Dedicated April 3, 2011 (6016)
Ancient Indians knew the area along the Muddy and Virgin Rivers was good for farming. The ancient Puebloens, formerly called the Anasazi, built the first structures in the area about 300 AD, and continued to live in the area until about 1200 AD. In the Nineteenth Century, it was members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who found the area to their liking, and began to settle the valley.
In southern Nevada, one of the best faming areas is along the Muddy River in the Moapa Valley. The Muddy is a tributary of the Virgin River, named for Thomas Virgin, a colleague of Jedediah Smith, who trapped in the area in the late 1820s. As early as 1858, Ira Hatch was sent from Santa Clara, in Utah, to survey the area drained by the Muddy. He stayed by himself for two weeks, getting to know local Indians, and later being joined by Thales Haskell. Both were Mormon missionaries and explorers of the outer reaches of the land claimed for Deseret, now Utah.
Eventually a treaty was concluded between the Paiutes and the Mormons, though not without some interesting translation issues. Hatch, who had learned some Paiute, had problems understanding his colleague Haskell, who spoke in a very flowery English. This meant that translation was needed not only between the Mormons and the Paiutes, but also between the two Mormons who had been staying in the area. For the treaty negotiations, a recent arrival, Amasa M. Lyman, interpreted between Hatch and Haskell while Hatch communicated with the Paiutes. The resultant treaty was based on certain trade goods being given to the Indians, which in the long run was not done, so the treaty never went into effect.
Starting in the mid-1860s, Mormon settlers were sent into the fertile land bordering the Muddy River. Based on the original description of the eastern boundary of Nevada, Mormon authorities saw the Muddy River as part of Utah. Nevada's eastern boundary was originally the 37th parallel, but in 1866, the federal government moved it one degree to the east, making it the 38th parallel. Church authorities had already understood the need to populate the further reaches of Utah, to be sure that the land continued to be recognized as part of the state.
Unfortunately, the land along the Muddy and Virgin rivers was never recognized as part of the state of Deseret. It was part of the territory of New Mexico, and moved into the Arizona territory when it was organized in 1863.
In 1866, the land, though organized by the Arizona territory, was offered to the relatively newly formed state of Nevada by the federal government. Four months later, in 1867, Nevada formally accepted the new land.
With all the changes in borders, a difficulty arose when no one told the local residents. By 1869, when (you might have guessed) a tax collector named John Norton from Pioche, the seat of Lincoln County, which covered the Moapa Valley, came south to ascertain why collections from this end of the county were non-existent, the residents became aware of the change in status. Local residents had been paying their taxes to either Utah or Arizona, depending on where they thought they lived. To show this was not an accurate assessment of which state the area was actually situated in, Nevada authorities had the area surveyed, and sure enough, it was in Nevada.
Nevada then required not on the current year's taxes, but back taxes for 1867 and 1868. In March of 1870, Brigham Young made his only visit to the area, and was not greatly impressed. Once it was clear this was now part of Nevada, the local residents were given the option of leaving and returning to Utah. A vote was taken, and the vast majority of residents elected to leafe the Muddy River Valley. Only the Daniel Bonelli family stayed, and the farms and towns the Mormon settlers had built reverted to the state of Nevada for taxes owed.
About ten years later, the former Mormon residents returned to their lands. Since the state now owned their farms and ranches, former residents had to buy back their land and homes. Two of the original communities, Overton and St. Thomas, started their existence again, and Logan (today's Logandale) was founded at the site of St. Joseph.
The creation of towns in the Moapa Valley continued into the twentieth century. Here now is the compendium of towns from the banks of the Big Muddy, in order of their origin.
St. Thomas, the city by a dam sight (1865-1938)
The community of St. Thomas was founded on January 8, 1865. It was one of a large number of Mormon settlements created in answer to the directions of Brigham Young, who was looking to strengthen the Church's hold on the southwestern corner of the Utah Territory. Anson Call had already been sent to locate a suitable crossing of the Colorado River, for the many Mormon converts who were attempting to move to the state of Deseret from all over the world, as directed by the church.
