Tuesday, April 15, 2014

David Nathan Thomas (Part 13)

Part 1 (Introduction and Index)

At St. Johns the group from Kingston faced many of the same trials settlers in the other communities of the Little Colorado River Basin faced: the isolation and remoteness from the support and commerce of the church in Utah, lack of adequate water supplies, difficulty in growing enough food to feed themselves, floods from the chaotic rivers, unfavorable weather, and the wind. 

Legend has it that a company of pioneers back in the 1880’s were making their way down to the Gila Valley with their wagons and ox teams. They camped one evening on the banks of the Little Colorado River about due east of where the town of St. Johns is presently situated. By morning the wind was blowing so hard they decided to hold up a few days until the gale subsided. You guessed it—the wind never stopped. They are still here. [72]
In addition to the trials of the wind and the land and the floods,  the settlers in St. Johns had to contend with the gentiles who had settled there in the early 1870s. [73] Some of the settlements in the Little Colorado River area had attempted to form some United Order groups in the 1870s, but by 1881 most of them had abandoned the concept. St. Johns did not ever become part of that movement because it began as a “gentile” town. Solomon Barth, a Jewish trader, had a contract to haul supplies from Dodge City to Fort Apache in the White Mountains of Arizona and had started a little farming community at the site of present-day St. Johns. In order to establish a community there at St. Johns, church leaders (Ammon M. Tenney under Wilford Woodruff’s direction) were instructed to purchase the property from Barth. 

Barth was willing to sell if the price was right—which was $7500, but he held back the water right and so the potential settlers had to pay another $7500 for the water right. Most of this money was forwarded by the church and was paid in cows. This was such an inflated price that Tenney was instructed to take up surrounding lands before the St. Johns deal became public and alerted non-Mormons to the church’s designs. 

Despite the church’s efforts to make St. Johns a “Mormon” community, Barth and the other gentiles did not leave, and the discord sown by land deals divided the town. Claims and counter-claims on the land were filed and contested. Claims were jumped or stolen, and some settlers were jailed. David and Adeline’s niece, Theresa Springthorpe Norton, and her husband John Norton were jailed when they attempted to harvest their crop on land that was contested. [74] The disputes escalated to violence. Some of the Mormon settlers carried guns for protection as they felt so threatened by the lawless group of men who attempted to control the town. One man, Nathan C. Tenney, was shot and killed when he attempted to mediate between two warring factions. 

To be continued...

[72] Shumway, The First 100 Years: St. Johns Arizona Stake, 24.

[73] Histories of the area detail the many dams that were built, and the many floods that destroyed the dams. St. Johns lost seven dams to the raging waters, Woodruff lost thirteen. Shumway wrote, “what they built by day, the river destroyed by night.” 

[74] Wilhelm, A History of the St. Johns Arizona Stake, 278.

Picture of alfalfa from Flickr, courtesy of Manuel Martín Vicente, available under a Creative Commons license.

Rigby, Helen. “A History of David Nathan Thomas and his wives, Mary, Adeline & Frances.” Utah: n.p., 2011.

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