from left to right: Dewey Gifford; Janice Torgerson with 'Tine Oyler and a student; Petroglyph Panel along Utah Highway 24
Dewey Gifford calls Fruita “paradise” as he remembers his time farming and ranching in the area from 1928 to 1969. He describes growing apples, peaches, and pears in the orchards while his children attended school at the Fruita Schoolhouse. Gifford lived in what is now the Historic Gifford Homestead.
My name is Dewey Gifford, and I was a farmer and rancher in Fruita from 1928 until 1969. For much of that time, we had no running water, electricity, or telephone. There was little cash to be had from farming, so I had to be away when I was young. I worked on the state roads, herded sheep, and ran cattle in the South Desert. But the most pleasant memories I have were those of family, farming and friends here in Fruita. Until 1940, we used all teams and horse-drawn implements, mostly for growing and cutting alfalfa for animal feed. The orchards of course, took a lot of work, but we had beautiful fruit: apricots, peaches, pears, apples, plums and cherries. We trucked a lot of it out of Fruita for cash sale or traded for grain with other farmers near Loa and Lyman. All my children were raised here, and attended the one-room school. Life wasn’t much different from 1880, when pioneers first settled here. You had to be very self-sufficient to make it. Most everybody here had been raised as Latter Day Saints, but some weren’t very active. We held Sunday School over in the schoolhouse. The eight or so families here got along pretty good, considering the isolation. Oh, we didn’t agree on everything; I remember Cass Mulford supported Hoover while I was a Roosevelt man, myself. Both men and women worked hard here, but we took time to play. Our family enjoyed high country hunts and fishing. The women quilted. We read a lot in the winter and enjoyed baseball in the summer. We saw few travelers here until after 1937, when the park came. Most were cattlemen and sheep herders. There were huge herds of sheep trailing through Fruita in those days. For me, Fruita was paradise. I will never forget it.
Being a new teacher at the Fruita schoolhouse wasn’t always easy, as Janice Oldroyd Torgerson reflects on her year teaching in 1934. She was paid $57 a month and moved from her home in Lyman, to live at ‘Tine Olyer’s home. Torgerson describes pranks by her students as well as moonlit walks among the Fruita cliffs.
My name is Janice Oldroyd Torgerson. And I taught here in 1934 as a brand new teacher. I was a native of Wayne County, but Fruita was a rough 25 mile drive from my parent’s home in Lyman. I received $57 a month for a seven-month contract and boarded at ‘Tine Oyler’s home here in Fruita. There was no electricity or indoor plumbing, but Fruita was beautiful. Across the dusty road, were row upon row of grapes, bordered by huge walnut trees. On moonlit nights, the majestic red cliffs seemed gentle and protective. The school building was sadly in need of repair and mud was falling from between the logs. We had only a few old ragged books. Like many rural children of the day, some of my students were pretty rough-and-tumble. The language I heard was too rugged for me, and I came down hard on that. Then there were the inevitable tricks. One morning I received a dead snake, coiled menacingly on my chair. I gathered some gentle recollections, too. I especially remember the happy faces of young Lloyd and Fay Gifford, when they gave me a handkerchief at Christmas. It was a pretty rough year for a new teacher, and frankly I was relieved as school end drew near. The folks at Fruita gave me a surprise party the last evening before I left. The Mulfords and Giffords came with food; we played games and danced in the Oyler’s crowded living room. By noon the next day, I was on my way home. Just before Fruita disappeared from view, I stopped, sat down on a rock, and thought about the eventful year just past. I found a lot of happy memories while sitting there, and cried a little, knowing it was over.
Rick Pickyavit narrates the story of the ancient Fremont Culture who farmed among the canyons and Fremont River of the Waterpocket Fold. Park visitors can interpret the stories depicted by these people by viewing the petroglyph panel along Utah Highway 24. From bighorn sheep to trapezoid-shaped human figures, these petroglyphs describe the lifestyle and culture of the Fremont Culture.
My name is Rick Pickyavit. My Southern Paiute ancestors were roaming and hunting the canyons south of here when white settlers arrived in the 1880s. Long before the Mormon Pioneer, or any tribal memory, other Native American peoples came to know the canyons and cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold. We call them the Fremont Culture, because we don’t know what they called themselves. Unlike my own ancestors, the Fremont people did not move with the changing seasons. They took root in these watered canyons and became farmers as well as hunter-gatherers. They left few signs, even though they lived here longer than the five centuries between the voyage of Columbus and the present day. Other people like them lived over the large portion of what is today called Utah. For the most part, the story of the Fremont people can be told only in questions, not answers. How closely these people are related to the better-know pueblo-building Anasazi, no one knows. There are striking differences, as well as similarities. Many archeologists think that Fremont people may be descended directly from ancient nomads called the Desert Archaic. We know a little about the Fremont peoples daily lives from collections of precious artifacts, and something about their hearts and minds from their petroglyphs. We know less, almost nothing, about where they came from or why they left suddenly in the 13th century. For park visitors, some Fremont Culture petroglyphs can be viewed easily. Caution must always rule in the interpretation of petroglyphs. With few exceptions, we cannot really be sure what the ancient maker of the petroglyphs had in mind. Among serious students, there are some who consider almost all petroglyphs a form of writing, while others consider most of them to be art, not writing. The large trapezoid-shaped human figures excite interest. Many have headgear and horns. Figures are commonly seen with necklaces, earrings and sashes. Animals, especially bighorn sheep, appear in many petroglyphs, and indications are that they were once often hunted and perhaps revered. Following the disappearance of the Fremont people in the 13th century, no one resided in the Waterpocket Fold country for 500 years. During this time, however; Ute and Southern Paiute hunters and gatherers roamed the region. They lived in close harmony with the natural environment, and left little evidence of their presence. Here in the Fremont River Valley, archeologists first identified the Fremont Culture. As you walk these paths and hidden places, do not even touch the petroglyphs. Protect their legacy, even as I respect it.
Transcripts of the audio files can be found in PDF format here: