Articles published in the Blue Mountain Panorama

This blog was created to preserve digitally, articles written by Janet Wilcox for the Blue Mountain Panorama. This newspaper is published in Blanding, Utah by Neil and Becky Joslin. By publishing digitally, more photographs can be added, and your comments and corrections can be quickly noted. Thanks for reading my articles in the newspaper, as well as on the Internet. If you have ideas for stories, please contact me at

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Blanding Youth Experience Hole-in-the-Rock

Kelly Laws describes one of the stops down the "Hole" where they will see "Uncle Ben's Dugway"

On Uncle Ben's Dugway
by Janet Wilcox
     Youth and adult leaders from the Blanding West Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a few "close encounters of the rough kind"  last week as they participated in a three-day modified Hole-in-the-Rock trek.
Actual trail marker at site

Hiking the "hole" was the culminating activity following five months of preparation by about 100 youth, ages 12-18.

Most of those participating in the trek earned "trail medallions, designed by Robert and Tony Turk.  In order to earn the trail medallion, youth and leaders had to complete at least four trail markers, which included such things as reading a book about the Hole-in-the-Rock, journaling, participating in assigned family activities, posting information about their assigned pioneer name, going on the trek, or creating something to help them "remember the county's pioneer heritage.

Stake leaders weren't quite a s nimble hiking down
 the steep incline, but most made it up and back through
 the 'Hole' which drops 2000 rough and challenging feet.
During the trek several historical presentations were shared.about those pioneers who actually made the original trek.  Presenters were Dave Laws (Silas Smith), Sandy and Mary Nielson (James and Mary Davis), Janet Wilcox (Arabella Smith), Kelly Laws (Ben Perkins), Nephi and his horse, and local Escalante businessman, Jerry Roundy.

Camp grub was the best on this well
planned trek.  Brother Pugh and Bleggi
know how it's done!

Devil's Playground
Other highlights of last week's trip to Escalante and the Hole-in-the-Rock included hiking both down and up the famous Hole, playing in the rocks of Devils Playground and eating Delton Pugh's trail grub.  He was aided by Steve Lovell, Kelly Bleggi, Steve Wilcox and Kevin Webb.

Some of the camp leaders

Mitch and Jana Bailey, Jennifer Nielson, Snookie Perkins, Debbie Pugh, Camille Ward, and Lori Webb orchestrated the set up and take downs.  The stake presidency and many bishops also participated in the three-day event.

There was also time for visiting, singing, and playing games together -- without cell phones and other distractions

The group of about 130 people camped in Escalante at Jerry Roundy's property.  The Roundy's have been working for over ten years to build a Hole-in-the-Rock pioneer museum and visitors center in Escalante.  Ground breaking has begun on the parking lot, but more money needs to be secured before work on the facility begins.
Sandi and Mary Nielson representing
James and Mary Davis
Stake leaders determine the logistics of serving 130 people
Latrine duty:  An important part of camp

David Laws representing Silas Smith

The area around Escalante seemed even more remote, rough and imposing than San Juan County with landmarks including such inhospitable names as Carcass Wash, Hell's Backbone, and Devils Playground.  Despite this, the Blanding group enjoyed  the high mountain loveliness of the community, the hospitality of the Roundy's and the challenge of a demanding hike.
Dance Hall Rock, one of the landmarks of the Hole-in-the-Rock trail, rang again with fiddle music, as youth from Cedar City and Blanding met for a short dance social.

Trek Families with their Flags

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More Faces behind Hole-in-the-Rock: The Lillywhite Family

by Janet Wilcox

It’s always a great joy to meet someone you’ve heard of or read about, and for those doing family history research, this meeting often comes in the form of a photograph.  Such a meeting occurred this past week, when Linda Wright rediscovered family photos of Joseph and Maryellen Elizabeth Lillywright, two Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers who had been “lost” to local history for some time.  Fortunately, their own descendants knew about them and the photos had been stashed away.
    The photo above was taken after the Lillywhite family moved to Mexico, and several members of the family attended the Juarez Academy.  The photo was probably taken in 1910 or 1911.  There maybe other ancestors of San Juan County people in this photo,  as Juarez Academcy was the only school for high school age students in the Mormon Colonies.  Those identified so far are: 2 Maryellen Elizabeth Willden (Lillywhite), 3. Her son Charles Willden Lillywhite, 7. (E.D. Brown?), 10 Major Brown, 11 Annie Lillywhite (Brown) 13. Irene Lillywhite (Brown)
Anyone who may recognize others in the photo, please contact Linda Wright 678-2663 or Janet Wilcox 678-2851.

Joseph Lillywhite and Maryellen Willden were married 5 Dec 1867 in Beaver, Beaver, Ut which is where they were living when they received the call to go to San Juan.  At that time they had 5 young children.

 Joseph Lillywhite is mentioned as being in a side exploration group consisting of Edward and Platt Lyman to determine a reconnaissance of the area, arriving eventually at what is now known as Clay Crossing of the San Juan.  Here they found approx. 200 acres of level land, heavily timbered with cottonwood trees, but it wasn't large enough to encourage the planting of a settlement.

Maryellen Lillywhite
They arrived in Bluff with the rest of the initial group in April 1880, but sometime later that spring, Joseph and Maryellen loaded their equipment and household effects and headed for Alpine, Apache County, Arizona traveling by way of Fort Defiance and Wingate (both US Army posts) where needed supplies could be purchased and then headed to Alpine, Az.  Joseph suffered an  untimely death, Jan. 19, 1888, leaving his wife and large family almost destitute. 
Charles Lillywhite
Their son Charles (who was 5 years old at the time of Hole in the Rock)  and his brothers worked hard to provide for the family, eventually developing a successful road construction business. 

