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

Today, the preserved ranch headquarters property includes what are called the East Cabin and West Cabin, flanking the main house, as well as masonry ponds beloved by ducks, and various stone retaining walls. A buggy and a canvas-topped wagon add to the Old West flavor.

Besides livestock, Winsor’s Pipe Spring operation was a major source of grains, milk and especially cheese for the settlers of St. George, Pikyavit explains during his tours. Cows were milked twice a day. Crops included wheat, rye, alfalfa and flax.

The dairy’s “cheese room,” near a flowing run of water in the lower level of the castle’s southern building, is complete with great tubs and racks for cheese, eggs and other products.

“Every two weeks Winsor took butter, cheese and cattle to St. George,” notes the Park Service’s history-packed brochure.

The ranch prospered for a time, but after drought and over-grazing damaged the grazing lands, the operation foundered. In subsequent years, Pikyavit says, the dairy and cheese room became a tack room for cowboys.

“Ten years ago the desert spaces ... were covered with abundant grasses,” government geologist and topographer Clarence Dutton wrote in 1880. ”Today hardly a blade of grass is to be found within 10 miles” of Pipe Spring. Even if there had been no drought, he said, “cattle would have ... destroyed the grass by cropping it clean.”

Late in the century, Pipe Spring proved a haven of another sort.

“In the 1880s and 1890s the remote fort at Pipe Spring became a refuge for wives hiding from federal marshals enforcing anti-polygamy laws,” notes the Park Service brochure. “Polygamy was the early Mormon doctrine of men having more than one wife. A number of women and their children hid at Pipe Spring to save their husbands and fathers from prosecution.”

“A lot of first wives” — and their children — hid at Pipe Spring, Pikyavit says, so they couldn’t be questioned. The outback spot was off the beaten track. Federal authorities did not frequent the area, he says.

The ranch was also a welcome stop along the “Honeymoon trail,” a wagon route from Mormon settlements farther south in Arizona to the completed St. George LDS Temple, where young couples married.

The government’s confiscatory powers during its anti-polygamy campaign, and the drought, ultimately prompted the LDS Church to bow out of the Pipe Spring venture, historians say. It was sold into private hands. In 1907, surrounding lands were included in the Kaibab-Paiute Reservation.

But a fresh start was on the horizon for Winsor Castle and the springs.

A historic marker hangs on the southeast corner of castle’s sandstone wall. Dated Sept. 2, 1933, it reads:

“Pipe Spring National Monument

“Established May 31, 1923

“Through efforts of Stephen T. Mather and Friends”

Mather was first director of America’s then-new National Park Service in the teens and '20s of the 20th century. Pipe Spring piqued his interest early, as he was expanding the agency’s holdings for the Age of the Automobile, Lavender says.

He took his enthusiasm for the pioneer Mormon fort — dilapidated as it had become — to U.S. President Warren G. Harding, and the chief executive declared it a national monument, even before the government had secured title to the property, the historian says.

Today, Pipe Spring remains an icon of “Deseret hospitality,” as decreed by Brigham Young himself.

“Let the people ... plant vineyards and orchards ... (and) treat the passing strangers with respect,” the pioneer leader said, according to one of the historic site’s placards.

And so they grew carrots and turnips, corn and beans, grapes and pumpkins, as well as apple, pear and plum trees.

Today’s Pipe Spring includes the Kaibab Paiute tribal headquarters, a service station, several houses, and a fine museum and gift shop, beckoning passersby to stop for a while, meditate upon the past, and appreciate the bounty of flowing water in a desert oasis.

If you go ...

Pipe Spring National Monument is located on Arizona S.R. 389, just south of the Utah-Arizona border. Fredonia, Ariz., on U.S. Alt-89, is 14 miles to the northeast. Utah S.R. 59 connects to Arizona 389 out of Hurricane, Utah, 45 miles to the northwest. St. George, I-15 and Utah S.R. 9 are nearby.

Winter hours (September-May) are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Winsor Castle tours are offered on the hour and half hour from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Summer hours (June-August) are 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Castle tours are on the hour and half hour from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Fee is $5 per person, good for seven days. Children age 15 and under are admitted free. Interagency passes are accepted.

Web: www.nps.gov.pisp

Contact: Pipe Spring National Monument, HC65 Box 5, Fredonia, AZ 86022

Telephone: 928-643-7105

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