And the Desert Shall Blossom
Water – the lack of it and too much of it – was the greatest challenge to Dixie’s early Mormon settlers. When the original company of families entered the St. George Valley late in 1861, they had little more than two small springs to rely upon for drinking water, and the capricious currents of the Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers for irrigation. From the day those indomitable pioneers set foot in this valley until the day they died, their lives were spent in search of, diverting, ditching, and wisely using water.
William Carter, who built his home on the southeast corner of this block, holds the distinction of plowing the first ditch in the valley. The water he channeled emerged from the spring which still flows from the east edge of the red sandstone ledge north of the city. Soon a ditch and wooden flume system was built throughout the town, conducting water from East and West Springs to the town’s many lots. The water from the springs did not taste good, but was nonetheless life sustaining, and much better than the rank water dipped from the Virgin River. In those days a “Drinking Hour” was established in the town. During a specified hour each morning, all irrigation diversions were taken out of the main ditch so that water flowed completely through the system. Members of each household dipped enough water from the ditch for the day’s needs and stored in barrels.
Though contention over water turns was unavoidable, completion of the Tabernacle with its punctual town clock in the tower helped synchronize the citizens and reduce disagreements.
To irrigate farms south of town, the pioneers began immediately to put dams and diversions in the Rio Virgin and build ditches to the fields. Project after project failed as the river’s unpredictable currents and periodic floods literally washed their dreams to sea. It was decades before the Virgin’s flow was effectively harnessed, yet even today the river still finds the means to have its way.
Historian Andrew Karl Larson aptly described the dilemma: “During the late 1860s, 70s, and 80s, floods roared down the Virgin and its tributaries with increasing frequency and volume. Its turbid waters, swelling in angry crescendo as the years passed, tore out dams as fast as the tired settlers on its uneasy banks could put them in. Worse still, much of the finest bottom land was carried to the Pacific by the wrathful Virgin who struck out blindly and even viciously at those who had so thoughtlessly violated her watersheds. Like an angry goddess, she turned upon her tormentors to destroy what they had built.”
This is S.U.P. Marker #72.01, for other markers in the series visit this page. Other markers in the series located here in the St George Memorial Plaza are:
- 72 – St. George Memorial Plaza
- 72.01 – And the Desert Shall Blossom
- 72.02 – Gardners’ Club Hall
- 72.03 – St. George Social Hall “Opera House”
- 72.04 – Brigham Young Home
- 72.05 – Pioneer Courthouse
- 72.06 – Erastus Snow’s Big House
- 72.07 – Dixie Academy
- 72.08 – St. George Temple
- 72.09 – St. George Tabernacle
- 72.10 – Woodward School
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