Many of these converts were from overseas, especially England. Their journey overland from the east coast was a long and arduous one, and it was decided a possible alternative would be to bring them to the west coast and then up the Colorado River. Callville, Anson Call's settlement, was an attempt to provide a needed port on the river.
St. Thomas got its name from Thomas Smith, who was the leader of the group of settlers sent to found the town. 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 settled near the junction of the Muddy and Virgin rivers.
The new settlement grew quickly, and by April Erastus Snow, a member of the Quorum of Twelve of the Mormon church and apostle in charge for the Southern Utah Missions, visited St. Thomas and found that plantings for the growing season were well underway. 900 acres had been surveyed, and 600 were under cultivation. A rock salt mine was located near the town, which provided a hard currency export.
The Mormon authorities visited yearly, for the purposes of reviewing progress within the settlements. Often, they would cover all the small communities along the Muddy River.
St. Thomas residents grew wheat, cotton, sugar cane, corn, and garden vegetables. They also raised cattle, but this was difficult in a land where the local Native American tribes, mostly Utes and Paiutes, were constantly raiding the crops. In 1866, the Black Hawk War occurred between the white settlers and the Utes. St. Thomas was relocated slightly, and a fort built for defense. Eventually, a battalion of the Nauvoo Legion, the Utah Militia, was organized to deal with the problems.
The problems they expected, however, came from a different location. In 1864, Nevada became a state, but its eastern and western borders were not yet surveyed and located. By 1867, the new state had been given the option of extending its southern boundary. Though it took Nevada's state legislature over six months to agree to the new land, it officially became part of Nevada in 1867.
The authorities in the Arizona territory, from which the land was being taken, scrambled to create a county, called Pah-Ute County, which included the land being lost, as an attempt to lay a better claim. The confusion extended to the Post Office Department, which noted the Post Office of St. Thomas as being in Washington County, Utah Territory, when it was started On July 23, 1866, and then moved the location to Pah-ute County, Arizona Territory, on October 1, 1868, and then finally placed it in Lincoln (later Clark) County, Nevada, in April 1871.
In 1869, Nevada finally decided to lay claim to the territory, especially because tax dollars were being sent to Utah and Arizona, and not to Carson City. 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, the Mormon settlers were advised to wait until the official survey was completed.
It was, and Utah and Arizona lost. Many of the settlers decided to leave, and St. Thomas was nearly deserted. This exodus in 1870 left crops in the fields, and buildings behind, as the saints returned to Utah. Among the few who stayed was Daniel Bonelli, who was somewhat embittered by his experience. He was referenced in the Reese River Reveille 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."
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.
The Mormon settlers eventually began returning to St. Thomas and other Muddy River settlements in 1880. By 1881, Myron Angel, writing in his History of Nevada, noted that St. Thomas was considered the primary of the towns, given its proximity to the Colorado River.
Angel 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."
After returning, the community was rebuilt, and became the center for a large farming district. By the early twentieth century, many new crops were being grown in the area. In 1913, local farmers, including two Koreans, successfully introduced cantaloupes. In 1905, the state established an experimental farm near St. Thomas, which tried various new crops for the area.
The town, though not large, did become a railhead on June 7, 1912. The St. Thomas Branch off the Union Pacific continued to operate until the demise of the town. The celebration for the arrival of the train brought out nearly 200 people from Las Vegas to join in the festivities.
It was not many years later, though, that the small community's fate was sealed by events happening thousands of miles away. In 1928, the Black Canyon Project, which became Hoover Dam, got underway. When the dam was complete, the resultant flooding would destroy the town.