 The summer of 1906 after completing a few profitable road contracts, Charles and his wife Margaret Copeland, and his mother determined to move to Mexico where they established a flour mill at Agua Prieta.  The family lived in Morales and six children were born to them in Mexico In 1906 Charles replaced Orson Pratt Brown as bishop and served in that position for 6 years. The Lillywhite brothers’ business was just going great, until the Mexican revolution closed their doors, and they were advised to move back to the US in 1912.

Another serindiptity tidbit discovered since the series on Hole-in-the-Rock story ran in the Panorama, involves Jeri Osborn's relative.  While reading the story in the Panorama about the amputation of Kumen Jone's leg, she recognized that Dr. Kent of Mesa who did the amputation, was her relative. Thus our lives continue to interconnect, one with another.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Blanding West Stake Youth Research Pioneers

Prior to their June Hole-in-the-Rock Trek, all youth in the Blanding West Stake were encouraged to learn something about the life, and character of those early travelers to San Juan.
 To expedite this, Stake Leaders assigned individual pioneer name from the original Hole-in-the-Rock group, to each youth in the stake.  They these "new pioneers" were grouped into families.  Several of the family groups spent time together learning how to do research and compiling a personalized story of their trail hero or heroine.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Perkins Family Learns How to Build a Dugway

One of the activities of the "New" Ben and Hyrum Perkins family experienced. Ma and Pa Laws took the "pioneer kids" out in the field to learn how to build a dugway, much like the one that the Perkins Brothers did for the original Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers.  Here is the family in action!

Trail Builders Spring 2010  with an "Uncle Ben's" relica

Saturday, March 27, 2010

“Rock” Solid Service benefits others

Blanding West Stake Youth add sealer to new handcarts which will be used by the Bluff Fort

Part of learning to appreciate the past is to preserve it, and to recreate it.  Youth from the Blanding West Stake had an opportunity to do that March 27, 2010 as they helped with several service projects designed to improve and enhance the Bluff Fort experience for others.
Shade houses were built as well as fences
   Stake youth presidents, Jana Bailey and Delton Pugh, helped to orchestrate projects ranging from fence building, cabin chinking, handcart painting, and general clean up both in Bluff and at the county Transfer station.  Photos show some of the things they did.  

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Part II: Lost Pioneers of Hole-in-the-Rock Found published March 24, 2010

by Janet Wilcox, Managing editor of Blue Mountain Shadows for 20 years

Preface:  I was not related to any San Juan County pioneers when we moved here in 1970, but I did have a Stan Bronson album which I had used when teaching 7th graders in 1966 in Murray, Utah.  I loved the folk songs he had written about San Juan, but never dreamed how connected to those people I would someday feel.  Then in 1975 my brother married Rosanne Reeve, a granddaughter of Mary Lyman (Albert R. Lyman’s sister), and they came down for a Lyman reunion. 

 As I started teaching at San Juan High in 1984, the Utah History Fair became a big part of my curriculum and I loved reading what my students learned from their local history research.  I hope it gave them some appreciation of their heritage as well. Next, our son Rob married Kathryn Redd a great, great granddaughter of Lemuel H. Redd Sr.  One by one the threads of San Juan encircled me and as each issue of Blue Mountain Shadows was published, new threads tied my mind and heart to San Juan’s past.

Most recently, this Hole-in-the-Rock project, has convinced me I am totally bound by these threads-- bound to a wonderful, colorful past from which I have learned much.  Helping to collect the Hole-in-the-Rock information into a common web site has been joy to me, though not to my eyes.  In the process I was often recipient of the “tender mercies” of the Lord, as new information was so miraculously God-sent via an e-mail.  Thanks to many of you who read the newspaper and responded with wonderful stories.  

As I have read each of these stories, I’ve felt my heart change, and a renewed commitment to never be a whiner.  I have nothing to complain about when I compare my life to these good people who came to the “end of the earth” as my father-in-law would say. They made the best of what they had and learned to be happy about it.  They worked hard and kept that Nielson “stick-it-a-to-ity” ever present in their minds, and we can too.

 Part II
Local Efforts to preserve family histories:

 Certainly the star of San Juan’s historic trail is Albert R. Lyman, who was a baby when his family came through the Hole in the Rock.  He was “born to write,” said his daughter Alberta O’Brian, “ It was in his genes, having been born to a father who loved literature and who, even in his poverty, encouraged the love of reading and learning in his children. By the time he was 13, Albert had begun to keep a daily journal, which he did through a spa of 82 years. [1]”  Besides his journals, Lyman wrote for newspapers, magazines, serials, short stories, biographies, histories, and even poetry and songs. Most of these, however, carry a common thread –his love for San Juan.

Though respect for ancestors among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t quite reach the same level of filial piety found in Asian countries, it is nevertheless deep and reverential.  Members have been encouraged since the inception of the church to write letters and keep journals.  Thankfully, many did so, and through these we come to know our ancestors or other people’s. 

