Monday, October 17, 2011

Eric Larson--Disney's Legendary Animator from Cleveland

Emery County lays claim on Disney Legend Eric Larson, who was an animator for 53 years. He was part of a group of animators hired by Walt  Disney himself, who later referred to the original group of artists as his ''Nine Old Men.''

Click Here for a photo of Eric Larson and some characters he created.

Eric was born in Cleveland, Utah in 1905. His parents are Lars Peter Larson and Alganora (Nora) Oveson Larson. His grandparents were also from Emery County. His Maternal Grandparents are Lars Peter Oveson and Louisa Otterstrom. Paternal Grandparents are Erik Larson and Anna Elizabeth Erikson.

An Internet blog  50 Most Influential Animators tells us:
Eric Larson was born on September 3, 1905 in Cleveland, Utah... He was born into a Mormon family and would continue to be devout and active in the faith all through his life although he didn’t talk much about his beliefs at the studio.  Larson grew up on a ranch and became fascinated by the animals that live there and their personalities. “I was born and raised on a ranch,” he remembered in an interview. “And I always wanted to be a rancher up to the time of my second year in college. It’s still a life I love, would still like to do. (Click on the link at the top to read his whole story.)

Eric attended the University of Utah and majored in journalism. He moved to California and was talked into applying at the Disney Studios. He was hired at the time Mickey Mouse was still evolving. Disneyland and major movies had not even been thought about. When Disney's first feature-length cartoon was created, he was among the major animators. He was responsible for the forest animals which are in most scenes of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was released in 1937.

In the Disney Family Album, Part 1 Eric talks about how growing up on a farm, and the animals of his childhood influenced his characters in all of his works. Watch the five minute video which tells about how he came up with the animals cleaning the house, etc.

See Disney Family Album 2 you can hear Eric talk about getting the animation of animals to look like real animals by the time the story of Bambi was ready to be told. They studied the bones and the movement of real deer to get the realistic look of all of the animals in Bambi. Eric was the supervising animator for Bambi and created the beloved character of Thumper. That  attention to anatomy carried on with 101 Dalmathions.

Eric Larson

A Partial List from Wikipedia of The Characters Eric Larson Created:  
In the 1970s Eric became the head of Disney's Animation Training Department. Many of the best animators today were trained by Eric. Often used mimes to help train the people for animators. See Disney Family Album Part 3

Eric also helped the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints movie Man's Search for Happiness in 1964 that was narrated  by Richard L. Evans. It was presented at the Mormon Pavillion in the New York World's Fair.

Eric was very, very gentle and he knew timing like nobody’s business,” said animator and dancer Betsy Baytos.  In real life Eric was a very giving, gentle, and unselfish human being who always helped mentor others and for decades was largely responsible for keeping together the sometimes egocentric and hyper aggressive top animators at the studio.  He had no ego and people always felt comfortable asking him for advice and guidance. Larson for the last 16 years of his career worked pretty much exclusively on running the training program at the Disney studio and was very successful at finding talent. (

He retired at the age of 80 because of poor health. "On October 25, 1988 Eric Larson passed away at the age of 83. The prince in The Little Mermaid was named Eric in his memory." (

His death left only four of Disney's "Nine Old Men."  Headlines remarked that another link to the Golden Age was gone. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Update on Photograph Albums

I have had numerous requests for more information about Desert Lake and Victor and its residents. So I have updated the Photograph page on the top of this blog, and also put some links to the album on the previous blog post, but here it is as well for your convenience: Desert Lake-Victor

Monday, September 19, 2011


I was asked if the lake on the desert now called Desert Lake was the original reservoir for the settlement?
I originally thought that since they named their town "Desert Lake" it was because of the lake that was already there when they settled. I thought it was water that was too salty to be used, so they brought in other water and made a small reservoir---but you can't count on my "thinking." I learn on the job. 

I didn't grow up knowing about this county or hearing facts about the area; I have to depend on these wise, long-time residents to inform me. And lucky me, Mervin Miles--one of my mentors--dropped in to talk to me for a few minutes. He is a walking historic encyclopedia! He worked for the BLM for 38 years and I'm sure he knows everything about anything in the Castle Valley area. He has become a great friend and resource for the Archives. 

