by Wayne K. Hinton
St. George Tabernacle
March 14, 2001
Val A. Browning Library
Dixie State College
St. George, Utah
with support from the Obert C. Tanner Foundation
Juanita Brooks was a professor at Dixie College for many years and became a well-known author.
She is recognized, by scholarly consent, to be one of Utah’s and Mormondom’s most eminent historians. Her total honesty, unwavering courage, and perceptive interpretation of fact set more stringent standards of scholarship for her fellow historians to emulate. Dr. Obert C. and Grace Tanner had been life-long friends of Mrs. Brooks and it was their wish to perpetuate her name through this lecture series. Dixie State College and the Brooks family express their thanks to the Tanner Family.
On Monday, May 10,1869, James Goodson Bleak reported that the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit was celebrated in St. George, Utah about 350 miles away from the official celebration site, promptly at 12:33 PM by “unfurling the Stars and Stripes amid the salutes of the artillery and music by the Brass and Martial Bands. After which most eloquent speeches were delivered by President Erastus Snow and Major Jacob Gates.” Erastus Snow was a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and President of the Southern Utah Mission and Jacob Gates, Snow’s brother-in-law, was a member of the Seventy. Bleak concluded his description of the celebration saying, “Hearty cheers of the assembled people are making our red hills ring again.”1
In many ways, the completion of the railroad symbolized the ending of Utah’s pioneer period. Immigrants and merchandise could now arrive by train and locally grown or manufactured goods could be shipped out by rail. There would be no more “down and back” wagon train assignments for Utahns. No longer would settlers be required to provide teamsters and guards to serve four to seven months, or to provide livestock, wagons, and supplies for transporting incoming Mormon poor and converts by wagon train.
In 1831, Saints, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began a westward migration that continued for years. In July 1831, Saints began gathering to an especially designated, hallowed place, a localized, clearly identified area, when Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Church, received a revelation during a visit to western Missouri. The revelation designated Jackson County as the gathering place for Latter-day Saints and the place for the City of Zion.2 The doctrine of the gathering asked members to relocate from wherever they might be and to gather with other Saints already in Missouri. This would have the effect of assembling faithful members in tight-knit Mormon communities hopefully beyond potentially corrupting non-Mormon influences. It would also create an orderly, closeknit Mormon society from disparate converts.
As a consequence of several subsequent events that resulted in the removal of the Saints to Illinois, and the possibility of further moves to avoid persecutions, Mormon ideology broadened in 1844. It took on many aspects of an expansive empire of Saints as opposed to a limited refuge in some narrow Zion. This stretching of the concept of Zion began at least as early as the April 1844 Conference of the Church held at Nauvoo, Illinois. Joseph Smith elaborated an “America the promised land” doctrine, couched in the spirit and imagery of the current Manifest Destiny impulse that was rising to a national crescendo at that time.3 There was even scriptural support for a Mormon Manifest Destiny that would spread the Kingdom over the American continents “…Strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever.…”4
After Joseph’s assassination on June 27, 1844, the thinking and policy of the Mormon leadership, especially as applied by Brigham Young, was never free of the obligation implied in the destiny Joseph Smith had suggested in April 1844. Shortly after the arrival of Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847, Brigham Young began planning to place Mormon settlements on all strategic approaches to the Great Basin.5 Mormons became engaged in exploring, surveying, settling, building, farming, and freighting, as broadly as limited resources would allow in order to establish colonies that would provide safety, security, and self-sufficiency.
