In 1911, after the depletion of ore at Dragon, Utah, the Uintah Railway extended its line northwest along Evacuation Creek to the terminus of Watson. From this railhead a toll road ran north to points in the Uinta Basin. The rail extended southwest to the mining camp of Rainbow. Watson became the center of Gilsonite and ranching activity with hotels and stores. Thousands of sheep were sheared and wool shipped from here.
Ghost Town of White Hills
Eight miles northeast along this road are the ruins of White Hills, once a mining boom town. A six-year wonder, from 1892 to 1898 the mine produced twelve million dollars in gold and silver. The mineral discovery was one of the few credited to an indian… a hualpai named Jeff. White Hills had twelve saloons and two cemeteries. Water was nearly as expensive as whiskey.
Formerly known as Indian Secret Mining District or Silverado, the White Hills mining camp started in the 1890’s. The mines were rich producers of silver, especially horn silver, also called chloride silver. This large community was devastated by a flash flood on the morning of August 5, 1899 from which the town never recovered. After the closure of the mines, the remaining buildings slowly disappeared. Now nothing is left of the once prosperous mining camp. The ghost town of White Hills continues to be marked on travel maps.
About 1872 Joseph Asay with his family settled about 3/4 of a mile west and a little south of this spot. Soon other homesteaders settled in the locality. Tom Jessup and Dan LeRoy erected a water power saw mill. A shingle mill was established, Jerome Asay P.M. Here he kept for sale some groceries and hardware items. A log house was built for church services, James Dutton and Issac Asay served as presiding elders. The building was also used for school and social activities. In 1892 the people became a part of the Mammoth Ward organized at Hatch 8 miles north. By 1900 Asay Town was abandoned, because of the short growing seasons and long hard winters.
Asay was also known as Aaron for time, named for Aaron Asay.
Duncan’s Retreat was inhabited about 1861–1895.
From Wikipedia, Chapman Duncan came here in 1861, settling with a few others on Mukuntuweap Creek, a small tributary of the Virgin River. The colony was part of a southern Utah cotton-growing project ordered by Brigham Young.That winter the Virgin River, unpredictable at even the best of times, experienced the Great Flood of 1862, which destroyed most of the settlement along with such other nearby towns as Grafton. Chapman Duncan and most of the other original settlers fled in early 1862 in search of a more stable home, and the families who stayed behind named their village Duncan’s Retreat.
A local legend claims that Duncan’s real reason for retreating was a botched surveying job. Duncan, so the story goes, was assigned to survey a canal to bring water from the Virgin River, but when it was dug, the canal was found to be useless as its route ran uphill.Another version of the story says it happened in Virgin, and that Duncan retreated to Duncan’s Retreat.
More settlers took the place of the departing pioneers, and by the end of 1862 Duncan’s Retreat had a population of about 70. They planted crops and orchards, producing large harvests in the years the river did not flood. Cotton, corn, wheat, and sorghum grew particularly well. A post office was established here in 1863, and a schoolhouse in 1864. In 1866, when the Black Hawk War caused widespread fear of Indian attacks, the town was evacuated to Virgin, although farmers returned to Duncan’s Retreat each day to work their fields. Residents moved back permanently in 1868.
Farming in Duncan’s Retreat was a difficult life. The fertile land yielded bumper crops in good years, but could be washed away by torrential floods at any time. Of the 11 families living here in 1870, 9 remained in 1880. The next decade was much harsher; by 1891 Duncan’s Retreat was all but deserted. The last known birth in town was in 1895.
All that remains of Duncan’s Retreat is some dead fruit trees, an irrigation ditch, and a few graves on the north side of Utah State Route 9 between Virgin and Grafton.
In 1862 John W., William, Robert and Joseph Berry with their families, were called to help colonize the St. George area. In the spring of 1866, Joseph and Robert Berry with Isabelle Hales Berry, the latter’s wife, were returning from a trip to Salt Lake City. They stopped at Kanarraville and while there the two-year-old baby girl of Robert and Isabelle died. The Berrys resumed their journey, traveling in a light wagon, camping for noon, April 2, 1866, at Short Creek, where they were attacked by Piutes, who it is claimed had been following them from Corn Creek in Millard County.
