Davis Fort

From Brigham City History Project

With the Indian threat in mind, the early settlers erected two facing rows of cabins, described by some as simply rooms, adjoining each other to create a fort, with each room opening onto a central area. Box Elder Creek flowed through the center of the enclosure, which was about 100 feet (six rods) and 250 feet (15 rods) long, located at approximately present day 600-700 North between 400 and 500 West.

The low-walled cabins were built with roofs sloping to the back, and had small windows covered with oiled or greased cotton cloth to let in a little light. The shelters were small enough that bedding was rolled up during the day to make room for indoor activity, as well as to keep bedding dry. Since most families worked on clearing land and planting crops during the day, the cabins were primarily sleeping quarters. “Cooking was done in bake kettles over wood fires built in the rude fire places in the cabins, or over campfires built in the yard.”[1]

Cabin building in the fort progressed slowly during the summer and into the fall of 1851, as written in field notes by Andrew H. Jenson, now part of the LDS Church Historical Library:

“George F. Hamson, with his wife and two children, arrived on Box Elder Creek on October 6, 1851. At that time William Davis had nearly finished his log house, the first built in the fort, but he had not yet moved into it. William Dees had just hauled logs onto the ground, preparatory to building. Thus it appears that William Davis built the first house on Box Elder Creek, Jefferson Wright and Benjamin Tolman the second, and George F. Hamson the third.”[2]

Three months later, George F. Hamson, Jr. was the first pioneer child born in Brigham City, on December 8, 1851, as the creek overflowed its bank and left a foot of water in the family’s unfinished cabin, continued Jenson.[3]

The Box Elder settlement expanded rapidly. According to Jenson’s account, the families who lived in the compound during the winter of 1851-52 were those of William Davis, Jefferson Wright, George F. Hamson, the Wristons (later known as Clifford), William Dees, Simeon Carter, Benjamin Tolman, Merritt Rockwell, and the widow Condit. In 1852 there were 24 extended families, including several couples, who lived in or near the Davis Fort, named for leader William Davis, who was appointed as Presiding Elder and later as Bishop for Box Elder.[4]

The Davis Fort had a short existence, for the side-by-side cabins became infested with bedbugs and other vermin, were subject to flooding, and had always been considered temporary housing until families could move onto their own land.

In the spring of 1852 most of the families moved to their farms, even though some lived in dugouts or tents before they could build cabins, and they began plowing and working the fields. Life in a dugout is described in the adult memories of an early pioneer child:

“In Brigham City we lived in a (one-room) dugout near a creek. Mother kept our dugout clean and dry. She was very much a lady, very refined, and she always made the best she could of what little she had to do with. . .

To make our dugout more homelike, Mother would wash sand from the creek bottom and scatter the clean white sand over the clay floor. Then we picked wild currant leaves from the bushes on the banks of the creek and spread these over the floor and we had a pretty green carpet.

Because our single room was so very small, it was necessary for me to sleep on a pile of straw on the floor under (Mother and Father’s) bed. My pile of straw was covered with a sheet and I had quilts over me.

The entrance to our dugout was down some stone steps and the dirt was piled high on each side of the steps. One day I remember a big blue snake came down over this bank of dirt, poked its old head in at the door and waved its head around. I was not afraid of it; we were only afraid of the rattlesnakes that stayed up on the hills among the rocks.

-- Alma Elizabeth Mineer (Felt)[5]

A List of Families Living in the Davis Fort 1851-1852

This list is an edited version of the list which first appeared in Veara S. Fife and Chloe N. Petersen, Brigham City, Utah, Residents 1850 - 1877, (Brigham City: Golden Spike Chapter, Utah Genealogical Association, 1976). That list was created from a variety of sources, some of which may have provided some details which have become confused over the years. For instance at least one person is listed who almost certainly died before ever reaching Utah. Some may also be listed twice, both as a child in one household and an adult in another (for instance Lewis Boothe).

wife Susannah Lyster
son John
son Willie
son Lewis
son Darius
dau Amanda
dau Martha

BOOTHE, Lewis or Louis H.

wife Marinda Harwell ?