St. Thomas, which boasted a school, stores, Highway 91 (which was routed through the Valley of Fire to St. Thomas, then out through Overton to about where Interstate 15 is today), rodeos, Corn Celebrations, and many other community events, was to be no more. The Federal Government eventually paid the residents for their land, though the process took about eighteen years.
In 1925, the highway was relocated. In 1926, government appraisals finally began for land and buildings, but payments did not start until 1932. One member of the appraisal committee, Leland Syphus, was credited with single handedly helping residents get as much as possible for their land.
The town, though now completely owned by the government, continued to exist for six more years, at least as a post office. On June 11, 1938, the Post Office of St. Thomas closed forever, after canceling approximately 4,000 last day envelopes.
One man, however, did not want to leave. This was Hugh Lord, who had vowed to stay until the water was lapping at his bed. Unfortunately, the water rose too fast, and he left early, setting fire to his home and leaving in a rowboat for the shore.
Many buildings were dismantled and moved, and the town disappeared under the waters of Lake Mead. It was not to be the end of the town however.
As early as 1945, the town reappeared during a low water period at the lake. Again, in the 1950s and 1960s, the town reappeared on a couple of occasions, always bringing former and area residents out to see the foundations of the town. With the current low water in Lake Mead, the foundations have been dry since 2004, aloowing visitors to hike to the remnants of one of the earliest white communities in Southern Nevada.
St. Joseph (1865-1871)
St. Joseph was the second settlement along the Muddy River in the Moapa Valley. Founded in May 1865, it was a small farming community. The site of the town was moved in 1866, the same year one of the largest horse/cattle raids in southern Nevada took place at the town. Paiute hunters successfully drove off the cattle and horses being on an island in the Muddy. Eventually a fort was built at the new site of St. Joseph, on a bluff above the river. The community took its name from Joseph Warren Foote who led the settlers to the new location. The small community did well, opening a post office in 1867. In August 1868, a fire burned much of the town, including a cotton gin, but residents rebuilt. By 1869, St. Joseph was rivaling St. Thomas as a farming community in the valley.
Interestingly, St. Joseph and St. Thomas were part of the early Mormon communal United Order. The United Order was not a requirement of the church, but it was influenced by Mormon teachings, and was based on communal ownership of land and means of production. The well-known communalist Edward Bellamy, whose book Looking Backward was hugely influential in the development of many communal or utopian communities throughout the United States after its publication in 1888, based much of his ideas on the United Order precepts.
When the Mormon settlers removed to Utah in 1871, the community was abandoned. In 1880, when settlers again came to the Muddy River area, a ranch owned by Robert Logan reoccupied the site of St. Joseph. Renamed Logan's Ranch, or Logan, it became Logandale in 1917.
Simonsville/Mill Point (1866-1871)
In 1866, Orawell Simons built a mill along the Muddy between St. Thomas and St. Joseph. The site became known both as Mill Point and Simonsville. A small settlement developed around the mill. The mill was widely used by local farmers to grind their corn, wheat, and salt (a substance found in commercial quantities near St. Thomas along the Colorado). Later a cotton gin was built, and processed the first cotton grown in the valley.
In 1866, the small community was raided by local Paiute Indians for horses and wheat. This also happened at nearby St. Joseph, and elsewhere in the valley. These deprecations caused the sites to be untenable, and the settlers were moved from St. Joseph to Mill Point. The site, however, was swampy, and combined community moved about four miles and was renamed St. Joseph, though it was often referred to as New St. Joseph. Eventually, a fort was built and the Indian raids ceased to be a problem.
With the return of most of the Mormon settlers to Utah in 1871, the mill was sold. James Leithead purchased the machinery and building and had it moved to Glendale.
The site of the newest St. Joseph was purchased by Robert Logan, who gave his name to the new community which grew up in the area, Logan, renamed Logandale in 1917, and still an active community in the Moapa Valley.