Their dead bodies were found several days later by John and William Berry. The details of the tragedy will never be known. It appears that they attempted to escape by running their horses across the country and finding they could not do so, fought desperately for their lives, but in vain. One dead Indian was found nearby. Joseph was found lying face down in the wagon box; his leg had been bandaged, no doubt, while they were fleeing as fast as they cold from the Indians. Isabelle had been shot through the head with a six-shooter and was lying on the ground, while Robert’s body was astride the wagon tongue with the head leaning into the wagon. The Indians said afterward that Robert was a “heap brave fighter.”
Robert and Joseph were large men, tall of stature. The burial of these pioneers took place at Grafton, Utah. In Church Chronology it is recorded that this massacre occurred four miles from Maxfield’s Ranch on Short Creek, Kane County, Utah. There is a small knoll between Short Creek and Kane Beds which marks the place and is called Berry Knoll. When President Young heard of this outrage on the part of the Indians, he sent word to Cedar City for the men of that place to form a company of militia and go to Berryville and escort the people back to Dixie. The late John Parry of Cedar City was a member of that escort, and furnished the writer much of the information for this sketch.(*)
- Grafton Cemetery
- Russell Home (Alonzo and Nancy)
- Russell Home (Louisa)
- Wood Home (George)
- Wood Home (John and Ellen)
Grafton is a ghost town, just south of Zion National Park in Washington County. It is said to be the most photographed ghost town in the West and it has been featured as a location in several films, including 1929’s In Old Arizona—the first talkie filmed outdoors—and the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The nearest inhabited town is Rockville.
The site was first settled in December 1859 as part of a southern Utah cotton-growing project ordered by Brigham Young. A group from Virgin led by Nathan Tenney established a new settlement they called Wheeler. Wheeler didn’t last long; it was largely destroyed on the night of January 8, 1862 by a weeks-long flood of the Virgin River, part of the Great Flood of 1862. The rebuilt town, about a mile upriver, was named New Grafton, after Grafton, Massachusetts.(*)
The town grew quickly in its first few years. There were some 28 families by 1864, each farming about an acre of land. The community also dug irrigation canals and planted orchards, some of which still exist. Grafton was briefly the county seat of Kane County, from January 1866 to January 12, 1867, but changes to county boundaries in 1882 placed it in Washington County.
Flooding was not the only major problem. One particular challenge to farming was the large amounts of silt in Grafton’s section of the Virgin River. Residents had to dredge out clogged irrigation ditches at least weekly, much more often than in most other settlements. Grafton was also relatively isolated from neighboring towns, being the only community in the area located on the south bank of the river. In 1866, when the outbreak of the Black Hawk War caused widespread fear of Indian attacks, the town was completely evacuated to Rockville.
Continued severe flooding discouraged resettlement, and most of the population moved permanently to more accessible locations on the other side of the river. By 1890 only four families remained. The end of the town is usually traced to 1921, when the local branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was discontinued. The last residents left Grafton in 1944.
Archbishop Joseph S. Alemany of the Diocese of San Francisco asked Father Lawrence Scanlan to settle in the mining town of Silver Reef and minister to the miners and their families. Father Denis Kiely arrived in Utah in 1874 and assisted Father Scanlan in Silver Reef. Fathers Henry T. Hyde, P. O’Conner, and P. Galligan also also served the people in Silver Reef from 1880 to 1882.
In 1879, Father Scanlan established the St. John’s Catholic Church, the Silver Reef Hospital, and St. Mary’s School in Silver Reef.
When the church was first constructed, it didn’t have a tower. But Father Hyde collected money and eventually the tower was erected and a 400 lb bell was installed.
St. John’s Church was closed in 1885.
