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Crossing the Mighty Colorado

   Crossing the Mighty Colorado

Early Use of "El Vado de Los Padres"

The story of the Colorado is most pertinent in a work such as this, for the river and its Grand Canyon formed a barrier that must be passed if the southward extension of Zion were to become an accomplished fact. Much of detail has been given elsewhere concerning the means of passage used by the exploring, missionary and settlement expeditions that had so much to do with Arizona's development. In this chapter there will be elaboration only to the extent of consideration of the ferries and fords that were used.

The highest of the possible points for the crossing of the Colorado in Arizona, is on the very Utah line, in latitude 37. It is the famous "Vado de los Padres," the Crossing of the Fathers, also known as the Ute ford. The first historic reference concerning it is in the journal of the famous Escalante-Dominguez priestly expedition of 1776. The party returning from its trip northward as far as Utah Lake, reached the river, at the mouth of the Paria, about November 1. The stream was found too deep, so there was a scaling of hills to the Ute ford, which was reached November 8.

This ford is approached from the northward by natural steps down the precipices, traveled by horses with some difficulty. On the southern side, egress is by way of a long canyon that has few difficulties of passage. The ford, which is illustrated in the frontispiece of this work, reproduced from an official drawing of the Wheeler expedition, may be used more than half the year. In springtime the stream is deep when the melted snows of the Rockies are drained by the spring freshet. Usually, the Mormon expeditions southward started well after the summer season, when the crossing could be made without particular danger.

The Ute ford could hardly be made possible for wagon transportation, so there was early effort to find a route for a through road. As early as November, 1858, with some such idea in view, Jacob Hamblin was at the mouth of the Paria, 35 miles southwest of the Ute ford, but was compelled, then and also in November, 1859, to pursue his journey on, over the hills, to the ford.

Ferrying at the Paria Mouth

The first crossing of the river, at the mouth of the Paria, was made by a portion of a party, headed by Hamblin, in the fall of 1860. A raft was constructed, on which a few were taken across, but, after one animal had been drowned and there had been apparent demonstration that the dangers were too great, and that there was lack of a southern outlet, the party made its way up the river to the ford.

The first successful crossing at the Paria was in March, 1864, by Hamblin, on a raft. The following year there was a Mormon settlement at or near the Paria mouth. August 4, 1869, the first of the Powell expeditions reached the mouth of the Paria, this on the trip that ended at the mouth of the Virgin.

In September, 1869, Hamblin crossed by means of a raft. That the route had been definitely determined upon was indicated by the establishment, January 31, 1870, of a Paria fort, with guards. In the fall of that year President Brigham Young visited the Paria, as is shown in a letter written by W.T. Stewart, this after the President had seen the mouth of the Virgin and otherwise had shown his interest in a southern outlet for Utah. In this same year, according to Dellenbaugh, Major Powell built a rough scow, in order to reach the Moqui towns. This was the crossing in October, when Jacob Hamblin guided Powell to the Moqui villages and Fort Defiance.

In his expedition of 1871, Powell left the river at the Ute ford and went to Salt Lake. A few days later, October 22, his men, with a couple of boats, reached the Paria for a lengthy stay, surveying on the Kaibab plateau, in the vicinity of Kanab. It was written that the boat "Emma Dean" was hidden across the river. By that time ferry service had been established, for on October 28, 1871, Jacob Hamblin and companions, on their way home from the south, were rowed across.

John D. Lee on the Colorado

It is remarkable, in the march of history, how there will cling to a spot a name that, probably, should not have been attached and that should be forgotten. This happens to be the case with Lee's Ferry, a designation now commonly accepted for the mouth of the Paria, though it commemorates the Mountain Meadows massacre, through the name of the leading culprit in that awful frontier tragedy. Yet John Doyle Lee was at the river only a few years of all the years of the ferry's long period of use. The name seems to have been started within that time, firmly fixed in the chronicles of the Powell expedition, in the books of the expeditions later and of Dellenbaugh.

