Cove Fort Historical Site
Fort Willden

Charles William Willden (1806-1883)

A Baptist minister and steel refiner from Sheffield, England, Charles Willden was politically active during the time of Ireland’s fight for freedom. He was a man of conviction and action. He married Eleanor Turner in 1833. While in Sheffield, Charles became a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and four years later served as a missionary in his native England from May 1844-1849.

Eleanor Turner Willden (1810-1893)

The daughter of Thomas Turner and Ann Whitman, Eleanor Turner married Charles William Willden in 1833, was baptized a member of the LDS Church in 1843, and in the fall of 1849 bid farewell to her family to emigrate to the state of Utah. She was an excellent singer and gave dramatic readings. She was known to be kind hearted and extended compassion to those in need.

In the fall of 1849 Charles and his family boarded the ship Zetlandsailing with other church members to America. Landing two months later at New Orleans, they then proceeded on to Council Bluffs, Iowa where they engaged in farming for the next two years. In June of 1852 they left to gather with the Saints in the Great Salt Lake Valley, arriving 13 September 1852.


Called by Brigham Young to Cedar City

Upon hearing of Charles Willden’s arrival to the valley, President Brigham Young (president of the LDS Church) immediately dispatched Charles Willden to Cedar City known as Coal Creek to help in the production of iron. While en route to Cedar City to help in the production of iron, they camped one night at a place called Cove Creek. Surveying the valley, Charles remarked that it would be a lovely place to settle. Faithful to the call given, Charles Willden continued on to Cedar city. The settlers were engaged in building log cabins inside a 100 yard square fort with a stockade, assembly court and a liberty pole in the center. With the influx of more iron workers to Cedar City, it was realized that the tiny fort was not adequate to handle the additional workers and their families. In 1853 Brigham Young sent an additional 100 families to Cedar City. A larger and better fort was begun. It was 6 times larger than the Temple block of Salt Lake City, housing 455 inhabitants including women and children. The walls were 10 feet high, made of adobe on a rock foundation 3 feet thick tapering to 1 foot thick at the top. No doubt this gave the Willdens insight into fort building techniques which they later applied to the building of Fort Willden and Cove Fort.

In 1853 a cloudburst washed out the roads and many buildings at the iron works. Indian hostilities escalated into the Walker Indian War. In 1856 the settlers took heavy losses of cattle which were stolen by Indians. 1856 was also the year of bread scarcity. By 1859 the iron works had become a failure, due in part to poor ore. Many settlers, including the Willdens left in search of better lands. The Willdens settled in the sinks area southeast of Beaver. The land proved to be poor for farming. Charles often thought of Cove Creek and finally bought 160 acres from Matthew McEwen who had sheep there. In the Fall of 1860, with no manpower or financial aid from the church, Charles and his son Ellot built an adobe house on the south bank of Cove Creek and eventually enclosed it with a cedar post stockade of about 150 feet square. The posts were 8 to 10 feet high, placed so close together that they formed a solid wall. Doors and windows were not yet in place when they had to cache wheat for next spring’s planting and head back home to Beaver for the winter.

Occupation of Fort Willden

The following spring, Charles’s recently married daughter Ann and her husband Neils Johnson were returning from Salt Lake City after a fruitless search for work when they were trapped by a terrible snow storm. By the time they reached Cove Creek, Wild Cat Canyon was impassable to wagon travel, being snowed in. They were forced to stay at Cove Creek in the adobe house built by Charles. They hung blankets and quilts in the windows and built a roaring fire in an effort to keep warm. This was inadequate, so they made a dugout. They soon ran out of food and were forced to find Charles’ ‘cached’ wheat intended for next spring’s planting and boil the wheat to eat it. Other wheat was ground between two stones and sifted through Anne’s veil. Travelers passing through to Beaver took note of their plight and told her parents, Charles and Eleanor Willden, loaded up their wagon with windows, doors and other necessary provisions and moved to Cove Creek.