The chief means of promoting expansion was the “called mission,” a unique technique designed to mobilize people and to gain their commitment to a specific colonizing project. The “called mission” provided the nucleus from which the Mormon Kingdom in the Great Basin, and beyond emerged. It, more than any other factor, set Mormon colonization apart from the settlement of the rest of the West. It did not eliminate bickering, disappointments, hardships, and backbreaking toil, but it did make many Saints from even diverse ethnic groups who underwent a metamorphosis in “called missions.” Mormons created close-knit communities and built the Kingdom by coming to understand that community was as important as the individual. Many Mormons, with heroic dedication, persisted doggedly in remote colonies and thereby spread the Kingdom.6
As early as 1850, Brigham Young announced, “We want colonies from here to the Pacific Ocean.”7 The desired expansion was soon underway. One aspect was the calling of the “Iron Missionaries,” who settled Parowan on January 13, 1851 and Cedar City that November. In the spring of 1852, Harmony was settled on Ash Creek by John D. Lee. As a hopeful gesture, on March 3, 1852, the Territorial Legislature created Washington which, at first, was to include “all the portions of country south of Iron County.”8
On May 16, 1854, Indian missionaries arrived at Harmony, now the county seat. Toward the end of May, Brigham Young came south to give encouragement and instructions to settlers. He suggested further southern expansion, encouraged the building of a wagon road across the Black Ridge, and mentioned the possibility of building a temple in the vicinity of the Rio Virgin at some future time.9
On June 5, 1854, a party of missionaries under direction of Rufus C. Allen and Ira Hatch left for the Rio Virgin. After a short sojourn most of the party returned to Harmony, but because of insufficient water to sustain all of the colonists and missionaries, a select party was sent to permanently settle Santa Clara. They soon constructed a dam, plowed about one hundred acres of farmland and planted a quart of cotton seed which produced 30 yards of cloth, the first cotton raised in Utah Territory.10
With help of workers from Cedar City and Pinto, a fort was built during the winter of 1856–57.11 In the spring, a second planting of cotton was made which produced a “fair” crop. Additionally, in the spring of 1857, Washington was settled on the Rio Virgin and the first cotton crop there proved to also be “fair” but not “abundant.”12
By the end of the first year at Washington, incessant labor on the dam and ditches, intense heat and illness caused some settlers to leave. During the winter, fifty families arrived from California, but they disappointed the locals when most of them left in the spring. Isolation was one hardship. The nearest post office was at Cedar City. Roads were awful or nonexistent. Other challenges included securing reliable sources of water and what Apostle George A. Smith described as “oppressively hot” weather.13
Despite discouragements, or maybe because of them, in January 1858, a party of sixteen men, under Joseph Home was sent to establish a cotton farm on the Rio Virgin. At a cost of $3.40 a pound, 545 pounds of cotton were ginned and 160 gallons of molasses were sent to Salt Lake from Tonaquint, also called Heberville, nicknamed “Seldom Stop” and “Never Sweat,” located at the junction of the Santa Clara and the Virgin Rivers.14
Meanwhile, other significant events were transpiring in southern Utah. The manufacture of iron in Iron County had failed. On October 8, 1858, Brigham Young instructed the closing of the iron works, and following an audit, the works were officially closed. During a July 1859 visit, George A. Smith dissolved the Cedar City Stake and released the missionaries to pursue the vocations they pleased. As a result, the population of Cedar City, which had been approximately 1,000 in April 1855, declined to 301 in 1860.15 Self-sufficiency and expansion into the remote areas of southern Utah was more tenuous than ever.
However, other villages had been established, with some aid of the Cedar City refugees at Pinto, Pine Valley, Toquerville, Gunlock, Adventure, and Virgin.16 All were small, isolated, and the residents were living on the margin. The Virgin River continued to raise havoc with dams and canals, and chills and fever were prevalent. Even so, Brigham Young wanted colonization on the Virgin River. In January and February 1852, John D. Lee had explored from the mouth of Ash Creek to the present site of Littlefield, Arizona. He returned with an enthusiastic report about the mild temperatures, the quality of the soil, the streams, and the potential for raising cotton, flax, grapes, figs, and fruits of all kinds in the Virgin River Basin. President Young determined from Lee’s report that occupation of the Basin was desirable and necessary.17
From a visit in 1859 Brigham Young was convinced that the southern settlements needed reinforcement.18 A subsequent visit in May 1861 revealed that not withstanding seven years of effort to settle the southern region, the residents remained few and discouraged. At Washington, now the county seat, there were but 20 families, Santa Clara had 20, Virgin 11, Toquerville 10, Grafton 6, Adventure 6, and Harrisburg 2 for a total of 79 families south of the rim of the Great Basin.19
The outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861 provided an immediate reason to locate a new community as the center of cotton production and as the focal point of the Southern Utah Mission. At October 1861 Conference, a call was issued to 309 missionaries and families to go south to found St. George and to reinforce the existing settlements.20 An additional 45 recent Swiss immigrant families joined the trek along with some Scandinavians recruited by Orson Hyde in Sanpete County. Reluctant missionaries were told to go because they would accomplish much good for the Territory. Established residents rejoiced at the addition of laborers coming to add their efforts where labor was almost finite, while some of the called missionaries found infirmities they had never known before as an excuse from going.21
To successfully colonize the difficult, remote south, the presence of proven leaders was considered essential. The Missionaries were led by Apostles Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow, and assisted by two members of the Seventies Quorum, Henry Harriman and Jacob Gates.