West Point (1867-1870)
West Point is one of the shortest-lived towns in the Moapa Valley. Founded in 1868, it was home to about twenty families. This small farming community was not successful, beset as it was by raids by local Paiutes, disease, insects, flash floods and poor crop yields. West Point boasted a post office from 1869 to 1870. In 1870, the local residents, now numbering 119, asked for permission to abandon the settlement, and church authorities in Salt Lake City agreed. West Point was abandoned, and residents moved to other communities in the area.
Overton was founded in 1870, but was abandoned in 1871 when the local settlers returned to Utah. Upon the return of the Mormons beginning in 1880, Elizabeth Whitmore purchased the Patterson Ranch. Paying $4,000, she acquired the land that had been the site of Overton before the exodus.
Overton got its name from being the shopping area for the farmers in the area. According to Arabelle Hafen in her 100 Years on the Muddy, farmers and ranchers who were going to town would ask their friends if any one was interested in going "over to town". This was later shortened to Overton, the name still applied to the community today.
After re-founding, Overton prospered as a support community for the farms in the area. Upon the completion of Hoover, nee Boulder, nee Hoover, Dam, many of the residents were relocated from St. George and Kaolin to Overton and nearby Logandale. The Overton school became the main school for the area.
The Overton Post Office mirrored the changes in the area. Originally opened in 1870, it was listed as being in Pah-ute County, Arizona territory by mistake. Closed in 1872 after most residents left the area, it was reopened as the Crosby Post Office in February 1883. Four months later it was again named Overton. When Clark County became a separate county in 1909, it was listed as being in the new county, this time correctly.
Overton had a school as early as 1879, though with the resettling of the area in the early 1880s, a new school was built. This building was used until about 1900, when it was replaced by an adobe structure. In 1913, a sturdy brick school was built, which became a center of community life. A high school was built in 1917.
Overton continues, with Logandale, to be the center of community life in the Moapa Valley, continuing the tradition of farm support. It is the home of Sugar's, the café known as the place to stop for food in the area. Sugar's, the site of the plaque being dedicated by E Clampus Vitus for this doins, is a successor to the Lost City Café, opened in 1938 by Chic and Iola Perkins, on land originally acquired by Ute W. Perkins.
Lost City is the name that was given to a series of Anasazi dwellings located along the Muddy River from present-day Overton south for about 25 to 30 miles. The residences and working places were inhabited between 300 AD (4305 ECV) and 1200 AD (5205 ECV), and the ruins were noted by the early pioneers in Southern Nevada. J. T. McWilliams surveyed the ruins in the early part of the 20th century.
The residents were the Virgin River branch of the Anasazi, or Basketmaker, or ancient Puebloan people. The residents grew the first cotton and corn in the area, long before western man arrived in the area, and mined salt at sites now under Lake Mead.
Extensive trading routes connected the Lost City area to other Puebloan communities, as well as outward as far as the West Coast and Central America, allowing for trade in needed materials, including turquoise, obsidian, and shells. Pottery made in Southern Nevada has been found at sites as distant as the four corners area and the Gulf of California. Much of Lost City was drowned as the waters of Lake Mead rose behind Hoover Dam. Some traces are now becoming visible again.
Overton also boasts the Overton Airport, Perkins Field. Operated by the Clark County Department of Aviation, the airport was built in 1947 by Scott Winsor and Ferron Riggs. The county acquired the field in 1949, paving the airstrip for the first time. The field was rebuilt in 1990, and named Perkins Field to honor Woodruff Perkins, a local resident who died in World War I, and Elwood Perkins, a casualty of World War II.
Logandale (1881 - today)
Logandale began with Robert Logan acquiring a ranch near the site of St. Joseph about 1880. Eventually a community was organized, which took the name Logan. It was one of the first locations repurchased by Mormons upon their return in the early 1880s. The first post office in Logan was opened in 1895 with Robert Logan as the postmaster. In 1917, the name was changed to Logandale, by which it is known today.
