. Armed men stood guard as the farming continued in nearby fields.
Other structures were built within the fort. A two-story schoolhouse, 20 feet by 36 feet, was constructed in the middle section and also served as a church and community center. Wooden pegs were used instead of expensive nails. James McMinds was the first teacher.
A community granary was built southwest of the school and was never locked. It was constructed so a team and wagon could be driven through, and it allowed each family access to their ground-floor grain storage and produce stored in the loft. A boarding house was provided for teamsters who hauled daily loads of ore and granite out of Little Cottonwood Canyon for the Salt Lake Temple.
Military-trained citizens provided defense for Union Fort. Every male between the ages of 18 and 45 belonged to the territorial militia. They drilled and practiced often and rotated standing guard.
The Union Fort settlers had immigrated from different countries, spoke many languages, and followed their traditional customs. Often they could not understand each other, but they all labored together in united effort for their common good. As a result, the name of the settlement was changed from Little Cottonwood to Union.
Union Fort was never attacked. Brigham Young signed a peace treaty with Chief Walkara in 1854, and Indian difficulties ceased late in the 1850s. The settlers began moving back into their homesteads. The fort walls were gradually dismantled and the land used for farms and gardens. The fort served the pioneer settlers well and provided sanctuary and security, uniting them during insecure times.
- U.P.T.L.A. Historic Marker “Union Fort“