It can be argued that Apostle Pratt’s presence may have been a distraction. At the forks of the road, one leading to Toquerville and up the Virgin and the other leading to Washington, a general halt occurred. Two questions were debated. Should they go south and be subject to chills and fevers that infected settlers at Washington, or should they go up the Virgin to higher altitude and be free of chills? Quite a number were inclined to go up river and that inclination was strengthened because Apostle Pratt and his family determined to go to the upper Virgin.22 Shortly thereafter, on December 13, 1861, at a meeting held at Grafton, Apostle Pratt strongly opposed a resolution to petition the legislature for an appropriation to make good roads in the county. When the final vote was taken, however, Pratt voted yes in order that the resolution would pass without opposition, but his strong statements of descent were remembered and were a point of later discussion.23
Before the first Conference of the Southern Utah Mission convened on March 22, 1862, Pratt moved to St. George, but he did not stay long.24 Orson’s son, Orson Pratt, Jr., resigned from the High Council in the spring of 1864 and on September 15, 1864, he was excommunicated for unbelief. On Sunday, September 17, he defended himself. In his remarks he alleged there had been a secret influence working against his father “like a snake in the grass.” He said he felt the person leading the effort was Erastus Snow. Whether true or not, Apostle Pratt left for Europe in November leaving Erastus Snow as the president of the Southern Utah Mission.25 Fortuitously there was now clear, undivided leadership that helped unify efforts among the colonists.
As important as leadership was, in the end, the hard work of the rank and file proved equally essential to the successful colonization of southern Utah. The first settlers arrived at a camp in the southeast portion of present St. George on November 25, 1861.26 Daily others came in. At public camp meetings committees were assigned to recommend a town site and to locate a spot to take water from the river.27
About fifty families were asked to reinforce the upper valley, ten or twelve Toquerville, and about forty, including the Swiss Saints, were to settle at Santa Clara and the remainder would found St. George.28 Work was begun almost immediately on a water ditch and on road improvements to Cedar City. A petition to the Postal Department gained an approval for semi-weekly mail service to St. George and Santa Clara, but it was not to begin until July 1, 1862.29
As work and daily life went forward the first births, first blessings, first deaths, and first marriages took place. On December 25, conditions in the temporary camp took an ominous turn when it began to rain and it continued for the next forty days.30 The rains caused significant loss to the 748 St. George citizens, and indeed to everyone in the Mission, as they were generally reduced to a position of starting over.31
As the settlers began moving on January 23, 1862 from their campsite to take up their lots in the new city, they remained busily engaged in ditching, fencing, gathering building materials and plowing for spring planting.32 Despite flooding and general poverty, voluntary contributions were sought to build a proposed St. George Hall to be fashioned of stone and used for educational and social purposes. It was projected to cost between $3,000 and $3,500. Not one person in St. George had a roof over head, yet 120 people subscribed $2,074 in labor, kind and cash.33
The greatest need was for more help. As James G. Bleak explained, “it is a big country to subdue.” Erastus Snow wanted five hundred laborers as soon as they could provide them something to eat.34 Labor was incessant, provisions were scarce, the heat discouraging, no lucern or other forage crops had been raised, the teams were weak but could not be rested as they were needed to haul food items from Cedar City, Parowan, Beaver, and even Millard, Sevier, and Sanpete Counties. Some settlers were leaving and others were moving from one community within the Mission to another. Even so, by July 1862 Washington County reported having 395 taxpayers, 130 of them in St. George. Iron County had 198, Beaver County 131 making a total of 724 taxpayers in the Southern Utah Mission as it then existed.35
Meanwhile, a hardship imposed from Salt Lake City, beyond local control, was assignments each spring for teams, teamsters, guards and supplies to go east to bring in immigrants. In 1863 the Mission was assigned 55 teams.36 They left in April and did not return until November 26 and 27 when parties were given to honor the returnees at the newly completed St. George Hall.37
A request in 1864 for 28 teams caused Erastus Snow to protest even though the assignment was filled. In a letter dated March 20, 1864 to Presiding Bishop Edward Hunter, Snow explained that the teams in the south were scarce and scrubby. This was because there had been no rain or snow, and thus, there was little hay or grain. The teams they had, which were few because many had been traded for food, were needed to haul goods from northern areas. The wealthiest settlers never came or had left and there were fewer people left in the County than a year before. Their teams had to travel 700 miles further than those of the north without consideration, and the year before they even had to wait seven weeks at Florence for their loads. It therefore, required seven months to make the trip, while most northern teams returned in four months.38 Although assessments continued each spring, there were no more complaints, perhaps because of improving conditions or more generous considerations.
