Transformation of a Desert Plain
Though by no means with exclusive population of the faith, Mesa, sixteen miles east of Phoenix and in the Salt River Valley, today includes the largest organization of the Saints within Arizona and is the center of one of the most prosperous Stakes of the Church. It is beautifully located on a broad tableland, from which its Spanish name is derived, and is the center of one of the richest of farming communities. In general, the soil is of the best, without alkali, and its products cover almost anything that can be grown in the temperate or semi-tropic zones.
At all times since its settlement, Mesa has prospered, but its prosperity has been especially notable since the development, a few years ago, of the Pima long-staple cotton. Nearly every landowner, and Mesa is a settlement of landowners, has prospered through this industry, though it has been affected by the post-war depression. The region is one of comfortable, spacious homes and of well-tilled farms, with less acreage to each holding than known elsewhere in the valley.
Mesa is second only to Phoenix in size and importance within Maricopa County. There are fine business blocks and all evidences of mercantile activity. The farming area is being extended immensely. The community was one of the first to enter the association that secured storage of water at Roosevelt. Thereafter, to the southward came extension of the farming area by means of pumping, this continuing nearly to the Gila River, out upon the Pima reservation. Now there is further extension eastward, and the great plain that stretches as far as Florence is being settled by population very generally tributary to Mesa. It would be idle to speculate upon the future of the city, but its tributary farming country is fully as great as that which surrounds Phoenix.
Mesa was founded by Latter-day Saints from Bear Lake County, Idaho, and Salt Lake County, Utah. The former left Paris, Idaho, September 14, 1877, were joined at Salt Lake City by the others and traveled the entire distance by wagon, using the Lee's Ferry route, and coming over the forested country to Camp Verde.
The immigrants included, with their families, Chas. I. Robson, Charles Crismon (of the San Bernardino colony) of Salt Lake, Geo. W. Sirrine (of the Brooklyn ship party), Francis M. Pomeroy (a '47 pioneer), John H. Pomeroy, Warren L. Sirrine, Elijah Pomeroy, Parley P. Sirrine, all of Paris, Idaho, Wm. M. Newell, Wm. M. Schwartz, Job H. Smith, Jesse D. Hobson and J.H. Blair of Salt Lake. Altogether were 83 individuals.
The valley of the Verde proved a pleasant one, after the cold and hardship known on the plateau, though Christmas was spent in a snowstorm. Both humanity and the horses needed rest. So camp was made at Beaver Head, a few miles from the river, while a scouting party went farther to spy out the land. This party, which went by wagon, included Robson, F. M. Pomeroy, Charles Crismon and G.W. Sirrine.
The scouts, within a few days, had covered about 125 miles that lay between Beaver Head and Camp Utah. Their New Year dinner was taken with Jones, who extended them all welcome. It was proposed that the newcomers settle upon land adjoining that of the first party, but there was a likelihood of crowding in the relatively narrow river valley, and there were attractive possibilities lying along the remains of an ancient canal shown them by Jones.
Legal appropriation of the head of this old water way was made and Crismon was left behind, with a couple of the Camp Utah men as helpers, to start work on the new irrigation project. Incidentally, Crismon made location of land near the heading and thus separated his interests from those of the main party. Later, he started a water-power grist mill on the Grand canal, east of Phoenix. He had rights to a large share in the canal, as well as to lands on the mesa. These he later sold.
Robson, Pomeroy and Sirrine returned to the Verde Valley, to pilot the rested travelers southward. The journey was by way of the rocky Black Canyon road, with difficulty encountered in descending the steep Arastra Creek pass. Fording Salt River at Hayden's Ferry, Camp Utah was reached February 14, 1878. The journey had been a slow one, for cattle had to be driven.
A few days were spent at Camp Utah and then the new arrivals moved upstream five miles, where tents were pitched on a pleasant flat, a couple of miles below the canal heading. There had been conclusion to settle upon the tableland to the southwest. Pomeroy and Sirrine made a rough, though sufficient, survey with straight-edge and spirit level, along what then was named the "Montezuma Canal," eleven miles to a point where a townsite was selected.
