Brigham Young High School
& Its Largest Family

The Pearly Gates at Brigham Young Academy
What is BYH's largest family?

Here is a history trivia question for BYH alumni:

What is the name of the family that has achieved a longer association with Provo's Brigham Young Academy campus than any other? If you guessed the Johnsons, Smiths, Youngs, Andersons, Taylors or Clarks, you may feel that you are close to the mark.

However, I would like to tell you about one family that, from pioneer times on, has produced far more BYA and BYH matriculants than all of those named, combined.

The correct answer is the Feral family, sometimes known as the Rock family (hereafter the "Family"). This family early on established a meek dynasty that has inherited a singular place in the Academy's long history through group longevity.

If you do not instantly recognize their names, it is probably because the members of this Provo Family are rather shy -- some would say aloof and cliquish. As far as I know, the Family has not produced any renowned scholars, champion athletes, or dependable insurance agents, attorneys or physicians.

Most of the members of the Family that I have observed are not even very articulate in the English language, because of inherited physical traits that have been passed down through the generations.

It would probably be wrong to go so far as to say the members of the Family are "beloved" by other BYH alumni and faculty, but everyone who has observed them admits that as a group they are persistent and prolific.

BYH students and visitors to the lower campus, now known as Academy Square, occasionally still take offense at Family behavior. You really cannot claim you are an initiated alumnus unless one or more of them has hazed you by dropping something like white paint on you. In fact, historians may someday discover that the Family deserves credit for originating the idea of "whitewashing the Y".

I noticed during my years at BYH that they had near perfect attendance, and usually conversed among themselves during class and after school in low voices. They were easy to spot, if you wanted to find them, because they dressed in different shades of gray, and when patched, the patches were white.

You might even have guessed that Family members were homeless individuals, but that would not be the truth. Their ancestral homes are carefully chosen crevices and cracks near the tops of favorite buildings, where they have always rested and meditated a great deal, well out of the reach of marauding raptors and the elements.


By 1965 I had been attending BY High School for several years. Like most other students on campus, I went about my daily activities almost oblivious to the existence of the Feral Pigeon family. They never picked fights, and when they indiscreetly hazed you they vanished so quickly that any feeling of outrage you might have felt, vanished while you raced to a restroom to make a diligent effort at spot removal.

One day in 1965 a rogue member of this high-flying Family must have grossly offended someone in Authority. Meetings were held, Plans were made, and Steps were taken against the Family.

The Feral Family of Provo

But those who chose to combat the Feral Family were highly educated people in a college town -- in today's parlance one might say that they were "politically correct." If anyone had any idea of using violence against any members of the Family, these notions were quickly dismissed. Firearms, poisons and traps were never seriously contemplated as weapons in this war.

No, the chosen method of dealing with the Family involved the discreet use of a chemical, potassium nitrate, commonly known as "saltpeter." I do not know whether this chemical's reputed ingested effect has ever been scientifically proven, but today one might say it is supposed to have the opposite effect of Viagra. It has been rumored for hundreds of years that it has been used in foodstuffs to lower the libido of men in military service, and so on.

So the orders went forth to the BYU Physical Facilities and its ground crews:

Spread saltpeter-saturated corn kernels on the grounds around BY High;
Spread BYU's tastiest anti-aphrodisiac wherever Feral pigeons might fly!

As students we scarcely noticed the small yellow kernels under our feet as we went from class to class, but when dead pigeons began to appear on the sidewalks, we did take notice. And for the first time we became aware of the drifts of corn kernels all around us.

We asked our teachers to find out if BYU was poisoning the pigeons.

"No," was their response. "They are simply receiving a humane dose of saltpeter." The teachers appeared to know all about the population-control campaign against the Family.

"What does saltpeter do?"

And for the first time we began to understand saltpeter jokes.

"But why are the pigeons dying, if saltpeter is not a poison?" we asked.

"I don't know," said our chemistry teacher, Mr. Owen Bennion. "It doesn't make sense to me."

It was students who solved the mystery.

"The pigeons are being fed for the first time in their lives," they observed. "They're overeating, which causes them to have trouble flying, and when they fall from great heights, sometimes the fall breaks their necks."

No better explanation has ever been offered.


There was a general murmur of alarm among the student body. "We should do something -- we should protest!" After all, it was the 1960s!

Concerned students wrote editorials and letters to the editors of various publications -- but I think most were rejected. We told teachers and administrators that we felt the killing of our pigeons was wrong, but they only joked about it.

