1 of 12
Ray Boren
A year-round water source and range lands south of the Vermilion Cliffs drew pioneer cattlemen to Pipe Spring in the mid-1800s. However, drought and over-grazing turned the once-grassy plain into a terrain dominated by sagebrush and tumbleweeds by the late 19th century.

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.”

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.

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