Message #160
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 

Date: Tue, 05 May 1998
Subject: Fort Douglas UT

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The soldier who tossed out
this whiskey bottle likely wanted it buried for
good. It was empty _ nothing more than a painful
reminder of another night squandered. He had no
idea the buzz that this and other old trash would
bring to archaeologists 100 years later. Fort
Douglas, established on the east bench of Salt Lake
City in 1862, is being poked and prodded for clues
about its past as part of a $500,000 archeological
survey the federal government is requiring before
construction starts on new University of Utah
student housing. The dormitories will double as the
Olympic Village for the 2002 Winter Games. The U.S.
Army transferred 51 acres of Fort Douglas property
to the university earlier this decade, and final
touches are being put on a 12-acre land transfer
upon which much of the Olympic Village will be
constructed. Tom Nycum, University of Utah Vice
President for Administrative Service, said the
transfer should go through in September, and initial
work on the $97 million project is scheduled to
begin this summer. None of the fort's historic
structures will be torn down for the new
construction, but the archaeological survey is
extending beyond the 12-acre parcel. There are
currently eight separate dig sites scattered about
Fort Douglas as part of the study. "We're looking
at 130 years of stuff on top of stuff on top of
stuff,'' said U. of U. archaeologist Duncan Metcalfe,
one of the project leaders. Beyond bottles, a crew
of 10 diggers has found things like building
foundations, marbles, nails, animal bones, buttons,
buckles and shoe soles. And more nails. "There is
so much junk under these grounds,'' said Metcalfe.
"We put a pin flag down every time we hit something
with a metal detector, and the whole place ended up
looking like the back of a porcupine.'' But junk is
treasured in the archaeological world, even if it was
generated during a time when meticulous records were
kept about business at the fort, ostensibly built to
ensure the safety of travelers along the Overland
Trail. During its early years, the soldiers at the
fort made it their business to keep a close eye on
the residents of Salt Lake, much to the
consternation of Mormon church leader Brigham Young.
Most of the stately housing and barracks that face
the fort's parade ground were constructed between
1874 and 1876. The fort was heavily used during
World War I, and the 38th Infantry made Fort
Douglas headquarters between 1922 and 1940. The fort
reached its peak of activity during World War II,
when about 1,000 military personnel were permanently
stationed there and 2,000 citizens were employed.
All along the way the military did a stellar job of
keeping records, but those documents don't go too
far in telling about daily life at the fort in its
early days. ``They did a good job of recording what
was built, how many men were here. The skirmishes.
But they (records) don't deal that much with the
day to day life; the foods they ate, what they did
for recreation,'' said Betsy Skinner, project
co-leader. The mystery about life among the
enlisted men is further buried by the fact many
were illiterate and could not keep journals.
Evidence from the dig so far shows the soldiers
did a stunning amount of ditch digging and ditch
filling. Three channels near Red Butte Creek were
entirely filled, often with hand tools. "They worked
them like bandits,'' said Metcalfe. "It probably kept
them out of trouble,'' added Skinner. Not entirely.
The abundance of bottles reveals there likely was a
good deal of drinking that went on during the
soldiers' time off. Looking for clues about life
100 years ago is painstaking work. The excavators
pick what they hope will be prime digging sites by
using old maps. They use shovels to dig 4-foot deep
trenches. And the trenches are mapped in grids as
small as a couple of centimeters. Skinner said the
dig should go into summer, and when that's
completed the items harvested will be further
analyzed and cataloged. When work starts on the
Olympic Village, crews will be on hand in case any
of the big machinery inadvertently unearths anything
archaeologically valuable. All this fuss and effort
to dig up trash would likely force chuckles from
the whiskey drinking soldiers who called Fort
Douglas home 100 years go. Or maybe not. "They'd
probably be glad to see somebody else digging
trenches,'' said excavator Chris North, standing
waist-deep in a ditch.

Associated Links:

Escape of interned civilians, Fort Douglas UT

Fort Douglas

Fort Douglas War Prison Barracks Three

German and Austro-Hungarian US Internment during WWI

The Great War

U.S. Army Rehabilitation Center, Turlock CA 1942-1945 

Zuckschwert, A. Commander of the Gunboat Cormoran