Ellen (Nellie) Purcell was born November 6, 1846 in Tintwhistle, England. At 9 she, with her parents and sister Margaret (Maggie), 14, began the trek from Iowa to Salt Lake Valley in 1856 with the Edward Martin Handcart Company.
Early snows overtook the company, both Nellie’s parents died on the trail. Nellie’s feet were frozen.
On arrival in Salt Lake Valley, she was strapped to a board. No anesthetics were available. Both her legs were amputated just below the knee with a butcher’s knife and carpenter’s saw.
For the rest of her life she moved about on the painful stubs of her legs.
At 24 in Cedar City she became the plural wife of William Unthank. His income was small.
Beginning as a wife in a one-room log house with a dirt floor, she kept her home spotless. Nellie took in washing, she knitted stockings to sell. She gave birth to 6 children. Her Bishop and Relief Society occasionally brought food to her family. To even the score, once a year she and her children cleaned the meeting house throughout.
Nellie died at 68 in Cedar City — A noble representative of the rank and file of Mormon Pioneers.
This marker #38 of the historic markers by the Sons of Utah Pioneers, located on SUU Campus at 400 West 200 South in Cedar City, Utah.
In the annals of American higher education, there is no more dramatic founding of a school than that accorded Southern Utah University, nor a more striking example of the extent of the commitment of Utah’s early pioneers to the cause of education.
The first State Legislature following Utah’s statehood authorized a branch of the state’s teacher training school to be located in Southern Utah, but the community so selected would have to first deed to the state 15 acres of land and construct on the site a college building to be designed by the state architect.
When named as the site of the new school, Cedar City was a community of less than 1500 people, primarily of English, Welch and the Scottish descent. The community gave the state the title to Academy Hill, plans arrived for the new school building, Cedar City concluded that the construction of such a large building was beyond the town’s capacity. Instead, the University was housed in an existing building downtown and in September 1897 classroom activities began.
School had been in session for only two months, however, when Cedar City was thrown into its greatest crisis. The teacher’s payrolls submitted to the state for payment were refused by the Utah Attorney General who ruled that size of the downtown building did not comply with the law which required that the school have its own building on land deeded to the state for that purpose. Furthermore, it was ruled that if a building was not erected by the following September, the school would be lost.
The immediate task, getting the teachers paid, was resolved by a bank loan secured by three Cedar City families who mortgaged their homes to guarantee payment.
The other task, getting the building erected on Academy Hill, proved extremely difficult. The cost of the building was equivalent to the town’s total business volume for an entire year and would require beating the mountain snows to construct the new building. A building committee was appointed to which Cedar City pledged all its public and private resources, the committee being forced to dip into both generously.
On January 5, 1898, a group of men, the first of a long line of townsmen to face the bitter winter weather of the mountains left Cedar City for a saw mill 35 miles away (near present day Brian Head). Their task was to cut logs necessary to supply the wood for the new building. That expedition, and the others that followed, worked in temperatures that dropped as low as 40 degrees below zero. To protect their legs from the biting winds they tied gunny sacks about their waists and legs.
The initial expedition, engulfed by a record snow storm, attempted to return to Cedar City and was forced to wade through snow drifts that sometimes were 15 feet high and 100 yards long. An old Sorrel horse, placed out at the vanguard of the party, is credited with having saved the expedition by walking into the drifts, pushing and straining against the snow, throwing himself into the drifts again and again until they gave way. Then he would pause for a rest, sitting down on his haunches the way a dog does, then get up and start again.
The mountain workers were divided into groups. Some cut logs, some were sawers, some planed logs into lumber, and others hauled the lumber from the mill. It took two and a half days to get a load of logs down from the mountain tops to Cedar City. When heavy snows kept provisions from reaching the working men, they subsisted on a diet of dried peaches. From January through July they kept up their labors.
The bricks for the building, over 250,000 of them, were made by a corps of people who remained in Cedar City, often putting in 12 to 14 hours a day on the project.