Brigham Young was not unaware of difficult conditions in the south. He was also determined that the settlements on the Virgin succeed. During a visit among the discouraged residents in September 1862, he developed an idea for providing help. On October 1, he wrote to Erastus Snow suggesting the building of a good, substantial, commodious meeting house of sufficient size to seat 2,000 souls. Brigham Young pledged to this public works project aid in the form of molasses, vegetables, grain tithing, and the help of all places and persons from Cedar City south.39
On December 19, 1862 a council meeting at St. George voted to accept Brigham Young’s proposal.40 A May, 1863 visit from President Young encouraged the settlers who still struggled to build and improve roads, dams, ditches, and to suffer from chills and fever, scarcity of water and food. On Brigham Young’s 62nd birthday, June 1, 1863, the residents happily laid the corner stone.41
To assure the promised aid for the project, Brigham Young wrote on September 15 instructing that bishops should see to getting tithing paid promptly in the season thereof without delay so work could commence on the Tabernacle by November 1. All tithing was to be put at President Snow’s disposal for use in construction. President Young’s earnest desire was for everyone to give hearty cooperation. All were to be ready to respond to such calls as might come.42
Another letter of November 25 from the First Presidency again requested help in securing all tithing. Instructions were for the bishops to “visit every member of the wards and learn the amount of grain, stock, cash, cotton, etc., raised and made and see that the tenth is duly paid in and if any one refuses to pay his proper tithing in its kind, it should we think, be made a matter of fellowship.” Bishops were urged to be punctual and energetic in these matters.43
Due to continued scarcity of food at St. George, Santa Clara, and Washington, significant donations were gathered in the north in 1864 to support constructing the Tabernacle. From the Salt Lake 13th Ward, 5,493 pounds of flour were donated, from Kaysville Ward in Layton, 7,484 pounds, from Lehi, 2,000 pounds, and from the General Tithing Office in Salt Lake City 1,500 pounds for a total of 16,667 pounds of flour. It was used for supporting laborers and to purchase cotton. Businessmen in Salt Lake City also donated $525 cash in 1864 toward the Tabernacle. Each year, settlers throughout the region continued to haul tithing produce to pay those working on the building.44 On Saturday, March 20,1869, the first public meeting was held in the basement. The Tabernacle was finally completed and dedicated in 1875. This public works project had served to provide a rallying point and a measure of security to hard pressed settlers.45
Under Brigham Young’s instructions, farmland was initially planted almost exclusively to cotton. Even though prices increased to three times normal due to Civil War disruptions, without a ready cash market, the concentration on cotton led inevitability to food shortages. So some settlers, much to the dismay of Brigham Young, began selling their cotton to “foreign markets” in California.46 He advised against selling away cotton and offered to buy it to prevent its export. Continued food shortages caused local leaders to advise planting more foodstuffs and less cotton, but drought conditions prolonged a situation in which there was too much cotton and too little food.47 Settlers continued to be challenged in dealing with generally grim temporal circumstances in the Mission, but at the same time for political and geographical reasons, Brigham Young desired an expansion of the Mission.
