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Lee's Ferry

From Mormon Crossing to National Park

P. T. Reilly

Publication Year: 1999

The Colorado River and its deeply entrenched canyons create a lengthy barrier to travel in the interior West. Here and there, ancient Indian foot trails descend canyon walls and find access to the river, but one of the few places between California and Nevada where wheeled vehicles can approach it is at the mouth of the Pahreah River, between Glen Canyon and the river's steep drop toward Grand Canyon. Here, from the mid-19th until well into the 20th century, Lee's Ferry was a primary link between Utah and Arizona. Mormons trying to reach potential Indian converts and new lands for colonization to the south first developed the site. John D. Lee and parts of his family, seeking an inconspicuous spot after the Mountain Meadows massacre, first took up residence at what they called Lonely Dell. In subsequent decades, many interesting and important western characters passed through this topographical and historical funnel, from John Wesley Powell to Buffalo Bill. As river exploration and adventure increased, the place became as important to those using the river-surveyors, miners, river runners-as to folks crossing it. In recognition of its importance, Lee's Ferry has been partially restored as a historic site in the national park system.

P. T. Reilly, himself a legend on the river as boatman and chronicler, wrote the detailed and colorful history this place demanded, focusing on stories of the hodgepodge of people it attracted. He died before he finished reworking his massive narrative into book form, but Robert H. Webb, author of Grand Canyon: A Century of Change, completed that job and selected rare historical photos from the Reilly collection at Northern Arizona University to illustrate it. An epilogue by Richard Quartaroli provides a biographical sketch of P. T. Reilly.

Published by: Utah State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Editor's Preface

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pp. ix-xi

I first met P.T. and Susie Reilly in the early 1990s. I was attempting to learn about long-term changes in rivers in northern Arizona and southern Utah, and I had embarked on a large repeat-photography project in Grand Canyon. I first heard of P. T in 1985, when Ron Smith, then owner of Grand Canyon Expeditions in Kanab, Utah, showed me a nearly unbelievable...

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Author' s Preface

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pp. xii-xiv

Although I was familiar with Lee's Ferry as a place name in western history, I never visited it until May 7, 1947. On that occasion I had spent a week listening to river legend roll glibly out ofthe mouth of Norman Nevills. The recitation began at Mexican Hat, Utah, and ended on the beach at Two Mile at the lower ferry crossing-a distance of 192 miles. Here the boats...

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pp. xv-xviii

I am grateful to the many individuals and institutions who have made this work possible. It is regrettable that some who shared their experiences, personal records, and photographs are unable to see the result of their assistance because they have passed on to the Great Beyond...

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1. In the Beginning

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pp. 1-24

For most of its course through the canyon country, the Colorado River is entrenched between high walls that not only preclude a crossing but deny access to its banks. Even more of a natural barrier than the river are the rugged flanks of its drainage-nearly six hundred miles of sandy wasteland, incised gorges, sheer-walled mesas, and precipitous rimrock...

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2. John D. Lee and Lonely Dell

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pp. 25-53

John D. Lee became a ferryman on January 29, 1872, when shortly after daybreak a band of fifteen Navajos called from the left bank, asking to be crossed. The old Powell-Hamblin flatboat, the CaƱon Maid, had not been in the water since September and required caulking. His sons declined to risk themselves in so flimsy a craft, but the courageous Rachel...

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3. The Ferryman

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pp. 54-70

The St. George Stake Conference of November 1874 was near its midpoint when the electrifying news of Lee's arrest crackled out over the telegraph. Jacob Hamblin is said to have left immediately, picked up his son Lyman at Kanab, and hurried to the river to control the crossing. This preemptive act was Hamblin's last effort to preserve his interest in the place, and it came close to working. There is no known record of a confrontation...

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4. The Widow and Her Mite

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pp. 71-84

Leaders of the Mormon Church were fully aware that even with the deficiencies of hazardous high-water crossings and the difficult hill, the ferry was the key link in the Mormon corridor to Arizona. They did not know how Emma Lee would assess blame for her husband's death or if she would remain faithful to the church. If she turned anti-Mormon, she could make the situation difficult for the Saints. It was logical to continue the...

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5. Building the Oasis

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pp. 85-107

Warren Johnson was under no illusion that his mission at Lee's Ferry would be a bed of roses. There was much work to be done and he had no help; church officials had not responded to his request for an assistant. In operating the big boat, those he ferried had to work one of the sweeps, then help get the boat back to the right bank, after which they would be returned to the left bank in the skiff-repetitious labor that was necessary...

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6. Brother Johnson's Green Acres

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pp. 108-144

Eighteen Eighty-Six proved to be the turning point of the ranch in the mouth of Pahreah Canyon. The young fruit trees and grapevines had nearly mature production. The garden continued to yield a bumper crop of vegetables as it had for several seasons, and melons were plentiful. Alfalfa from the upper ranch enabled Warren Johnson to get through the winter without driving his cows to the open range; now, several tons were available...

