Parley P. Pratt
— Southern Utah Expedition —
The confluence of Ash and LaVerkin Creeks with the Virgin River is important in the history of this region. Footsteps long forgotten have passed through this region. Some have been remembered but most have faded with time. Roaming bands of Indians, Spanish explorers, trappers and finally settlers came. Regrettably, we know little of the history before the mid 1800's when a Mormon exploring party came through in 1849. They had been sent south by Brigham Young to find locations with the right combinations of water, soil, timber, grazing and climate for possible settlements.
In November 1849 Brigham commissioned Parley P. Pratt to assemble an exploring party of 50 men with necessary wagons and provisions to explore the southern region. Called the Southern Exploring Company, its instructions were to explore south to the rim of the Great Basin, over the rim to the Virgin River country, go no farther than Las Vegas Springs and return by spring.
The party left Salt Lake November 23, 1849. They would travel 716 miles before returning. The trip was more arduous than they imagined, the snow deeper, the temperatures colder (as low as 30 below Zero), and the terrain more rugged. To get through the Tushar Mountains, oxen had to be pulled up with ropes so they could then pull the wagons. The party camped at Heaps Spring (Parowan) on Christmas Eve. Here the party was divided. Thirty men and the wagons remained, while the other 20 men accompanied Parley on horseback to explore farther south. The men struggled down Ash Creek and camped below this monument on the broad floodplain of the confluence on the night of December 30, 1849. Learning from Chief Toquer's Indians that shortly below the confluence, the river enters a narrow, precipitous gorge, they crossed the river near the confluence and climbed the bluff onto the site of present day Hurricane. They then turned west and proceeded to the mouth of the Santa Clara River, passing through the future St. George region on New Years Day 1850. From there they followed the Santa Clara upstream past present day Gunlock and then on to Mountain Meadows, rejoining the rest of the Party in Parowan on January 7.
The return trip was even more perilous. They bogged down in the marshes west of Beaver, battled heavy snows and a continuous frigid wind. Near present day Fillmore some of the men, too exhausted to continue, were left behind. Their food supply dwindling and nearly snow blind, Pratt and Chauncey West went on alone the last 50 miles to Provo arriving Jan 28th. Within an hour or two a rescue party loaded with provisions headed south but it wasn't until March 28th that the last of the expedition rolled back into Salt Lake.
Parley reported to the legislature at least twenty six desirable locations for settlement from Payson to Santa Clara. He was less than enthusiastic about the "dreary" Virgin River country, calling it "a wide expanse of chaotic matter?a country in ruins."
Many of the Exploring Company were later called to settle the Iron and Cotton Missions. We owe a great debt to these and others who settled these harsh lands, wrestled from the earth a meager existence, and forged out a place for us amidst the stark beauty of these mountains.
Parley P Pratt,President
David Fullmer, Counselor
William W. Phelps,Counselor/Engineer
John Brown,Company Captain
Robert Campbell,ClerkFirst Ten:
Isaac Haight, Captain · Parley P Pratt · William Wadsworth · Rufus Allen · Chauncey West · Dan Jones · Hial K Gay · George B. Matson · Samuel Could · William B. VanceSecond Ten:
Joseph Matthews, Captain · John Brown · Nathan Tanner · Sterling G. Driggs · Homer Duncan · William Matthews · John D. Holladay · Schuyler Jennings · John J. Bankhead · Robert M. SmithThird Ten:
Joseph Horne, Captain · Alexander Wright · David Fullmer · William Brown · George Nebeker · Benjamin F. Stewart · James Farrer · Henry Heath · Seth B. Tanner · Alexander LemonForth Ten:
Ephraim Green, Captain · William W. Phelps · Charles Hopkins · William Henrie · Peter Dustin · Thomas E. Ricks · Robert Campbell · Isaac BrownFifth Ten:
Josiah Arnold, Captain · Christopher Williams · Stephen Taylor · Dimick B. Huntington · John C. Armstrong · Isaac B. Hatch · Jonathan PackerJoined Company in Sanpete:
Gardner G Potter · Madison D. Hambleton · Sylvester Hewlitt · John Lowry, Jr. · Edward Everett