Mervin's answer was that it is a man made lake. It is a low spot that probably collected a little water naturally, but it was not a lake until a dam was built by the early settlers in the 1880s.

In Nancy Tanaguchi's book Castle Valley America, she says that Thomas Wells moved his family 6 miles east of Cleveland and OPTIMISTICALLY  named it "Desert Lake."

A book called,  Emery County Historical Records Inventory, 1941 states:
A dam was constructed from a reservoir in a natural declivity between the clay hills to impound the over flow water from Huntington Creek. In August 1896, the dam broke and many people had a narrow escape from drowning...During the following winter the dam as rebuilt with assistance from the L.D.S. Church...The region is irrigated from the reservoir, which covers about 2 square miles. A ditch intercepts the flood water from the Washboard Basin and Miller Creek.
I'm assuming from this that the town was still there in 1940 when this inventory was done.
Desert Lake taken by Lamont Johnson, probably in the  1940s
 Working at the Archives is always interesting. Besides the perfect timing of  Mervin coming in to answer my questions, I was excited to notice a black and white photo of Desert Lake sitting on top of a pile of photographs set aside ready to be scanned. It is part of Lamont Johnson's collection (an author from Emery County )which is in process of being documented. The above photo was in the right place at the right time for me to share in this article.

On the back of the photograph he has written "Desert Lake is a body of water amid the dry hills of northern Emery County. This area attracted some of the earliest county residents to that area. The loss of irrigation water has caused most of the rich land near the lake to be abandoned in recent years, but this is the landmark of an early Emery County settlement. A pioneer railroad grade was built near it, but that was also abandoned."

Desert Lake Cemetery
I have been to the Victor area quite a few times and had never seen any real evidence of former towns there--except the Victor Cemetery.  I wanted to go again with "history glasses" on. So Monday my husband Ben and I decided to go on our four wheeler and check out the Desert Lake and Victor area. We drove on all of the roads out there to see what we could see.We found the two cemeteries (found the Desert Lake one as well), and we also noticed fences, and old dead trees, roads, and driveways indicating residential spots.
Desert Lake Dam Area--between the two hills. The green area is the dam.

 We saw the dam that was built by the pioneers of this area and is now maintained by the Division of Wildlife Resources. Back in the 1800s, when the dam broke the town was flooded and it did some real damage. So we figure the town must have been in the direct path of the dam--to the right of the photograph, but I don't know for sure--remember don't trust my thinking or figuring. I've got to talk to my mentors about that. I plan to get a copy of the town plat, recruit a former resident of  Desert Lake or Victor and go back to the area. Want to go with me?

Close Up of the Desert Lake Dam--center of the photo where the greenery is seen.

The abandoned reservoir holds water that is not "fit for human consumption," as they say, but it has attracted so many birds there that today it is a Bird Refuge or a Waterfowl Management Area. One can see water birds like Egrets, Swans, Pelicans, Herons, etc. at certain times of the year. For a list of birds and seasons they can be spotted, see or many other websites about Desert Lake, Utah.

Here is the technical information about why the water in Desert Lake is foul to all but fowl.

Here is the history of the water situation for Desert Lake and other areas of Emery County.This is from Ed Geary's Emery County History book.
The predominant mancos shale formations of Castle Valley, having once been sea-bed deposits are impregnated with salts. Furthermore, the tight soil structure and lack of organic matter result in poor drainage characteristics. Irrigation saturated the soil and dissolved the salts, which then collected on the surface in "alkali" patches. Where canals cut through shale hills, large quantities of water seeped into porous strata to rise to the surface in some instances several miles away. Runoff water from higher fields returned to the creeks and was reused downstream. The addition of the salty water to salty soil only accelerated the degradation (of the soil) process. Within a few years, large areas of once productive cropland were transformed into alkali flats capable of supporting nothing by saltgrass and greasewood...A U.S. Department of Agriculture report estimated that by 1904 some 30 percent of the farmland in Emery County had been abandoned.
Desert Lake and Victor Were Part of That Abandoned Land
The saline waste water from Cleveland farms caused some damage, but then they extended the Huntington North Ditch to bring in some fresh water hoping to offset the saline problem. It worked okay for a while. They still had to import drinking water to the towns, but the final crisis that caused these to towns to give up and seek better land was the drought years of the 1930s. They were on the end of the ditch line and just didn't have enough water to survive. But these two towns were very much alive for over 40 years, making them an important piece of the history of Emery County.