Given food shortages, it seemed that building a Cotton Factory was the only way to keep farmers growing cotton. Brigham Young promised he would build a factory to process cotton if the farmers would continue to grow it. In September 1864, during a visit to the Mission he bought the water of Machine Creek (Mill Creek) at Washington.48 Then he instructed Erastus Snow to look for a suitable site to build a factory. During his next annual visit in September 1865, President Young approved a site on the west side of Washington and made plans for immediate construction.49 The settlers were to donate labor and material. Work commenced at once and in December 1866, the first story of the factory was finished, but to fully operate, a millrace was needed.50 On January 13, 1867, at a special meeting, 84 men subscribed $495 in means to pay laborers, an aggregate of 135 days of labor, two days of team labor, and a load of wood. Following a second donation drive, the millrace was finished early in 1867.51
The space provided on one story proved inadequate so two more stories were added. They were finished on September 5, 1870,52 but by then, the railroad was completed, the Civil War was five years in the past, and cotton from Southern States could be imported much more cheaply than it could be raised with irrigated agriculture in Dixie.
Nevertheless, Brigham Young longed for the factory to run successfully as a business rather than as a subsidy program. He suggested a cooperative association so the factory would be locally owned by shareholders. An intensive drive to enlist people to subscribe stock was undertaken in 1869, but the response was disappointing partly because the people lacked the financial means.53 From this point, the Cotton Factory and cotton growing in southern Utah experienced ups and downs, but according to Karl Larson, mostly downs.54 Deemphasizing cotton production served to improve economic conditions, but it did take some focus away from the central purpose that the cotton mission concept had provided.
Another public effort was begun even before construction of the Cotton Factory. In April 1865, Erastus Snow called a meeting to solicit subscriptions toward a telegraph line from Salt Lake City to St. George. Contributions totaled $1,573.33 with but $683.33 in cash and the rest in labor. President Snow regretted the limited cash donation, but circumstances, now as later, precluded the general circulation of cash in the Mission.55
By early winter of 1866, President Young expressed a desire to winter in St. George, but he would not until the telegraph line was in operation. Erastus Snow encouraged donors and laborers to prepare and set poles with all dispatch. A gratifying response quickly placed the poles. On January 8, 1867, David P. Kimball arrived with the telegraph wire, and on January 15, 1867, telegraphic communications were established from St. George as far north as Cache Valley.56 It was proposed to extend the line to the Muddy Settlements to the southwest, which were established as a part of a planned expansion of the Southern Utah Mission. Unfortunately, this did not happen, but the completion of the line to St. George did somewhat alleviate much of the remoteness of the Mission.57
In a March, 1864 letter, Erastus Snow proposed to Brigham Young an extension of settlements to the headwaters of the Virgin to the east and westward to Clover Valley, Meadow Valley, Eagle Valley and along the Muddy.58 In the spring of 1864, two settlements were begun near the head of the Virgin, one named Berryville (Glendale), the other Winsor (Mt. Carmel). Snow reported that twenty-five individuals who were a comparatively footloose segment of the population had been selected to claim and hold the most desirable locations of the upper Valley.59 A settlement was also begun on Kanab Creek and several ranches were established at Pipe Springs, Moccasin, Quitch-um-pah, (Skootum-pah), Short Creek, Gould’s Ranch and Tenney’s Herd Grounds.60
An additional unintentional expansion also occurred near Virgin City at this time. Some residents desired to move closer to their farms. This was contrary to counsel to stay together for mutual protection and for purposes of schools and meetings. The Presiding Elder at Virgin refused to consent to a scattering so the farmers appealed to Erastus Snow who gave a partial consent. Immediately, some moved nearer their farms and in the process commenced the town of Dalton about one and one-half miles up the Virgin.61
Meanwhile, President Snow feared that good lands located in Clover and Meadow Valleys would be taken by outsiders. This concern was intensified when a discovery of precious metals was reported in an area northwest of Meadow Valley. On May 6, 1864, called Mormon settlers began arriving and on May 21, Erastus Snow came to help them locate the site of Panaca where they began building sod houses and sowing wheat. Snow warned them that if they mined it must be a secondary consideration.62 A continuing influx of miners increased fears they might claim the lands and water of Meadow Valley. To assure the Mormon settlers would not abandon farming for mining, in the summer of 1865 they were pointedly told that any man going to the mines as a miner would be cut off from the Church.63
To further guard against outsider encroachment, in June, John Nebekker was sent as Presiding Elder to strengthen the Meadow Valley settlement, and to take general oversight of all the infant settlements in the region. On June 12, Erastus Snow assigned an additional thirty-eight men and families to go and aid in the settlement of the Valley.64
Another potential for expansion that never quite materialized was announced in October 1864 General Conference. Anson Call was directed by the First Presidency to locate a road to the Colorado River, explore the river, find a suitable site for a warehouse, build it, and form a settlement near the prospective landing. It was hoped that goods and immigrants could be brought up river by steamboat. Call selected a warehouse site about 125 miles from St. George in December 1864,65 but little came of it in terms of settlement or steamboat traffic.
