This article originally appeared in the July/Aug 1970 issue of Pioneer Magazine
SAGA OF A PICTURESQUE FRONTIER TOWN
By Adonis Findlay Robinson
Taken from “History of Kane County” (1970 Edition)
Kanab is a beautiful little city nestled within a circle of vermillion cliffs, with wide streets lined with green trees. As one approaches it from either the north or the south it gives somewhat the refreshing effect desert travelers must experience when they come upon an oasis.
Kanab City gets its name from the creek upon whose bank it is located. The word “Kanab” is an Anglicized form of the Paiute word for “willows”. The name was given the creek by the Indians because of the lush growth of willows along the stream long before white man set foot upon its sandy banks.
June 7, 1858, is thought to be the date when the first settlement began on the location which later grew into what is sometimes now called “little hollywood.”
Perhaps “settlement” is not the word to use in an account of the birth of this city. But at least, white men came to the region for various purposes and some of them remained during the late 1850’s and early 1860s; and the above date is verified by J. Cecil Alter, Utah historian, and James A. Little, biographer of jacob hamblin.
Little records that Hamblin came into the territory with companies of men in 1858, 1859 and 1860. Sons of the peacemaker, Joseph and Benjamin Hamblin, report that their father found a few settlers who had come in search of good country for cattle raising and were living in dugouts near the willow-lined creek only a short distance from the present site of Kanab City.
It was alone a search for good cattle country that led to the settlement of this region. Brigham Young was eager to have the Mormon people extend their domain as far as possible into all parts of the southwest. This, together with the desire of the Church leaders to convert the Indians of the region to the Latter-day Saint faith, led Brigham Young to send out expeditions of men to discover suitable places for settlements to be formed and to make friends with the Indians.
For this work, Jacob Hamblin was selected as the leader. He had all the qualifications and some experiences which made him the right man for the great mission he performed. He had been ordained and blessed by the Prophet Joseph Smith. He also had had it made known to him by the supernatural power while he was on an expedition against the Indians in Tooele in 1853 that he was to be a messenger of peace to the Indians, and that “if he took not the blood of this remnant of Israel, by them he would not die.” His belief in this divine promise made him fearless and master of every situation in dealing with the red men.
Although some efforts at peace negotiations had been effected with the Paiutes, Moquis and the Navajos by 1860-1861, many Indians, especially the Navajos, still retained a hostile spirit and at the least provocation would threaten the weaker settlements. Up to this period, by constant missionary labors and visits to them, the pioneers had succeeded in bringing about terms of peace with a few. However, since large numbers of livestock had been brought into the country by the pioneers, the Indians could see the vegetation that had produced nutritious seeds upon which they had been accustomed to subsist was fast being devoured by these cattle. They had no other means of getting food and often their children were hungry. Hunger and distress made many of them commit depredations that they otherwise would not have done. They told their grievances around their campfires, and many, especially the young men, were roused to desperation.
Back To Old Ways
In his writings, Hamblin says,
“Many of the pioneers did not realize the situation the friendly Indians were made to suffer. Those that were unfriendly raided the settlements and drove off hundreds of head of cattle, horses and mules. Many of the Indians who had at first been friendly went back to the old ways of raiding and stealing. This caused our people also to manifest hostility towards the red man.”
Hostilities between the Indians and the white men increased. As history records, there was a general uprising in both Central and Southern Utah from 1865 to 1867. The tribes were determined to drive the whites out of the country. Guards of men were stationed at Kanab, which was more than an outpost to protect the weak settlements of St. George and Santa Clara and settlers along the Rio Virgin. But the guards needed protection, too. It was mainly for this safeguard, and looking ahead to resettlement, that Brigham Young authorized Jacob Hamblin to see that a fort was built.
John R. Young, an 1847 Utah Pioneer, recorded in his journal that he visited the place in 1868. “The climate and soil of this locality is good, well-adapted for fruit and stock-raising. It promises to become a place of importance.”
Andrew Jenson, the Church historian, states in the Encyclopedia History of the Church:
“Kanab was first settled in 1864 and the foundation for a prosperous settlement was laid. It was broken up in 1866 during the Indian wars with other nearby settlements and was resettled on June 14, 1870, when a colony of settlers arrived, consisting of seventeen persons, mostly from Cottonwood, Salt Lake City.”
During the summer of 1870 the fort at Kanab was to become a busy center of interest and activity. Corbett reports:
“It became the focal point for pioneering, missionary work and exploration. It also was a relief point, a trading post for the various Indian camps and a base of operations for the Geological Survey.
“In late February a message was received by the inhabitants that President Brigham Young was on his way to visit the fortification. This was thrilling news. The visit of President Young called for a general cleanup. The grounds around the fort received a good raking. The fort’s enclosure was swept and everything put in order. The people at the fort dressed in their best and even the Paiutes washed their bodies clean from the usual dirt and paint.”
On April 2, 1870, President Young, accompanied by other leading men of the church, arrived at Fort Kanab and during this visit, President Young dedicated the land in Mormon fashion for the gathering of the Saints.
During the next few years Major Wesley Powell, the explorer who had helped Hamblin negotiate a treaty of peace with the Indians, made Kanab the headquarters for his explorations.
Kanab became an incorporated town in 1884 and will celebrate her 100th anniversary of settlement all during the year of 1970. Kanab now has black-topped, two-lane highways serving her from four different directions. We have daily mail service from the north and south. We have an up-to-date culinary water system and a permanent dam and ditches for irrigation purposes. We have twelve fine motels ready to take care of the tourist business and five extremely good eating places. We have a Latter-day Saint Stake house that accommodates two wards, North and South. We also have a First Baptist Church and a Catholic Church. We have a local weekly newspaper and a Public Library and two practically new school buildings; a bank, hospital and nursing home, gift shops and improved streets. Our climate is mild, our skies are blue, our air is clear and fresh. In all Kanab is a delightful place to live.