October 2017

Question:

What was the “historic” name of the canyon located between Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons, known today as Deaf Smith Canyon? 

Answer:

The canyon known as Deaf Smith Canyon was originally called Little Willow Canyon, named for the willow trees that grew along its creek banks. As the population in the Salt Lake Valley grew, there was a need for new sources of lumber, but Little Willow Canyon was eventually disregarded due to the rough terrain. There was initial interest in logging, but rough terrain made lumber difficult to harvest. More than 200 mining claims were filed in and around the canyon over several decades and there was still some mining activity taking place in the canyon in the 1960s. 

Around 1895, a group of people in the Danish Town area dug a ditch, diverting water at the mouth of Little Willow Canyon to water their farms. They incorporated in 1900 as the Big Willow Irrigation Company. The company’s diversion facility is still located in the canyon.

During the early 20th Century, Little Willow Canyon was a popular place for groups to camp and then hike to Twin Peaks. 

The 1962, the USGS map of the area showed that the name of the canyon had been changed to Deaf Smith. The exact reason for the change is not known, although there was another Little Willow Canyon located south of Bell Canyon. The duplication in names did cause confusion among those owning water rights in both canyons.

Why the name was changed to Deaf Smith is a mystery. Some have wondered if it was named after the Deaf Smith who played a big role in the Texas Revolution, but that Smith died in 1837. This was long before the pioneers migrated west and no connection has been found to connect him to Utah history.