June 21, 2008
Daniel and Ann Bonelli
Junction City / Rioville / Bonelli's Ferry
In the 1860s, Brigham Young was intent on placing settlements in the far-flung areas of his domain. He thought that the areas in today's southern Nevada were part of the state of Deseret, and determined to claim the area.
He had tried in the mid 1850s, with the short-lived Las Vegas mission. Because of infighting and a lack of good lead from the lead mine operated on Mt. Potosi, Las Vegas was deemed a failure, and the settlers were called home to Salt Lake City. However, there was good land and plentiful water in other parts of the southern region of Deseret, or Utah, as the federal government named it.
After the end of the Las Vegas mission, new settlement did not start for a few years. By the early 1860s, new communities were being planned in Salt Lake City for the edges of the new state. One of these was around the Muddy River area. A leader would be designated by the church, a group of emigrants called, and a location for a new community planned. The new town was to be hacked out of the wilderness.
One of the Mormons called to settle in the wilds around the Muddy River area was Daniel Bonelli, a Mormon convert who had emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in 1859, meeting his wife-to-be on the ship crossing the Atlantic.
Bonelli was born in the town of Bussarg, in the Canton of Thurgau in Switzerland, on February 25, 1836. He was a cabinet maker by trade, and spoke four languages (Swiss, Italian, German, and English) fluently. His wife, Ann, was an English woman, born in 1834 in Yorkshire. Being both converts to the relatively new religion, they met and fell in love during the journey.
Daniel Bonelli and Ann Haigh Bonelli
The Bonelli Home in St. Thomas
The Bonelli's initially came to Salt Lake City. Ann's father had been in the textile business, and the new couple took over a weaving business begun by Daniel's father in the city. However, with Brigham Young wanting to claim the outer reaches of the Mormon lands, they were not to stay in the lap of relative civilization for long.
Only two years after immigrating to Utah, in 1861, Bonelli was called to lead a mission into the wilderness. The mission would consist of Swiss converts who had immigrated to Utah, in response to Brigham Young's call. On November 28, 1861, Daniel and Ann, with the other Swiss emigrants, arrived in Santa Clara in today's southern Utah.
No community awaited them, and crude huts and dugouts had to suffice for the first winter. These could not withstand an early January flood in 1862, and the fledgling community had to start over.
Bonelli left the new site for another new community, Beaver Dam, where he again was flooded out. Ann was with him during these peregrinations, giving birth to their first son, Daniel Leonard Bonelli, in Beaver Dam. Each time Bonelli senior tried planting fruit trees and gardens, losing all of his investment. By 1865, Bonelli was in the Muddy River Valley, trying again with another new town, Millersburg.
Here, Bonelli again planted crops and began a new farm. Unfortunately, Bonelli was again flooded out in 1867, when the Beaver Dam flood occurred. In later years, Bonelli would speak of standing on a hillside and watching as everything he had built was washed out into the Virgin River.
Bonelli, with his wife and family, again moved after this flood. Their next stop was St. Thomas. St. Thomas had been founded by Mormons at Brigham Young's direction on January 8, 1865. Named for Thomas Smith, the mission's leader, it became one of the more successful of the 1860-era settlements. The community was laid out with 85 home sites of one acre each, 85 vineyard sites of two and one half acres each, and 85 farm sites of five acres each. The original settlers numbered twelve, and located near the junction of the Muddy and Virgin rivers.
The community was successful, but the location was a bit off. The Mormons thought they were well within the boundaries of Utah, but in fact they were in the Arizona Territory, in an area soon to be made the county of Pah-ute. The settlers found out early that they were actually in Arizona. By August, a delegation from the Arizona Territory visited the new community, informing the residents they were Arizona. They were asked to hold an election on September 5 to select a delegate to the Territorial Legislature. When September 5th rolled around, no election was held, and taxes continued to be paid to Utah rather than Arizona.
Like other St. Thomas residents, Bonelli planted wheat, cotton, sugar cane, corn, and garden vegetables. He also grew wine grapes and fruit trees. His was a well-known farm, and many Paiutes lived on his property and worked for him. He built a five room adobe home, a stopping site for travelers through St. Thomas.
The question of in which state the area was located came to a head in 1869, when Nevada began to try to collect taxes from the residents of the Muddy River communities, as well as the miners in El Dorado Canyon to the south. Most of the Muddy River residents believed they were in Utah, and sent their taxes to Salt Lake City. Others agreed that they were in Arizona Territory. Few believed the upstart claims of Nevada to the area.
