Thursday, April 23, 2015

Early Pioneers Cross the Colorado River from Utah to Arizona

As a young couple, my great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner, and his wife Eliza Parkinson Tanner, traveled by wagon in southern Utah to settle along the Little Colorado River in northern Arizona. Henry and his wife were married in 1877, he was 24 and she was 19. Shortly after they were married, along with many others, they were called as missionaries by Brigham Young, to settle in the wilderness of northern Arizona. At the time, they lived in Beaver, Utah and the trip to Arizona would be close to 500 miles. There was no direct route between southern Utah and Northern Arizona. As a matter of fact, practically the same conditions exist today. There are only a few places to cross the Colorado River especially in the canyon country that stretches across the northeast corner of Arizona. At the time, there was a crossing at Lee’s Ferry, however, the pioneers had been asked to explore the crossing of the Colorado River at Pearce’s Ferry below the Grand Canyon. The ferry across the river had only been established a year before. The location of the ferry is now submerged under Lake Mead.

 One of the party of the pioneers wrote "this road was very bad, dugways for miles, very hilly and water scarce. This is a new road from St. George to Pearce ferry.”

 When the pioneers arrived at Pearce’s Ferry, it took two days to get the wagons and livestock across the river. The wagons were ferried across in short order, but the livestock refused to swim the river and there was no other way to get them to the other side. My great-grandfather Henry was an excellent horseman and was used to handling stock. It was his job to get the livestock across the river. After many attempts, the party was about ready to despair of ever crossing the river.

 On the second day after many failures an old Indian came into the camp asking for food. While he was being fed, the Indian noticed the men trying to get the livestock to cross the river. One of the women noticed that the Indian was very interested in the operation. It came to her that this Indian had had experience in crossing the river with animals and she mentioned the fact one of the men. By the use of sign language, the men ask him if he was experienced in getting livestock across the river. He said he was and that he would help but he wanted to be paid. After negotiating, he was given a small sack of flour which he tied to the saddle of his horse. He then went down to the river and motioned to the man to drive all the cattle to the edge of the water. When all of the animals were up to their bellies in the water, the Indian took off his clothes until he was covered only by a blanket. He seized the corners of the blanket and began flapping the blanket and letting out large whoops.

 The animals were now more afraid of the Indian than they were of water and they immediately headed for the other side of the river. The last animal to get into the water was an old mule, once the mule got to his depth in the water, the Indian threw his blanket to one of the men, jumped into the river, grabbed hold of the tail of the mule and let the mule pulled him across the river. As the Indian cross the river he took mouthfuls of water and blew it at the frightened animals and then let out another whoop. The pioneers experienced some difficulty in rounding up all of the animals when they reach the other side of the river.

 As a note, a dugway is a road cut into the side of a steep hill. The place where is this pioneer band settled is now called Joseph City, Arizona.

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