My own great grandfather, Robert Henderson, wrote a weekly journal from the time he joined the church in Scotland, during his immigration to Utah, through his experiences in Salt Lake, and Box Elder County.  From these I learned what it meant to “eat crow” as that was partially what he and 18 other young men had to resort to, to survive the winter of 1851 in Utah.  They were taken in by President John Taylor’s mother and father and she would send them out to hunt so she would have something to cook for supper.  Often it was a badger or crow that they brought back, and that’s what they ate.  I’ve had to “eat Crow” a few times myself in this life, but didn’t have to hunt for it.eber
The LDS Church is not alone in its support of family record keeping.  Genealogy is considered the #1 hobby of many people.  According to Dick Eastmond, Genealogy is more popular today than ever before. It is the second or third or fourth most popular topic on the Web, depending upon whose sources you care to cite. The first surge of interest in genealogy can be traced to the 1890s, when the U.S. experienced a burgeoning of historical societies, pioneer associations, family reunions, and hereditary organizations (the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Society of Mayflower descendants were founded in that decade) [2].

Most states have historical societies dedicated to the preservation of past history.  Even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been involved.  October 2008 was "Archives Month" in California and more than 4,000 archival institutions in California were recognized for their role in preserving the state's history. Forty year’s earlier,  California’s interest in history ironically paved the way for volumes of San Juan County history.  Dr. Gary Shumway began an Oral history program in 1968 in California that reached into the very heart of San Juan.  He and his students from Cal State Fullerton canvassed San Juan County for many years collecting hundreds of oral histories and publishing them.  Copies are available at most San Juan County libraries.

Through the untiring efforts of Commissioner Calvin Black as well as others, the Edge of the Cedars was established in 1976 as a museum and repository and has done much to showcase the pre-history story of ancient peoples of the Four Corners.  Community programs including lectures, workshops, art shows, and  tours do much to bring history to the communities of the Four Corners

Currently Rebecca Stoneman and EOC staff have orchestrated a local historical display showcasing the history and impact of West Water Canyon on the lives of both pioneer and Native American people.  The museum also houses a library, which is open to the public, and it houses the archives of the county historical commission.  

Though having much smaller budget that Gov. Schwarzenegger, San Juan County commissioners have also encouraged and supported historical preservation.  They started the San Juan County Historical Commission in 1984, with LaVerne Tate as the first president.  Shortly afterwards Blue Mountain Shadows  began its preservation activities.  Since the Shadows’ was first published in 1987, 40+ magazines rich in biographical information, as well as local lore, have been published.  They continue to invite people to write stories and share information.   The City of Blanding, in like manner, extended an open invitation for all those who had lived in Blanding to write their family’s story and a massive amount of material filled four volumes for the Blanding Centennial in 2005.  Donna Blake shouldered the bulk of this gigantic task, with Dr. Shumway doing the editing.

On a more private level, many local families have been engaged in collecting, writing, and preserving ancestral stories.  Nearly every family seems to have at least one of more relatives imbued with the spirit of Elijah and is actively seeking to turn the hearts of the current generation “to their fathers.[3] “  Mark Lyman and Tamra Lyman, Gayle Shumway, Nancy Kimmerle, and Toni Turk are some who have made great contributions to their family history vaults. There are many, many others.

In the past five years two gigantic projects related to the Hole in the Rock were completed.  The extended Nielson family did a massive photo and story collection and ended up filling two five-inch binders in recognition of the legacy left by Jens Nielson and his wives: Elsie Rasmussen and Kirsten Jensen and their children.  Donna Jensen and Mike Halliday teamed up as the driving force behind this huge collection, which also includes hundreds of early Bluff photos, family letters, and diary entries.  It is available on Cd to interested researchers.

Secondly, Kumen Jones’ descendants (especially Ted Jones, Kay Jones, and Heather Raison) published his writings and then Calvin McDonald created an impressive web site ( ) which shares  a broad spectrum of topics all written by this unassuming, yet pivotal San Juan leader.  Kumen was so open and honest in all he did and wrote, that you feel like you’ve walked through the door of early San Juan County and are seeing things as they truly were.

Kumen Jones’ Writings

 One of the reasons Kumen took time to write is stated in the preface in his own words: “One purpose of this story is to show that we do not have to go back to ancient Israel, to the ancient Nephite or Jaredite times in order to show the hand of Providence in the blessing and preservation of the Lord's children whenever or wherever they are loyal and true to Him, and live the Gospel. The San Juan (Utah) pioneers have tested this question out through the years of intense times and trying conditions since we were called on this mission in 1879. I am the last one of the original pioneers who was of age when we landed in what is now San Juan County.”

One would think that Kumen’s trials had been sufficient in earlier years to warrant him a life of ease as he faced his golden years.  It was not to be, and his final trial was the amputation of his leg.  He recorded the story this way:

HOW I LOST MY LEFT LEG--April, 1936. “Took sore between the ankle and calf of my leg along in the year 1936, Feb. 1st. The old timers called it a bite of a Black Spider. Dr. Kent of Mesa said it may be a "White Blood Clot" caused by poor, slow circulation of the blood stream. It was extremely painful and developed fast. April had Dr. Kent and assistant take the leg off. They told me that I had one chance out of a hundred against my pulling thru the operation. I told him to go ahead, that we would take the one chance. April I was taken to the local hospital (Mesa) for ten days, where it soon developed that the operation was not successful; was brot out to Dr. Johnson, Cortez, Colorado. Dr. Johnson with an assistant operated again and was successful, and it was done without pain, and I have not suffered severe pain during, or since the operation, and it looks now that when I check out from this mortal existence it will be from some other cause than my absent leg, and while I do not know the object of it all, am more than willing to accept it as for some wise purpose as an experience needed by me, as well as other experiences I have passed thru the past few years. It may be these things are for the future existence; in fact we are in training here for eternity where we are to "Be added upon."

