When Fitzgerald created the setting for his memorable stories he didn’t have to look very far for inspiration. His childhood town of Price held all the backdrops.
In his first novel, Papa Married a Mormon, Fitzgerald, introduces the reader to the town of Adenville, “In the year our story opens, the population was over one thousand. There were log cabins or adobe houses for every family. A grist mill, a woolen factory, a tannery and a soap factory were all producing for export to Salt Lake City and other communities. Eighty acres of cotton, forty acres of corn, ten acres of vineyards and sixty acres of wheat were under cultivation.” As if from a history text this paragraph creates a fictional backdrop much like Fitzgerald knew from Price.
When various historians’ descriptions of Price are compiled together a similar picture is created.
Andrew Jensen wrote, “(Price,) a beautiful town, nestling closely in a forest of shade and fruit trees, now greets the eye of the visitor.” In addition Ronald G. Watt writes, “For the next number of years the Price Trading Company provided a wide range of goods to the residents of Price and the region.” While Price pioneer Ernest S. Horsley writes, “As spring arrived there was the preparation of planting grain and vegetables….Some wheat, oats, corn and potatoes were planted and a fair harvest gathered.”
Adenville, however, did not stand alone as a town representing the Utah west. Just over the Adenville Ditch lay “The hell-roaring mining camp of Silverlode.” A bawdy, saloon filled oasis for miners, gamblers, and recluses. In, Papa Married a Mormon, a main character, William Fitzgerald, arrives in Silverlode. The description reads as follows , “As the stagecoach wound its way down the main street of Whiskey Row …Uncle Will saw only the Fairplay Saloon, the 66 Saloon and the Silver Dollar Saloon. He paid no attention to the Silverlode Bank, the Post Office, Wells Fargo Office, or Tanner’s Livery Stable.”
For Price City, the hell roaring side of life was not over a ditch but just over the railroad tracks. The History of Carbon County notes, “By 1900 there were five prominent liquor houses in Price: the Senate Saloon, Magnolia Hall, the Oasis Saloon, the Magnet and Fitzgerald & Company.” In addition to the saloons, downtown Price also housed “the Eastern Utah Advocate newspaper; two churches; a school; and a town hall.”
The buildings and structures of Price were not the only sources of inspiration Fitzgerald drew on in creating these memorable towns. The people, professions, cultures and personalities also began at home. Professions such as saloon owner, freight driver, newspaper man, sheep herder, railroad worker and gambler all came from Price.
In the, History of Price, author Ronald Watt writes, “In 1887 the government hired Mulholland, Shaw and Winston, an outside freighting company that brought their own freighters in, including John Millburn, who later established the Oasis Saloon in Price. These freighters desired a different type of entertainment than did the Mormons.” What type of entertainment? Saloon entertainment, with all of its abundant glory.
A year later, in 1901, W.F. Olson visited Price, while describing the town he wrote, “Floaters poured in, card sharps, loaded dice experts, con men and speculators. Bawdy houses were numerous….all in all Price had earned a reputation as a pretty tough western town.”
Like most tough western towns, Price’s tough image was secured by use of the gun. More than once, personal differences were settled with its aid. “Roe Ferguson (of Price) who ran a restaurant, was shot down while servicing a customer; bodies were found on the city’s outskirts,” A more dramatic incident involved, C.L. “Gunplay” Maxwell, who had had many run-ins with the law in Price. His last run- in was in August of 1909. While visiting the town, Maxwell and Price’s deputy sheriff Johnstone, met at the Sixty-Six Saloon. “After leaving the saloon, they exchanged heated words on the street, and Maxwell drew his gun….Johnstone shot and hit Maxwell three times.” Maxwell died.
With incidents such as these, Fitzgerald didn’t need to work hard at incorporating gunslinging into his story. “During the first few months after the rich strike at Silverlode there was no law except that of the six-shooter.” In fact, Uncle Will makes great use of his firearm to obtain the Whitehorse Saloon. The Silverlode Advocate stated, “As the last card fell, the stranger became the owner of the Whitehorse Saloon by virtue of three jacks against Nat Breen’s pair of kings. Nat Breen was so indelicate as to suggest that the stranger’s good fortune had not been attributable to luck or skill. He was foolish enough to back up this accusation by going for his gun. The stranger continued to smile. His hands never left the top of the table until Nat Breen touched leather. Then, with a lightning-like draw unparalleled in these parts, the stranger drew. Nat Breen was dead before he got his gun out of his holster.” But, like much of the Old West, the gun slinging days of both Price and Silverlode eventually came to an end.
A large portion of any history comes from the newspaper. The details recorded there encapsulate a place, an era, the living events. Fiztgerald loved newspapers. He sold his first published work to a paper and later worked as a foreign correspondent. The power of the press was vital to the worlds he knew. For Utah and it’s future statehood, unbiased and healthy press was a must.
Fitzgerald included this necessary institution as the Silverlode Advocate. The Advocate of Fitzgerald’s books is similar in many respects to Price’s Eastern Utah Telegraph. Both papers were active during the founding days of their respective communities. As the communities grew, the names of the papers changed until reaching the present known titles of Adenville Advocate for the town of Adenville and the Sun Advocate for Price. Both papers sought to be politically and religiously neutral. The original editor in Price, Mr. King wrote “The Telegraph is a new venture in Utah journalism and, as its name imports, is dedicated to the people of Eastern Utah upon whom, in the main, it depends for its support and in whose interests its influence will at all times be exerted.”
As a fictional character, Thomas Fitzgerald, new editor of Silverlode’s, Silverlode Advocate in Adenville wrote, “The true journalist is the voice of the unbiased observer who presents only the facts. The true journalist does not shape the thinking of the people; but only presents the facts so the people may decide the issues themselves.”
The towns of Adenville, Silverlode and Price each told “the story about the little people who built the West.” Though Adenville and Silverlode were the author’s creation they represented the most accurate literary impression of Price and other Dixie towns, such as Leeds and Silver Reef (now a ghost town). Adenville also typified quaint early Mormon settlements. From the choice of its name to its namesake’s history, Adenville could easily have been a real town in Dixie Utah.
In the settings alone, Fitzgerald created a masterpiece. It is no wonder readers over the years have traveled miles to find the towns that only exist in print.