Mormon Colonization of Arizona: Answering the Call

Mormon Colonization of Arizona: Answering the Call

Mormon Colonization of Arizona: Answering the Call
This article originally appeared in Vol.60 No.1 (2013) issue of Pioneer Magazine

Jacob Hamblin received the first call to do missionary work in what is now at October general conference in 1853. During the late 1850s and early 1860s, Hamblin visited the Navajo and tribes, attempting to preach the gospel to them. Largely unsuccessful, these early efforts did acquaint him with the Indian people along with their customs and legends and familiarized him with the land. He reported his findings to the Brethren. Jacob Hamblin’s missionary companion to Arizona was Joseph Lehi Foutz, who was born at Haun’s Mill and crossed the plains with the Saints. The two remained lifelong friends.

In the early 1870s, Brigham Young commissioned Horton Haight to explore the area south of the Colorado to see if settlements could be made. In 1873, Haight reported to Church leaders that the region was unfit for settlement. Unsatisfied, President Young in October 1875 commissioned a second expedition under the leadership of James Brown. Brown reported that settlements could be made.

first saw the , where Phoenix is now located, as a missionary on his way to Mexico. When he returned to Utah, he was asked by Brigham Young to select a few families and start a colony in Arizona. President Young stated, “I want the settling to stick, and not fail,” and approved calling, (in Dan’s words, with which Brigham agreed), “men with large families and small means, so that when we get there they will be too poor to come back, and we will have to stay.”

Daniel Jones’s company was called the , and they began to load their wagons in St. George for the trip south. President Young was personally there to oversee the outfitting. He became concerned at the number of heavy items the Saints were loading into their wagons—stoves, furniture, sewing machines, china, and other such luxuries. Brother Brigham sent them by way of a sandy wash to Santa Clara. After traveling a few miles through the sand they soon saw the need to lighten up. The Prophet knew the good people of Santa Clara had the means to buy the excess goods—this would be much better than dropping them off on the way. The Saints at Santa Clara were happy to trade their grain and dried fruit for these heavy items. Leaving behind these few reminders of their homes in Utah and Idaho must have caused these pioneers to shed tears, but the harsh realities of pioneering required such sacrifices.

Little did these Mormon pioneers realize when they said goodbye to him at Santa Clara that they would never see Brother Brigham again in this life, as he died a few months later. These pioneers left on Saturday, January 20th, 1877. It took 49 days to reach the Salt River Valley. The settlement was first called Fort Utah or Utahville, then Jonesville (after Dan Jones), and finally Lehi, which is now part of Mesa. Arriving before the heat of summer and having insufficient means to return to Utah ensured that these large families would “stick it out” and make the desert blossom as a rose.

The second group of Saints to come to the Salt River Valley was the Mesa Company. They left from Paris, Idaho, on September 14th, 1877, picking up additional pioneers as they worked their way through Utah.

The next group to come to the Salt River Valley was the , most of whom had joined the Church in Ramus, Illinois. They came west in 1848 and settled in Bountiful, planted fruit trees, and began to settle down for the rest of their lives. That all changed with a call from the Prophet. The Perkins group arrived in the Salt River Valley on March 7th, 1878, led by Jesse Nelson Perkins.

Although the prospects looked good in their new location on the Salt River, the Saints were disappointed when they realized this was not a good place to feed loose cattle and that there were difficulties with the native tribes. Problems also arose between members of the Perkins Company and the Jones Company, with the latter attempting to live the United Order. The decision was made to scout the area on the San Pedro River in southern Arizona, north of the silver mining town of Tombstone.

Under the leadership of Philemon Merrill, the community of St. David (named after David W. Patten, first martyred LDS Apostle) on the San Pedro River was founded. This part of Arizona had first been scouted out by Merrill when he was in the Mormon Battalion in 1846. But again, there were problems, as on the 24th of July, 1878, when instead of celebrating, the Perkins boys and most of the community of St. David were in bed with chills and fever. They had contracted malaria.

Jonathan Hoopes Jr. and Mary Ann Baldwin’s family were living near St. David by 1880 on the Hill Ranch, having moved from Wyoming. Their 24-year-old, “most eligible bachelor” son, George Arthur, fell in love with Charlotte Iris Curtis, whose parents, Joseph Nahum Curtis and Sarah Diantha Gardner, had migrated from Salem, Utah, in 1877. Called by Brigham Young to move to Arizona just before Brigham’s death, Dode and Sadie Curtis, as they were known, owned a 160-acre ranch on the San Pedro River, six miles north of Tombstone.

Apostle Erastus Snow visited St. David and learned that the Saints who settled there wanted to return to Utah because the swampy land was infested with mosquitos, which caused disease. He counseled them that if they would remain faithful to their mission calls, the Lord would make their part of His vineyard more inhabitable. This He did in an unusual way during May 1887. Following a great earthquake, which caused the walls of the adobe school house to cave in while the Curtis children were outside at recess (none were hurt), the swamps dried up. There was no more malaria to plague the faithful Saints who stuck it out.