The confusion extended to the Post Office Department. It listed the Post Office of St. Thomas as being in Washington County, Utah Territory, when it was started On July 23, 1866. On October 1, 1868, its location was changed to Pah-ute County, Arizona Territory, finally moving it into Lincoln (later Clark) County, Nevada, in April 1871.
John Norton, tax assessor of Lincoln County, assessed the communities along the Muddy, and the mining operations in El Dorado Canyon. When informed of the new tax assessment, and the threats to sell farms for back taxes if the owners did not send their taxes in, the Mormons were advised to wait until the official survey was completed.
It was, and Utah and Arizona lost. The area below the 37th parallel to the Colorado River was part of Nevada. A vote was held by the residents of St. Thomas, where only two residents objected to relocating back to Utah. These were Daniel and his wife Ann. The rest of the residents left on February 1, 1871, which became memorable for the Bonellis as Ann gave birth to another son, Benjamin Patrick Bonelli that day.
St. Thomas was nearly deserted. This exodus in 1871 left crops in the fields and buildings behind, as the saints returned to Utah. Bonelli's feelings were later noted in an article in the Reese River Reveille. Bonelli was quoted as saying:
"The writer then proceeds to point out the repeated failures of enterprises undertaken at the command of the inspired Priesthood, and finally comes to the conclusion that Brigham Young does not interview God Almighty near as often as he pretends to, else he would not make so many egregious blunders."
Perhaps part of the Bonellis' reason for not departing the area was what they had been able to rebuild after the effects of multiple floods. Myron Angel, in his 1880 History of Nevada, noted that during the years before the Mormon departure, they had planted 400,000 shade trees, 50,000 grapevines and fruit trees, and had irrigated about 3,000 acres of land. Much of the land had passed out of Mormon control, and when they returned, they had to purchase back many of the same farms they had developed, mostly at $1.25 per acre. In describing the area for his history, Angel said,
"No society has existed here since the Mormon exodus in 1871. The region has been sparsely settled, and mostly by a transient element, having no religious profession or name in which any considerable number agreed."
In 1872, Bonelli, along with Lewis Siebrecht, Thomas Belding, and Hans Gottfredsen, located promising ore deposits a few miles east of the town site, and organized the St. Thomas Mining District. They found gold in white quartz veins in the area, and located mica, an important mineral for the nineteenth century. Mica was used in stoves and role down shades, as it could be split thin enough to be seen though. In this form it is called Isinglass. In 1905, the area was rediscovered, and eventually a mining camp named Gold Butte was developed in 1908. It was abandoned by 1910. Bonelli Peak in the area commemorates his involvement in the mining district.
In other prospecting, Bonelli located significant salt deposits near the old site of Callville. He started a salt mine, which he called the Virgin Queen, which supplied salt to the mines in El Dorado Canyon, ranches in the Muddy River area and the Vegas valley and surrounding areas, as well as to travelers along the Old Spanish Trail.
In 1875, Bonelli was again on the move. While he retained his St. Thomas holdings, he decided that a ferry would be a good idea at the junction of the Virgin and Colorado Rivers, and relocated to the site of an earlier Mormon town called Junction City.
As a community, Junction City was the shortest lived of all the early Mormon communities now under Lake Mead, with the exception of Callville. Founded in February 1869, the original settlement was abandoned within two years. It was also known as Junctionville, though Junction City was its official name.
A view of Bonelli's Virgin Queen salt mine. This area is now under Lake Mead.
A view of Bonelli's Virgin Queen salt mine. Note the buckboard at the entrance to the mine.
It was located at the confluence of the Virgin and Colorado Rivers, and was intended as a crossing for Mormon emigrants to Utah coming up the Colorado River. There were problems with Paiutes raiding the crops, and difficulties with weather. After this hard beginning the community did not grow. When it became known that the area was part of the State of Nevada, and not Utah, nearly all the residents left to return to Utah.
Bonelli built a ferry at the site of Junction City, and the area became known as Bonelli's Ferry. The Mormon residents eventually began returning to Junction City, St. Thomas and the other Muddy River settlements in 1880. By 1881, Myron Angel, noted that St. Thomas was considered the primary of the towns, given its proximity to the Colorado River. Those that returned to Junction City, which was now known as Bonelli's Ferry, reoccupied the buildings built earlier.
The new community was named Rioville, and a post office was established in 1881. Bonelli built a nine-room stone house, with walls two feet thick, at the site. His ferry was well used, and served a need for travelers and local residents.