Early Pioneer Campsite and Refuge

Cove Creek and Fort Willden became well known to early pioneers and a favorite camping place for travelers, enclosing two houses, a dugout, and a corral. Among the many travelers who visited Fort Wiliden, were Brigham Young in September of 1862 along with Elders Lorenzo Snow, John Taylor, Ezra T. Benson and others on their way to Corn Creek (Kanosh). They dined with the Willdens on their return trip September 19th 1862. By this time, the Willdens had 9 acres of grain with extensive grazing range for sheep and cattle. Living there at this time was Charles Willden Sr., wife Eleanor, and family, Ellott Willden family, Anne Willden Johnson, husband Neils, and baby, John and Feargus O’Connor Willden.

Evacuation of Fort Willden

By 1865 Indian depredations were becoming more prevalent and dangerous with tensions heightened by the Black Hawk Indian War. Eleanor Wiliden narrowly escaped death at the fort when Indians attacked. The Wiliden’s sheep got the scab and many died as a result. Many calves died in the severe winter of 1864-65. These, combined with other concerns made for a discouraging year, and Charles resolved to return to Beaver, Utah still retaining claim to Fort Willden.

Construction of Cove Fort

In 1867 realizing the need for a permanent fortification, safe way station and refuge for travelers, Ira N. Hinckley was called by Brigham Young to oversee the construction of a new fort at Cove Creek. Catapulting this determination to erect a network of forts into a reality, was no doubt the Walker War, 1853-54 and the Black Hawk War, 1865-68. Brigham Young’s emphasis was “safety in numbers” and removing “temptation” from the path of the Native Americans which would spare bloodshed. By such bloodshed were many wars started, and he felt that in preventing it, the resulting wars could be avoided as well.

Cove Creek was a natural spot for overnight camping, being the mid-point between principal communities. It afforded water, plentiful firewood nearby and ample food for livestock in season. Carriers of the U.S. Mail, agents of the stagecoach line, operators of the Deseret Telegraph, and freighters sought the refuge and convenience afforded by Cove Fort as it came to be known. The location of Cove Fort was 25 miles north of Beaver and 33 miles southwest of Fillmore. In 1867 the LDS Church bought the necessary property and construction of Cove Fort began in earnest. Brother Hinckley’s first concern was the repair of Fort Willden to house some of the workmen. Charles Willden and some of his sons worked diligently on the rock fort, living in their old fort home as they did so with Eleanor Willden cooking for some of the workmen. Charles’ son Feargus O’Connor mixed mortar with lime till he got lime in his eyes and returned to Beaver. He also fought in the Black Hawk Indian War and was awarded a medal. The first telegraph that came through Milliard County went through Fort Willden.


In 1903 WH. Kesler leased the property from the LDS church and in 1904 moved his family in. His son Otto lived there since he was a lad of eight. By 1905 there was nothing left of Fort Willden but the foundations. The LDS Church finally conveyed to William Henry Kesler, Cove Fort and surrounding property on August 21, 1919. Four or five generations of Keslers lived at Cove Fort restoring it and operating a museum there. Over the years, 3 of the 5 cottonwood trees that the Willdens planted died and the land was cleared of rocks used in its construction. Finally in 1948 or 49 all remaining traces of Fort Willden were leveled off by the Kesler family who have lived on or owned the land since 1904.

This brief summary of Fort Willden is to give credit to the Charles & Eleanor Willden family who truly pioneered the area and were the builders of Fort Willden—forerunner to Cove Fort. Their participation and efforts also in the building of Cove Fort are added to those of other pioneers who gave of their time and talents in establishing a foot hold in the Rocky Mountains. On September 21, 1996 the LDS Church sponsored a ceremony and a new plaque commemorating the history of the site, honoring the Willden family, which was attended by 850 descendants of Charles and Eleanor Willden. This was one of the largest family reunions in Utah history. This is a fitting memorial and tribute to the efforts of one pioneering family and their continuing influence.