A visit to pioneer oasis: Arizona's Pipe Spring

By Ray Boren

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Feb. 28 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Pipe Spring’s Winsor Castle includes a pair of two-story sandstone-walled buildings, with an inner courtyard and gates. This view of the north building — the family residence — is from the southern structure, which housed living quarters, a telegraph office and dairy facilities.

Ray Boren

One in an occasional series about the places and people of "Deseret," the provisional state imagined by President Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers.

PIPE SPRING NATIONAL MONUMENT, Ariz. — The familiar lettering is still legible on an old, gradually rusting metal sign hanging high on a wooden second-story pillar of “Winsor Castle,” the fortified ranch house at Pipe Spring.

“DESERET TELEGRAPH,” the block blue lettering proclaims. Adding directional emphasis is a faded arrow just below the two words.

For the Mormon pioneers of the mid-19th century, Pipe Spring was a cog in their proposed “State of Deseret.” And certainly, they thought, it was nestled within the U.S. government’s more formal Utah Territory.

Extending the winding line of telegraph poles and wires of the Mormon-owned Deseret Telegraph Co. to this remote southern outpost was a notable, even historic occasion.

Nestled below the spectacular Vermilion Cliffs above a vast plain north of the Colorado River’s Grand Canyon, Pipe Spring was a thriving Mormon-owned ranch, farm and dairy operation by the 1870s, says Benn Pikyavit, a ranger and guide at what is today Pipe Spring National Monument.

“Winsor Castle is part of the (Mormon) expansion southward to the Colorado River,” one of a string of five forts, he tells a small tour group. At Kanab, to the northeast, for example, was another fort.

Pipe Spring provided vital — and fresh — provisions for St. George, several days’ ride to the northwest, where settlers were raising a new temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 1870, Pipe Spring became the waterhole headquarters of a venture put together by the LDS Church, which had a growing herd of tithed cattle, and individual investors. Their co-op was initially called the Canaan Cooperative Stock Co., and then the New Canaan Stock Co. Mormon leader Brigham Young was one of the investors.

Anson Perry Winsor was appointed the first ranch manager. The enclosed two-building, two-story sandstone dwelling built for him, his wife, Emmeline, and their family quickly came to be called “Winsor Castle.”

The reference is, of course, to the much grander Windsor Castle, one of the homes of the royal family in England.

“Brigham Young used the name without comment, as though it was already a fixture, when he visited the place in 1871,” historian David Lavender notes in “The History of Arizona’s Pipe Spring National Monument.”

Lavender writes that 18-year-old Eliza Louella Stewart, the daughter of Kanab pioneer leader Levi Stewart, was Pipe Spring’s first telegraph operator.

Pikyavit, a Paiute himself, from the Richfield area, leads tours through Winsor Castle. He shows off, and offers tales about, the parlors, bedrooms, kitchen and other rooms, all furnished with artifacts appropriate to the 1870s and '80s.

He points out slit-like gun ports, built into the thick walls in upstairs rooms as part of the “castle’s” fortification during dangerous times. In the end, the defensive measures were never needed, Pikyavit says.

One of the stops is at the doorway into “Ella’s” quarters. Her room, in the upper southwest corner of Winsor Castle, includes a lamp-lighted table and telegraph pad.

A.M. Musser, Deseret Telegraph’s superintendent, inaugurated service from Pipe Spring with a message indicating it was from “Winsor Castle, Utah,” and dated Dec. 15, 1871, at 12:31 p.m. It began:

“We have opened a telegraph office here this morning — Miss Ella Stewart, operator. Winsor Castle is progressing rapidly toward completion.”

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