To purchase building materials that could not be made locally, cash was needed. Some people donated their stock in the Cedar City Co-op store while others offered their stock in the cooperative cattle company. One family gave the siding off their barn, another gave the lumber they had purchased to build a kitchen on their home. Still others gave prize lumber that had been saved for coffins.
When September 1890 arrived, the building was completed.
It contained a large chapel, a library, and reading room, a natural history museum, biological and physical laboratories, classrooms, and offices. It stands today at the end of the founders’ walkway, directly east of this monument. Its interior has been remodeled several times but the exterior walls are the original ones constructed in 1898.
That first building was literally torn from icy crags and molded by the hands of more than 100 men and women. The community of Cedar City had met its greatest test, and the University was given a heritage unmatched by any other educational institution in the United States.
The preserving of the University was achieved by people who would never attend it, indeed some of them never had the opportunity of attending any school. They were hardy, rough-spoken, courageous men and women, people of the type without whom the frontiers of the west could never have been conquered.
Faced with the Herculean challenge of deep, early winter snows and a legal deadline to complete the first building for the Branch Normal School within eight months, the founders of Southern Utah University pursued this seemingly impossible goal with inspired determination.
On the morning of January 5, 1898, a party left Cedar City for the Heber Jenson Saw Mill, located at Mammoth Creek on Cedar Mountain, some 30 miles from the campus. The group intended to haul out 15,000 board feet of lumber that had been cut and left at the mill the previous fall – lumber which would be used to construct the framework of Old Main. After three grueling days on the trail, the men managed to reach the mill and load their wagons; but heavy snows forced them to abandon the precious lumber.
In danger of surrendering for good the right to host the school, five men remained on the mountain to dig out the wagons while the others returned to town to stock up on provisions and enlist additional help. Digging foot by foot through the drifts, the men worked their steady way home – and on January 11, the wagons arrived in Cedar City with the first load of lumber. The Branch Normal School had been rescued.
This original wagon, recently restored, was used to haul logs from the forest to the saw mill, and was among several that saved the school for the people of Cedar City. Its design points to its use in handling heavy logs in winter conditions, with its protected hubs and spokes, its heavier running gear, and its braking system, which allowed the driver to perch on the logs and operate the brake by foot pedal while leaving his hands free to manage the teams.
This vivid reminder of the Founders’ courage and sacrifice was donated to the Cedar City Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers by the Jack Jenson family, and then by SUP to Southern Utah University. Preservation and restoration work was completed by Blaine Allan of SUP.
This monument marks the spot where on Sept. 30, 1852 the first iron was manufactured west of the Mississippi River by the Mormon Iron Missionaries sent by Brigham Young.
This 5½ ton ore body was obtained from the iron deposits used by iron workers located about seven miles west of Cedar City in the Three Peaks area; it is about 16% Fe. The smaller specimens are some that were actually hauled by horse-drawn vehicles to this site and were found during excavation. The blast furnace, foundry, pattern shop, coke and charcoal ovens, water wheel and office of the early Pioneer Iron Works were located north, south, and east of this monument.
The technology of using coke was brought by these early iron workers directly from England where the use of charcoal had been outlawed and which was a relatively new idea, especially in American iron manufacturing. In spite of floods which inundated the iron works, the undependable water source and other natural and man made difficulties, considerable iron was produced here until 1858 making the Iron Industry one of the leading factors in the economy of the Utah Territory.
This monument was dedicated November 11, 1978 (Cedar City’s 127th Birthday) and is located at 400 North 100 East in Cedar City, Utah.
Pioneer Iron Works Blast Furnace
To satisfy an urgent need for manufactured iron products, a small group of English, Welch, Scotch, Irish and American pioneers answered a call from Brigham Young to become “Iron Missionaries” to settle Iron County and to make iron. They arrived in Parowan on January 13, 1851 and produced the first iron west of the Mississippi on September 30, 1852 on this site. Due to economic, social, environmental and technical problems the Iron Works was closed down in October 1858.