Alysion Acres

A developing intentional community in SE Arizona divider

A Mormon history of St. David, AZ, excerpted from:





Phoenix, Arizona


Chapter Twenty-one
Near the Mexican Border


Location on the San Pedro River

Much historical value attaches to the settlement of the Saints upon the San Pedro River, even though prosperity there has not yet come in as large a degree as has been known elsewhere within the State. It is not improbable that within the next few years an advance in material riches will be known in large degree, through water storage, saving both water and the cutting away of lands through flood, and that permanent diversion works will save the heart-breaking tasks of frequent rebuilding of the temporary dams heretofore washed out in almost every freshet.

Elsewhere has been told the story of the Daniel W. Jones party that settled at Lehi and of the dissension that followed objections on the part of the majority to the rulings of the stout old elder, whose mind especially dwelt upon the welfare of red-skinned brethren.

There had been general authorization to the Jones-Merrill expedition to go as far southward as it wished. Under this, though not till there had been consultation with the Church Presidency, the greater number of the Lehi settlers left Salt River early in August, 1877. There was expectation that they were to settle on the headwaters of the Gila or on the San Pedro. There must have been a deal of faith within the company, for the departure from camp was with provisions only enough to last two days and there was appreciation that much wild country would need to be passed. But there was loan of the wages of A.O. Williams, a member of the party who had been employed by C.T. Hayden at Tempe, and with this money added provisions were secured.

Necessarily, the journey was indirect. At Tucson employment was offered for men and teams by Thomas Gardner, who owned a sawmill in the Santa Rita Mountains. Much of the money thus earned was saved, for the party lived under the rules of the United Order, and very economically. So, in the fall, with the large joint capital of $400 in cash, added to teams and wagons and to industry and health, there was fresh start, from the Santa Ritas, for the San Pedro, 45 miles distant. The river was reached November 29, 1877.

These first settlers comprised Philemon C., Dudley T., Thomas, Seth and Orrin D. Merrill, George E. Steele, Joseph McRae and A.O. Williams. All but Williams and O.D. Merrill had families.

Ground was broken at a point on the west side of the river, on land that had been visited and located October 14, by P.C. Merrill on an exploring trip. The first camp was about a half mile south of the present St. David and soon was given permanency by the erection of a small stone fort of eight rooms. That winter, for the common interest, was planting of 75 acres of wheat and barley, irrigated from springs and realizing very well.

Malaria Overcomes a Community

As was usual in early settlement of Arizona valleys, malarial fever appeared very soon. At one time, in the fall of 1878, nearly all the settlers were prostrated with the malady, probably carried by mosquitoes from stagnant water. That year also it was soberly told that fever and ague even spread to the domestic animals. At times, the sick had to wait on the sick and there was none to greet Apostle Erastus Snow when he made visitation October 6, 1878. His first address was to an assembly of 38 individuals, of whom many had been carried to the meeting on their beds. It is chronicled by Elder McRae that, "notwithstanding these conditions, the Apostle blessed the place, prophesying that the day would come when the San Pedro Valley would be settled from one end to the other with Saints and that we had experienced the worst of our sickness. When he left, all felt better in body and in spirit." It was a decidedly hot season. "Vegetation grew so rank that a horseman mounted on a tall horse could hardly be seen at a distance of a quarter of a mile. Hay could be cut a stone's throw from our door."

The first death was on October 2, 1878, of the same A.O. Williams whose money had brought the people to the new land.

Possibly the settlement needed the mental and spiritual encouragement of Apostle Snow, for more than a year had passed of hardships and of labor, and, including the Lehi experience, there had been no recompense, unless it might have been in the way of mental and moral discipline.

The early malaria of the Arizona valleys nearly all has disappeared, with the draining of swampy places, the eradication of beaver dams and mosquitoes and the knowledge of better living conditions. Elsewhere has been told of the abandonment of Obed and other early Little Colorado settlements, because of chills and fever. Something of the same sort was known on the upper Gila, from 1882 to 1890, around Pima, Curtis and Bryce. In this same upper Gila Valley, Fort Goodwin had to be abandoned on account of malarial conditions. The same is true of old Fort Grant, across the divide, on the lower San Pedro. The upper Verde, the Santa Cruz and nearly all similar valleys knew malaria at the time of settlement.

