Utah is not known as a resort for British nobility, especially "lords" who made their homes in desert dugouts. But one of Utah Territory's reputed noblemen did just that. He built a cattle empire on the Mormon frontier and then vanished mysteriously, leaving behind nothing but a legend.
About 1880, a young Englishman calling himself Lord Scott Elliott wandered into Carbon County. He made some sort of deal with the trapper who was living at Big Springs, about thirty miles south of Price between East Carbon and Sunnyside. Neither the trapper nor the lord ever acquired proper title to the ranch. In 1948, C. W. McCullough, a Utah historian, tracked down old-timers who had known His Lordship, but by then truth and legend were hopelessly entwined. McCullough acknowledged that most statements about Elliott should be followed by a question mark rather than a period.
According to local lore, Lord Scott was tall, squarely built and skilled at the art of fisticuffs. People believed he was a "remittance man," the younger son of a noble British family sent out to make his own way in the world. The West was filled with such men, who usually survived on a small allowance from their families. Legend allowed that Elliott had left England "by request" and received money from his family on the condition that he stay out of that country. Then, again, "Lord" Scott may have used a small stake, acquired, say, in an unauthorized bank withdrawal, to bluff and battle his way into control of a vast rangeland. In a time when every man was the law unto himself and the frontier Mormon creed was mind your own business, few of his neighbors asked questions.
For some fifteen years, Elliott ran cattle and 30,000 sheep across Carbon and Emery counties. (But he wouldn't have a hog on his place.) Every summer the Big Springs Ranch put up 1,000 tons of hay. He built a fourteen-room ranch house and a matched team of black horses pulled his fine buckboard. Elliott packed a "belt of guns" and blasted away at rocks, fence posts and critters as he toured his empire. Locals laughed when he shipped in grouse and quail to ensure good hunting for his guests. Nonetheless, they were impressed.
Such a tale would not be complete without a romance, and a shy, petite, young, attractive and enigmatic woman brought love to Big Springs. Most people believed she was Elliott's wife, but some old-timers insisted he never had a wife.
Nature, bad luck and national finance conspired to destroy Lord Scott's estate. Hard winters and dry summers used up the desert's pastures. The depression of 1893 knocked the bottom out of the sheep market. Tragedy struck when his elegantly furnished ranch house burned to the ground. When his wife died, it was the final blow. Not having title to the ranch, Elliott sold what he could of the Big Springs outfit and stock in 1894 and vanished as mysteriously as he had appeared.
Historian McCullough perceptively noted that Utah's history is "primarily a story of its waterholes." The ranch later ruined several men who tried to harness Big Springs and, ultimately, the Denver & Rio Grande railroad bought the property and its water.
Was Scott Elliott a scion of English nobility or a romantic fraud? If he was a peer, he didn't appear in Burke's Peerage. More probably he was an adventurer, the kind of man who could build a life in a hard land out of nothing.
And what happened to Lord Scott Elliott? Some said he returned to England. Others insisted he went to China. Most reliable old-timers claimed he was spotted in a timber camp in Canada, ramrodding a herd of elephants in the logging business.
Will Bagley is a Utah historian and writer.