MORE RESIDENTS OF DESERT LAKE: (email me copies of people you know who lived in this area)

Click here for Desert Lake-Victor Photographs Emery County Archives Photographs

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Victor was a "twin-town" with Desert Lake that came about as some residents began looking for more land. Eventually most of Desert Lake residents moved over to Victor, but not all. They shared a cemetery  located between the two towns, and most of the graves from Desert Lake were moved to Victor, but not all. The towns are usually linked together in history, found in indexes as Desert Lake/Victor.

A couple of years ago the Pierce Family gave us some histories of people who lived in Victor--Martin Riley and Harriet Ann Peterson Pierce and their daughter Elda Pierce. I want to include some of Elda's history because with her words we get eye-witness view life in Victor. 
We left Hanskville on December 19, 1921 with a herd of goats, cows, and a buggy and two wagons holding what personal possessions we felt necessary for the move to Victor...Papa farmed raised animals, except lambs and chickens. This was Mama's department...
My memories of childhood were that of bare feet and hot sand. There was always
Claude and Elda Pierce
something to be herded like goats, cows, turkeys and pigs)...Mama made everything that we wore, including around-the-house-shoes. They were made from the backs of worn levis or seamless sacks. Our slips and panties were made from flour sacks. Mama was a beautiful seamstress. I wonder how many yards of material she sewed into something, for she made our clothes, men's clothes, temple clothes, and burials clothes too.
We were the first to have a phonograph, an Edison with cylinder records. To this music we danced, sang, and by it were lulled to sleep to the tune of the Blue Danube Waltz...  I was baptized in an irrigation canal in Victor. I attended the school in Victor which was also used as a church. My third grade teacher was Miss Lucille Gold. She boarded at our home, and it was my job to wash her dirty handkerchiefs. (We attended Victor until the 6th grade.) We rode a Dodge truck to Elmo for the 7th and 8th grades. High school was in Huntington. I boarded there and did housework for my keep and went home on weekends.
Victor School (Don Oveson Photo)
 School Children in front of School
Back yard of the Pierce home in Victor

When I think about Victor, I remember the fun we had dancing, skating, swimming, Easter on horseback, bonfire parties, ball games, sledding parties--of course after all the work was done. (Elda Pierce Throckmorton)
The following history is quoted from Thomas Wells' account published in Castle Valley, A History of Emery County, compiled by Stella McElprang, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1949. The photographs are from the Pierce Family  and the Don Oveson Collections in the Archives.
A Young school teacher, Manassa J. Blackburn came to teach (in Desert Lake). He remained to take up land and when the ward was organized he was sustained as the first bishop with Henry G. Mills, first counselor and David Powell as second counselor.
Mr. Blackburn, negotiated with Joseph Powell of Salt Lake, for the purchase of land about six miles below Desert Lake that he had taken up and surveyed...Water was brought in through the extension of canals from the Desert Lake Reservoir. Bishop Blackburn went to Huntington to teach school. Henry G. Mills was sustained as bishop in his place. The responsibility of establishing and building up the new settlement then fell to him.
Victor School behind the car
Elda Pierce age 15 in Victor, 1929
 The venture had been such a long hard fight that the people finally became discouraged (because of water) and left for more prosperous places. The ward was discontinued and joined to the Elmo ward and Victor became ghost town--Thomas Wells (McElprang, 130-131).

Victor School years after town was abandoned. (Don Oveson)
Martin Riley Pierce
Victor Cemetery (Don Oveson)

Pierce Home in Victor (Pierce Family photos)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Desert Lake 2001
I moved to Elmo in 1975. It was the smallest town I had ever heard of or seen. It was a long time after moving there that I heard about it's history and found out that there were other communities nearby at one time called Desert Lake and Victor. Desert Lake is still there; I knew it as a bird refuge, so it's a little hard to imagine a town there.

