|Special Thanks to the
Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum
300 North Main Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84103
Click here for map & driving instructions.
Also a very special thanks to
Author, Celise Salmon
"The Life of Ralph Ramsay"
The Man Who Carved the Eagle Gate
Melissa Ramsay Cluff, Granddaughter
(Nov 25th, 1897 to Nov 23rd, 1991)
It was an honor to have known her...
The Eagle gate is one of the most historic land marks of Utah. Its fame extends over most of the civilized world, but little is heard of the man who carved this bird of freedom that once surmounted this picturesque archway. He is Ralph Ramsay, who was born to Joseph and Mary Bainbridge Ramsay, January 22, 1824 near Ryton, County of Durham, England.
At the age of fifteen he was bound an apprentice to William Hobbs, a wood carver and turner. After a number of years he opened up a shop of his own. He joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and was baptized in the river of Tyne, July 8th, 1849. He did missionary work and was made second councilor in the presidency of that part of the church.
His first wife Emma Clark who gave birth to a child; at its birth both mother and child died.
Later he married Elizabeth Burns and left England for America, March 18th, 1856 arriving in Boston, after seven weeks of sailing time. Leaving Boston they arrived at the Camp Grounds of the Saints in Iowa, where he worked making hand carts and on June 11, 1856 they began their long westward trek, under the leadership of Dan McArthur and Edmond Ellsworth. They buried two children along the trail, one child having been born along the way. After three and a half months in travel they arrived in Salt Lake Valley, September 26th, 1856.
Being a wood carver and turner by trade, he did the first of that kind of work in Utah. Much of the furniture in the Brigham Young home was fashioned by his hands. He did carving in the old Salt Lake Theater, the Bee and Lion Houses, the Temple, Tabernacle and many other old land marks in Salt Lake City. He also carved the oxen used as a pattern in the baptismal fonts in the temples.
The eagle of the Eagle Gate was carved at the request of Brigham Young and placed over the entrance of the Young home in the year 1859. The wood of which it was made was brought of City Creek Canyon. The eagle of which it was patterned was killed in the City Creek Canyon and measured eleven feet from tip to tip. Speaking to a representative from the Deseret News, sometime before his death, regarding his career as an expert tradesman, he said “while the Eagle may furnish the most notable piece of work I did, it was the least of my carving, but as that old wooden bird, I am proud to say I carved every curve in his body. It is, it was my work from beginning to end. I want to say this much for reason that it has been stated that someone else had a hand in it. That is not true; it is all my work from beak to talons. I did the carving, all of it, every whit. Put that down my boy. Its mine all mine” and his eyes flashed the pride in his heart felt.
One of his carved pieces of furniture, a bedstead, given to the Daughters of Utah Pioneers by his son, James Burns Ramsay and housed the museum of that organization in Salt Lake City was begun in 1861. He carried it with him through Utah, Arizona, into Old Mexico, back to Arizona and Utah again. He collected pieces of wood along his travels and carved it over a period of many years. It features an Eagle on its nest with heads of Eagles, other birds, bee hives and dog heads.
In October 1872, he with his family moved to Richfield, Sevier County, Utah, where he had been called by Brigham Young to colonize. And he built houses and furniture for the saints. His own house, a large ten-room house, was built at 57 East 2nd North, just east of the Sevier County court house. At the time of this writing it is about ninety years old and still in very good condition. It is the home of James B. Ramsay. It was built with several fireplaces and one is especially beautifully carved. The second story of his house was used as his workshop, and was always full of furniture in the making. Much Red Cedar from West Mountain went into its construction. He made coffins for the Joseph Horne Funeral. Directors, plain wood boxes, painted outside and lined with soft cotton flannel.
From Richfield he was called by President Young to go to St. Johns Arizona for Colonization. From there he went to Old Mexico with the first Mormon colony. Here he fashioned furniture and camp stools. Not finding any lumber he used his hand saw and only scrub trees. After two years he returned to Arizona and settled in Snowflake. Her he found the fruits of his toil, both private and public buildings. The Flake House is noted for its artistry and hand carving.
He found his greatest happiness in helping build up Zion and no one was ever denied his services for the want of means.
His death came in a most quiet and peaceful manner at the edge of eighty-one January 25th, 1905 at Snowflake, Arizona.
In October 1872, Ralph Ramsay with his family moved to Richfield, Sevier County, Utah, where he had been called by Brigham Young to colonize. And he built houses and furniture for the saints. His own house, a large ten-room house, was built at 57 East 2nd North, just east of the Sevier County court house.