Santa Clara, Mountain Meadows and Pine Valley
Southern Utah is rich with history. On my recent trip to St. George I experienced the emotions that accompany visits to a few historic sites in the area. I say that because each location offers a different story including one with extreme heartbreak and confusion.
Santa Clara is a small town neighboring St. George. It is one of the first areas settled by Mormon pioneers sent to colonize Utah’s Dixie and reach out to the Native communities. This was also home of a member of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame – Jacob Hamblin. His home still stands and is open for tours. We went one morning to visit and had a great tour where we learned about this pioneer and his family.
This isn’t the only historic building in Santa Clara. We had lunch at a little restaurant in a 100-year-old granary. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a great little café with some tasty food. It is only open for breakfast and lunch.
Northwest of St. George is a lovely little valley with a stream running through it. This was a local grazing area for the early settlers’ herds. The meadows were also a campground for travelers on the California Trail. No one really knows the reasons and we probably won’t know in this life, but this was also the site of one of the biggest tragedies of the old west.
On September 11, 1857, a group of local Mormon militiamen started an assault on a wagon caravan from Arkansas heading to California. They killed 17 people during this assault. Over the next few days, more than 100 people including men, women and children were killed while being escorted with a promise of safety to Cedar City leaving only 17 survivors, all young children. What once was a place of peace and respite on the trail became a field of blood with shallow graves.
I won’t go into why it may have taken place or what happened after. There have been numerous books, papers and more written about the massacre. Instead, I’ll just share with you what is there now.
Declared a National Historic Landmark in 2011, the site has three memorials. The first is on a hill overlooking the small valley. Plaques tell the story or at least parts of it. There is a granite wall with names of the victims and information about the various memorials and investigations.
Down a small dirt road is the second memorial at the site of the original assault where many of the bodies were buried. This memorial is maintained by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the combination of memorials from over the years.
Just up the highway at the other end of the valley is a small field that’s been left fallow for more than 100 years in honor of those who were murdered there. This is where the third memorial is honoring the men and older boys who were killed before the women and children.
Sobering is one of the best words to describe a visit to this grave site. How anybody could or would commit such a terrible act, I don’t know. Even understanding some of the emotions and reasons that may have led to these events I can’t understand it.
There’s a small community in the heart of the Dixie National Forest with no services, not even a gas station. Most people who live there are retired. Most homes are only seasonal or vacation homes. But some of the village’s buildings have stood the test of time including a beautiful white chapel made of pine trees from the surrounding slopes. This is the Pine Valley Chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I was already familiar with the building’s history having spent many hours in its replica at This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City. So, I got a special tour with behind-the-scenes type stories from the local ecclesiastical leader.
For those who don’t know, the chapel was built in 1868 by Scottish ship builder Ebenezer Bryce, a name you might recognize from one of Utah’s national parks. He was the one who stumbled on to the beautiful scenery of Bryce Canyon.
The tour takes you through the beautiful building including the downstairs multi-purpose space, the chapel and rostrum, and even the attic where you can see the amazing carpentry that went into the construction.
The building is open for tours weekdays 10-5. They have services Sundays at 10 a.m. Just be aware that over the summer especially during holiday weekends their church meetings soar in attendance from just 100 or so people to more than 500 meaning most visitors have to sit outside on the lawn.
So, if you find yourself in the St. George area looking for something to see and do or you want a short trip away from Zion National Park, then take a jaunt over to one or all of these sights. All worth a visit and all offering a different view into the early history – its triumphs and tragedies – of southern Utah.