I remember the house that used to sit there near the lake when we headed to the Dinosaur Quarry. Someone told me that it was part of the town that was once there. Since then I've been piecing in my head what that town looked like. I couldn't get a good picture of more than a few houses, but then I heard they had a school as did Victor. I also read that the community was not successful because of a shortage of water and eventually the town was abandoned.
Thomas Wells, one of first settlers in Desert Lake.
I was pretty excited when Theora Worley from Wellington called me and said she had some history about Desert Lake. She said that she was born in Desert Lake, and so was her father. I had no idea that it lasted for two generations. That's when I decided  to study up more on that little town. So I set out to visit with her and took my computer with me hoping to get her oral history. She was very generous as she shared her knowledge and memories of the area. She also shared precious histories and photographs that she has collected through the years for me to copy for the Archives and public use.

Thomas Wells 1925 in his blacksmith shop in Desert Lake
Here at the Archives we know how priceless photographs and family history are and only borrow them for a short period of time and take very careful care as we scan them into the computer which is called digitizing and then return them, usually in better condition with archival sleeves to protect the photographs. We then make CDs of all that we have digitized and will make as many as the donor wants--to give away to family. We then have them to share with the public for education and research purposes. These photographs are great!

Theora had a photograph of Thomas Wells (above) that I had never seen before. The 1949 Castle Valley A History of Emery County, compiled by Stella McElprang says that Desert Lake was settled by three men in 1888. Hans P. Marsing and Charley Winder had worked on the Cleveland Canal and had accepted stock in the canal for payment. They obtained land in the Desert Lake area. In Edward Geary's History of Emery County, we read:
Members of the Wells, Powell, Thayne, Winder, Marsing, and Pilling families took up land in this hollow between 1885 and 1888 and began work on an earthen dam...Their intention was to capture runoff from higher fields and also store the winter flow of the Cleveland Canal...The 1900 census showed a population of 127 in the Desert Lake precinct.(Geary, 114). 
The dam failed in 1896 and flooded the town, but it was rebuilt with help from the LDS church. And extension of the Huntington North Ditch, the town was able to continue until the 1930s.

We read from other historical accounts that there were many orchards, a nice school, store, post office, dairy, and good farms.The population was around 125. They raised children, attended church, had house parties, went sleigh riding, horseback riding, hay rack riding, ice skating, and of course there was dancing. "C.H. Winder developed a resort at Desert Lake featuring Saturday night dances and moonlight boat rides" (Geary, 246).

Wilford and Charlotte Pilling with Woodrow on the horse-- Desert Lake 1920
Theora said her grandfather, father and his brothers started a dairy--"The Modern Dairy." In 1928 they relocated the dairy to Big Springs Ranch. The photograph above is of the Pilling family home where he grandparents lived. It was taken many years after Desert Lake had been abandoned. On the back of the photograph there is a poem: 
The old house stands alone now. Where once a family lived and worked, now there is nothing but the wind blowing dust through the open door. Where once there was laughter and the sound of little children, now there is nothing...nothing but the rustle of a rodent that has set up light housekeeping in the wall of the house. The old windmill creaks in the wind to let one know it is still there.Once there were horses and cattle lowing in the fields, now there is nothing. The wind blows the dust, and all is still and ghostly.
The shortage of water during the drought-ridden depression years effected all communities but forced the demise of Desert Lake. Today there is nothing left there but a small cemetery and a few remnants that show it was once a living place. As you look at this forgotten place, it's good to remember that ghost towns are not sad; life did not die there-- it just moved on to a better future.
An old house on Desert Lake

Below are some people who lived in Desert Lake (If you know someone who lived there, leave a comment at the end of this blog) :

Frances Isabell Cooley

Maruice and Bell Mills
Emily and Thomas Wells

Monte Pilling
Ervin Pilling
John Wilford Pilling

Emily Wells and daughters Bertha, Luella, and Bell
William Pilling

Cleon Pilling
Clifford Smith
Kathy Hamaker from Price just sent me a picture of her husband Van's grandfather, Clifford Smith, who was born in Desert Lake along with three of his siblings. His parents were Joseph and Estella Holt Smith.  Their oldest daughter, Pearline Smith was married to Charles Albert Mills and their first two children where born in Desert Lake. 

