The Highways and byways of Arizona often yield interesting stories – mostly dating back to the colonizing period and dating to days of the Old West.

Flag of the Utah Territory, which included most of Arizona
Original Utah Territory


Lee’s Ferry is a tiny settlement on the Colorado River in Coconino County (the county where I reside – but over 200 miles north, about a four-hour drive), Arizona – about 7.5 miles southwest of Page, and 9 miles south of the Utah–Arizona state line. It is located at the end of a side road 6 miles from ALT US 89 in northern Arizona, not especially interesting itself but surrounded by some remarkable scenery. It’s worth a brief visit and there is a back story to the place

John Doyle Lee

The village is named after John D. Lee, a Mormon settler who had 17 wives, established a ferry there in 1871 while in exile following his role in the massacre of 120 emigrants near St. George, Utah, at a place called Mountain Meadows (for which he was later executed).

In 1857, the Iron Military District consisted of four battalions led by regimental commander Col. William H. Dame. The platoons and companies in the first battalion drew on men in and around Parowan, Utah. (It had no involvement at Mountain Meadows.) Major Isaac Haight commanded the 2nd Battalion whose personnel in its many platoons and two companies came from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the north such as Fort Johnson. Major John Higbee headed the 3rd Battalion whose many platoons and two companies were drawn from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the southwest such as Fort Hamilton. Major John D. Lee of Fort Harmony headed the 4th Battalion whose platoons and companies drew on its militia personnel from Fort Harmony, the Southerners at the newly-founded settlement in Washington, the Indian interpreters at Fort Clara, and the new settlers at Pinto, UT.

In the absence of the US Army, the militia stepped in to provide the defense for settlers.

Back to Lee’s hide-out (remote but not really hiding until he was apprehended 30 years later). Lee’s ferry provided the only crossing of the river for nearly 60 years until a bridge was built a few miles downstream, where the present-day route 89 crosses now. A wider replacement bridge was completed in 1995 and together with the highway past Glen Canyon Dam this is one of only two bridges across the Colorado River for many hundreds of miles between the Hoover Dam on the Nevada border and Hite, in Utah.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, known by the nickname of the Mormon Church, was founded in 1830. They were a protestant sect lead by Joseph Smith. The Mormons were abolitionists. Their neighbors in Missouri were pro-slavery and when you combine that with the church’s teachings, which were not welcomed by many people, they relocated west to Utah (Utah Territory above). In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed in Illinois and the new leader, Brigham Young, took over. He moved the Church west toward the Great Salt Lake. At the time they set out it was Mexican territory but by the time they arrived, it was US Territory. Mexico had given up claims to the Utah Territory after being defeated in the Mexican/American war. The Church was a prime colonizing force within the boundaries of the Utah Territory.

Lee’s Ferry Lodge (today)



  1. “The village is named after John D. Lee, a Mormon settler who had 17 wives.” Not a particular handsome fellow to have 17 wives. Must have been sweet smelling. Thanks Ed B for linking to the Old West Tales blog, I spent time reading. I like accurate history accounts that are well researched and documented.

  2. The accomplishments of the LDS settlers was remarkable but with a terrible dark side. The friction with their “Gentile” neighbors is part of that dark side. As you probably know better than most, that continues today in Mexico; friction between the cartels and the LDS colonies. That friction and dark side is part of my paternal family (non LDS) history in Northwest Colorado/Southwest Wyoming.

    • Colonia Juarez has had a particularly contentious time with the cartels. The recent (a year ago or so) of women and children on their way to the US was particularly grizzly. During the Calderon Administration, they gave the LDS people who live there, and are Mexican citizens, AK-47’s to defend themselves. I haven’t read that anywhere but know it to be a fact.

        • It looks as if they were running a bucket shop (didn’t produce anything, the money went into a bucket). For the most part, the polygamists I’ve dealt with were Muslims. I wonder if it works the same way?

          • It was a very large bucket. By the way, I am told the company Patriarch got put on the stand at one point and fessed up to nearly 30 wives and well over a hundred children. Who has that kind of time? Well anyway, there were in fact some legitimate branches of their conglomerate. Desert Tech arms for instance; I have one of their bolt guns and it’s weird but wicked accurate. Mostly they were into fuel distribution and had some convenience stores and I forget what-all else. Is how they got into biofuels, I think. But the project I was involved in was just exactly as you surmise. The plant is still sitting up there in northern Utah. No raw oilseeds ever went into the plant and no biofuel or by-products ever came out of it. But, that’s not what the paper trail indicated. Ooopsie! There were other indicators, but I’ve rattled on enough. One last thing, though. Did you find the part where the Feds picked up the two brothers while they were on their way to the airport headed to Turkey, one-way? Heh-heh.

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