According to Merrill, on March 26, 1879, the sick and sorry settlers went into the Huachuca Mountains to summer, but, "the wind blew so much that we moved back to the river, near where Hereford now is, rented some land and put in some crops." This location is just about where the members of the Mormon Battalion, in 1846, had their memorable fight with the wild bulls. A Merrill report, rendered March 16, 1881, was far from hopeful and asked that the writer be relieved of his responsibilities.

On the Route of the Mormon Battalion

This office has been unable to find any reference connecting Merrill's later experiences in the San Pedro Valley with the time when he was an officer of the Mormon Battalion, though it can be imagined that his later associates had the benefit of many reminiscences of that period of the march just prior to the taking of Tucson.

The San Pedro Valley is a historic locality. Down it passed Friar Marco de Niza, in 1539, and the Coronado expedition of the following year. The waters of the stream were a joyous sight to the Mormon Battalion, when it passed that way during the Mexican War. The country then had been occupied to some extent by Spaniards or Mexicans, who had established large ranches, with many cattle, from which they had been driven by the Apaches, years before the Battalion came. The country once had been the ranging ground of the friendly Sobaipuri Indians, but they too had been driven away by the hillmen and had established a village on the Santa Cruz, near their kinsmen, the Papago, almost on the site where Tucson was founded as a Spanish presidio in 1776.

The river, when the Merrill party came, was found usually in a deep gully, in places twenty feet below the surface of the silty ground. Naturally, difficulty has attended the attempts to dam the stream.

Chronicles of a Quiet Neighborhood

St. David was named by Alexander F. Macdonald in honor of David W. Patten, a martyr of the Church, who died at the hands of the same mob that killed Joseph Smith. Its first mail was received at Tres Alamos, sixteen miles down the river. A postoffice was established in 1882, Joseph McRae in charge. When the Southern Pacific came through, Benson was established, nine miles to the northward. Tombstone lies sixteen miles to the southeast.

In May, 1880, the present St. David townsite was laid out. John Smith Merrill built the first house. The following year an adobe schoolhouse was built, this used for public gatherings until shaken down by an earthquake, May 3, 1887, happily while the children were at recess. Much damage was done in the town.

The settlement had little or no trouble with Indians, though for nine years Apache bands scouted and murdered in the nearby mountains and committed depredations within the San Pedro Valley, both to the northward and southward.

Early in 1879 John Campbell, a new member, from Texas, built a sawmill, in the Huachuca Mountains, that furnished a diversity of industry, from it much lumber being shipped to Tombstone.

Macdonald was a southern extension of the St. David community on the San Pedro, established in 1882 by Henry J. Horne, Jonathan Hoopes and others, and named in honor of Alexander F. Macdonald, then president of the Maricopa Stake. It was of slow growth, owing to claims upon the lands as constituting a part of the San Juan de las Boquillas y Nogales grant, later rejected. In 1913, nine miles west of St. David, was established the community of Miramonte.

Looking Toward Homes in Mexico

While the Saints were establishing themselves upon the San Pedro and Gila, the Church authorities by no means had lost sight of the primary object of the southern migration. January 4, 1883, Apostle Moses Thatcher, with Elders D. P. Kimball, Teeples, Fuller, Curtis, Trejo and Martineau, left St. David for an exploring trip into Mexico.

September 13, 1884, another party left St. David to explore the country lying south of the line, along the Babispe River, returning October 7, by way of the San Bernardino ranch, though without finding any locations considered favorable.

In November, 1884, Apostles Brigham Young, Jr., and Heber J. Grant, with a company from St. Joseph Stake, with thirty wagons, went into Sonora, where they were given a hearty welcome by the Yaqui Indians, who expressed hope of a settlement among them.

St. David was the scene of one of the most notable councils of the Church, held in January, 1885, and presided over by none other than President John Taylor, who left Salt Lake City, January 3, and whose party at St. David included also Apostles Joseph F. Smith, Erastus Snow, Brigham Young, Jr., Moses Thatcher and Francis M. Lyman, with other dignitaries of the Church. At St. David were met Jesse N. Smith, Christopher Layton, Alex. F. Macdonald and Lot Smith, presidents of the four Stakes of Arizona. The discussion at this conference appeared to have been mainly upon the Church prosecution, then in full sway, a matter not included within the purview of this work. There was determination to extend the Church settlements farther to the southward. According to Orson F. Whitney:

"In order to provide a place of refuge for such as were being hunted and hounded, President Taylor sent parties into Mexico to arrange for the purchase of land in that country, upon which the fugitive Saints might settle. One of the first sites selected for this purpose was just across the line in the State of Sonora. Elder Christopher Layton made choice of this locality. Other lands were secured in the State of Chihuahua. President Taylor and his party called upon Governor Torres at Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, and were received by that official with marked courtesy."

