By Doug Parkin
It was a bleak Saturday afternoon when Mike and I first entered the ghost town of Winter Quarters. There had been a terrible freak storm the night before (another story all together!) bringing with it a couple inches of snow which didn’t stay long. It was, after all the second day of summer, but at an altitude of 10,000 feet a summer snow storm was not that uncommon of a thing.
The ground was wet and soft but not slippery and mucky as I had expected it to be as we walked up the main street of that historic town site.
The storm had quieted the pine covered mountains surrounding Winter Quarters. No birds were singing their friendly hellos, and only a squirrel or two caught my eye as they scurried towards their shelters. The silence along with the dark heavy cloud cover cast an eeriness on the town that chilled me to the bones.
We didn’t want to stay long, so we got right to work shooting photographs of the remains of the buildings for a book we were writing.
This town was of particular interest to us being Utah’s first coal mining operation and also the scene of the worst mine disaster in western history. It had reportedly killed 200 men in an explosion deep in the heart of the #4 mine. However, everyone we talked to knew that there were a lot more men never accounted for, with at least 65 miners still entombed in its dark tunnels today.
The strange events connected with this story began as we were photographing the remains of the “Wasatch Store”. Mike and I laughed as we heard someone up in the trees talking to themselves and singing in the worst off key performance I have ever heard. We didn’t think much of it. “Just some bored ranch hand.” Mike said, as we continued shooting pictures.
The strange voice continued until we walked further up the canyon past a little side gulch, upon which it instantly stopped, as if the cowhand had seen us and we had embarrassed him, but coming back down the canyon the voice began once again and started to laugh as soon as we came along side of the canyon gulch.
I began to have some uncomfortable feelings as it soon became apparent that the voice was directed at us. The words were not understandable as it seemed a little far away. I just didn’t like the idea of whoever it was talking to me without showing themselves from amidst the trees.
After this went on for a period of about another 10 minutes or so, Mike got upset, picked up his camera gear and headed for the car, stating he wasn’t sticking around in the mountains with some crazy guy up in the hills watching his every move. Agreeing, I quickly followed and we left Winter Quarters with an unsettled feeling about the place.
Two days later I spent the day at the Utah Historical Society researching the town and more specifically the mine disaster.
It saddened me to read the official account of the explosion and learn of so many needless deaths including fathers and sons with kids as young as 14 years old counted among the victims.
They found charred bodies of family members embraced, knowing their fate, as the rescue crews searched in vain to find survivors.
The disaster happened on May 1, 1900. The crews did what they could to recover the bodies, but they had no means of fighting such a mine fire, as the coal continually burned.
In fact it still burns today and makes the ground warm enough that in spots the snow will not stick to the ground and wild Daisey’s have been known to bloom in the middle of winter in those spots.
The mining officials had the entrance of the #4 mine sealed off in hopes that the lack of oxygen would extinguish the fire. Work then resumed in July in the #1 mine after sealing off the connection between the two mines a mile and half into the mountain.
But what made my hair really stand on end was when I read the testimonies of what the remaining families said happened next.
Shortly after work resumed, reports started coming in regarding miners seeing a ghost or ghosts down in the mine. Several miners swore till their dying day that a certain ghost whom the called Sandy McGovern would ride with them on the ore cars until they would reach the entrance and disappear only to reappear somewhere else in the mine.
Upwards of forty families quit their jobs and moved out because of their reports of strange lights appearing in the cemetery and they continually heard voices coming from the #4 gulch where the entrance had been sealed.
Chills went through my body as I read this and I hurriedly made copies of all the information and left for home.
Mike couldn’t believe it. We both really got the creeps thinking about it.
That coming Sunday I visited my parents upon which time I told my story to my Dad. He told me his friend Dennis was from Scofield, Utah which lies at the bottom of the Winter Quarters town site.
He said he would see him the following Sunday in church and would ask him if he had ever heard of such a thing.
The following Sunday upon visiting my folks once again, my Dad said, Doug you better sit down. This will really give you the creeps!
This is the story he told me…
Upon approaching his friend Dennis, he asked if he was familiar with Winter Quarters. “Yes” Dennis said with a strange inquiring look. “Why do you ask?” “Well, my son visited there a few weeks ago…” my father stated. “Oh, that’s interesting.” Dennis broke in. “Did he hear the voice?” My father was totally taken back by the comment. “Well, yes, that is why I was asking you about.” he said.
Dennis at that time sat down and with a big sigh, began to talk of his experience:
As a young boy Dennis would visit the town of Winter Quarters quite often. Nothing ever strange happened at first but as time went on he began hearing a voice speak to him when he would visit the town. It would talk and sing and laugh as if to taunt him, whenever he was in the vicinity of the gulch near the “Wasatch Store.”
He always meant to find out where the voice was coming from, but each time he heard it he would get the willies and quickly leave the area.
This went on for quite sometime, even into years. The voice became such common place that Dennis began to regard it as an old friend.
Dennis had heard the stories of the ghost of Winter Quarters and even though he would tell all his friends that it was indeed the ghost he had heard, deep inside he never believed it, although he never tried to explain it either. It was just another unexplained accepted part of nature in his mind.
When Dennis started dating, he and his friends would take their dates to the old town site to scare them when the voice spoke to them. The kids in the town called the ghost Crazy Jake.
That all changed a few years later when as a young man, Dennis was up above Winter Quarters doing a little hunting. He was prepared to spend the weekend in the mountains as he back packed his supplies with him.
Dennis was never a big man, standing at about 5’6″ tall. but he was built as someone who was used to being in the mountains and being alone on such a trip as this was no stranger to him.