Keep the information coming. Who do you know that lived in Desert Lake/Victor?

Also, check out Kathy Hamaker's work in preserving history for Carbon County at and

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Closing of Central School

My last post about the consolidation of schools and the "New Emery County School" was only half of the oral history project funded through a grant from Utah State Historical Society and Utah Humanities Council. The other half of the project concerns the closing of Central High School and making two high schools out of three. I have interviewed a few people who were former students, and I have talked to many who have an opinion about it. It has been fascinating to study. This was a much more difficult transition than the consolidation of 1962. Central School was closed in 1943 and burned four years later. "It was worse than a funeral," one of the students said.

Emery Stake Academy1910-1922.  Central School 1922-1943
(Click on each picture to enlarge it)
The burning of Central School in Castle Dale in 1947 was a great loss not only to the residents of Castle Dale and Orangeville back then, but for the entire county even today.  The school had served the people for at least three generations. It began as Emery Stake Academy in 1910 and became Central School in 1922 Although I did not live in Emery County during my school years (see About Me) and actually, wasn't even alive during the lifetime of Central School, I mourn the loss of that majestic building and miss it terribly! I often drive past the hill that was once its throne and try to picture what it was like when it reigned over the valley.
Central High on the East Bench of Castle Dale
It was originally built by the LDS Church as a Stake Academy. It was three stories high with 16 classrooms on the first two floors and a large third floor assembly hall where many activities were held including weekly dances. The floors were all wood; there was beautiful woodwork all through the school. It functioned as a high school (7th-12th) for Emery County LDS residents from anywhere in the county. In 1922 Emery County School District bought the building from the LDS Church and opened it as Central High School. Judging from articles in their school newspaper, The Broadcaster it looks like they had some fun times. Such as, "Speech Class held a Chocolate Cake and a Pickle party at Miss Beth Jewkes of Orangeville last Saturday night. A delightful evening was enjoyed by all."  

Faculty page in yearbook "The Tower"
Dance Card from Central High School
The school had three clubs: The Knights, which was a boys club; the Peppers, which I have not learned much about; and the S.A. Club which was a secret society club like those in some universities. But in this club, the members were known and so were the activities--only the name of the club was secret. No one knew what S.A. stood for. It was a girls club and to be invited into it one had to have a B average. After receiving a letter inviting you to a meeting. The initiation meetings were held at night. One former member said: 
S.A. Club Girls in their uniforms--black sweaters with white initials.
It was candlelight, and it was secretive. It was in a beautiful setting with candles. I remember that. Then they made you take an oath and promise that you would never reveal the name.
I overheard one lady say that she would never tell the name of the club; it would go to the grave with her. Others have felt like it was of their childhood and held no harm in telling it, so they divulged it to me. I will not publish it here in respect of those who want to "take it to their grave" with them. The club was founded in 1931, and the tradition continued until the close of the school.

Students gathered around their school rock painted with a "C"--behind the two boys in front
The school rock was moved onto the lawn on the corner by the Castle Dale City buidling

According to the history books Emery County communities were losing population and school enrollment  during the Second World War. The school board felt that they needed to look at all options. Central School was very old and probably too large to accommodate the number of students in the area. It was difficult to heat, and the war had taken a lot of the teachers, so there was a shortage.One lady remembers they brought in just about anybody in the county who would take the job of teaching, and they were usually just temporary. So closing one school and busing them to another school would save the district a lot of money. The proposal to close Central came from a school board member from Huntington. This proposal 
"...set off the most bitterly fought consolidation battle in the county's history...The beginning of the school year brought a boycott, with students refusing to board the buses." (Geary 306)
When the fight began and bad feelings were flaring, Huntington was included at the top of the  black list just under the school board superintendent R.S. Chipman.

Edward Geary states in his book The History of Emery County
Building R-L: Seminary, Central School, Shop
A group of Central High patrons filed suit to block the closure...The courts, while noting that the school board lacked the authority to close the school permanently, ruled that the board could temporarily discontinue Central High for the duration of the wartime emergency. A compromise was reached that called for all Central High students to be bussed to South Emery instead of dividing the closely tied communities of Castle Dale and Orangeville. This solution ended the boycott, but bitter feelings continued for many years. (Geary 306)
With the end of the wartime emergency that had been used to justify the closing of Central High School, residents of Castle Dale and Orangeville began pressing the board of education to reopen the school. (Geary 320)
The school burned down August 1947 before the issue was resolved.