Thinking aloud one day, I said, "We should build a giant pigeon and suspend it in front of the Education building, along with a sign that says, 'Save Our BYH Pigeons!' "

My friends thought it was a great idea. I knew this was not the sort of project that could wait until next week. We must strike now because freshly saltpetered corn was being spread every Monday morning, and by Monday afternoon the sidewalks were littered with dead and dying pigeons.

I lived in Springville while attending BYH, and that night I built a framework of small scrap lumber one-by-ones, until it resembled the general shape of a bird.

"What are you doing?" my parents asked, since I was building it in the middle of our living room floor.

"It's a project for one of my classes," I fibbed. "It represents a pigeon. Do we have an old white sheet that I can use to cover it?"
A frame design for the Flight of the Feral Pigeon.

My parents had become accustomed long ago to my many strange BYH projects. After trying to sound interested by asking a few more questions, which I answered as vaguely as possible, they retreated to other family activities. Wanting to be supportive, my wonderful Mom soon came up with the needed white sheet.

I cut the sheet into an oversized pattern and loosely stitched the white cloth to the frame. It looked better than I had anticipated, except the beak of the bird did not look right. Remembering a large orange balloon in our basement, I cut off the air nozzle end and pulled it over the beak. It stayed in place perfectly, and looked like it had been designed for that purpose.

We had a fairly new sky-blue Chevrolet pickup (which is still parked in my driveway today -- now an antique vehicle), and its bed easily held my pigeon effigy with its six-foot wingspread.

I found a lot of new clothesline rope in our garage, which I appropriated and threw in the back of the pickup.

According to plan, I drove to the school at about 4 am, and there met several friends at the driveway in front of the Education Building. The list of my fellow protesters is dim in my mind, so I'll just name the usual suspects: Phil Thomas, John Boshard, Jim Petty, Roger Sheffield, Leo Beckwith, John Gardner, and Lynn Tolley. [Please let me know if I left off any proud participant's name, and visa versa.]

We had never noticed how very tall the building was before. We had some vague idea of throwing the rope up until it caught on something, then pulling the pigeon up into place to dangle over the front steps. After many attempts, we concluded that this method just wasn't happening.

Our ace-in-the-hole was our secret access to the bell tower. First entering the photography lab, we could open the door to the bell tower steps by pulling a string, hidden in an unused keyhole of said door. From the bell tower we crossed a small bridge to the large flat roof. But we didn't want to reveal our secret, either, which would end our ability to access the roof.

With the clock ticking ever closer to the early-morning arrival of the faculty, we emerged on the roof and discovered we could throw both ends of the rope over a cornice, to make it look like we had done so from the ground. Those on the ground tied one end of the rope to the giant pigeon, then pulled it up slowly, allowing our large sign to dangle from its belly: "Save Our BYH Pigeons!"

It dangled a bit off center from one of the cornices on the left side of the building, but we felt it still looked quite impressive. Someone suggested that we call the Daily Herald to ask them send a photographer over, but we decided this was an internal family thing, just between BYH and BYU, and so held off on alerting the public media.

The Flight of the Feral Protest Pigeon
The Flight of the Feral Protest Pigeon.

We hid all of the peripheral evidence, then headed for our first class.

It took the powers-that-be several class periods to figure out how to lower a brave janitor down from rooftop to cornice, and to somehow remove the pigeon. Unfortunately, when the noon hour came, the giant pigeon had already disappeared from view.

Several students reported that they later saw the pigeon effigy propped in the corner of Principal Lowell Thomson's office. I never saw it again.

But that afternoon, Mr. Thomson passed me in the hallway and said quietly, "How in the world did you get that darn thing up there?"

I quickly observed that Mr. Thomson did not appear angry, and in fact looked somewhat amused, so I took a chance and said quietly, "Believe me, it wasn't easy!"

That would have been the perfect time for our large Principal to grab me by the shoulders and proclaim that I had just admitted my guilt -- instead he just shook his head. I hurried on to my next class relieved, but still just a little worried.


The next day a half-dozen BYU students who worked on the grounds crews showed up with brooms and dustpans. They swept all of the sidewalks and asphalt courtyard between buildings. We even saw them up on the roof, sweeping up the adulterated corn that had been spread there.

We were impressed, and when we passed Principal Lowell Thomson and Assistant Principal Wallace Allred in the halls, we thanked them for listening and taking action. They just listened and didn't say anything. In the time-honored relationship between students and school administrators, administrators never acknowledge such things to students.

I have seen quite a few photographs of the newly renovated Brigham Young Academy building on Academy Square, and I don't see any members of the Family in any of these photos, but I know they are quite shy. And I know they are still there, enjoying the view, circling serenely and everlastingly initiating the unsuspecting.

--Larry Christensen, BYH Class of 1966

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