The school in Logan was originally known as the St. Joseph, or St. Joe, school. The name was retained until it was closed in 1918, and the students transferred to the Overton School. It was not until 1935 that Logandale had a school again. It was a fine stone building, and was expanded in 1939. Just after being rededicated, it was almost lost in a fire, but was saved when local residents and men from a nearby Civilian Conservation Corps camp were able to put the fire out.
The school was in use until 1956, when it was again merged with the Overton school. The school building was used for migrant children classes in the 1960s and 1970s, later being used as a community center, but was turned back over to the school district in 1988. In 1997, renovation began and the building became the home of the Old Logandale School Cultural and Historical Society. Today it is a repository for the rich history of the Moapa Valley and region.
The small farming community of Kaolin was founded in 1910. A group of destitute Armenian Mormon converts were directed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to come to Southern Nevada for a possible community. They had decided the Utah was not to their liking.
The community took its name from the magnasite found in the area. The mineral is used in the manufacture of fine porcelain, and the Kaolin Magnasite Mine was about two miles outside of the small community.
Under the leadership of Mr. F. F. Hintze, they settled a little north of St. Thomas, in an area that reminded them of their home in Armenia. The community was named after Kaolin clay, which was mined in the vicinity.
The Armenians did not stay long, moving away after about two years. Since the land was actually owned by the church, not the Armenians, other families from Southern Utah were later moved to the area. They moved into the houses that had been vacated by the traveling Armenians.
The small community eventually boasted a post office, school, and about 100 residents. The school operated between 1913 and 1922, when it was merged with the Logandale School and students were bused to Logandale. At its largest, there were about 35 students at the Kaolin school. High School students went to Overton.
The post office was opened in 1914, and operated until August 31, 1932, when mail service was moved to Overton. One of the first postmasters, Patience Parthena Jones Lee, came from Mexico and was remembered for being one of the best cooks in the community.
Residents stayed on until 1932, though most had departed by 1930. The federal government purchased their property, and the funds helped residents to start over. To help with salvage archaeology and paleontology needed in the area that would be inundated by the lake, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was built at the site of Kaolin, but only for a short time. Eventually, the rising waters of Lake Mead inundated the farms and streets of the small farming community, and Kaolin was no more.
Thus ends this review of the communities of the Muddy River. Should the red-shirted members of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus wish more information on this historic area, the appended bibliography is provided.
Angel, Myron, A History of Nevada, 1881, Thompson and West, reprinted 1959, Howell North, Berkeley, CA
Anon., St. Thomas, Clark County, Nevada, in Lesson Committee, compliers, An Enduring Legacy, Vol. 3, 1980, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers
Bufkin, Donald, The Lost County of Pah-Ute, in Nevada Official Bicentennial Book, 1976, Nevada Publications, Las Vegas
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, Stanley, Nevada Post Offices, An Illustrated History, 1983, Nevada Publications, Las Vegas
Hafen, Arabell Lee, 100 Years on the Muddy, 1967, Art City Publishing, Springville, Utah
Helbock, Richard W., Western Post Offices, 1993, La Posta
McClintock, James H., Mormon Settlement in Arizona; A Record of Peaceful Conquest of the Desert, 1921, Manufacturing Stationers Inc
Paher, Stanley, Callville; Head of Navigation, Arizona Territory, nd, Nevada Publications, Las Vegas
Paher, Stanley, Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps, 1984, Nevada Publications, Las Vegas
Perkins, George E., Pioneers of the Western Desert, 1947, George E. Wetzel Publishing
Perkins, Orville, Hooky Beans and Willows, nd, self-published
Steiner, Harold Austin, The Old Spanish Trail Across the Mojave Desert, 1999, Haldor Company, Las Vegas
Tobiason, Virginia "Beezy" Lani, and Hall, Georgia Bagshaw, Muddy Valley Reflections; 145 Years of Settlement, 2010, Cox Printing
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