Use of a Prehistoric Canal
Nothing short of Providential was considered the finding of the canal, dug by a prehistoric people into the edge of the mesa, which it gradually surmounted. This canal, in all probability, had been cut more than 1000 years before. It could be traced from the river for twenty miles, maintaining an even gradient, possibly as good as could have been laid out with a modern level, and with a number of laterals that spread over a country about as extensively cultivated as at present. A lateral served the Lehi section and other ditches conducted water to the southwest, past the famous ancient city of Los Muertos (later explored by Frank H. Cushing) and then around the southeastern foothills of the Salt River Mountains to points not far distant from the Gila River. The main canal cut through the tableland for two miles, with a top width of even fifty feet and a depth of twelve feet, chopped out in places, with stone axes, through a difficult formation of hardpan, "caliche." The old canal was cleaned out for the necessities of the pioneers, at a cost of about $48,000, including the head, and afterward was enlarged. At the time, there was an estimate that its utilization saved at least $20,000 in cost of excavation. There were 123 miles of these ancient canals.
This canal undertaking was a tremendous one, especially in consideration of the fact that for the first five months the Mesa settlers available for work were only eighteen able-bodied men and boys. The brethren were hardly strong enough in man power to have dug the canal had it not been for the old channel. A small stream was led to the townsite in October, 1878, and in the same month building construction was begun. An early settler wrote:
"We were about nine months in getting a small stream of water out at an expense of $43,000 in money and labor, so that we could plant gardens and set out some fruit trees. A man was allowed $1.50 and a man and team $3 per day for labor. Our ditch ran through some formation that would slack up like lime; and as whole sections of it would slide, it kept us busy nearly all the time the following year enlarging and repairing the canal. Our labors only lessened as our numbers increased, and the banks became more solid, so that today (1894) we have a good canal carrying about 7000 inches of water."
It would appear that a tremendous amount of optimism, energy and self-reliance lay in the leaders of the small community, in digging through the bank of a stubborn cliff, in throwing a rude dam across a great flood stream and in planting their homes far out on a plain that bore little evidence of agricultural possibilities, beyond a growth of creosote bush, the Larrea Mexicana. There were easier places where settlements might have been made, at Lehi or Tempe, or upon the smaller streams, but there must have been a vision rather broader than that of the original immigrant, a vision that later has merged into reality far larger and richer than had been the dream.
Within this prosperity are included hundreds of Mormon pioneers and their children. It often is said that the development of a country is by the "breaking" of from three to four sets of immigrants. It is not true of Mesa, for there the original settlers and their stock generally still hold to the land.
Moving Upon the Mesa Townsite
The honor of erection of the first home upon the mesa lies with the Pomeroy family, though it was hardly considered as a house. Logs and timbers were hauled from the abandoned Maryville, an outpost of Fort McDowell, at the river crossing northeast of Fort Utah. It was erected Mexican fashion, the roof supported on stout poles, and then mudded walls were built up on arrowweed latticing. This Pomeroy residence later was used as the first meetinghouse, as the first schoolhouse and as the first dance hall, though its floor was of packed earth. It might be added that there were many dances, for the settlers were a lighthearted lot. Most of the settlers re-erected their tents, each family upon the lot that had been assigned.
The first families on the mesa were those of John H. Pomeroy, Theodore Sirrine and Chas. H. Mallory. The Mallory and Sirrine homes quickly were started. Mallory's, the first adobe, was torn down early in 1921.
By the end of November, 1878, all the families had moved from the river camp upon the new townsite.
Early arrivals included a strong party from Montpelier, Bear Lake County, Idaho, the family heads John Hibbert, Hyrum S. Phelps, Charles C. Dana, John T. Lesueur, William Lesueur, John Davis, Geo. C. Dana and Charles Warner. Others, with their families, were Charles Crismon, Jr., Joseph Cain and William Brim from the Salt Lake section. Nearly all of the settlers who came in the earlier days to Mesa were fairly well-to-do, considered in a frontier way, and were people of education. Soon, by intelligence and industry, they made the desert bloom. Canals were extended all over the mesa. In 1879 was gathered the first crop of cereals and vegetables and that spring were planted many fruit trees, which grew wonderfully well in the rich, light soil.