By November of that same year, Kumen was back at work despite having only one leg:
“We fixed up for me to cut up an extra large cottonwood tree, partly dry, which turned out to be extra tough, but that only made more and harder exercise for me. I will not hesitate to recommend this exercise to furnish play. For physical exercise will help work up an appetite, help pass the time away and save expense and balance the family budget. It also sets a good example to the neighbors, etc., especially to my family. This latter view of the question is worthy of our consideration, as it affects our standing of worthiness among our friends and neighbors among the community where we live. I believe I got more and better education from the example of my neighbors and the lives they lived than I got from the day school of my younger days, besides being a factor for good in promoting my progress in life.”

Kumen’s neighborly education is mirrored in his writings.  Amazingly, both he and Albert R. Lyman took the time not only to write their own stories, but they also wrote about other Bluff pioneers and their contributions—another reason why Kumen’s web site is so valuable to researchers. 

He said of Joseph F. Barton, He “took a leading place in education, civil and religious, and financial affairs, held official positions in all of above features of progress and civilization. Having him and family as my nearest neighbor for 24 years, I found them 100 percent fine. Brother Barton was an all around handy, helpful, exemplary neighbor; quite a veterinarian, understood many of the ailments of domestic animals, and for planning all corrals, outhouses, etc., his gift or ability along those lines was an asset to the community where he lived.”  See Barton name in index

Of Bishop Jens Nielson Kumen wrote, “The thing that gave him influence with the people was his sound judgment and his strong sense of justice and absolutely fairness. I have met many men in whose hands I would be willing to place my life, and would easily place as the first one among that number Bishop Jens Nielson. His confidence and friendship is above price in my memory, which continued almost all my life without a jar.”  

[Currently, local descendants of both Joseph Barton, and Jens Nielson are helping lead efforts in telling the history of the Hole in the Rock pioneers.  Corrine Roring has worked for nearly 10 years to kindle interest in others for the Bluff Fort project, trail preservation, and history collection.  Joining her in this efforts are Karl and LaRue Barton of Bluff.  More will be told of these efforts in a future segment.]

Not one to overlook the contributions of women of the community, Kumen’s tributes included many pioneer women. He said of Anna Mickelson Decker, “If she cannot say good things about people will keep still, with good Christian patience and faith for the future, still living (1933) and cheerfully doing her bit.”  This observation is especially poignant, once we realize the Anna lost not only her husband in the diphtheria outbreak of 1901-02, but four of her children. (See Mikki Palmer’s Poem

Kumen Jones with Jim Joe, his Navajo friend

Kumen’s friendly relationship with the Navajo people was legendary.  Jim Joe was a particularly close and valued life-long friend.  They met in 1880 when Jim was about 18-20 years old and Kumen was 24. Kumen wrote, “It was soon apparent, to an observer of human nature, that Jim was above the average . . . He was industrious, thrifty, careful with his means, hard worker, a large manly fellow. . .Jim always has looked upon lying or stealing as beneath the standards he set for himself to follow, always frank, open and straight-forward in his life and dealings with friend or foe of any color or class. . . Many times he has helped us regain property that was stolen from us by whites as well as Indians; sometimes has joined officers of the law in hunting desperate characters such as bank and train robbers, cattle and horse thieves. . .”

Lydia Lyman Jones
None of his tributes are more tender than his words of admiration for his wives: Mary and Lydia May.  He stated: Aunt Mary started out in life from childhood with a sympathetic nature, and early in young womanhood fell heir to the prefix "Aunt" to her name.  Born of strong, sturdy Scandinavian stock, daughter of Jens and Elsie Nielson, at Parowan, Utah, October 3, 1858. Inherited strong, rugged health. Brought up to be thrifty, saving, and to be industrious; wide awake, lively, wholesome girl, without a trace of an unvirtuous, impure thought, or a lazy cell in her mind or body; led upon her with the years, and for helping and encouraging the sick and unfortunate she has spent much of her life. . . in a helpful useful life of service, especially thoughtful of the older people of the community, and sick.”
His second wife, Lydia was only 42 when she took hold of a blazing lamp and carried it out of the house, with their baby boy, Francis W. Jones in her arms.  In doing so, her clothes caught fire, burning her so seriously that it resulted in her death after nine days of suffering.  Mary then raised Lydia’s 10 children. 
Kumen said later of Lydia May: “Nothing could turn or swerve her from doing her full and loyal duty to her family. No man ever had a truer and more loyal helpmate for an eternal companion.”

Perhaps as we take on the challenge of writing our history, and that of our parents, or grandparents, we might follow Kumen’s advice, and write a few paragraphs about the great people who have let their sunshine into our lives, and given us rays of hope and help. 

Need for more information

   It is hoped that others interested in local history will help in the search for missing stories.  Please visit and see if you can help track down information about the “lost pioneers”. These stories are likely to be as interesting and valuable as the ones we’ve know for over 100 years.  This is a 250 piece puzzle and about 100 of the pieces are missing.  What will the final picture be?
If you find a piece send it to

References in addition to previously listed Internet links

[1] Miller, David. Hole in the Rock © 1966, p. 46

[2] Cox and Olson Histories,
[3] Miller, back cover
[4] Lipe, Dr. Bill, lecture in Blanding, 2/11/2010
[5] Miller. back cover
[6] History of Mary Fretwell Davis, written in 1928 by her daughter for the Cedar City Camp of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers.
[7] McDonald, Ron.  Hole in the Rock Newsletter, Volume 2, Winter 2007
[8] Ibid.
[9]  Lillywhite, Charles. Joseph Lillywhite history, Jan. 18, 1943, in possession of Linda Wright, Blanding, Utah
[10] Lillywhite.
[11] O’Brian, Albert Lyman.  Albert R. Lyman: A Personal Account, Vol 22 Blue Mountain Shadows. P 30-42
[12] Sheila O'Hare. Genealogy and History, published · vol. 2 · no. 3 · April 2002
[13] Malachi 4: 5-6

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Part I: “Lost Pioneers” of Hole-in-the-Rock Discovered, published March 17, Blue Mt. Panorama

Do you Recognize These Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers?