CARTER, Simeon Daggett Sr.
wife Louisa Holland Gibbons
son Simeon Daggett Jr.
dau Louisa Jane

CLAPPER, Chistian
wife Catherine Miller
son Joseph
dau Mary Ann md Thomas Treshe
dau Elizabeth md Hiram Ackley Hendrickson
dau Susan

CLAPPER, Christian
wife Margaret Smith

CLAPPER, Mathias
wife Sarah Ann Ettleman

WRISTONS or RISTONS (actually Clifford)
wife Elizabeth Price
dau Martha
son Elihu
son Isaac Newton
son Benjamin Rush
son William Henry

CLIFFORD, Tillman Berry
wife wid. Deborah Campbell md 1851

CLIFFORD, Deborah, wid of Elisha who died crossing the plains in 1850
son William Henry
dau Harriet Melissa

CLIFFORD, John Price
wife Mary Lois Van Leuven
dau Mary Ellen
son John Price
(moved to Logan)

CLIFFORD, Franklin Green
wife Jerusha Campbell md 1849
Jerusha probably never lived in the Fort - it appears that she died along the way.[6]

CONDIT, widow
wintered the first winter

DAVIS, William
wife Sarah McKee
son Jospeh McKee md Charlotte Condit
son Jared Moroni md. Harriet Jane Osborn
son James Spencer md. Susan Clapper
dau Sarah Bell (Mrs.)
Eric Forsgren (her small son)
Charles Forsgren
dau Margaret Ann md. Elisha Grenard

DUNN, Simeon Adams
wife Harriet Atwood Silver
dau Susannah by (2) who died
dau Sophia
son Simeon Adams
children after 1853
dau by 1st wife who died 1841 Mary
dau Betsy
wife (3) Jane Caldwewll (Waite)
son Joseph Moroni

ENSIGN, Martin Luther
wife Mary S. Dunn
dau Adeline

HAMSON, George Fredrick
wife Sarah Ann Smith
son Joseph Smith
son Hyrum Smith
son George Fredrick Jr. born December 8, 1851


JONES, Benjamin
wife Rachel Hughes Evans
dau Margaret
dau Bettie
son Benjamin

KELSEY, Stephen
wife Lydia Snyder
dau Electa Abigail
son Stephen Robert

LEWIS, William D.
wife Mary
dau Ann
dau Mary
dau Charlotte


PAYNE, Samuel

PETERS, David or Davis Hughes
wife Laura Jones Davis
dau Sarah
son John Davis
son William

PHILLIPS, Moroni Lorenzo
wife Mariah Welch

PIERCE, Eli Harvey
wife Margaret Thomas
son Thomas

REESE, John Davis
wife Mary Morgan
dau Mary Jane
son Davis Morgan
son Joseph
dau Elizabeth
son William b. 1842 adopted son of Martha Brandon

wintered first winter

THOMAS, Benjamin
wife Susan Roberts

THOMAS, Daniel
wife Mary
son David
son Dan
son John

THOMAS, William called "Cotton Thomas"
wife Margaret Phillips

TOLMAN, Benjamin Hewitt I
wife Sarah Jane Agell



wife Mary
son Garrett
dau Mary
son John

wife Hannah
son William
dau Henrietta

WRIGHT, Jefferson
wife Sarah Elizabeth Angell
dau Sarah Ellen


  1. Lydia Walker Forsgren, ed., History of Box Elder County, (Brigham City, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1937), 219.
  2. Olive H. Kotter, "Brigham City to 1900," Through the Years, (Brigham City: Brigham City Eighth Ward, 1953), 8.
  3. The Fife and Peterson history claims that the first pioneer child born in Brigham City was actually Harriet Melissa Clifford, born to Elisha (Wriston) Clifford and Deborah Campbell, on December 23, 1850. This references a family group sheet in the "Genealogical Library archives," which may have been based on an inaccurate 1860 Census, wherein her place of birth was given as Brigham City (and her age was 10). Subsequent Censuses, as well as her headstone,show the flaw in that information. She was actually born in Far West, Missouri, in 1846, her family migrating to Utah with the Stephen Markham Companyin 1850. Her father, Elisha Clifford,died along the way, possibly of cholera.
  4. Fife, Veara S., and Chloe N. Petersen, Brigham City, Utah, Residents 1850 - 1877, (Brigham City: Golden Spike Chapter, Utah Genealogical Association, 1976), 6-7.
  5. Susan Arrington Madsen, Growing Up in Zion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996), 14.
  6. See - her death date is indicated as July 3, 1850, which would likely mean she died of Cholera on the trek West.

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