An Irrigation Clash That Did Not Come
The summer of 1879 was one of the dryest ever recorded. Though less than 20,000 acres were cultivated in the entire valley, the crops around Phoenix suffered for lack of water. Salt River was a dry sand expanse for five miles below the Mesa, Utah and Tempe canal headings. The Mormon water appropriation was blamed for this. So in Phoenix was organized an armed expedition of at least twenty farmers, who rode eastward, prepared to fight for their irrigation priority rights. But there was no battle. Instead, they were met in all mildness by Jones and others, who agreed that priority rights should prevail. There was inspection of the two Mormon ditches, in which less than 1000 miners' inches were flowing and then was agreement that the two canal headgates should be closed for three days, to see what effect this action would have on the lower water supply. But the added water merely was wasted. The sand expanse drank it up and the lower ditches were not benefited. There was no more trouble over water rights. Indeed, this is the only recorded approach to a clash known between the Mormon settlers and their neighbors.
Mesa's Civic Administration
In May, 1878, T.C. Sirrine located in his own name the section of land upon which Mesa City now stands, thereafter deeding it to Trustees C.I. Robson, G.W. Sirrine and F.M. Pomeroy, who named it and who platted it into blocks of ten acres each, with eight lots, and with streets 130 feet wide, the survey being made by A.M. Jones. Each settler for each share worked out in the Mesa canal, received four lots, or five acres. Two plazas were provided.
For many years there was a general feeling that the streets of Mesa were entirely too wide, though it had been laid out in loving remembrance of Salt Lake City, and the question of ever paving (or even of crossing on a hot summer day) was serious. It appears from latter-day development that the old-timers builded wisely, for probably Mesa is alone in all of Arizona in having plenty of room for the parking of automobiles. The main streets have been paved at large expense. In several has been left very attractive center parking, for either grass or standing machines.
Mesa was incorporated July 15, 1883. The first election chose A.F. Macdonald as Mayor, E. Pomeroy, G.W. Sirrine, W. Passey and A.F. Stewart as Councilmen, C. I. Robson as Recorder, J.H. Carter as Treasurer, H.C. Longmore as Assessor, W. Richins as Marshal, and H.S. Phelps as Poundkeeper. All were members of the faith, for others were very few in Mesa at that time.
Growth was slow for a number of years, for in a city census, taken January 4, 1894, there was found population of only 648, with an assessment valuation of $106,000. The 1920 census found 3036.
Mail at first was received at Hayden's Ferry. Soon thereafter was petition for a postoffice. The federal authorities refused the name of "Mesa" on the ground that it might be confused with Mesaville, a small office in Final County. So, in honor of their friend at the Ferry, there was acceptance of the name Hayden. Though the Ferry had the postoffice name of Tempe, there ensued much mixture of mail matter. In 1887, there followed a change in the postoffice name to Zenos, after a prophet of the Book of Mormon. In the order of things, Mesaville passed away and then the settlement quickly availed itself of the privilege opened, to restore the commonly accepted designation of Mesa.
Foundation of Alma
Alma is a prosperous western extension of Mesa, of which it is a fourth ward. The locality at first, and even unto this day, has borne the local name of Stringtown, for the houses are set along a beautiful country road, cottonwood-bordered for miles. The first settlers of the locality were Henry Standage (a veteran of the Mormon Battalion), Hyrum W. Pugh, Chauncey F. Rogers and Wm. N. Standage, with their families. These settlers constituted a party from Lewiston and Richmond, Cache County, Utah, and arrived at Mesa, January 19, 1880. In that same month they started work on an extension of the Mesa canal, soon thereafter aided by neighbors, who arrived early in 1881. There were good crops. Early in 1882 houses were erected.
Highways Into the Mountains
In 1880, the Mesa authorities took steps to provide a better highway to Globe, this with the active cooperation of their friend, Chas. T. Hayden. Globe was a rich market for agricultural products, yet could be reached only by way of Florence and the Cane Springs and Pioneer road, over the summit of the Pinal Mountains, or by way of the almost impassable Reno Mountain road from McDowell into Tonto Basin, a road that was ridden in pain, but philosophically, by the members of the Erastus Snow party that passed in 1878. The idea of 1880 was to get through the Pinal Mountains, near Silver King. A new part of this route now is being taken by a State road that starts at Superior, cutting a shelf along the canyon side of Queen Creek, to establish the shortest possible road between Mesa and Globe. The first adequate highway ever had from Mesa eastward was the Roosevelt road, later known as the Apache Trail, built in 1905 by the Reclamation Service, to connect the valley with Roosevelt, which lies at the southern point of Tonto Basin.
