Monday, October 26, 2009

Cameron, Arizona, and Seth Tanner

Anyone who's spent a portion of his or her life driving up or down Highway 89 in Arizona is familiar with the striking bridge over the Little Colorado at Cameron.

But if you are one of my siblings, chances are that you've never stopped to look at the historical marker by the bridge. Here it is for a good, close look.

The text says:
(Originally Tanner's Crossing)

Named for one of Arizona's first U.S. Senators [Ralph Cameron]. A pioneer in development of trails and copper mines in Grand Canyon. Near here was the site of Tanner's Crossing of the Little Colorado River on the Mormon trail from Utah via Lee Ferry [sic] to settlements in Arizona and Mexico.
Who is the "Tanner" in Tanner's Crossing and nearby Tanner Wash?

It was long-time Arizona resident and early pioneer Seth Tanner.

Seth Benjamin Tanner was a son of John Tanner and his third wife Elizabeth Beswick Tanner. Seth came to Arizona at the same time as his nephew Henry Martin Tanner, who is our ancestor.

Seth spent most of his life living in the far reaches of civilization. His great-nephew George S. Tanner wrote the following:
"The name of Seth B. Tanner is somewhat of a legend in northern Arizona. No one knows for certain much about him, but everyone at all familiar with pioneering knows something about him. He has his name on washes, river crossing, a canyon, a trail into the canyon, a rapid, and a miner's prospect tunnel.

"He got along well with the Indians and knew their language well enough to converse with them. It is doubtful if any man among the Little Colorado River pioneers had their complete confidence more than he, and yet there is little of record concerning his work among them.

"Most of the family members have retained a lively and sympathetic interest in the Indians, and a number have established trading posts among them.

"The author knew slightly this kindly giant of the desert, who was never content to settle down, who apparently was as much at home among the Indians as with the whites, who was more interested in digging holes looking for minerals than in following the plow, and who died without an enemy in the world.

"What an interesting story this noncontroversial man could have related if some historian had taken time to get the information before his voice was stilled. But no one did, and most of his descendants know even less about him then [sic] the frustrated researcher, who finds only here and there some reference to him, such as his testimony in defense of Lot Smith who stood almost friendless in the court of his bishop and stake president." (George S. Tanner, John Tanner and His Family, p 306.)
Seth's great-grandson, Ellis Tanner, who runs a trading post in Gallup, New Mexico, shared this information:
“He was sent out to set up small Mormon colonies,” Ellis explains. “Each time he stayed a little longer. Finally, he set up a trading post in Tuba City (Ariz.) and he didn’t leave. The Navajos called him “Hosteen Shush” (Mr. Bear). We had a family reunion out there, in Tuba City, two or three years ago. They’re still using the same irrigation system today that he set up. Tanner Rapids, a tributary to the Grand Canyon, Tanner Wash, all that is named after Seth Tanner.

“My grandfather, Joe Tanner (‘Shush Yazzae’ or Little Bear in Navajo) also became a trader in Tuba City. He was a very good friend of the Chairman of the Navajo Nation. Joe had a large family. Pretty soon we had several trading posts. Between my folks, the grand folks, my brothers, we’ve been all over the reservation with trading posts.

“My father, Rule Levi Tanner was called ‘Duldin,’ in Navajo. It means ‘Little Man Hard to Get Along With.’ He had a big family. There were seven of us boys and one girl. All the boys became traders. There are four left now, three of us still active traders here in Gallup—me, Don at Shush Yaz, Joe at Joe Tanner Arts & Crafts. (Ellis Tanner Trading Post: Ellis and Lynn Tanner, Trader.
Tomorrow I will post the legend of why Seth Tanner came to be known as Big Bear.

[Ed.—Here is the subsequent post, Mister Bear.]

Photo of the bridge from Photo of the marker from For an additional set of photos of the Cameron bridge, see the website Bridgemeister.

1 comment:

  1. Just tell me which ones to stop at and we'll try to stop the next time we drive that way! ;)