John D. Lee located at the mouth of the Paria early in 1872 and named it "Lonely Dell," by Dellenbaugh considered a most appropriate designation. Lee built a log cabin and acquired some ferry rights that had been possessed by the Church.

An interesting detail of the ferry is given by J. H. Beadle, in his "Western Wilds." He told of reaching the ferry from the south June 28, 1872. The attention of a ferryman could not be attracted, so there was use of a boat that was found hidden in the sand and brush. This was the "Emma Dean," left by Powell. The ferryman materialized two days later, calling himself "Major Doyle," but his real identity was developed soon thereafter. Beadle gives about a chapter to his interview with Lee, whom he called "a born fanatic." Beadle, who had written much against the Church, also had given a false name, but his identity was discovered by Mrs. Lee through clothing marks. Beadle quoted "Mrs. Doyle" as saying that her husband had been with the Mormon Battalion. This was hardly exact, though it does appear that Lee, October 19, 1846, was in Santa Fe with Howard Egan, the couple returning to Council Bluffs with pay checks the Battalion members were sending back toward the support of their families. The two messengers had overtaken the Battalion at the Arkansas crossing. But Beadle slept safely in Lee's house, which he left on Independence Day, departing by way of Jacob's Pools.

July 13, another of Powell's boats was brought down the river. Just a month later, Powell arrived at Lonely Dell from Kanab. August 17, he started down the river again from the Paria, leaving the "Nellie Powell" to the ferryman. This trip was of short duration, for the river was left, finally, at Kanab Wash.

In May, 1873, came the first of the real southern Mormon migration. This was when H. D. Haight and his party crossed the river at the Paria, on a trip that extended only about to Grand Falls, but which was notable from the fact that it laid out the first Mormon wagon road south of the river, down to and along the Little Colorado.

October 15, 1873, was launched at the ferry, by John L. Blythe, a much larger boat than had been known before, made of timber brought from a remote point near the Utah line. That same winter Hamblin located a new road from the Paria mouth to the San Francisco Mountains.

In June of 1874, an Indian trading post was established at the ferry and there was erection of what was called a "strong fort."

In the fall of 1874, Lee departed from the river, this for the purpose of securing provisions in the southern settlements of Utah. Several travelers noted in their journals that Lee wanted nothing but provisions in exchange for ferry tolls. It was on this trip he was captured by United States marshals in southern Utah, thereafter to be tried, convicted and legally executed by shooting (March 23, 1877), on the spot where his crime had been committed.

Lee's Canyon Residence Was Brief

Much of romance is attached to Lee's residence on the Colorado. The writer has heard many tales how Lee worked rich gold deposits nearby, how he explored the river and its canyons and how, for a time, he was in seclusion among the Hava-Supai Indians in the remote Cataract Canyon, to which, there was assumption, he had brought the fruit seeds from which sprang the Indian orchards. This would appear to be mainly assumption, for Lee made his living by casual ferrying, and had to be on hand when the casual traveler called for his services. Many of the old tales are plausible, and have had acceptance in previous writings of the Author, but it now appears that Lee's residence on the Canyon was only as above stated. J. Lorenzo Hubbell states that Lee was at Moen Copie for a while before going to take charge of the ferry.

In the summer of 1877, Ephriam K. Hanks was advised by President Brigham Young to buy the ferry, but this plan fell through on the death of the President. The ferry, later, was bought from Emma Lee by Warren M. Johnson, as Church agent, he paying 100 cows, which were contributed by the people of southern Utah and northern Arizona settlements, they receiving tithing credits therefor.

About ten years ago, Lee's Ferry was visited by Miss Sharlot M. Hall, Arizona Territorial Historian. She wrote entertainingly of her trip, by wagon, northwest into the Arizona Strip, much of her diary published in 1912 in the Arizona Magazine. The Lee log cabin showed that some of its logs originally had been used in some sort of raft or rude ferryboat. There also was found in the yard a boat, said to have been one of those of the Powell expedition. This may have been the "Nellie Powell."

Of the Lee occupancy, Miss Hall tells a little story that gives insight into the trials of the women of the frontier:

"When Lee's wife stayed here alone, as she did much of the time, the Navajo Indians often crossed here and they were not always friendly. A party of them came one night and built their campfire in the yard and Mrs. Lee understood enough of their talk to know she was in danger. Brave woman as she was, she knew she must overawe them, and she took her little children and went out and spread a bed near the fire in the midst of the hostile camp and stayed there till morning. When the Navajos rode away they called her a brave woman and said she should be safe in the future."

The first real ferryboat was that built by John L. Blythe, on October 15, 1873, a barge 20x40 feet, one that would hold two wagons, loads and teams. It was in this boat that the Jas. S. Brown party crossed in 1875, and a much larger migration to the Little Colorado in the spring of 1876.

In 1877, there was consideration of the use of the Paria road, as a means for hauling freight into Arizona, at least as far as Prescott, which was estimated by R.J. Hinton as 448 miles distant from the terminus, at that time, of the Utah Southern Railroad. Via St. George and Grand Wash, the haul was set at 391 miles, though the Paria route seemed to be preferred. It should be remembered that at that time the nearest railroad was west of Yuma, a desert journey from Prescott of about 350 miles.

Crossing the Colorado on the Ice

The Paria crossing had served as route of most of the Mormon migration south. The ferry has been passed occasionally by river explorers, particularly by the Stanton expedition, which reached that point on Christmas Day, 1889, in the course of a trip down the Colorado that extended as far as salt water. The ferryboat was not needed at one stage of the history of Lee's Ferry. The story comes in the journals of several members of a missionary party. Anthony W. Ivins (now a member of the Church First Presidency) and Erastus B. Snow reached the river January 16, 1878, about the same time as did John W. Young and a number of prospective settlers bound for the Little Colorado. The Snow narrative of the experience follows:

"The Colorado River, the Little Colorado and all the springs and watering places were frozen over. Many of the springs and tanks were entirely frozen up, so that we were compelled to melt snow and ice for our teams. We (that is J.W. Young and I), crossed our team and wagon on the ice over the Colorado. I assure you it was quite a novelty to me, to cross such a stream of water on ice; many other heavily loaded wagons did the same, some with 2500 pounds on. One party did a very foolish trick, which resulted in the loss of an ox; they attempted to cross three head of large cattle all yoked and chained together, and one of the wheelers stepped on a chain that was dragging behind, tripped and fell, pulling his mate with him, thereby bringing such a heft on the ice that it broke through, letting the whole into the water; but the ice being sufficiently strong they could stand on it and pull them out one at a time. One got under the ice and was drowned, the live one swimming some length of time holding the dead one up by the yoke."

Concerning the same trip, Mr. Ivins has written the Arizona Historian that, "the river was frozen from shore to shore, but, above and below for a short distance, the river was open and running rapidly." Great care was taken in crossing, the wagons with their loads usually pulled over by hand and the horses taken over singly. Thus the ice was cracked. Mr. Ivins recites the episode of the oxen and then tells that a herd of cattle was taken across by throwing each animal, tying its legs and dragging it across. One man could drag a grown cow over the smooth ice. Mr. Ivins tells that he remained at the river several days, crossing on the ice 32 times. On the 22d the missionaries and settlers all were at Navajo Springs, ready to continue the journey. It is believed that the Colorado has not been frozen over since that time.

There now is prospect that the Paria route between Utah and Arizona will be much bettered by construction of a road that avoids Paria Creek and attains the summit of the mesa, to the northward, within a comparatively short distance. At a point six miles below the ferry, the County of Coconino, with national aid, is preparing for construction of a suspension bridge, with a 400-foot span. Upon its completion, Lee's Ferry will pass, save for its place in history.

Crossings Below the Grand Canyon

Below Lee's Ferry comes the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, cut a full mile deep for about 200 miles, in a winding channel, with only occasional spots where trails are feasible to the river's edge. A suspension bridge is being erected by the United States Forest Service below El Tovar, with a trail northward up Bright Angel Canyon. A feasible trail exists from the mouth of Kanab Wash to the northward. To the southward there is possibility of approach to the river by wagon at Diamond Creek, but the first real crossing lies immediately below the great Canyon at Grand Wash, a point where there was ferrying, in 1862, by Hamblin and a party who brought a boat from Kanab. Return on this expedition was via the Ute ford. Hamblin, with Lewis Greeley, crossed again at the Grand Wash in April, 1863, and there is record of a later trip of indefinite date, made by him on the river from Grand Wash to Callville, in company with Crosby and Miller. Several of the Hamblin expeditions crossed at Grand Wash in the years thereafter, but it appears that it was not until December, 1876, that a regular ferry there was established, this by Harrison Pearce. The place bears the name of Pearce's Ferry unto this day, though the maps give it as "Pierce." A son of Harrison Pearce, and former assistant in the operation of the ferry, James Pearce, was the first settler of Taylor on Silver Creek, Arizona, where he still resides.

The next ferry was at the mouth of the Virgin, where there were boats for crossing at necessity, including the time when President Brigham Young and party visited the locality, in March, 1870. When the settlers on the Muddy and the Virgin balloted upon the proposition of abandoning the country, Daniel Bonelli and wife were the only ones who voted the negative. When the Saints left southern Nevada, Bonelli and wife moved to a point about six miles below the mouth of the Virgin, and there established a ferry that still is owned by a son of the founder. This is the same noted on government maps as Stone's Ferry, though there has been a change of a few miles in location. About midway between the Virgin and Grand Wash, about 1881, was established the Mike Scanlon ferry. Downstream, early-day ferries were operated at the El Dorado canyon crossing and on the Searchlight road, at Cottonwood Island. W.H. Hardy ferried at Hardyville. About the later site of Fort Mohave, Capt. Geo. A. Johnston, January 23, 1858, in a stern wheel steamer, ferried the famous Beale camel expedition across the river.

Settlements North of the Canyon

Moccasin Springs, a few miles south of the Utah line and eighteen miles by road southwest of Kanab, has had no large population at any time, save that about 100 Indians were in the vicinity in 1900. The place got its name from moccasin tracks in the sand. The site was occupied some time before 1864 by Wm. B. Maxwell, but was vacated in 1866 on account of Indian troubles. In the spring of 1870, Levi Stewart and others stopped there for a while, with a considerable company, breaking land, but moved on to found Kanab, north of the line. This same company also made some improvements around Pipe Springs. About a year later, a company under Lewis Allen, mainly from the Muddy, located temporarily at Pipe Springs and Moccasin. To some extent there was a claim upon the two localities by the United Order or certain of its members. The place for years was mainly a missionary settlement, but it was told that "even when the brethren would plow and plant for them, the Indians were actually too lazy to attend to the growing crops."

That the climate of Moccasin favors growth of sturdy manhood is indicated by the history of one of its families, that of Jonathan Heaton. At hand is a photograph taken in 1905, of Heaton and his fifteen sons. Two of the sons died in accidents within the past two years, but the others all grew to manhood, and all were registered for the draft in the late war. With the photograph is a record that, of the whole family, not one individual has tasted tea, coffee, tobacco or liquor of any kind.

Arizona's First Telegraph Station

Pipe Springs is situate three miles south of Moccasin Springs and eight miles south of the Utah line. It was settled as early as 1863 by Dr. Jas. M. Whitmore, who owned the place when he was killed by the Indians January 8, 1866. President Brigham Young purchased the claims of the Whitmore estate and in 1870 there established headquarters of a Church herd, in charge of Anson P. Winsor. Later was organized the Winsor Castle Stock Growing Company, in which the Church and President Young held controlling interest. It is notable that one of the directors was Alexander F. Macdonald, later President of Maricopa Stake. At the spring, late in 1870, was erected a sizable stone building, usually known as Winsor Castle, a safe refuge from savages, or others, with portholes in the walls. In 1879 the company had consolidation with the Canaan Cooperative Stock Company. The name, Pipe Springs, had its origin, according to A.W. Ivins, in a halt made there by Jacob Hamblin and others. William Hamblin claimed he could shoot the bottom out of Dudley Leavitt's pipe at 25 yards, without breaking the bowl. This he proceeded to do.

Pipe Springs was a station of the Deseret Telegraph, extended in 1871 from Rockville to Kanab. While the latter points are in Utah, the wires were strung southward around a mountainous country along the St. George-Kanab road. This would indicate location of the first telegraph line within Arizona, as the first in the south, a military line from Fort Yuma to Maricopa Wells, Phoenix, Prescott and Tucson, was not built till 1873.

Arizona's Northernmost Village

Fredonia is important especially as the northernmost settlement of Arizona, being only three miles south of the 37th parallel that divides Utah and this State. It lies on the east bank of Kanab Creek, and is the center of a small tract of farming land, apparently ample for the needs of the few settlers, who have their principal support from stock raising. The first settlement was from Kanab in the spring of 1885, by Thomas Frain Dobson, who located his family in a log house two miles below the present Fredonia townsite. The following year the townsite was surveyed and there was occupation by Henry J. Hortt and a number of others.

The name was suggested by Erastus Snow, who visited the settlement in its earliest days, naturally coming from the fact that many of the residents were from Utah, seeking freedom from the enforcement of federal laws.

Fredonia is in Coconino County, Arizona, with county seat at Flagstaff, 145 miles distant in air line, but across the Grand Canyon. The easiest method of communication with the county seat is by way of Utah and Nevada, a distance of over 1000 miles.

Fredonia was described by Miss Sharlot M. Hall, as "the greenest, cleanest, quaintest village of about thirty families, with a nice schoolhouse and a church and a picturesque charm not often found, and this most northerly Arizona town is almost one of the prettiest. The fields of alfalfa and grain lie outside of the town along a level valley and are dotted over with haystacks, showing that crops have been good." Reference is made to the fact that some of the families were descended from the settlers of the Muddy Valley. There had been the usual trouble in the building of irrigating canals and the washing away of headgates by floods that came down Kanab Creek. Miss Hall continued, "I am constantly impressed with the courage and persistence of the Mormon colony; they have good, comfortable houses here that have been built with the hardest labor amidst floods and drought and all sorts of discouragement. It is one of the most beautiful valleys I have seen in Arizona and has a fine climate the year round; but these first settlers deserve a special place in history by the way they have turned the wilderness into good farms and homes."

Concerning the highway to Fredonia, Miss Hall observes, "The Mormon colonists who traveled this road certainly had grit when they started, and grit enough more to last the rest of their lives on the road."

For years efforts have been made by Utah to secure from Arizona the land lying north of the Colorado River, on the ground that, topographically, it really belongs to the northern division, and that its people are directly connected by birth and religion with the people of Utah. As a partial offset, they have offered that part of Utah that lies south of the San Juan River, thus to be created a northern Arizona boundary wholly along water courses. The suggestion, repeatedly put before Arizona Legislatures, invariably has met with hostile reception, especially based upon the desire to keep the whole of the Grand Canyon within Arizona. Indeed, in later years, the great 200-mile gorge of the Colorado more generally is referred to as the Grand Canyon of Arizona, this in order to avoid confusion with any scenic attributes of the State of Colorado.

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Hamblin Among the Indians    Arizona's Pioneer Northwest

Adapted from James H. McClintock
Mormon Settlement In Arizona: A Record Of Peaceful Conquest Of The Desert

   Crossing the Mighty Colorado
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Crossing the Mighty Colorado