Historian Whitney states that the Taylor party then went westward by way of the Salt River Valley settlements to the Pacific Coast. And this office has a record to the effect that, in January, President Taylor visited also the settlements of the Little Colorado section and counseled concerning the disposition of several of the early towns of that locality.

Of Arizona interest is the fact that for two and a half years thereafter, the President of the Mormon Church was in exile, till the date of his death, July 25, 1887, in Kaysville, Utah. Much of the intervening time was spent in Arizona and a part of it in Mexico, in the settlements that had been established as places of refuge. His declining months, however, were spent in Utah, even entire communities guarding well the secret of the presence of their spiritual head.

Arizona's First Artesian Well

Possibly the first artesian well known in Arizona was developed in the St. David settlement. In 1885 a bounty of $1500 was offered for the development of artesian water. The reward was claimed by the McRae brothers, who developed a flow of about thirty gallons a minute, but who failed to receive any reward. Five years ago, J.S. Merrill of St. David reported that within the San Pedro Valley were about 200 flowing wells, furnishing from five to 150 gallons a minute. The deepest valley well was about 600 feet. At that time about 2000 acres were irrigated by the St. David canal and by the wells, sustaining a population of about 600 souls.

Development of a Market at Tombstone

It happened on the San Pedro, just as in many other places, that the Mormons were just a little ahead of some great development. September 3, 1877, at Tucson, Ed. Schieffelin recorded the first of his mining claims in Tombstone District, which then lay in Pima County.

Schieffelin's first discovery was several miles from the later site of Tombstone and about four miles from the San Pedro. Later, with Dick Gird and Al Schieffelin, the original discoverer located the lower group of mines in the camp of Tombstone, then established. A number of other settlements sprang up, including the nearby Richmond, Watervale and the mill towns of Charleston and Contention City, both on the San Pedro, where water could be secured.

Several miles west of Tombstone, just where Ed Schieffelin camped at the time of the discovery of his Tombstone claim, is a large monument of cemented rock, under which lie his remains, brought back from the Northwest for interment in the land he loved. His death was on May 12, 1897.

The Tombstone Gold & Silver Milling & Mining Company, of which former Gov. A.P.K. Safford was president, in 1880 owned the original group of Schieffelin claims, of which the Tough Nut was the main property. A stamp mill was built on the San Pedro and a contract entered into with the Mormons to build a dam and ditch, from which it was hoped to secure motive power. Concerning this job, estimated to cost $6000, Merrill later wrote that the contractors found themselves fined $300 for six days' overtime on completion of the job. Joseph McRae's record tells that, in 1879, some of the brethren went up the river, twenty miles above St. David, and put in a rip-rap dam and a mile and a half of ditch at Charleston for the Boston Mining Company. This may have been the Boston & Arizona Smelting & Reduction Company, a Massachusetts corporation which had a twenty-stamp mill and a roasting furnace on the San Pedro, between Charleston and Contention, ten miles from Tombstone. This job returned $6000 in cash.

The mines brought a relative degree of prosperity to the San Pedro settlement, furnishing a ready and profitable market for agricultural products, but especially calling upon all transportation facilities that could be afforded. Teams were busy hauling from the terminus of the railroad at Tucson and at Benson, until, in October, 1882, there was completion of the New Mexico and Arizona railroad, then a Santa Fe corporation, from Benson to Nogales, much of the way through the San Pedro Valley, past St. David and the milling towns. The mines paid $30 a cord for fuel wood and even $40 a ton for hay.

Lean days descended upon the community, however, in the early summer of 1886, when the great pumps of the Grand Central mine were stopped by fire. The following year Tombstone practically was abandoned and the market it had afforded was lost. Not till 1901 did the camp revive. It closed again in June, 1903, by the drowning of the pumps. Latterly the old mines, consolidated, have been worked to some extent by the Phelps-Dodge Corporation, but again have been closed, early in April, 1921.

Contact Us

  • Visit our Zazzle store:

Support this site: Visit our Zazzle store featuring ultra hi-res images of artworks, Hubble/ESA/NASA space images, Mandelbrot fractals, maps and more. Images up to 525 megapixels allow for fine printing at the largest sizes. Consider giving a fine print as a gift that could hang on someone's wall for a hundred years or more.















External Links