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

Soon, surveyors working with explorer John Wesley Powell would discover that Pipe Spring was not in Utah at all. The location is actually about 9 miles south of the Utah-Arizona border and the 37th Parallel, Pikyavit says. It sits in what has come to be called the Arizona Strip, between the Grand Canyon and the Vermilion Cliffs.

Thus, history now notes, Ella Stewart operated the telegraph in Arizona.

Powell and his crew first descended the Green and Colorado rivers in 1869, and he planned to do so again. Preparing for his subsequent expeditions, he traversed the terraces north of the Grand Canyon, and visited Pipe Spring. He described the territory as a “barren wilderness of rock,” an exhibit sign notes at today’s national monument.

He recognized Pipe Spring as an oasis. That is what it was to pre-historic hunter-gathers, ancestral Puebloan peoples and to the Kaibab Paiute, who still call the area home.

In the mid-1800s, Pipe Spring became a valuable waterhole for Mormon pioneers and cattle ranchers, who built the fortified ranch upon the site.

Today, it is a popular stop for travelers who pause at the historic ranch while following Utah’s S.R. 59 and Arizona’s S.R. 389, the modern highway that links Hurricane, Utah, with Fredonia, Ariz.

Water, available at Pipe Spring year round, is the key to its centuries-old attraction.

“Paiutes once lived in homes just like the Ancient Ones as they dwelled near the spring,” a Kaibab Paiute tribal member is quoted as saying on an exhibit inside the national monument’s modern museum, operated by the tribe and the National Park Service.

“When the Spanish came ... bringing with them the slave trade, the women and children were carted off to slave markets. When the Navajos and Utes started coming into the area (slave raiding), the Paiutes made the decision to move away from the water — to retain their women and children ... losing traditions, losing their way of life, adapting to the desert.”

Another exhibit records the Paiutes’ decline. A large illustration of a single feather on a graph indicates the Southern Paiutes’ Kaibab band’s population is believed to have been about 5,500 individuals before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492, which introduced deadly Old World diseases.

A much smaller feather measures the population in 1860 at fewer than 1,000 people — perhaps only 200, according to the site’s National Park Service brochure.

More powerful Utes and Navajos raided Paiute bands in northern Arizona, southern Utah and Nevada, selling those captured as slaves to Spanish settlers, often in California or New Mexico. When Mormon pioneers arrived, they would not buy slaves, but did take on Paiutes as indentured servants, an exhibit says.

The abandoned spring nevertheless remained alluring. An outdoor exhibit presents an approving quote from an 1859 passerby, Thales Haskell, described as a “25-year-old Mormon frontiersman.”

“Arrived about noon hungry, tired, and thirsty,” Haskell wrote in his journal. “I now treated myself to a good drink of water, took breakfast & rested myself. ... Plenty of feed and good water at this place.”

Attracted by the grazing potential of the Kaibab Plateau’s high-desert grasslands, James M. Whitmore, an early St. George pioneer, was actually the first to stake a formal claim on Pipe Spring, in 1863.

With herdsman Robert McIntyre, we are informed by another exhibit, he constructed dugout quarters, built corrals, fenced off 10 acres for crops and fruit trees, and began running sheep and cattle on the range.

Their effort was doomed, however. Both men were killed in 1866 while tracking thieves who had stolen some of their stock.

The more formal Mormon ranching operation followed. Winsor Castle rose, with stone quarried nearby and timber from mountains to the north.

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