In the spring of 1865, Mormon settlers met with Utes of Sanpete Valley, hoping to find a resolution to years of sporadic disagreements and occasional violence between the groups. Instead of alleviating tensions, however, even greater violence erupted with the onset of the Black Hawk War. Brigham Young previously encouraged the Saints to treat Indians well, saying, “We are settled upon their lands, which materially interrupts their success in hunting, fishing, etc… For these reasons, it behooves us to exercise toward them all possible kindness, liberty, patience, and forbearance.” While his policy of kindness toward Native Nations continued, Young simultaneously recognized Mormon settlers were vulnerable to attack after dispossessing tribes of some of their settlement sites and using up the region’s finite resources.
The area around Cove Creek was a particularly dangerous resting place for travelers as 30 miles of uninhabited desert lay in both directions. On April 12, 1867, Circleville resident Ira Hinckley received a letter from Brigham Young extending a calling for him to construct a fort near Cove Creek. Its purpose was to “afford protection from the Indians to the Telegraph & Mail Stations and to travelers who are almost constantly on the road. Also to furnish feed and protection from and weather to this latter class.” Hinckley immediately told the messenger to tell Brigham Young he would accept the calling.
A few days later, Hinckley traveled to Cove Creek with his brother Arza and forty other men, and within seven months they finished building Cove Fort. While most pioneer-era forts were wooden, Cove Fort was instead constructed out of volcanic rock, contributing to its structural longevity.
Although relatively small, measuring 100 feet by 100 feet, Hinckley and his men built an impressive fortress. The walls were 18 feet high, 4 feet thick at the base, and 2 feet at the top. Gun ports lined the walls. The fort had rooms for the Hinckley family, visitors, a kitchen and dining area, and a room for a telegraph station, which was installed in February 1867. There was also a ranch on site to provide food and a blacksmith shop to service the horses and wagons of travelers.
While the fort was initially designed for protection, it was never attacked, and the inhabitants maintained good relations with the local tribes. It did, however, serve as a refuge for all those that visited. Families, telegraph operators, mail carriers, trail workers, and even occasional Utes called upon the Fort for a place to sit or stay the night. Hinckley’s son Ira Parnell Hinckley said, “Within its then impregnable walls were safely sheltered thousands, both good and bad, the venturesome and the timid, the desperado and the saint, as they moved westward in quest of gold, or eastward in disappointment, or back and forth in their routine duty. Without it, what might have been, no one knows.”
The fort was used as a waystation from 1867 to 1882, but as the railroad became increasingly popular, fewer travelers visited the fort. The Hinckley family occupied Cove Fort until 1890, and then in 1919 the Church signed it over to William Henry Kesler. In 1989, descendants of Ira and Arza Hinckley purchased the land back from the Kesler family and subsequently donated it to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church restored Cove Fort to its original condition and Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Church’s First Presidency and a descendant of Ira Hinckley, dedicated it as a historic monument on May 21, 1994.