Hiawatha, Utah: Ghost Town

...OR IS IT?!??!?!!  If I were clickbait-y, I would've titled this "CRAZY happenings in SO CALLED ABANDONED TOWN in Utah!! MUST READ!"

I have no idea why I haven't told this story before now.  It's a strange one.  Let's get started. This'll be my last 2017 tale before our new year new me bullshit.  So, I guess, consider this my Christmas present to you!  This will be a long, complex tale with not very many photos, so reader beware. I can at least promise it's not a dull read.

I first found out about Hiawatha from this post written by probably my favorite blog ever.  (Sidenote, this guy doesn't post anymore and it breaks my heart, he seriously has some great reads.)  As we all know, traipsing around abandoned areas is a hobby of mine and Allyn's.  We were going to be "in the neighborhood" (meaning in a 100 mile radius) of this nowhere-town thanks to car show plans in Helper back in June.  I set the whole excursion up; we would drive to Helper, enjoy the car show, camp out, and then take a drive down to Hiawatha and poke around the next day.  This was all for Father's Day--I was five months pregnant at the time. But as it was Allyn's first, I wanted to make it special.  Cars + ghost towns + nature=pretty much us.

I chose Hiawatha based on its relative proximity and the fact that, unlike some ghost towns which are just piles of rubble, it had actual buildings.  It was a legit town.  Both public and private buildings existed and for some reason, the whole place had been a haunted house at one time.  I'm not sure how many people in Carbon County drive hours in the desert just to get to a corny haunted house, but then again...if you've been to Price... /sound of airhorn diss

But for us investigators, what better combination exists?  It was an abandoned town and a haunted house.  That sealed my want to go.  Even more intriguing, the population was listed on Wikipedia as "3".  Whispers of a few stubborn citizens were on the blogs and historic articles I dug through, but that didn't bother me either.  Others had traversed the town and taken some awesome photos.  Maybe they were just a quiet family.  Maybe they'd all moved on by now.  There were enough photos and documentation of visits that I didn't second guess it--most of the places we go are in populated areas.

 Here's a sampling of what I thought we had to look forward to:

You can see why I was excited.  Allyn and I have done this plenty of times, my "scouting" is usually sufficient to ensure our knowledge of the area as well as any hazards/law enforcement/trespassing laws.  Everyone who has visited Hiawatha just drives up and looks around.  Easy peasy. Commence post-camping traverse!  Hiawatha is...off the beaten path, shall we say.  We got off one main road onto a side road and then off that side road onto another side road.  Not a vehicle or house for miles and miles.  True Utah Desert.  When suddenly...

We saw an oil well...then another, then another...the landscape was littered with oil wells.  Those weren't on the maps I looked up.  I knew we were going the right way.  I remember talking about how strange it was and wondering who in the world came out to this patch of desert to service these pumps.  While we talked about this, we passed some obviously-newly-built industrial garage-ish type place.  No clue what it was, and again it hadn't been on my maps.  It was obvious this was a new operation.  Then, we passed another building.  This one had a truck parked in it.

I didn't mind seeing traces of civilization so close to a site we were exploring; most of Utah is still uncharted BLM wilderness.  It wasn't going to be a big deal.  However, when we approached Hiawatha, the amount of KEEP OUT NO TRESPASSING PRIVATE PROPERTY signs were...excessive, or so I thought.  There was a newly-erected HUGE metal fence/gate that had about 900 warning signs on it.  Like at Ghost Town and Ducktown School, the gate was open (do we have some kind of gate-opening magic?) but the warning signs were so over the top ominous I immediately had a bad feeling.

We parked and exited.  The gate was open, after all.... under and past the gate ran a wide dirt road and parked on the side of that road was a haunted house/carnival style admissions booth that looked like something from the above photo.  It had a big creepy clown on the side and read T I C K E T S.  Crossing the road, before the TICKET booth, lay a de-commissioned set of railroad tracks.  They ended on the opposing side of the road.  Just ended there, haha, last stop, end of the line, nowhere to go buddy amirite?


...I didn't get any photos of the whole setup actually, because I was too creeped out and on guard to even think of my phone.  I wanted to see the buildings, but I had to make sure I was safe first, of course.  Allyn, braver than I, wandered past the gate and into the main road.  Because Hiawatha is sheltered by trees, we really couldn't make out many buildings and so a good five minutes was spent standing in the quiet sun, scoping out the location, Allyn meandering the tracks while I slunk back toward the ticket booth with its ugly plywood clown face.  I hate to say it and sound so stereotypical, but I had the feeling that we were being watched.  I was careful to move slowly and look curious instead of marching in like the calvary, in case someone was watching.  (Not that a pregnant woman is particularly menacing to most people, but you don't even know me, I will cut you

Then, we heard what sounded like a gunshot.

The hills around us weren't high, but they were rolling enough to create an echo.  A gunshot is pretty clear even when it's not quiet out, and this one sounded close.  We both heard it, paused and looked at each other, and commented on it.  I told Allyn we needed to leave, and as we turned to head back toward the car, another gunshot rang out.  This time, the bullet ricocheted off the train track next to me.  It was maybe fifteen feet away.

I couldn't and still can't believe this! At the time, a generous estimate of our location  was maaaaaybe ten, twenty feet inside the open gate.  We weren't vandalizing.  We were looking.  I was visibly pregnant.  It just blows my mind that an "abandoned" town would have Area 51 style security with zero warning.  Obviously over it, we got in the car and left, but couldn't stop talking about it the whole way home.  Who was up there?  What was going on, why were they so ...aggressive?  Was it the 3 insane residents who chose to live up there?  Where were they when all these other bloggers/urban explorers were around?  I had to know more.

