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.
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
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.