A more tangible expansion came from other calls made at the same conference. Thomas S. Smith from Davis County arrived on January 8, 1865 with eleven brethren and three sisters, as the first of several families called to establish a Muddy settlement.66 Soon there were forty-five families on the Muddy and the town of St. Thomas was laid out. Explorations below the Muddy indicated there was no large body of arable land there, but on the Muddy there were potential sites for mills and for farms plus there was also good farm land at Beaver Dam, about thirty miles from St. George that needed settling.67 On the Muddy, St. Joseph and Simonville were soon settled and six or eight families began farming at Beaver Dam. Outsiders soon came to the Muddy Springs area and in the fall of 1865, they staked out 500 acres.68 The presence of these interlopers led to calls for reinforcing and strengthening the Muddy settlements.69 Reinforcing the Muddy suddenly became impractical, however, because encroachments by miners and the Mormon expansion excited Native American concerns for their lands and resources and helped precipitate the Black Hawk War, beginning at the end of 1865. The war not only ended expansion temporarily, but it also led to a consolidation of existing settlements as militia units were organized, men mustered and drilled, and villages were abandoned for protective purposes so there might be enough men to guard workers, build forts, and provide the safety of numbers.70 As soon as conditions warranted, in October 1866, President Snow counseled settlers to return to Eagle Valley.71 Conditions were also considered safe enough that in the 1867 October General Conference of the Church an additional 158 missionaries were called to settle and strengthen the Muddy settlements where conditions were said to be better than anywhere in the Southern Utah Mission for raising cotton.72
By February 1868, only seventy-five to eighty of the called missionaries had arrived and many of them were locating on the upper Muddy.73 They reportedly evinced a spirit that they were amenable to no one less in authority than Brigham Young. Consequently, on February 17, 1868, Brigham Young sent a telegram to Bishop Robert Gardner of St. George. From there, it was sent by express to Andrew S. Gibbons on the Muddy. The message read, “The brethren who are on the Upper Muddy must return to the place where they were sent or else return home.” As a result, quite a number of the “willful spirits” left for their former homes in northern Utah.74 In fact, so many left that in the spring conference of the Southern Utah Mission, it was reported that there were now only twenty-five or thirty of those called in October who remained.75 The cry was to “send us more help.”76 However, the exodus continued. President Snow reported that in May as he returned from Salt Lake City he saw many families and young men belonging to the Mission on their way north. He attributed much of the “desertion” to the recent disastrous flooding in the south, although many were headed north to work on completing the railroad.77
The eminent arrival of the railroad, in some ways created a dilemma for the Mormon people. As early as 1854, Erastus Snow had wished for a railroad, which might bring more success to the manufacturing of iron in Iron County.78 As much as a railroad would bring the benefits of cheaper, faster, more comfortable, and greater volume transit of goods and people, it also presented potential challenges. Could cotton in the Southern Utah Mission compete with that from Southern States? The answer was a resounding, “No!” For Brigham Young, a greater concern was a feared influx of non-Mormons who would challenge Mormon control of Utah and bring in unwanted influences. To meet this challenge, in 1866, President Young organized a boycott of non-Mormon businesses hoping thereby to insure security and self-sufficiency for the Mormon people.79 By the fall of 1868, a more elaborate and more positive plan called for forming retail trade associations in local communities. To further assist in economic planning and to promote self-sufficiency the Women’s Relief Society was organized at St. George, and later elsewhere. In early November a Branch of the School of the Prophets was organized for St. George, Washington and Santa Clara.80 The ninety-four priesthood brethren who made up the School of the Prophets were instructed on temporal issues affecting growth, power and influence of the Mormon people. They also encouraged measures to render the people self-sustaining.81