So I got home, and googled Hiawatha the minute I had the chance.

The tagline reads "Police in Carbon County have arrested a man who is accused of fatally shooting his mother and younger brother at a ranch several miles outside the ghost town of Hiawatha."  I couldn't believe it!!  This happened in November of 2016, and we were there in June of 2017--this was very recent.

I learned that the son who shot his mom, at the time, had no known motive.  It was a mystery why he committed the crime. I continued researching this over the months, and what came out eventually was that the killer was "on drugs".  Okay.  And so his mother and brother came all the way out to the middle of nowhere just to get shot by him?  And he was randomly on drugs, in the middle of nowhere, waiting there to shoot his family?

To quote Pete, from O Brother:

If you Google Hiawatha and its connected mines, quite a few articles pop up about "accidents" and "unsafe conditions" from the "newly opened mine."  Well, that explains it then; the mine is owned by someone, and re-opened!  The area is coming to life with new mining and drilling prospects, and articles from 2010 onward talk about the "new" business in the area.  With the murder still on my mind, it was particularly interesting that the proprietors of this new mine were accused of having child laborers by some, and of being a 'dangerous cult' by others.  The internet quietly lists "ANR Inc" as the property owner.  Their website is informationless.  A job search literally says "we have no openings, we will contact you if you're a good fit."  Hmmm.  So where else did that business name show up?

Here, on a website calling the Kingston Clan the "largest sex crime organization in the United States." Finally, a name and face to the cult!  While in Sweden I heard the big news about a huge blow-up of FBI seizing properties belonging to a Mormon polygamist group, but I was too busy eating rotten fish and standing far away from others at bus stops, to pay it much attention.  I'd heard tales of polygamy groups in Utah but was under the impression that, like the Amish, they were peaceful segregates who liked sheep and cheese and fields.  Incorrect.  The Kingston Clan are a sort of quasi-cousin to the FLDS, whose leader is currently in prison for child sexual abuse.  I believe the spat they're currently having is over who are the actual descendants of Jesus.  Bet that's an awkward Thanksgiving dinner.

The Kingstons believe that their blood is pure and so they interbreed, and girls often get courted and groomed by age 12.  They force their families to work in the family businesses, and the multiple households all qualify for food stamps and state assistance, which the Order uses for ????? profit, I assume.  But unlike the segregated-pioneer FLDS and their outrageous hairdos and puff sleeves, the Kingston Clan, or "the Order" as they call themselves, integrate quite well into Salt Lake society and quite a lot of them live in the Salt Lake Valley, IN OUR MIDST!  They do well, so well, actually, that I saw a name when reading that website that jumped out at me.  It was a vendor at my company!  No way.

I started watching the show Escaping Polygamy (SERIOUSLY watch it if you haven't!) It follows the events of three of the Kingston daughters who help others escape the cult.  They detail how the Order forces the children to work and the women to basically become baby machines.  These people are isolated from their own families, with the men having multiple wives and plenty of children that they don't support financially or ever see.  The Order grooms the girls from childhood and basically the boys are chopped liver who end up homeless or on drugs if they don't have a spot waiting for them (hint, they don't, we know that old white men don't like to give up their spots for retirement easily.)  The "jobs" are not listed federally, they do not pay taxes, and the Order has their own internal "bank" where work-for-free teens begrudgingly hand members their own money if it's approved by the order.  Their "paychecks" are only cashable at their bank.

Remember the vendor that comes to my company whose business was listed on that website, as being owned by the Kingstons? Same as the mine.  No website.  No phone.  No legitimate trace on the net that I could find.  Well..one day he shows up for his usual job and I sprang on him like a deranged Agent Cooper.  "Do you work for the Kingstons?" "Are they cult?" "What's your paycheck like?" "I NEED TO KNOW THINGS." He was very open about it; he actually did work for the Order and confirmed that a) the business is owned by a Kingston and b) everything else I'd read was true.  His paycheck was unable to be direct-deposited; he had to have one of the 12 year old 'bankers' in their warehouse cash it every payday.  Apparently this business as well as their others employ outsiders, but are very wary and careful about who knows what.  His wife was fired from a Kingston owned business for no apparent reason.  How this guy was so chill about his employer is beyond me, because I'm sitting in front of him shrieking about Jim Jones and Flavor-Aid and he didn't bat an eyelash.

Well, to wrap up the story, I watched an episode of Escaping Polygamy, an 'update' so to speak (even though they had all previously aired) and at the end a dedication to a deceased mother was shown.  I remembered her from the prior episode; she of course was attempting to leave the Order.  A random Deseret News article states this:

Although investigators have not released a motive for the killings, some who identified themselves as family members on social media noted that Peterson died while "trying to protect her children."

This woman--Susan--had publicly, on television, came out to stand against the Order.  She gave details of how they work, the illegal activities they do, and she was attempting to remove her children from the Order.  More details about why she was in the middle of nowhere revealed that she was in the remote area to "help her son"..Seth, the one who shot her.  That son is still with the Order.  The Order owns the mines and land that contains Hiawatha.

I'm not going to sit and make accusations or speculate.  I think it's clear what happened, tin foil hat me if you want.  It is absolutely horrible what happened to Susan and James, and I feel so badly for her other children.  Life without a mother is the absolute worst.

So that's my story of how a simple attempt at a ghost town visit opened my eyes to the cult that operates in my very own city, and the story of how I found out just who was shooting at us that day in the desert.  I'm not shilling for Amazon, but they have a great deal on the seasons of Escaping Polygamy--check it out if you're like me and fascinated by cults.

See you in 2018!

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