Bonelli's holdings continued to grow. He raised cattle, and ran an express station out of the house, mainly for the mails to and from Kingman and the mines around Pioche.
In 1896, a Paiute Indian working for Bonelli became one of the best known renegades in southern Nevada history. This was Mouse, who, it appears, was a mean drunk. He was intoxicated, and began shooting at the Bonelli House at Rioville.
Bonelli's Ferry from about 1900. The man seated in the boat may be Daniel Bonelli.
Mouse was about 30 at the time, and was about 5' 2" tall. Mouse was known to carry a .45 caliber revolver. He was stopped before he hurt anyone the first time, but he was kicked out of the Indian encampment on the Bonelli land.
Mouse then went across the river to Arizona, where he worked in a general store in the White hills mining camp for a few months. On January 25, 1897, Mouse stole a horse and provisions, including a rifle, and tried to ford the Colorado. Caught in quicksand, he lost the stolen outfit, and was back on his own. Deciding the best way to acquire a new outfit involved not working for the money to purchase it, he started along the river, where he met a group of three prospectors.
The prospectors, Jim Stearns and Mum Davis, green horns from San Diego, and Major Greenwalt, a long-time prospector and former sourdough from Alaska, invited Mouse into their camp. Mouse offered to show them where he had found gold, but only Stearns and Davis took him up on the offer. Greenwalt eventually went looking for his companions, finding their mutilated corpses. Mouse had gotten away with Stearns' boots, and Davis' revolver. Mouse then stole a horse, and hid out for months in the Valley of Fire area, where Mouse's Tank commemorates his time there.
Mouse would raid isolated homesteads and ranches, being careful never to be spotted. It was not until the 1897 Fourth of July Celebration in Overton that he made the mistake that would lead to his death.
Mouse raided an Indian woman's garden, taking her largest cabbages. She noticed the loss the next day, and reported it to her husband, who decided from the tracks that the thief was none other than Mouse. A makeshift posse was raised, but no sign of Mouse was found on July 5th or 6th.
A better equipped and mounted posse was formed a few days later, and the hunt was on. Local Paiutes led the posse, and they were relentless. They chased Mouse to Kane Springs in the Meadow Valley Wash, and then back to Muddy Springs. Mouse did not know the area as well as he had some of the areas closer to the river, and was unable to disappear.
About 10 am on July 11, Mouse was finally seen by posse members. They called on him to surrender, but Mouse threw off a shot at his pursuers and continued running. Within a short time, the posse caught up to Mouse at Warm Springs, and shot him twice in the head and three times in the back. The honor of the kill was accorded to Wassi, a Paiute scout with the posse.
Mouse, who had begun his depredations only a few months before, was no more. His death was celebrated with a big barbeque in Overton. There is no record of whether Bonelli attended.
The Bonelli Home in Rioville, about 1922.
Bonelli's town of Rioville, also known as Rio Ville, never really flourished, though it hung on until the death of Daniel Bonelli in 1904, and being bypassed by the railroad in 1905. The post office closed in 1906.
It was not many years later, though, that the small community's fate was sealed by events happening thousands of miles away. In 1920, the Black Canyon Project got underway. This was destined to build one of the world's great dams, but when completed, the flooding would destroy the town.
Angel, Myron, A History of Nevada, 1881, Thompson and West, reprinted 1959, Howell North, Berkeley, CA
Carlson, Helen S., Nevada Place Names; A Geographical Dictionary, 1974, University of Nevada Press
Edwards, Elbert, Early Mormon Settlements in Southern Nevada, in Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. VIII, #1, Spring 1965
Gamett, James and Paher, S. W., Nevada Post Offices; An Illustrated History, 1983. Nevada Publications
Hafen, Arabell Lee, 100 Years on the Muddy, 1967, Art City Publishing, Springville, Utah
Leavitt, Vincent L., Mesquite Flats; A History of Virgin Valley, 2004, Mesquite Nevada State, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Lesson Committee, comp., An Enduring Legacy, Vol. 3, 1980, Daughters of Utah Pioneers
Paher, Stanley, Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps, 1984, Nevada Publications, Las Vegas
Perkins, George, Pioneers Of The Western Desert, 1947, Wetzel Publishing, Los Angeles
Perkins, Orville, Hooky Beans and Willows, nd, self-published
Roske, Ralph, Las Vegas: A Desert Paradise, 1986, Continental Heritage Press
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