At St. George on Monday, November 23, 1868 the Southern Utah Co-operative Mercantile Association was formed as a joint stock company with a $8,794 initial subscription in capital stock.82 This was roughly the same time that stock in the Cotton Factory went begging. This irony portended much in the way of the future of the Mission. On April 26, 1869 several leaders of the Mission and the CMA met in the basement rented by the Association in President Snow’s Big House, knelt down in prayer and dedicated the coop store, property, business, and interest of the Association to the Lord.83 The parent ZCMI located in Salt Lake City was to serve as a broker, importer, and wholesale supplier to the CMI stores throughout Utah. It was soon able to import goods to Utah on the railroad and thereby to significantly reduce costs. The parent store also began buying such Southern Utah Mission products as molasses, fruit, and a growing surplus of livestock, products the area could realistically and competitively produce. The over planting of cotton had previously made settlers too dependent on foodstuff from areas beyond the Mission and had created a marginal economy. By contrast, within a year, the Cooperative Mercantile Association was returning a 16 percent profit.84
Four days after the St. George CMA began operation and ten days before the completion of the railroad at Promontory Summit, the President of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young, a counselor, Daniel H. Wells, and Apostles Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon and Brigham Young, Jr., arrived in St. George with important messages. They praised the people for their efforts in road improvements, establishing the telegraph, and public buildings. The infrastructure was well established by the efforts of the people who answered calls and persisted and had successfully put all things in order. Their temporal well being was significantly better than in past years and the future looked bright. Additional colonists had been called in October 1868 General Conference and were beginning to arrive. They seemed committed to coming, staying and strengthening the settlements beyond the rim of the Great Basin. With better roads, the telegraph, public buildings built or under construction, an established coop store, and adequate food resources, plus marketable products, the new settlers would find their lot immeasurably easier. Most of the sites identified as desirable for expansion had been successfully settled. There was little likelihood of having to camp in wagon boxes or dugouts, or sod house again.
Brigham Young assured the people, who might have wondered about the declining success of cotton production, that despite this fact, they had met the most important objective of settling the Mission. The goal, he said, was to provide hiding places for those who love and serve God.85 A few years later, John Taylor echoed Brigham Young’s sentiment when he suggested that wherever there was a habitable place, Saints were sent there to control the country. He explained that if we did not have the remote, difficult places settled the Mormons would not have the country. “…Possessing them gave strength and protection to our more important settlement…” He also suggested that a better place could not be found for making Saints.86
Even so, the arrival of the railroad in Utah did increase gentile influences, which led inexorably to increased demands by the influx of non-Mormons for Federal action against polygamy. Soon the Southern Utah Mission was providing hiding places for many polygamist fugitives fleeing from arrest. Today these communities continue to provide refuge for many seeking to evade cold winter weather and to find outdoor recreation. These settlements are now centers of thriving mercantilism. Almost symbolically, the old Cotton Factory is now a nursery, while in the Red Cliff Mall there is a thriving, although much restructured ZCMI. It can even be suggested that the St. George Temple finished in 1877 as another public works project, but mainly as a place for performing sacred rites, still provides a sanctuary for many who love and serve God.
The Southern Utah Mission, centered in St. George, was a result of planned expansion that was undertaken for political and geographical reasons to occupy all the desirable sites beyond the rim of the Great Basin. The settlers and the communities were to help in providing safety, security, and self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency was never fully realized, but despite the ultimate failure of the cotton industry, the Mission was a success in all other ways and perhaps most particularly in turning out Saints.