Caption: Photo identification (Read their stories on

A. The Old Swing Tree in Bluff. A favorite meeting place, of adults and children alike. The first church services were held here until a log church was built. It washed away some time after 1894 when the San Juan River jumped its banks and washed out pioneer crops as well as well established trees like this.
B. Amasa Barton was killed at Rincon.

C. Kumen Jones in the first Bishopric in Bluff:            
D. Jens Nielson, first bishop of Bluff
E. Lemuel H. Redd, 
F.  San Juan Hillthe final difficult challenge of the Hole in the Rock Trail. Both horses and pioneers were too exhausted to go any further, arriving in Bluff April 6, 1880.     

H.  James Bean Decker was born March 25, 1853 at ParowanUtah and was one of the outstanding pillars among the Bluff pioneers
I. Anna Marie Mickelsen Decker was born in Cedar City, April 7, 1855. Her husband and 4 of their children died of diphtheria 1901-02.  Poem about this tragedy found at:        
J. Hole in the Rock, the daunting entry into the wilderness trail to Bluff. Ariel view by Fawn Palmer   
K. Barton Cabin in Bluff Today the Barton cabin represents the sole surviving feature of the earliest pioneer architecture of Bluff. It retains the integrity of its original location, design, setting, material, workmanship, feeling, and association. It is the cornerstone of the Bluff Fort.  Cortez
L. One of the “lost” pioneers, recently found: Sarah Marchant Cox: She was only eight when she went over the Hole-in-the-Rock trail to San Juan.
M.  Willard Butt. Willard and his brother Parley were both from Parowan. Willard b.1858-d.1919 in 
 The Search for the “Lost Pioneers” of  Hole-in-the-Rock

Like pot shards scattered on the periphery of ancient Anasazi ruins, the disconnected segments of nearly 150 "lost pioneer stories" of Hole-in-the-Rock, are starting to emerge.  As bits and "bites" of their history are found, pieced together, interpreted and shared with others, an understanding of their life and legacy grows.  When the strewn parts of their stories are collected and connected our appreciation of history becomes more complete and respect evolves which changes our own heart and mindscape.

When the search for the “Lost Pioneers” of Hole-in-the-Rock began January 4, 2010, Samuel Cox was just a three-line entry in history identifying him as one of three musicians on the 1879-1880 wagon train to San Juan CountyUtah[1] Now, thanks to the efforts of family genealogists who have put their generational stories on-line, we know that the Cox family, had a full and productive life in Canada after leaving Utah.

Through the use of technology: digitized photos and newspapers, e-mails, and Google searches, stories of approximately 150 ”lost” pioneers are being uncovered, though there is still much work left to do.  A unique group of Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers like Kumen Jones, Platte DeAlton Lyman, George Hobbs and Lizzie Decker are remembered because their journals and/ or letters were preserved.  Others like the Nielsons, Redds, Bartons, Adams, and Bayleses are well known because their descendants remained largely in San Juan County and there remains a clear historical record.   But for the “lost” pioneers the historic trail between Hole-in-the Rock and the rest of their lives is dim and often difficult to find.  For this reason, “ history scouts” are needed.
This April 2010, will be 130 years since the original Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers entered San Juan County.  Through the efforts of the Hole-in -the-Rock Foundation, giant strides have been made to rebuild the historic Bluff Fort, and to document the stories of all 250 people who originally came to the San Juan Mission. To read more, please click here:  Of those original pioneers 100 were children, many just babes in arms.  Very few of the children’s stories are known at this time.  To read those collected, please click here:  . The story of their parents is better know.  To read these, please click.  But another fifty or so adults have no documented story.  Thus the need to reach out to a broader audience of possible descendants is underway, in hopes of securing additional stories. 

Sarah Marchant 
That is also why the happy discovery of Samuel Cox (San Juan’s lost violinist) was so exciting.  Samuel Cox and, his wife Sarah Gane and daughter Sarah Marchant left San Juan and started moving northward, eventually arriving in Cardston, Canada May 21, 1898.  “They traveled from Price, Utah to Lethbridge by train and then to Cardston by wagon.  They were accompanied by their only child, a daughter, Sarah Marchant and her husband Erastus Olsen and their four children.  On Nov 10, 1905 they moved to Beazer, where they remained the rest of their lives.  Sarah Gane was called as Relief Society President and Samuel Cox as ward chorister.  In 1915 Sarah suffered a second stroke and died. Samuel built the casket for her himself, because he wanted it well built and beautiful.  It was perhaps his finest work.  He chose maple wood.  When completed the Sisters lined it with satin and padded the outside and covered it with velvet brocade.  The handles and graven nameplate were silver.  Indeed no finer casket could have been bought.  She was laid to rest in the Beazer cemetery 26 January 1915. . . .  Samuel then took the wood that was left and fashioned a beautiful violin, which he often played.” [3]
To read more about Samuel Cox and his wife, please click here: Cox family history
  And what of their daughter, Sarah Marchant?  Yes, her story too has risen from the dust of San Juan and is retold.  Sarah's story

Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers

Historian David E. Miller gave laudatory tribute to the 1880 pioneers in his signature research of Hole in the Rock ©1959.  “In all the annals of the West there is no better example of indomitable pioneer spirit than the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition.  No pioneer company ever built a wagon road through wilder, rougher, or more inhospitable country, than this group of approximately 250 men, women and children, who with some 80 wagons and hundreds of loose cattle and horses, cut  wagon passage through 200 miles of wilderness country. . . None ever demonstrated more courage, faith and devotion to a cause than this group. . .Today their feat seems well-nigh impossible.  Yet they proved that virtually nothing was impossible for a zealous band of pioneers.”[4]

It was in 1956 when David Miller was doing his research, that the Colorado River and Glen Canyon were also being surveyed by archeologists (1956-1963) in anticipation of the eventual flooding of the canyon by Lake Powell.  Thus in 1966 when Miller’s second edition was published part of the original pioneer trail, and the Colorado crossing by ferry no longer looked the same.  [5]

But Lake Powell also had its positive impact on history, as many of the millions of boaters who have visited since then, have been able to see Hole-in-the-Rock up close and personal, a feat that earlier, only overlanders with four-wheelers and trail smarts were able to do.  Miller remarked in 1966 that as thousands of people have ventured to the “Hole” they are “amazed that wagons could ever have gone that way.  Yet, incredible as it now seems, for a little more than a year (1880-1881) this was the major wagon road between southern Utah settlements and the Four Corners region. Wagons traveled both ways on it, --up as well as down through the Hole. [6]

It is that trail and its original travelers, that youth from the Blanding stakes will celebrate this summer as they recreate partially the experiences of these early pioneers, some of whom are their direct ancestors.  Learning about them and their sacrifices is part of their preparation.  Stake history specialist, Janet Wilcox, has created a blog that includes profiles of these “undaunted” pioneers, with additional links to more complete histories, as well as photos. To open site Hole-in-the-Rock Profiles 

 The Call to San Juan

  So what brought these first San Juan pioneers together to face such overwhelming trailbuilding odds?
Most of the original Hole in the Rock pioneers were “called” to establish the San Juan mission “somewhere” in southeastern Utah. They came from Cedar City, New Harmony, Parowan, Beaver, Paragonah, and other little communities on the west side of Utah.   Others in the group, joined up on their way to Arizona or Colorado, hoping that this “shortcut” would get them there sooner.  Unfortunately what was estimated to take 6 weeks, took six months.  This was unchartered territory-- a rugged and wild part of the west, and the little community they would eventually establish would be considered the “last outpost of civilization.”  Not only was it remote, but it was also largely inaccessible because of deserts, rivers, canyons, and imposing geological barriers. 

      Some pioneers like Jens Nielson, had already survived the Willey handcart trek, and had been “called” to relocate many times by the LDS Church.  Despite his age, he still willingly accepted the call. He would eventually serve as Bishop of Bluff for 26 years. Jens Nielson story

James Davis

 James Davis, in spite of his wife’s trepidation and poor health, willingly agreed to go as well.  Mary’s angst becomes understandable, once we learn four of her children had already died, and she was pregnant with another child. Yet relying on the blessing Bishop Christopher Arthur, gave her, she supported her husband. Along with their four living children, they set out as one of two families who would first go to San Juan via the southern route.  They and the Herriman family (Henry Harrison and his wife Sarah Hobbs and their four children) arrived at Montezuma Creek a full 9 months before the Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers made it to Bluff and almost starved in the process.

The Davis’s were part of the first San Juan exploring party composed of 27 men, two women and eight children who responded to a call by Apostle Erastus Snow to help settle SE Utah.  They began the journey April 1879, traveled through dry, dangerous, desert Indian lands and arrived in Montezuma three months later in July.  On Aug. 2, 1879 a little girl, Ethel Olive was born.  She lived to adulthood, and Sister Davis’s health was restored. To read a poem describing this trek, click here: 

James and Mary Davis family
Very little was known about these Montezuma settlers until local history buff, Ron McDonald began his thorough and detailed research of the area.  “My interest in Fort Montezuma was sparked in 2001 when
I accidentally stumbled onto the headstones of Lizzie Harriman (1879-1881) and John Alma Harriman (1876-1883) which stand alone in a wind-swept desert near the town of Montezuma Creek, Utah.”[7]  In addition McDonald found rock etchings, remains of the fort, and stories of most pioneers who lived in the Montezuma Creek area.

After several years “I was able to locate 3rd and 4th generation descendants of the Fort Montezuma pioneers in places outside of Utah, and I tracked down diaries, journals, biographies and photographs. The more I learned, the more curious I became.” [8]  He was eventually able to identify 132 pioneers who had lived at Montezuma.  Many of his findings are included in Vol. 30 of Blue Mountain Shadows. To learn more, please click here: Ron can be contacted at

The Lost are Found

Thanks to family researchers who are willing to share, other discoveries have also been made related to the Barney, Robb, and Lillywhite families.

Danielson Buren and Laura Matthews Barney were from Utah County and in 1861 theLaura Matthews Barney were called to the Dixie Mission. He settled in St. George, Utah where he resided for many years and helped build the St. George Temple.  In 1878 he was called to go to Arizona.  Possibly Hole-in-the-Rock was considered a quicker way to get there so they joined the pioneers going to San Juan.  They lived in Bluff only a short while. 

