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Celebration of Utah's Camp Floyd offers glimpse of the past

Published September 2, 2012 11:28 am

History buffs relish dressing up, reliving life as it was in 1858.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Fairfield • The Utah County town of Fairfield has a population of just over 100 people. But back in 1858, it was home to thousands when the United States military moved in and established Camp Floyd to stop a perceived Mormon rebellion.

Now, every Labor Day, a group of history lovers gather here to celebrate the town's hidden historical treasures through a true-blue re-enactment of life at Camp Floyd in the late 19th century.

"It's the thing that no one knows about, even people in [nearby] Lehi," said Michael Moon, the vice president of a group called Friends of Camp Floyd, and one of the re-enactors.

On Monday, visitors can hear the stories of re-enactors who have camped out in their 19th century-era tents all weekend, they can participate in scavenger hunts, play period games, try on army uniforms, watch cannon and firearm demonstrations, and even ride in a stagecoach.

People should embrace Utah's history, Moon said. They should know where Camp Floyd is and know what happened there.

Here's Moon's telling of the Camp Floyd story: "One-third of the combat strength of the United States army shows up to Utah to put down the 'secessionist scum,' and it's not until April 1861 that they realized that the secessionist scum are in South Carolina and not Salt Lake," he said, referring to the start of the Civil War.

The troops were sent east to fight, and the camp was abandoned in July 1861.

Even though any passer-by would never guess it now, in 1858 there were 450 buildings in the area, Moon said, including saloons, billiard halls, bowling alleys and a theater.

Russ Felt, the president of Friends of Camp Floyd, said, "The army was sent out to quell the Mormon uprising that didn't exist.

"There were important characters that came this way," Felt added, including Rooney Lee, son of famous Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee.

But he also said it wasn't just the army that brought people to Fairfield. Native Americans and others settled in the area, as well as the Pony Express, the Overland Stagecoach company and a telegraph station.

Fairfield is ripe with local and national history, which makes it unique, said Megan Keller, the curator of Camp Floyd's small museum.

"It's a really exciting place here," Keller said. "I love the history and the way this place is able to bring the history to life."

She said visitors are able to learn by doing because of the re-enactors and all the different activities, including learning how to load a "candy gun cartridge" with Pixy Stix for gun powder and gum balls for bullets.

"[The re-enactors are] so fascinating and they care so much about the history," Keller said.

Re-enactor Tracy Mutter cared so much about the history that she made an authentic outfit to wear, including corset, underdrawers and all.

A seamstress from Magna, she has been coming to Camp Floyd for the past eight years.

"It's just a ridiculous amount of fun," Mutter said. "You get to dress up in clothing you can't get away with in real life. And you get to show off what you can do," she said, while demonstrating how to spin wool on her spinning wheel.

The re-enactors take their fun seriously though, Mutter said.

"We don't put on our sweatshirts when people go home. I take the corset off and put on my wrapper," she said.

Another re-enactor, Richard Kone, gives visitors realistic 19th-century shaves for just $8 in his barber's tent.

Kone owns Barbarians Barber shop in Salt Lake City, and he's been coming to the Camp Floyd re-enactment for nine years.

A friend persuaded him to try it out, and he's been coming back ever since.

He even spent a year building his own original 19th-century barber's chair. He expects a lot of traffic on Monday, and he invites all Utahns to come and learn a little about Camp Floyd.

"Come out and experience real history," he said.

jmccandless@sltrib.com

At a glance: Experience living history

Camp Floyd Days

What: Historical re-enactment of life at Camp Floyd in the late 1800s

Where: Town of Fairfield, 22 miles southwest of Lehi on State Highway 73, off of Interstate 15

When: Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (stage coach rides from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.)

Cost: Outdoor attractions free, museum entrance $2 for adults and children (children under 5 free), $1 for seniors over 65 and $6 for a family pass (up to 8 people)

Attractions: Reenactments, encampments, stagecoach rides, firearm demonstrations, marches, drills, 1860s-period games, scavenger hunts and photos in period uniform.

More: Call (801) 768-8932 or visit stateparks.utah.gov/parks/camp-floyd