Jonathan Hoopes Jr. took his plural wife Arthusa Elmer to the St. George Temple during the fall of 1888 over the “”and came back south to settle in Colonia Juarez, Mexico, in 1889 to escape federal marshals looking for “Mormon Poligs.” Jonathan later moved his family from Mexico to Thatcher on the Gila River, after which he and Arthusa had six more children. Here Jonathan, born in Ohio to Quaker-turned-Mormon parents, lived the rest of his life, died, and is buried. His first wife, Mary Ann Baldwin, granddaughter of the Prophet Joseph’s dear friend Caleb Baldwin (who was imprisoned with Joseph at Liberty Jail), also died and is buried at the Thatcher Cemetery. Mormons founded other towns along the Gila River called Eden, Smithville (later named Pima), and Hubbard.

By 1881, Jesse Hobson’s son, Jesse Jr., his sister Julia and their families had all settled in Mesa, Arizona, when Father Jesse went there to live with them after the untimely death of his wife. Jesse, a faithful missionary to England, had also served in the Utah Legislature.

Back at Lee’s Ferry there was news that 600 soldiers were on their way to erect a military fort at Lonely Dell, the name Emma Lee had given their home at the ferry. John Lee immediately left for Moencopi, a remote spot in Indian country, where he remained with his other wife, Rachel, for nine months, leaving Emma and her family at Lonely Dell. Emma was expecting again, and Jacob Hamblin had promised to bring Sister Mangum to help with the new arrival. But they did not come in time, and Emma gave birth with the assistance of her 13-year-old son. When Lee tried to return to his ferry, he was arrested for practicing polygamy and did not return to Lonely Dell again before his death on March 23rd, 1877. Emma was left alone to operate Lee’s Ferry.

Joseph Lehi Foutz, who had served as Sevier County (Utah) Sheriff, crossed the Colorado River with his wagons during late fall of 1877 at Lee’s Ferry. He crossed on solid ice, which has never happened again. He stayed to help Sister Emma operate the ferry, then moved his three wives and 30 children south to Moencopi, where the Foutz families resided for a long time. Warren M. Johnson was called by the Brethren to operate Lee’s Ferry, and Emma moved to Holbrook, where she practiced midwifery.

Price Williams Nelson, who crossed the plains as a teenager and married Lydia Ann Lake at the old fort at Ogden in 1850, migrated with his family to San Bernardino, California, by 1856. Because of threatening war, Brigham Young called all the Saints back to Utah for a while. Price and his family traveled north through the Mojave Desert in their covered wagons and had settled in Payson by 1859. Price was later called by the Brethren to assist Warren Johnson at Lee’s Ferry, where he moved his family. Price’s daughter, Samantha, married Warren Johnson.

In 1876, four companies were called to go to Northeastern Arizona to settle. Before leaving for their lifelong mission call, 40 couples were married. These companies were led by Lot Smith, Jesse O. Ballinger, George Lake and William C. Allen. Smith’s camp on the Little Colorado was called Sunset, Ballinger’s was Ballinger’s Camp, Lake’s was called Obed and Allen’s was Allen City.

The Brethren in Salt Lake City did not forget about their Arizona pioneers and came to visit them and check on missionary work among the native tribes. Apostles Anthony W. Ivans and Erastus B. Snow came in 1878, about the same time as John W. Young, a son and counselor to Brigham Young. Wilford Woodruff crossed the Colorado at Lee’s Ferry in 1879 to hide from federal marshals in Arizona. (Buffalo Bill Cody also crossed the river at Lee’s Ferry in 1892, and Zane Grey crossed in 1907 with Mormon guides. His first western novel, The Heritage of the Desert, features a location reminiscent of the river at Lee’s Ferry.)

While camped alone in a remote shepherd’s tent near present-day Flagstaff, Wilford Woodruff received a revelation, which the brethren voted before the April 1880 conference was the “mind and will of the Lord.”

More pioneers, men with large families (including plural wives) and small means, came and established lasting Mormon communities along the Little Colorado River. These towns in Northeastern Arizona are now called Joseph City, Holbrook, Snowflake, Taylor, St. Johns, Springerville and Eagar.
In 1877 the St. George Temple was dedicated. Chief Tuba, a Hopi from a nearby village, attended the dedication and was baptized. He and his wife were the first native Americans to receive their endowment and be sealed.

The faithful Latter-day Saints in Arizona wanted to have their families sealed, so they made the trip to St. George, crossing at Lee’s Ferry. The first wedding party crossed the Ferry in the fall of 1881, but so many came later that the road was dubbed “The Honeymoon Trail.” A trip from Snowflake to St. George over the Honeymoon Trail took 27 days. Sometimes the trips had to be taken in secret, because the brethren were taking plural wives and had to be on the lookout for federal marshals. But generally the descendants of those pioneers could echo what the daughter of one traveler reported: “She always told us what a wonderful trip it was.”

During the decade following the St. George Temple dedication and the death of Brigham Young, missionaries continued to travel to and through Moencopi and the Hopi lands. The Navajos had ceased to be the great threat they had been before, and a few of the northern Arizona settlements became fairly successful. Efforts were made to improve the small settlement at Moencopi, where nine Mormon families lived. In September 1878, Apostle Erastus Snow visited Moencopi and laid out a townsite two miles north, which he called Tuba City after their friend, Chief Tuba.

Though the pioneers that settled the northern Arizona territory faced grave trials and suffered much hardship, their efforts and success are a testament to their dedication to the Lord and His prophets. Their hard work blessed generations of Saints to come as well as all the others who would eventually live in what became the 48th state in the Union.


Source: “Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History, Arizona,” published in 1989 by the BYU Department of Church History & Doctrine, from journals and other histories of the ancestors of Lamro and Elaine Hoopes.

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