UTAH'S DIXIE HISTORICAL SITES
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by Kelton Hafen
The old Spanish trail used by the Spaniards from 1829 to about 1849 as a trade route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to San Bernardino, California, was used by pack animals.
In 1849 a group of people, mostly from the Midwest, seeking gold in California were met by Jefferson Hunt and took the first wagons over portions of this route from Central Utah to Northwest Arizona – Southern Nevada into California.
The reason that the group took the Southern route from Salt Lake instead of the more direct western road was winter was getting close. With the fate of the Donner Party fresh on their minds, they didn’t want to try to cross the Sierra Mountains.
The Spanish Trail through the present Washington County Utah came down Holt Canyon through the mountain meadows – down the Santa Clara Creek – up over Utah Hill at about the same place the old Highway 91 goes. At the mouth of the Beaver Dam Wash it followed the Virgin River for several miles.
The road down the Virgin River had many drawbacks. The Natives living along the river were troublesome. The Road Cris-crossed the river some 40 times. Quick sand was prevalent. High water in the wintertime and flash floods in the summertime were always the possibility. Then after leaving the river and climbing what was called the Virgin Hill to the Mormon mesa the road was so steep it was impossible for animals to pull a heavy load.
As the freighting business between Salt Lake City and San Bernardino grew, this route was impractical.
In 1869 a new road was opened. It was known as the Miller cut off – The Freight Wagon Road – or The Mormon Wagon Road.
This Roads left the Spanish trail ( Highway 91) just north of the Arizona line going west to the Mormon well on the Beaver Dam Wash. This was the last water for some 35 miles. It crossed into Nevada about 4 mi. south of the 3 corners of Utah, Arizona & Nevada. Going West – Southwest 17 miles onto the Mormon Mesa – across the Mesa to the muddy river at Glendale Nevada.
This route had some hard pulls through sand, the climb out of the Beaver Dam Wash and through the Toquop Wash, but it was a much better road for heavy wagons. The biggest problem was lack of water in the summer heat.
The following story is taken from the book Red Hills of November by A. Karl Larson. The only discrepancy that I find is Davidson and his wife were found 15 mi. from the Mormon well instead of 5 mi..
PERILS OF THE ROAD: THE DAVIDSON TRAGEDY
The road connecting the settlements of the middle and upper Virgin area with the settlements on the Muddy was a difficult one from any point of view. From Beaver Dams to the Muddy there were two routes, each in its own way about as objectionable as the other. If the traveler followed the Virgin, he was assured of plenty of water; but the road criss-crossed from one bank of the Virgin to the other the whole distance, and many of the crossings — nearly forty in number — between Beaver Dams and St. Thomas were dangerous because of the quicksand in the river bed, as well as the high water during the spring run-off and the flash floods of the summer season.
The other route left the Beaver Dam Wash at Mormon Well, several miles north of the junction of the Wash with the Virgin River, and cut across the flat expanse of Mormon Mesa, a distance of better than thirty miles to the point where the road struck the Muddy River. There was no water on this stretch of road; and while a distance of thirty-odd miles without water was not extremely difficult to negotiate, a considerable part of this distance was sandy and slowed travel considerably. To the initiated it offered no great peril; but to the inexperienced it could be dangerous. It was not considered wise to travel it alone.
On Thursday, June 3, 1869, George Jarvis, William Webb, and John E. Lloyd were sent to the watering place at the Beaver Dam Wash to clean out and deepen the well at that place in order to make more water available to travelers. They were there for several days. On Saturday evening, June 12th, a horse, much in need of water, strayed into the camp of the well-diggers. The men watered and fed him and kept him tied on the assumption that the animal belonged to some traveler. Next day toward evening William Webb went out to look around, no travelers having shown up to claim the horse. He found just a scant half-mile from the camp the body of a boy whose face and body were so bloated from exposure to the intense heat of the sun as to be unrecognizable. The empty canteen and gallon keg by his side bore eloquent testimony of the cause of his death. He was one of three who perished on the desert from thirst — James Davidson, his wife, and their twelve-year-old son. The men at the well buried the boy and placed a marker at the grave.
The Davidsons, recent converts from Scotland, came to Washington when the Factory began operations sometime around the end of 1866 or the beginning of 1867. Davidson was an expert machinist and superintended the installation of the machinery in the Factory. Just why they were on the Muddy is not clear, but they left St. Thomas to return home on the 9th of June, 1869, in company with a group going to St. George. Between St. Thomas and St. Joseph (Logandale) a tire ran off one of the wheels of their outfit. Benjamin Paddock went out and put the tire on and wedged it up for them. This mishap delayed them so that they were unable to reach St. Joseph that night; but their intent seems to have been to reach that place before the company left the next morning. Paddock says he warned them not to try to cross the desert alone if the company had already gone.
Apparently they failed to make connections with the company but tarried at St. Joseph until Friday morning, when they started for home by themselves. It appears that they got most of the way across the desert, when one of the carriage wheels broke down. They must have sent the boy to get water while they remained with the outfit. It seems likely that their unfamiliarity with the country must have been the chief reason for the tragedy which overtook them, for Davidson and his wife were found only about five miles from the watering place. It may be that the boy lost the way and wandered about before he became exhausted and perished from the heat and thirst. The parents of the boy were found lying side by side on their bed under cactus bushes, where they had hung up a blanket in an effort to shelter themselves from the burning sun.
With a lightweight horse buggy,. the trip should have been easy, but the Davidson were totally unprepared to cross the desert in June with temperatures were well over 100 degree with wheel problems and only a small keg of water and a canteen and traveling alone, being unfamiliar with the country, it turned out to be a disaster.
It’s the boy’s body was moved and buried with his parents that is marked with a headstone and big iron cross. It can be found also from the A. L. Larson book " another near tragedy" is reported:
Andrew Sproul’s thoughts centered on another episode of that trip back to the Muddy. As he and Woodruff Alexander had crossed over the Beaver Dam Mountains, a transient on his way to California had fallen in with their outfits. They proceeded down Joshua Canyon and on across the slope to the Beaver Dam Wash, where they made camp at the Mormon Well, the last watering place for travelers taking the shorter route until they reached the Muddy crossing near the present site of Glendale station. Fearing the long, waterless trip across the sandy wastes of the mesa, the brothers-in-law decided to follow the river road, despite its many unpleasant quicksand crossings — a bad road by any standard, but at least it did not lack water. Though they tried hard to dissuade him, their companion decided to take the road across the desert; he thought he could make it all right. They reminded him of the Davidson tragedy on that strip of road less than two years ago, but to their importunities he turned a deaf ear.
So they separated and took their course down the Beaver Dam Wash to the Virgin River and pursued their way along its tortuous course. But they could not get the thoughts of their new acquaintance from their minds. They finally agreed they should retrace their steps and try to overtake him. And for him it was well they had done so. They found him practically dying of thirst, but they revived him and he was more than willing to go back to the river route.