In 1895, William Stirling purchased and moved the vacant St. John’s Catholic Church from Silver Reef to Leeds. He converted the building into the Leeds Social Hall or “Old Stirling Hall.”
Silver Reef Posts:
Silver Reef is a “ghost town” in Washington County, near Leeds. Silver Reef was established after John Kemple, a prospector from Nevada, discovered a vein of silver in a sandstone formation in 1866. At first, geologists were uncertain about Kemple’s find because silver is not usually found in sandstone. In 1875, two bankers from Salt Lake City sent William Barbee to the site to stake mining claims. He staked 21 claims, and an influx of miners came to work Barbee’s claims and to stake their own. To accommodate the miners, Barbee established a town called Bonanza City. Property values there were high, so several miners settled on a ridge to the north of it and named their settlement “Rockpile”. The town was renamed Silver Reef after silver mines in nearby Pioche closed and businessmen arrived.
By 1879, about 2,000 people were living in Silver Reef. The town had a mile-long Main Street with many businesses, among them a Wells Fargo office, the Rice Building, and the Cosmopolitan Restaurant. Although adjacent to many settlements with a majority of Mormon residents, the town never had a meeting house for Latter-day Saints, only a Catholic church. In 1879, a fire destroyed several businesses, but the residents rebuilt them. Mines were gradually closed, most of them by 1884, as the worldwide price of silver dropped. By 1901, most of the buildings in town had either been demolished or moved to Leeds.
In 1916, mining operations in Silver Reef resumed under the direction of Alex Colbath, who organized the area’s mines into the Silver Reef Consolidated Mining Company. These mines were purchased by American Smelting and Refining Company in 1928, but the company did minimal work as a result of the Great Depression. The Western Gold & Uranium Corporation purchased Silver Reef’s mines in 1948, and in 1951, they began mining uranium in the area. These operations did not last long either, and the Western Gold & Uranium Corporation sold their mines to the 5M Corporation in 1979. Today, the Wells Fargo office, the Cosmopolitan Restaurant, the Rice Building, and numerous foundations and walls remain in the town site, and a few dozen homes have been constructed in the area.(*)
Between 1875 and the end of 1876, Silver Reef boomed with development, going from a boulder-strewn flat to a town of 1,500 people, one of the largest in Washington county.
Silver Reef soon became the center of permanent development, and many stone and wooden buildings were erected along a mile-long Main Street. Among the many businesses and buildings were six saloons, nine grocery stores, two dance halls, a brewery, billiard hall, the Wells Fargo Express Office, post office undertaker, citizens hall, jail, Masonic and Oddfellows halls, telegraph office, barber shop, physicians office, Chinese laundries (the walls are standing today), and a Catholic church with a hospital included. The Wells Fargo building, which you stand before, has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the early 1880s, several settlements in Wayne County were started by Mormon farmers under the leadership of Hyrum Burgess. By 1883 some Burgess family members had moved to the Blue Valley area, constructing a dam and irrigation canal by 1884
The land along the Fremont River was fertile, and the growing season longer than in western Wayne County. The valley’s farming potential soon brought other settlers. The settlement was known as Blue Valley for its blue-gray soil, colored by Bentonite clay and Mancos Shale. The town was built on both banks of the river, but most people lived on the south side. A footbridge connected the two halves. A school building was erected in 1888, but a proper townsite was not laid out until June 1895. At that time residents renamed their settlement Giles, in honor of the late Bishop Henry Giles, who had been one of Blue Valley’s most prominent residents. The crops in Giles grew well, and by 1900 the population had increased to 200. A new meetinghouse went up in 1901, said to be the largest in the county. There was a sawmill in the nearby Henry Mountains, and the town included a grocery store, blacksmith shop, and boarding house.
The early 1900s brought frequent devastating floods of the Fremont River. The flooding in 1909–1910 was so severe that local church authorities gave up on trying to maintain a permanent dam. Unable to irrigate their crops, the residents began to leave. By 1919 Giles was a ghost town.
Two rock buildings still stand at the site, and numerous foundations and old corrals show where the town once was.