Cultural wars and environmental destruction: Pipe Spring National Monument

Kenab lawn sprinkler

Kenab lawn sprinkler

Benn Pikyavit, a Paiute, was our guide through Wisor Castle, home to Mormon polygamists, now owned by the U.S. Park Service.  All three represent cultural conflict.

Alie and I love the desert Southwest, but we often wondered why pioneers chose to settle there.  It seems to offer so little.  We found at least one answer on the Arizona-Utah border.

After a night in Kenab, Utah, we went back into Arizona to Pipe Spring National Monument.

1870s Pipe Spring pond

1870s Pipe Spring pond

Water is wealth in the desert.  For thousands of years, people sought water at Pipe Spring to drink and to grow crops.  Ancestors of the Puebloans stopped there.  Spanish explorers passed through the area.  The Kaibab Paiute people lived in branch and brush shelters and hunted the animals that came to the water.

But the Paiutes’ numbers declined as they died from European diseases or fell prey to Ute and Navajo slave raids.

The spring is inside the fort.

The spring is inside the fort.

Brigham Young, leader of the Church of Latter Day Saints, envisioned an unlimited empire and sent missionaries and settlers out to expand his Utah base.  Jacob Hamblin, one of these, visited Pipe Spring in 1858 and gave the place its current name.  But in 1863, it was James Whitmore who brought in livestock.  He ultimately had 11,000 sheep and 500 cattle.  He acquired title to 160 acres around the spring.  “Land ownership” was a foreign concept to the perplexed Paiute.

Paiute dwelling

Early Paiute dwelling

Paiutes, Navajos, Apaches and Utes resisted Mormon expansion in a series of about 150 battles and skirmishes called the “Black Hawk War.”  A fort was built over the spring in 1872, and the following year, fort, spring and ranch were acquired by Brigham Young.  The church property manager was Anson Winsor, and soon the fort became “Winsor Castle.” The first telegraph line in the area went through Winsor Castle.

Colorado River explorer John Wesley Powell, a former Union Army officer, visited the spring in 1870 and later his survey crews used it.  But Mormon culture in Utah was conflict with the ways of the rest of the nation. Polygamy was made illegal in U.S. territories in 1862.  The law was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1879, but many Mormons continued the practice.  What better place to hide your extra wives than at the remote Pipe Spring?

The LDS lost control of the property under the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act designed to break up and penalize polygamy.  In 1923, the ranch was purchased and set aside as a national monument.  Colorado City, center of a current battle over polygamy, is just 20 miles away from Pipe Spring.  Today in the age of the Internet, however, nothing is “remote”.

The camera focused on the fence, not this little fellow.

The camera focused on the fence, not this little fellow.

The Kaibab Indian Reservation was established in 1907, and a small portion of their original land around the ranch was returned to the Paiutes.  Today the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians Visitor Center is the entrance to Pipe Spring and also houses a museum.

The cultural struggles at Pipe Spring were interesting.  We particularly noted the Paiutes suffered at the hands of nearly everyone: Spanish, other First Americans, Mormons and the U.S. government.

Why did the pioneers settle there in the first place?  It wasn’t just the spring.  Signs described the land before Whitmore settled at the spring.  It was not the patchy desert we see today.  It was desert, but it was covered in abundant high grasses, home to many small animals.  Paiutes ate the seeds and hunted the animals.

That high grass attracted Whitmore and other Mormons.  Unfortunately, overgrazing by their sheep and cattle destroyed it.  Tumbleweeds and sagebrush took over.  Today, the Park Service is making an effort to restore some small plots of land to the original grasses. So now we know what brought the settlers — it was a tough land, but not always this tough.

If you are in the area, Pipe Spring is not far from Zion National Park and worth a visit.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  Did you know that tumbleweed, almost a symbol of the West, is not native?  Its real name is Russian Thistle, and it is an exotic from Eurasia.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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3 Responses to Cultural wars and environmental destruction: Pipe Spring National Monument

  1. Excellent history. Thanks. –Curt


  2. cindy knoke says:

    Fascinating history. We will be in this area in November. I wonder if I’ll pop over to Colorado City? I hear they don’t like visitors. I did not know about the tumble weeds!


  3. That was really interesting, thanks for the history lesson! Karen


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