Hayden's Ferry, Latterly Tempe
Tempe, eight miles east of Phoenix on Salt River, was first known as Hayden's Ferry. Its founder was Chas. Trumbull Hayden, a pioneer merchant who early saw the possibilities of development within the Salt River Valley and who built a flour mill that still is known by his name. Arizona's Congressman, Carl Hayden, is a son of the pioneer merchant, miller and ferryman. The name of Tempe (from a valley of ancient Greece) is credited to Darrell Duppa, a cultured Englishman, who is also understood to have named Phoenix. It was applied to Hayden's Ferry and also to a Mexican settlement, something over a half-mile distant, locally known as San Pablo.
Hayden welcomed the advent of the Mormons, led to the country by Daniel W. Jones in 1877, and befriended those who followed, thus materially assisting in the upbuilding of the Lehi and Mesa settlements.
Tempe, as a Mormon settlement, started July 23, 1882, in the purchase by Benjamin Franklin Johnson, Jos. E. Johnson and relatives, from Hayden, of eighty acres of land that lay between the ferry and the Mexican town. For this tract there was paid $3000. The Johnson party left Spring Lake, Utah, in April and traveled via Lee's Ferry. There was survey of the property into lots and blocks, and the Johnsons at once started upon the building of homes. There was included also a small cooperative store. The foundation was laid for a meeting house, but religious services usually were held in a bowery or in the district schoolhouse that had been built before the Saints came.
In the fall of 1882 there arrived a number of families, most of them Johnsons or relatives. When the Maricopa Stake was organized December 10, 1882, David T. LeBaron was presiding at Tempe. June 15, 1884, Tempe was organized as a ward, successively headed by Samuel Openshaw and Jas. F. Johnson.
In August, 1887, most of Tempe's Mormon residents moved to Nephi, west of Mesa, mainly upon land acquired by Benj. F. Johnson, the settlement popularly known as Johnsonville. The departure hinged upon the building of a branch railroad of the Southern Pacific from Maricopa, through Tempe, to Phoenix. An offer was made by a newly-organized corporation for the land that had been taken by the Johnsons, who sold on terms then considered advantageous. Upon this land now is located a large part of the prosperous town of Tempe, within which is a considerable scattering of Mormon families, though without local organization.
Patriarch B.F. Johnson died in Mesa, November 18, 1905, at the age of 87. At that time it was told that his descendants and those married into the family numbered 1500, probably constituting the largest family within the Church membership.
Organization of the Maricopa Stake
The Church history of Mesa started October 14, 1878, when Apostle Erastus Snow, on his memorable trip through the Southwest, at Fort Utah, appointed a late arrival, Jesse N. Perkins, as presiding elder and H.C. Rogers and G.W. Sirrine as counselors. Perkins died of smallpox in northeastern Arizona. In 1880, President John Taylor at St. George, Utah, appointed Alexander F. Macdonald to preside over the new stake. He arrived and took office in February of that year. Macdonald was a sturdy, lengthy Scotchman, a preacher of the rough and ready sort and of tremendous effectiveness, converted in Perth, in June, 1846, and a Salt Lake arrival by ox team in 1854. In 1882, on permanent organization of the Stake, Chas. I. Robson succeeded Sirrine as counselor. Robson December 4, 1887, succeeded to the presidency, with H.C. Rogers and Collins R. Hakes as counselors, Macdonald taking up leadership in the northern Mexican Stakes, pioneering work of difficulty for which he was especially well suited. In December, 1884, he headed an expedition and surveying party into Chihuahua, Mexico, looking for settlement locations, and secured large landed interests. He became ill at El Paso, on his way back to his home at Colonia Juarez. He died at Colonia Dublan, thirty miles short of his destination, March 21, 1903.
Chas. I. Robson served as President to the day of his death, February 24, 1894. He was of English ancestry, born February 20, 1837, in Northumberland. He was specially distinguished in the early days of Utah through his success in starting the first paper factory known in western America. As a boy, he had worked in a paper factory in England. In 1870, he was warden of the Utah penitentiary.
May 10, 1894, Collins R. Hakes (of the San Bernardino colony) succeeded to the presidency of Maricopa Stake, with Henry C. Rogers and Jas. F. Johnson as counselors. At that time were five organized wards, with 2446 souls, including 1219 Indians in the Papago ward, and to the southward toward Mexico. Mesa then was credited with 648 people of the faith, Lehi 200, Alma 282 and Nephi 104.
