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The Casting of the Lots

On July 29, 1776, Fathers Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante led an exploration party of ten horsemen from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to establish an overland route to Monterey, California, while spreading the Catholic faith to the native peoples they hoped to meet along the way.

As the Padres traveled along the Beaver River in early October, they became increasingly discouraged about reaching Monterey. Their Indian guide had been frightened and had deserted them to return home. Left alone they were unable to find a passage through the mountains. Their supplies were already low and as they realized they were now at the mercy of the severe winter storms, the Fathers despaired of reaching their original destination and decided to return to Santa Fe. However, the other members of the party were reluctant to give up their hopes of reaching California. On October 11, Escalante recorded in his diary, “We had already disclosed to them at Santa Brigida the reasons for our new resolve, and instead of paying heed to their validity were setting their views against ours,…[having] conceived grandiose dreams of honors and profit solely reaching Monterey.”

The Padres, knowing something must be done to restore the unity of the group, asked the men “to search anew God’s will by casting lots – putting “Monterey” on one and “Cosnina” on the other – and to follow the route which came out.” The lot drawn was Cosnina. As the expedition continued the journey southward “quickening our pace as much as possible,” Escalante rejoiced that “this we all heartily accepted now, thanks be to God.”

That night they camped in a pasture eleven miles north of present-day Cedar City, calling it Valley Rio de San Jose. Escalante was greatly impressed with the possibility of settlements in Cedar Valley. “It greatly abounds in pasturelands, has large meadows and middling marshes, and very fine land for a good settlement for dry-farming….Very close to its circumference there is a great source of timber and firewood of ponderosa pine and pinon, and good sites for raising large and small livestock.”

Although the explorers never reached California, they covered some 2,000 miles of challenging terrain now called the American Southwest, adding greatly to the knowledge of the area’s geography, potential for settlement, and native inhabitants.

This is #19 of the historic markers by the Sons of Utah Pioneers, see others in the series on this page: