Unfinished Business - Fall/Winter - 2017/8 travel blog

ranger playing the organ

 

 

 

telegraph line

operator's station

spring fed

Winsor Castle

long horn

native building


In 1829 the Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in New York and told him where to find the golden plates buried in the ground which had what would become the Book of Mormon written on them. This was a time of religious turmoil and fervor in the US and the charismatic Smith soon had thousands of followers of what he called a religious restoration to the early Christian church. He and his followers moved to Ohio where they attempted to create an American Zion. Violent skirmishes with local Christians caused him to move his group to Illinois where their unusual beliefs, polygamy among them, caused more local turmoil and Smith was murdered. Brigham Young became the new Mormon leader and lead his people farther west, looking for a spot where they could worship in peace and avoid government interference from those who found their religion blasphemous and family practices illegal. By the time Young got his group to Utah, they were in a hostile and defensive frame of mind. They claimed the northern part of Mexico (Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico) for themselves and set about building their own empire. Young functioned as an autocratic monarch.

As the Mormons expanded from their original base of operations in Salt Lake City, they built temples and evangelized, seeking to bring more converts into the fold. When they encountered natives, they began to baptize them. The animistic Indians had no frame of reference for the Mormon teachings, but gladly agreed to become baptized, once they realized that allowing someone to dip you in water meant that you would be given new clothes and something to eat. Some of them showed up at Mormon settlements whenever times were hard to be baptized again and again.

When the Mormons began to build their temple in St. George, they needed much more food for the construction workers. When they looked for places to farm, they found a special spot where water flowed out of the ground at the rate of 50 gallons/hour. The Pipe Springs, which flowed from snowmelt that had seeped through the sandstone aquifers from further north, were surrounded by lush grass lands. Brigham Young and Anson Winsor built a fortification over the water known as Winsor Castle, brought in cattle and went into cheese and butter production. They did not realize (or care) that local natives used this water when they roamed through the area and ate the deer and antelope that grazed on the land and also drank the water. When the starving Paiute returned to the area and began to beg, acrimony ensued. Occasionally, Indians were murdered and their corpses or body parts left on display to warn their colleagues to stay away. A group of over one hundred European immigrants on their way to California was also murdered by the Mormons, who just wanted everyone to leave them alone.

Within ten years the Mormons had overgrazed the grassy fields which have never rebounded after the top soil blew away and stopped the dairy production after the temple in St. George was finished. By then the federal government claimed all the land from "sea to shining sea" and the Mormons found their polygamous ways challenged once again. Whenever church members heard that the federales were stopping by to count the wives, the excess women were sent to Pipe Springs to hide out so they would not be imprisoned or forced to testify against their husbands. Young had laid telegraph wire to each of his outposts and a woman ran the one at Pipe Springs, getting warnings before the feds appeared. Even today, the Pipe Springs area is still a place where fundamentalist members of the LDS hide out and continue their polygamous lifestyle. Nearby Colorado City is in the news fairly often in this regard.

Winsor Castle fell into disrepair with the collapse of farming there, but its historical significance made it worthy of preservation and it became a national monument in 1923. Because Pipe Springs is not on the way to much of anything, it is lightly visited and we toured the castle today all alone except for the very knowledgeable Paiute ranger who shared the dramatic story of the place with us. There are aspects of the building that still look like a fort; rifle holes ring the rooms, but the castle is furnished with original items that show what life was like when all the extra wives were hiding there complete with the telegraph machine and wire. The water is still flowing, but at a much slower rate.

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