In 1905, President Hakes transferred his activities to the development of a new colony of his people at Bluewater, N.M., near Fort Wingate. His death was in Mesa, August 27, 1916.
To the Maricopa Stake Presidency, November 26, 1905, succeeded Jno. T. Lesueur, transferred from St. Johns, where, from Mesa, he settled in 1880. He is still a resident of Mesa. He resigned as president in 1912, the position taken, on March 10 of that year, by his son, Jas. W. Lesueur, who still is in office.
December 20, 1898, first was occupied the Stake tabernacle, 75x45 feet in size, built of brick and costing $11,000. At its dedication were Apostle Brigham Young, Jr., and a number of other Church dignitaries.
For more than a year plans have been in the making for erection at Mesa of a great temple of the Church, to cost about $500,000. It is to be the ninth of such structures. The others, in the order of their dedication, are (or were): at Kirtland, Ohio, of date 1836; at Nauvoo, Illinois, 1846; at St. George, Logan, Manti and Salt Lake, Utah, and at Laie, Hawaiian Islands. Another is being built at Cardston, Alberta, Canada. The Kirtland edifice was abandoned. That at Nauvoo was wrecked by incendiaries in 1848. The great Temple at Salt Lake, its site located by Brigham Young four days after his arrival, in July, 1847, was forty years in building and its dedication was not till 1893.
Merely in the way of explanation, it may be noted that a Mormon temple is not a house of public worship. It is, as was the Temple of Solomon, more of a sanctuary, a place wherein ecclesiastical ordinances may have administration. It has many lecture rooms, wherein to be seated the classes under instruction, and there is provision of places for the performance of the ordinances of baptism, marriage, confirmation, etc.
Especially important are considered the baptism and blessings (endowments) bestowed vicariously on the living for the benefit of the dead. There also is added solemnity in a temple marriage, for it is for eternity and not merely for time. Due to this is the unusual activity of the Church members in genealogical research. It is believed that the Mormon Church is the only denomination that marries for eternity, this marriage also binding in the eternal family relation the children of the contracting individuals.
The temple administration is separate from that of the Stake in which it may be situated and its doors, after dedication, are closed save to its officers and to those who come to receive its benefits. In the past years these ordinances have been received outside of Arizona, at large expense for travel from this State. Naturally, there has been a wish for location of a temple more readily to be reached by the devout.
The temple idea in Arizona appears to date back to an assurance given about 1870 in St. George by Brigham Young. A prediction was made by Jesse N. Smith about 1882, to the effect that a temple, at some future day, would be reared on the site of Pima in Graham County. The first donation toward such an end was recorded January 24, 1887, in the name of Mrs. Helena Roseberry, a poor widow of Pima, who gave $5 toward the building of a temple in Arizona, handing the money to Apostle Moses Thatcher. This widow's mite ever since has been held by the Church in Salt Lake. Possibly it has drawn good interest, for through the Church Presidency has come a donation of $200,000 to assure the end the widow had wished for.
Another "nest egg," the first contribution received directly for the Mesa edifice, came from another widow, Mrs. Amanda Hastings of Mesa, who, on behalf of herself and children, three years ago, gave the Stake presidency $15.
The new temple, of which there is reproduction herewith of an artist's sketch, is to rise in the eastern part of Mesa upon a tract of forty acres, which is to be a veritable park, its edges occupied by homes. The architects are Don C. Young and Ramm Hansen of Salt Lake. The temple will rise 66 feet, showing as a vast monument upon a foundation base that will be 180x195 feet. This base will contain the offices and preparation rooms. While the structure will be sightly from all sides, on its north will be a great entrance. Between the dividing staircase will be a corridor entry to the baptismal room. The staircase, joined at the second story, will stretch 100 feet in a great flight, its landings successively taking the initiates to the higher planes of instruction. In this respect, the plan is said by Church authorities to be the best of any temple of the faith. The rooms will be ample in size for instruction of classes of over 100.
The building of the Mesa temple was the primary subject at all meetings of congregations of the faith on September 12, 1920, and from voluntary donations on that day there was added to the temple fund $112,000.
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Extension Toward Mexico First Families of Arizona
Adapted from James H. McClintock
Mormon Settlement In Arizona: A Record Of Peaceful Conquest Of The Desert