Norma Ricketts has written that on Nov. 3, 1858, 12 Mormons, guided by a southern Paiute named Naragut and led by the Mormon pioneer Jacob Hamblin, came upon the site where it was possible to cross the Colorado River.

John D. Lee became a ferryman on Jan. 29, 1872, when a band of 15 Navajos called from the left bank of the Colorado River, asking to be taken across. Lee remained at the ferry until Nov. 7, 1874. When Lee's wife, Emma, first saw the site where they would be living near the ferry, she said, "Oh my, what a lonely dell."

Following Lee's arrest for his role in the tragedy at Mountain Meadows, Emma Lee continued to reside at Lonely Dell. She was assisted by Warren Johnson and his son until 1879 when she sold her interest in the ferry to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of the Johnson family remained at the site for 50 years.