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So'ho-gwa in the Improvement Era

The canyon didn’t have a name for itself, but some of the humans who drank from its waters called it So'ho-gwa.

It wasn’t just humans. Cougars and kangaroo rats and dragonflies, tarantulas and junipers, and cottonwoods and others drank there too. So it had been for so long that the creek had worn jagged stones into round pebbles—so long that the remains of mastodons could be found under the dirt at the water’s edge.

So it was until a group of humans brought to So'ho-gwa a new sense of time. This time was a number that was always counting up. 1847, 1848, 1849. With their new time came a new name. “City,” their leader dubbed the land, which contained not a single permanent structure. City Creek Canyon. They’d say the name like a spell until it was true.

At the place where the waters met the valley, these new people constructed a fort. Within days they were cutting down the canyon’s trees and building roads. They dunked their heads in the holy creek to “renew their religious covenants,” then picked up shovels to divert its course.

Other humans, some who called themselves Newenee and others who called themselves Nunt'zi, still came around. “I have seen as many as 50 camped there,” says one account from that time, referring to the hills that overlook the creek. “As soon as the weather was fine enough in the spring they went into City Creek Canyon to fish and hunt.”

Perturbed by the shared abundance, the leader of the new people built a wall. He claimed ownership of all the trees in the canyon and only opened the gate for those who cut them down and gave him a third of the bounty.

But it wasn’t just the trees that the new humans cut down. One newspaper reported on “a beautiful specimen of the mountain lynx” that was shot in the canyon. It was “driven through the street and attracted attention for the beauty of its skin.”

Another article told how two men, when walking through the canyon, happened upon an animal they’d never seen before. As was the tradition, they chased down the newly discovered yet harmless being and “killed him with rocks.” A short time later, another man was awarded $90 bounty for “six bears killed in City Creek Canyon in fifteen days.”

The last wolf known to drink from the creek was proudly killed in 1918.

Freed of its native plants and animals, the land could be easily built up and dug out. The city rose while the mines descended. Galena, iron, silver, and even a few chunks of gold were pulled from the canyon. When the city people wanted to build new roads to the mines, they would simply round up “vagrants,” chain them together, and put them to work in the name of progress.