The hunting hadn’t been very good, and as the day wore on Dennis felt a bit of cold wind picking up. He knew his best bet for a comfortable night in the mountains would be to climb down toward Winter Quarters so that the steep canyon could offer some protection against the weather.
When Dennis reached the town site, he felt as though he were home. He set up his tent not far from the Old Wasatch Store ruins near the gulch, built a comfortable fire and sat back to relax for the evening.
Bright burning embers were all that was left when Dennis decided to turn in for the night. It had turned dark quickly and the chill was starting to cut through this jacket.
He laid out his sleeping bag remembering to put his feet toward the opening just in case a snake happened in looking for some warmth and wouldn’t be tempted to crawl directly into the bag.
The wind had picked up while Dennis was trying to get settled. He hoped a storm wasn’t being blown in.
Dennis didn’t remember what time it was when he woke up, or what caused him to wake up. but he does remember the eerie feeling he had as he noticed everything was “still” outside. No wind beating against the side of his tent, no shuffling around of the little forest animals. Not even the gurgling of the nearby creek. Nothing but total silence.
Until! “What was that?” he thought! “That sound. Oh, all too familiar.”
He heard the faint sound of laughter coming from the gulch. It was altogether different this time. He had never been here in the middle of the night before. A total different feeling without the security of daylight.
The laughter turned to words, then back to laughter once again. Dennis started praying to please make it stop! Make it go away. But the voice didn’t go away. Instead it got louder and louder. Dennis’ heart began to pound furiously. Just stay put he thought, Nowhere to run to anyway.
Suddenly the sides of the tent began to flap, “Wind picking up again?” No, just the sound of laughter filling his tent.
At that moment Dennis noticed a cold rush of air hitting his face, as he heard the horrible sound of canvas ripping. he sat up quickly only to be knocked back down as his feet were instantly seized and he began to be dragged out into the night.
He tried frantically to turn himself over, reaching for anything to grab onto. First clawing at the canvas floor, and then his fingers dug deep into the soil outside. It was useless trying to break the grip from whatever had hold of his feet.
Grabbing hold of a partially exposed rock, he watched helplessly as it just overturned in the hard soil.
Dennis screamed as he never knew he could. Until suddenly he felt an explosion go through his head as he was dragged over a sharp protruding stone.
His struggling stopped, dazed, blood flowing from his forehead, he gave in to the fate that awaited him as this demon continued to drag the helpless body into the darkness.
Time stood still for Dennis as his world turned into black and he lost consciousness. It was only moments when Dennis was awakened. Only to find that his night mare was indeed reality.
Dennis could hear a rumbling sound off in the distance and as it got louder he saw lights dancing through the trees. Suddenly, two shafts of light appeared, casting its beams up the steep narrow gulch. A moment later a voice broke the then silence. “What’s going on up there?”
Dennis hadn’t realized it but he had been suddenly dropped and he lay there half in and half out of his sleeping bag. His stare seemed blank as he noticed a dark silhouette outlined by the lights of vehicle quickly approaching him.
“Hey! Are you all right?” the big burly stranger questioned. “What on earth is going on? I heard screaming up here from the ranch below. Sounded like someone was diein’ or something.”
Dennis just stared into the headlights. The stranger, seeing he was in complete shock, pulled Dennis from his mangled sleeping bag and gently picked him up in his arms carrying him back to his truck, “Come on” he said, “We’ll get you down to the ranch house. The missus will fix you right up. My Hell! you look like you’ve seen the devil himself.” The rancher turned and took one last look up the narrow gulch, “Nothing!” he thought. “I wonder what happened up her tonight. I hope what ever animal it was, it leaves my cattle alone.”
Opening the truck door, he placed Dennis’ limp body on the front seat. Got in, put the old engine in gear and drove down toward the ranch house.
Most of the night the rancher and his wife worked on Dennis’ cuts and scrapes. His fingers were torn to shreds and the ends of them were completely gone. The real concern however was the terrible gash on the side of his forehead!
It was finally decided that at first light they would drive Dennis to Price, Utah Where medical facilities were available. Throughout the rest of the night Dennis did not say hardly anything at all. he knew he could not explain what happened. So he dozed in and out restlessly until morning finally came.
The rancher decided he would go up to the gulch to take a better look in the light and gather Dennis’ belongings.
Upon approaching the site he was amazed at what he saw. There was the tent, torn to shreds. No claw marks but ripped in many directions. He could see Dennis’ claw marks in the soil, deep and frantic looking. There were blood spotted rocks and off in the distance, a tattered sleeping bag up in the gulch.
He gathered the belongings and headed back down to the ranch house.
Nothing much was said as they drove towards the hospital. Finally the silence was broken and the rancher commented. “I took a look around up there. I couldn’t find any prints whatsoever. But the way I figure it. Must have been a bear!”
Dennis looked out the window and cynically smiled, thinking to himself. “I wonder when bears learned how to laugh?”
Since the time that I have heard this story, I have been asked by many people to take them with me to revisit this town site. I have returned 5 times, and have heard the voice on 3 separate occasions. On the 5th visit I was in the company of 6 other close associates. One of which video taped the entire visit. We heard the voice and feeling safety in numbers decided to see if we could follow where it was coming from.
We climbed the steep gulch, listening carefully. The voice continued to speak and yes, laugh at us the entire time we climbed the narrow gulch. When suddenly it stopped. We looked around us carefully and were suddenly taken by surprise. There in the mountain side right in front of us was the sealed off entrance to the #4 mine.
I still have people ask me to take them to the site. Some curious, some just wanting to prove me a liar. I don’t care if anyone believe my story or not. I will never return to Winter Quarters again.