St. George, Utah & Zion National Park History
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints came west in 1847 and settled in the Salt Lake Valley. Their leader, Brigham Young, was interested in establishing a trade route to the Pacific Ocean and developed settlements along this route where travelers could obtain food, water and other needed supplies. This route roughly follows parts of Interstate 15 from Salt Lake City.
One of the key players in the settlement of St. George and southern territory was Jacob Hamblin. Born in Ohio 1819, Jacob joined the Mormon church in 1842 and followed the saints West to Salt Lake City. In 1854 Brigham Young assigned Jacob to be a missionary to the Indians in the southern parts of the territory. He was considered a great friend by the Indians because of his great integrity, and was heavily involved in keeping the peace between settlers and Native Americans. During the civil war it was nearly impossible to obtain cotton from the southern states and in 1861, Brigham Young sent 309 families to the St. George area with the express purpose of growing cotton and other products conducive to the climate. Many of these early settlers were from America's southern states and the area soon became know as "Dixie" because of its inhabitants, location, climate and agricultural products. Cotton, silk, dried fruit, molasses, and pecans were just some of the many products produced in the area.
The Utah territory was officially declared a state of the United States in 1896 and the St. George area is still widely known as "Utah's Dixie". There is some uncertainty as to how St. George received its name but there are two theories: 1- Named for George A. Smith who was heavily involved in the selection of the families who settled the area in 1861 and was recognized as a great leader in the region. 2- Named for Phillip St. George Cooke who donated wagons and supplies to the early settlement.
Life in this arid climate was very difficult for the early pioneers. With intense summer heat and just a few inches of annual rainfall, farming was a difficult endeavor at best. Unusually heavy rains or flash floods often destroyed crops and buildings, but the settlers persevered and began to build a city.
St. George Temple & Other Historic Sites
The St. George Temple, an important structure for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was completed and dedicated in 1877 at a cost of $800,000 dollars. It was the first Mormon temple completed West of the Mississippi River. Other major structures in the early community were the Tabernacle, Courthouse, Social Hall and Opera House.
Historic Brigham Young Home:
Tours offered daily from 9:00 a.m. to Dusk
The accomplishments and abilities of Brigham Young were summarized years later by and English journalist by the name of Harold J. Shepstone. "In the development of those desert wastes, Brigham Young dug canals, imported plants and animals, built railways and telegraphs, established industries and banks, constructed theaters and universities, and encouraged literature, music, and art. The hand-press for the newspaper and the machinery for the first sugar factory were brought by ox-teams across a thousand miles of desert sand. He planned and erected temples and tabernacles still used by his people today and the wonder of modern architects. He was the founder of hundreds of cities and settlements and the Governor of one of the Territories of the United States.
At the same time he took care of an almost constant stream of immigration from the Old world and across the American continent, establishing men in places where they could be independent and subsist themselves, all the while acting as their spiritual leader, adviser, and guide.
He possessed, in superlative degree, qualifications that always go with greatness: intelligence, loyalty, faith and courage. "It is possible to disagree with his religious belief, but it is not possible on the record of history, to question his sincerity nor his superb statesmanship."
In reference to St. George, Brigham Young prophesied the following: "There will yet be built between these volcanic ridges, a city, with spires and towers and steeples, with homes containing many inhabitants."
Old Washington County Courthouse
Completed in 1876 the brick and mortar for this building were locally manufactured. The basement was used as a jail, while the first floor served as the main offices for Washington County. The walls were built 18 inches thick to provide some respite from the hot-summers. Rooms on the second floor were used for school classes and as a courtroom.
Constructed of black lava rock from the nearby hills, the one-room jailhouse still retains the original bars. It is believed that the building was constructed by Sheriff Hardy around the year 1880.
St. George Tabernacle:(Free tours daily)
The basement walls of this building are three foot wide slabs of limestone and were hand quarried from the nearby hills. The structures upper levels have two-and-one-half foot sandstone walls and wooden trusses hand-hewn with a broad-ax from lumber taken from mountains 32 miles away. The interior wood and plaster work are all done by hand, including twin spiral staircases with balustrades and railing. The Tabernacle, which took 13 years to construct, was a meeting place for many occasions. The clock in the tower was made in London, and a bell in the tabernacle rang out the time across the valley to let farmers know when it was time to come in from the fields for lunch, time to come to meetings, when dignitaries were arriving, etc.
Nowhere in North America has silver been found in sandstone rock, except just North of St. George in a town known as Silver Reef. For approximately a decade, from 1873 to 1885 Silver Reef grew to become the largest town in southern Utah. There are various stories of how silver was found in the area, but once found miners and companies from nearby Nevada, left the mines which were playing out and relocated to the reef. In this area Geologic pressures forced a long North to South section of white sandstone to buckle and stand up on its side causing it to look somewhat like an ocean reef. Saloons, hotels, mercantile shops, popped up over night and soon nearly 2,000 people inhabited this rough mining town. Chinese immigrants played a major role in the towns economy and at one time there were as many as 500 Chinese people inhabiting Silver Reef. Gun fights, gambling, horse-racing, rifle contests and a myriad of other activities were a regular part of life for the miners who extracted over 8-million dollars worth of silver from the area. However, when the silver played, the wooden buildings, miners, companies all disappeared leaving only remnants of the town. Today Silver Reef is a unique and coveted place to build a home, because of its beautiful setting near the red and white sandstone cliffs at the base of Pine Valley Mountain\
Early History- Anasazi Indians
The first known inhabitants of the region were the Anasazi Indians (Ancient Ones), who entered the region around 200 B.C. and left around 1200 A.D. The reason for their disappearance is unknown. They left dwellings, rock-art and other evidence of their 1,000 year existence in the southwest.
It is generally agreed that the Paiute Indians of Southwestern Utah entered the region between 1100 and 1200 A.D. The Paiutes were and are a relatively small tribe made up of several different bands (generally a few hundred people in each band), each with their own names and leaders.
Traditionally the Paiutes survived by foraging for seeds, roots, berries and nuts and by hunting for deer, rabbits, mountain sheep and other animals. Along the banks of rivers, through irrigation, the Paiutes raised corn, wheat, melons, squash and various other vegetables.
Like other tribes, the Paiutes frequently migrated from lower to higher elevations depending on the season, following weather patterns and food sources.
Legends among the Paiutes centered around the Wolf, Coyote and other animals who were involved in the creation and various other aspects of history and life.
Indians from the much larger and aggressive Ute and Navajo tribes raided the Paiute settlements, stealing possessions in addition to women and children who were sold or traded into slavery.
The first known contact of Europeans and Paiutes was recorded by the Spanish Dominguez-Escalante group, who passed through southwestern Utah in 1676. Later trappers and emigrants passed through the region with the eventual permanent settlement of St. George by Mormon Pioneers in 1861.
The Mormons made great efforts to befriend and educate the Paiutes, but the Indians found it difficult to adapt to new ways. Starvation and disease had an impact on the populations of the various bands. The first reservation for the Paiutes was established in 1891 west of St. George at Shivwits. The Paiute existence was meager at best and in the 1950s the tribe's official recognition was terminated by the federal government, and thus the Paiute people were left without federal support for health, education or agriculture. It was not until 1980 when legislation was passed by congress, to again recognize the tribe, that lands and funds were restored for tribal use.