Ephraim Hanks, an early Park City pioneer, was a colorful character.
A polygamous member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hanks served as a bodyguard for then prophet Brigham Young. He and his four wives lived in Park City, where he operated the stagecoach station at Mountain Dell.
Hanks, as most local historians point out, is also credited with discovering silver on Pioneer Ridge from the Summit House to Jupiter Peak at what is now Park City Mountain Resort, said historian Sally Elliott, chair of the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History.
“I have always known Ephraim Hanks was all over these mountains, hunting and trying to provide for his families,” she said. “I think he knew about six or seven places where there were outcrops of rock, but I think he kept it quiet because of his loyalty to Brigham Young and Young’s opposition to Mormons becoming miners instead of farmers. But when somebody blew the whistle about silver in the mountains, in an effort not to be left out of it all, Brigham had a hard time keeping his faithful from becoming miners, and Ephraim filed several claims in rapid succession.”
Ephraim Hanks will be the subject of a History Speaks lecture presented by the Park City Museum and Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at the Park City Museum Education and Collections Center, 2079 Sidewinder Drive. Although the lecture is free, registration is recommended. Register by visiting parkcityhistory.org/history-speaks-lectures.
The lecture will be given by Elliott and Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson, who is a descendant of Ephraim Hanks.
“Margaret will talk about his earlier life, and I’ll talk about the mining part of his life,” Elliott said.
Elliott and Olson have tossed around the idea of presenting a lecture about Hanks for a year, but Elliott found out about Olson’s bloodline some time after the two met.
Olson and Elliott became friends when Olson applied for the Summit County Attorney position in 2017 after the death of then Summit County Attorney Robert Hilder.
“I was on the Democratic Central Committee and really involved in getting Robert elected to begin with,” Elliott said. “When he died, it was the Democrats who appointed his successor.”
Olson was selected after the committee interviewed a number of applicants, according to Elliot.
“I found out Margaret was one of Ephraim’s descendants when we were having lunch a few years ago,” she said. “Somehow we began talking about our interests in history, and she said, ‘Oh, I’m a descendant of Ephraim Hanks.”
In an interview with Elliott, who is currently writing a book about Park City’s mining history, Olson relayed the lineage, which starts from Hank’s third wife, Jane Capener, and includes ties with Park City Council member Tana Toly.
“Their son, Ephraim K. Hanks, Jr., was my grandfather’s grandfather,” Olson told Elliott. “Tana Toly is descended from Ephraim Jr.’s sister Sarah. So Tana and I are more closely related than many of his other descendants.”
Olson told Elliot that she learned a lot about Hanks from stories she heard as a child, and that inspired her to write a book about Hanks’ life and how he and his wives adopted Native American children.
“There is a lot of documented information about Ephraim, but almost none about the women and Native American members of his family,” she said. “My book is an attempt to fill in the narrative about their lives and experiences. Living in the orbit of such a man, and during those times in the wild, wild, west fascinates me.”
In addition to adopting Native American children, Ephraim Hanks’ life is full of contradictions, Olson told Elliott.
“He was deployed with the Nauvoo Legion to carry out Brigham Young’s extermination order on the Timpanogos Band of Native Americans in February, 1850,” she said. “The Indigenous People were slaughtered during the ‘battle,’ although on his deathbed Ephraim claimed he ‘never killed an Indian.’”
Hanks was also involved in the murder of a disabled boy in Parley’s Canyon, which made news on the east coast as a “Danite” murder, Olson said.
“I was able to find some primary source material on that, and the ensuing criminal trial of a Salt Lake City policeman,” she said. “Ephraim was also indicted for treason against the United States — along with Brigham Young and a dozen others — for his role in the Echo Canyon war, when Johnston’s Army marched into Utah Territory in 1857. (And) Ephraim likely witnessed the beating of Utah’s Second Territorial Governor, John W. Dawson, which occurred at Mountain Dell. It goes on and on.”
While Olson’s book will include these events of Hanks’ life, Elliott’s book will include Hank’s role in discovering silver ore and his role as a prospector in the mining business.
“The funny thing is all of the earliest stories about how silver was discovered in Park City give him credit for being the one who discovered the ore,” Elliott said. “Only one, William Kimball, said the ore was discovered by soldiers from Fort Douglas. But Gary Kimball, one of William’s descendants, didn’t give that claim much credence.”