I heard some expressions of bitterness, anger, suspicion and injustice concerning the school's demise such as:

  • It was a "heavy handed decision," opinions were not asked for. 
  • Some felt that if the board had gone about it differently there wouldn't have been a "war."
  • They felt like they "didn't get a chance" to improve the school or make any changes.
  • Parents and teachers were mad at the superintendent. "They sure didn't like Mr. Chipman."
  • "We didn't start school or even go to school until January. Our parents kept us home."
  • "We even had a family problem. My dad was on the school board and wanted to close Central; my aunt was opposed to it. She lived in Castle Dale."
  • The school board wanted to separate students Orangeville was to go to Huntington--North Emery; Castle Dale was to go Ferron--South Emery. That fueled the fight even further.
  • A small town's social life revolves around a school, "you take that out and there goes your town."
  • Some of the parents had attended Central High when it was the Stake Academy, so they were especially attached to that building.
  • While some were attached to the building, and others just were adamant about having a high school in their area--if they tore the old one down, they needed to build a new one.
  • Some said the building was deteriorating, others said it was in good condition and could have easily been repaired, the deteriorating claim was "just an excuse."
  • There was rivalry between all three schools. None of the kids wanted to go to Huntington--North Emery; they didn't want to go to South Emery either, but they mostly didn't want to be separated.  
  • When the kids did start at South Emery, everything was done differently like grading, etc. 
  • None of the kids from Central "could do anything for the year and a half that I was there" (like be student body officers and cheer leading, etc.).
  • The kids from Ferron weren't very happy to have the new students invade their school.
  • When the school burned a few years later, many were sure it was started by the school board superintendent. 
  • "I remember the fire! How we watched it. It was worse than a funeral!"
  • "I went to Central School until they burned it down.And that was no accident! I know about that! That was no accident!"
  • "It’s funny they didn’t ride that superintendent out of town!"
  • "I run up there and looked and I could see all them microscopes and stuff in there. It just made me sick. I wanted to get in there so bad. I would have died if I had." 
As one person put it, "The fight was a losing battle. The compromise was not satisfactory, but nothing more could be done." These are all very sad comments, but the school is gone and everyone learned to adjust to it. And there are always the memories.Those who attended Central High School have some great ones that they have passed on to us.

In September, 1947, the seminary building caught on fire and quickly spread to the main high school. Montell Seely was 13 years old at the time and lived nearby. His eyewitness account is interesting. He and his brother saw the smoke and quickly rode their horses to the building
Three or four other men were just arriving. They tried to get some water turned on, but since these building had been closed for several years with all the water lines shut off, no one seemed to know where to turn the water on. We arrived soon enough, so that if we had had some water, we could have put out the fire in the seminary building.
Soon many people arrived and men were running in all directions...Finally they got the water turned on, but by then the Seminary building was an inferno of flames and there was no chance to save it. They tried to wet down the high school building, but there was not enough water pressure to do any good and the roof caught fire. To make a long story short, they had to stand there and helplessly watch, as that beloved old Academy building burned to the ground.
1986 Central High School Reunion

For me, the fact that such a majestic building once belonged to the Emery County landscape piques my imagination. I walk the halls, peak into the classrooms, and attend the dances as I listen to others share their memories. Having come to know Emery Stake Academy/Central High School, I will forever revisit it!

The wonderful thing about Emery County Archives (and we are the only county archives in the state*) is that we are preserving history right here. Through oral histories, we save memories; we save stories; we save photographs. The photos and the memories are what brings history back alive for us.

 Come revisit it, and other elements of Emery County History, with me at the Archives. We have more photographs here.  Come visit the Archives and see all the information and even more photographs we have.  Please leave any comments you have at the bottom of this page where it says "comments." Or email me:
To donate any type of history see Public Welcome

*We are the only county archives other than Salt Lake County.