They faced many difficulties: all his horses were stolen, though later retrieved; his losing-battle with building a canal from the San Juan River forced him to go to Durango to work.  It was during this time that all his cattle died in San Juan, so by 1886 Barney and his family moved to Gila Valley and settled in Thatcher, Arizona.  To read more, please click here: 

 George Drummond Robb and Caroline Jones

On September 1, 1878, Caroline Jones Robb (known as Cally) gave birth to their first child, Mary Ann. Shortly after her birth, her husband George and his brothers William, John and Adam received a call to fill a mission in San Juan County. When asked in later years what people did with their land and homes when they accepted such a call, George answered, “We just left them behind without looking back and without any regrets.” George and Cally were never to return to Paragonah to live. To read more, click here: Though histories have been submitted concerning George’s family, more information is needed concerning the other Robb brothers.

Joseph Lillywhite
Joseph and Mary Ellen Wilden Lillywhite joined a company which was forming in Beaver to go settle San Juan. Joseph needed no urging to join, and was imbued with the spirit of the times to colonize other areas. 
His son Charles, who was with them, later recalled the family’s experience: “Father sold his Beaver holdings, absorbing most of the value in teams, wagons, cows and some cash and in the late summer of 1879, he headed east on the old Escalante trail and joined some 70 wagons of other colonizers encamped on the north bank of the Colorado River at a location where LDS scouts located what they decided was the most feasible point to establish a ferry over the turbulent Colorado River. This location was fittingly named Hole-in-the-Rock.

At this point the west bank rose from the riverbed to a height of several hundred feet, mostly perpendicular. The rains through the ages had work out a cleft in the north bank of these walls of sandstone and it offered the only location where wagons could reach the riverbed without prohibitive cost. This declivity had a short stretch where the canyon walls were a few inches too marrow to permit a wagon to pass and another short stretch where a sloping ledge of sandrock would not permit safe passage. The third impediment was an extremely steep grade, too steep to admit a wagon’s descent under brake control only.” [9]

The Lillywhites arrived safely in Bluff, but had the same discouraging experience fighting the fickle San Juan River.  After seeing ditches wash out several times, Joseph and Mary Ellen loaded their equipment and household effects in late spring of 1880 and headed for Alpine, Apache County, Arizona.  Eventually they moved to a milder climate in Woodruff, Az

Kumen Jones’ Writings

    Within the past two years, Kumen Jones’ descendants created a Kumen Jones site  which shares with others a broad spectrum of topics all written by this unassuming, yet pivotal San Juan leader.  Kumen’s writings are especially valuable because he took the time not only to write his story, but also wrote about other pioneers and their contributions.   

He said of Joseph F. Barton, He “took a leading place in education, civil and religious, and financial affairs, held official positions in all of above features of progress and civilization. Having him and family as my nearest neighbor for 24 years, I found them 100 percent fine. Brother Barton was an all around handy, helpful, exemplary neighbor; quite a veterinarian, understood many of the ailments of domestic animals, and for planning all corrals, outhouses, etc., his gift or ability along those lines was an asset to the community where he lived.” To read more, find Barton on the name index 

Of Bishop Jens Nielson, Kumen wrote, “The thing that gave him influence with the people was his sound judgment and his strong sense of justice and absolutely fairness. I have met many men in whose hands I would be willing to place my life, and would easily place as the first one among that number Bishop Jens Nielson. His confidence and friendship is above price in my memory, which continued almost all my life without a jar.”  To read more about Jens, go to and find Jens on the Name Index.

Descendents Commemorate Hole-in-the-Rock pioneer efforts
Since 2000, descendents of these original Bluff leaders have been working with that famous “stick it a to-ity” to preserve and interpret the trail, restore the Bluff Fort and to collect pioneer histories. Karl Barton, a great grandson of Joseph and Harriet Barton, and his wife LaRue, a great granddaughter of Jens and Katrine Nielson are valuable workers in Bluff.  They along with “visionary” leader Corrine Roring, a descendant of Jens Nielson help provide local leadership in the efforts to preserve the history of the Bluff pioneers. 

Five years ago, April 9, 2005, about 500 descendants and townspeople joined Bishop H. David Burton of the Presiding Bishopric near the original Bluff Fort to dedicate a restoration project that had been four years in the making.  It included the restoration of the remaining pioneer structures with improvements made to the original Barton cabin, building of a log meetinghouse, and completion of a granite monument with the names of the original settlers
Bishop Burton, in his comments, expressed his admiration for those who responded to the call of a prophet to settle in this beautiful, but rough terrain of southeastern Utah. "I hope you remember how important it is for generations to honor those who have gone before," he said in comments prior to pronouncing a dedication. "It is a mark of a mature generation," he said, "to have a basic reverence for those gone before.[10]

Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation Formed

Soon a non-profit Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation was created with Roring serving as president.  Personnel was expanded to involve many other pioneer descendants who caught the vision of preserving the history and sharing the legacy: led by Craig Taylor, Grant Taylor, Lamar Helquist, Lamont Crabtree, and Carl McKay, Like the original pioneers their motto became “Accomplishing the seemingly impossible!”  

The Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation was eventually able to purchase seventeen acres from “Utah State institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) for a quiet, beautiful cove behind the Twin Rocks. The twin rocks cove includes Pueblo I II III archeology remnants of its first settlers. It is adjacent to Bluff’s most recent settlers and presents a story of every group in between and the acoustics at this site are supreme.”[11]

They were also successful in purchasing a hogan shaped building which they hope to make into a Native American and historical museum
During the week of October 27, 2008, descendents of the Mormon pioneers who first settled southeastern Utah, along with other volunteers, built three pioneer cabin replicas at the Bluff Fort Historic Site at Bluff, Utah.  Funds were raised by family groups, who also provided the construction labor, for the purpose of rebuilding original family cabins as tributes to their ancestor. 
One of the participants Ron Snowdon, Director of Bluff Fort Construction, stated, “Last night Linda and I arrived home from a week at the Bluff Fort, in southern Utah. While there, we helped to erect three log cabins, installed irrigation systems, laid paving stones, and otherwise participated in one of the most unique experiences we have ever had. We arrived home tired, sore, sunburned, and with badly mangled feet—but happy.  We experienced a little of the pioneer life, shouldered some of their toil, and interacted with about 100 other people in this great experience.  We now have far more respect for our pioneer ancestors, and understand their lives far more as a result of following in their footsteps."  [12] Last year six additional cabins were built.
To read more about the foundation’s efforts, please click here: 

First three cabins at fort: far right, Barton – Center, Blacksmith shop – Middle left, Redd

 Completed Redd Cabin and restored wagon 2008

Additional cabins are being planned as well as other improvements to the fort.  Future goals include:
1.     The Barton Cabin:  Preserve and protect the Barton cabin –the oldest pioneer structure in San Juan County and the only remaining cabin built by the Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers.
2.      Procurement of Property:  Pursue the acquisition of properties that comprised the original fort boundaries.
3.     Building Replicas:  Create a semblance of the original Bluff Fort through the construction of some of the fort’s original log structures including the log meetinghouse, blacksmith shop, and log cabins.
4.     Pioneer Artifacts: Collect and display pioneer artifacts including wagons, farming implements, blacksmith implements,  and  cabin/meetinghouse furnishings that are from/or a replica of the late 1800's, provided that said artifacts are applicable to the telling of the story of the Bluff Fort or its original residents.
5.     Visitors' Center: Develop a visitors' center that is patterned after the design and location of the original stone co-op.
6.      Landscaping: Develop landscaping that is period appropriate, including the planting of trees and a small orchard representative of Bluff’s first orchards.
7.      Bluff Ditch: Through sculpture and/or landscaping, create an interpretive feature which illustrates the Bluff ditch/irrigation system.
8.     The Indian Story: Develop Native American interpretive displays that convey the culture and history of the Navajo and Piute Indians as they relate to the Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers.
9.     Displays/ kiosks: Develop displays and interpretive information throughout the site that convey the remarkable challenges and accomplishments of Bluff’s first inhabitants.
10.  Kumen Jones Ruin: Phase I. Secure and preserve the ruin walls to the extent that is possible and safe. Phase II. If the wall can be secured/stabilized, a small amphitheater will be developed at the southwest corner of the ruin with the ruin wall serving as a backdrop. The small amphitheater is to be used for fireside chats, programs, etc. Phase III. When funds become available, rebuild the home. [13]
The Foundations web site includes wonderful photos and maps of both the trail, and Fort, as well as biographies of some of the pioneers and foundation personnel. Contact information: HIR Foundation, PO Box 476, Bluff, UT 84512.  To read more, please click: (

  As the spirit of Elijah rolls forth in these last days, it becomes very apparent to researchers the real reason of why computers and the Internet were invented.  They are valuable tools made to bless the latter-day work in connecting families, and promoting understanding of Church history and heritage. 
     President Gordon B. Hinckley reinforces this notion: “It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look upon the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. It is good to reflect upon the work of those who labored so hard and gained so little in this world, but out of whose dreams and early plans, so well nurtured, has come a great harvest of which we are the beneficiaries. Their tremendous example can become a compelling motivation for us all “. . ,[15]

Church author Gerald Lund has also renewed interest in Hole-in-the-Rock through his expansive novel, “The Undaunted” ©2009.  He said of the San Juan Mission; “The journey was impossible. But they had no other choice.  At the call of their prophet, they left well-established farms and businesses to strike out yet again into the untamed wilderness. A small band of men, women, and children formed the 1879 pioneer company. Their mission: stand as a buffer between lawlessness and civilization. Their road: only what they created themselves, blasting out a perilous trail over slick rock and through desolate cliffs, their hearts, Undaunted.” [16]

Though their original destination was Montezuma Creek, by the time they surmounted the
 final obstacle of San Juan Hill, their horses and oxen were so spent, and Bluff’s verdant green canyon bottoms looked so welcoming, most chose to remain there.  Little did they know their struggles would not be over, but that is another story.

  Families who may be descendants of these pioneers are encouraged to submit missing stories and/or photos via e-mail to .  Please document where the information came from or provide links to where it can be found on-line.   Your help and detective work on this project will be greatly appreciated.

[1] Miller, David. Hole in the Rock © 1966, p. 46
[2] Photos courtesy San Juan Historical Commission, Sarah Marchant photo,  Karen Nelson
[4] Miller, back cover
[5] Lipe, Dr. Bill, lecture in Blanding, 2/11/2010
[6] Miller. back cover
[7] McDonald, Ron.  Hole in the Rock Newsletter, Volume 2, Winter 2007
[8] Ibid.
[9] Lillywhite, Charles. Joseph Lillywhite history, Jan. 18, 1943, in possession of Linda Wright, Blanding, Utah
[10] Stahle, Shaun D. Incredible journey, Church News, April 16, 2005
[11] Bradford, Cleal. Hole in the Rock News, Vol 2 Winter 2007
[12] Fort Service Projects, Hole in the Rock Foundation,
[13] Hole in the Rock Foundation Overview,
[14] Hinckley, Gordon B.  The Faith of the Pioneers, Ensign, p. 3,  July 1984