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7. The Controversial Emetts

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pp. 145-179

Jim Emett's Roots went back to the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a different spelling of the family name. Jim's grandfather, James Emmett, was said to have been born February 22, 1803, in Boone County, Kentucky, where he married Phoebe Simpson in 1823. The couple's son, Moses Simpson Emmett, was born on May 14, 1824. The family joined the church in September 1832, and James Emmett...

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8. The Antagonists

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pp. 180-214

The economic boom expected from mining and tourism on the Arizona Strip did not turn out to be what everyone envisioned. On January 5, 1900, Secretary of the Interior E. A. Hitchcock recommended to President McKinley that the Navajo Reservation be enlarged, and three days later the president signed an executive order extending the boundary south to the Little Colorado River and west to the Colorado River.1 This...

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9. Charles H. Spencer

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pp. 215-248

Although the Emett incubus no longer tormented the Bar Z, the cattle company was out of its element in operating the ferry and ranch at the mouth of Pahreah Canyon. Foreman Charlie Dimmick sent Dave Rider, a reliable straw boss, to Lee's Ferry before the Emetts departed. This smoothed the transition for both sides. Rider, a member of a pioneer Kanab family, knew Emett well and had testified for him at his trial, yet...

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10. The Aftermath

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pp. 249-274

Charlie Spencer's ability to paint a rosy picture never deserted him as he tried to reassemble the pieces of his broken enterprise. He undoubtedly stretched the truth by telling his creditors that the shutdown was only temporary, and he promised to remember those who stood by him. The truth was, he had little money, no credit, and most of his workforce had gone elsewhere. But Charlie still had faith in the blue silt and his ability to...

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11. Water

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pp. 275-309

Wrangling over the west's "last water hole" dominated the early 1920s at Lee's Ferry. The problem started in southern California and the solutions developed into interstate dissensions. For millennia, the Colorado River moved topsoil from its drainage basin to its delta in the Gulf of California. The river's silt content was very high; annually, it moved a total of 170 million cubic yards-or 105,000 acre feet-of sediment. The effect...

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12. Change and Reversion

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pp. 310-339

In northern Arizona, 1923 is best known for the end of the Bar Z Ranch. E. J. Marshall's bankers forced the liquidation of the ranch holdings in House Rock Valley, but it was the canny general manager who figured out the best disposal of the Lee's Ferry ranch. Stephenson knew that Charlie Lewis had good rapport with the Johnson boys and that Jerry did not have the imagination to initiate any large-scale operation without stimulation...

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13. The Polygamists

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pp. 340-371

Although the opening of the bridge over Marble Canyon increased travel to the Arizona Strip, the five-mile primitive dirt road to Lee's Ferry remained as rough as ever. The ranch in the mouth of Pahreah Canyon was more isolated than it had been when the ferry was in operation. Some travelers even failed to notice the two ruts that turned off toward the east-a situation that suited the people of the ranch. Engineers connected with...

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14. Paradise Canyon Ranch

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pp. 372-411

As the Great Depression continued, unemployment exceeded 15 percent. The money supply fell and auction sales for debt judgments were halted in several states. Few people had money to spend on anything except necessities. Real estate sales declined and were exceeded by foreclosures. It probably was the worst time the church could have chosen to reclaim its investment in the ranch at Lee's Ferry. Nevertheless, the property was put...

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15. A Change in Priorities

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pp. 412-438

Wilbur T. Stuart did not have a transportation problem for the two and one-half years he had been stationed at the Grand Canyon gaging station. Any place he went, whether to the USGS cable car on the Colorado River or the village on the South Rim, he was certain to be on foot. This changed when District Chief John H. Gardiner, who had succeeded W. E. Dickinson in 1938, assigned him to replace Archie Hanson at Lee's Ferry...

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16. Big Brother Takes Over

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pp. 439-459

Even before Congress approved the fateful bill authorizing the Colorado River Storage Project, men were gambling on how the dice would fall and preparing for the future they were betting would come. Aerial photography covered the country in 1951; the field checks of new topographic maps were made in 1953 and 1954. The cartographers were housed at Art Greene's Cliff Dwellers establishment on both occasions. Art turned on all...

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pp. 460-468

Born to parents of pioneer stock in Dallas, Texas, on June 9, 1911, Plez Talmadge (P. T. or Pat) Reilly moved with them to southern California at two months old. Living in California except for a year in Idaho when he was thirteen, P. T. graduated from Los Angeles High School, where he met his future life partner, Mary Elizabeth (Susie) MacLean, in a pottery class. At the beginning of the Depression in 1930, Reilly worked at a gold mine...

Chapter Notes

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pp. 469-514


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p. 515-515

1. Children Born at Lee's Ferry

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pp. 515-516

2. Deaths at Lee's Ferry

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p. 517-517

3. Proprietors, Ferrymen, and Custodians

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pp. 518-519

4. Postmasters

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p. 520-520

5. Schoolteachers

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p. 521-521

6. USGS Resident Hydrographers at Lee's Ferry

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pp. 522-524

7. Lee's Ferry Ownership

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pp. 525-526

8. The National Park Service

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pp. 527-528


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pp. 529-542

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780874219104
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874212600

Page Count: 560
Publication Year: 1999