Utah History Encyclopedia


By H. Dean Garrett

[Please note: revisions to the original article have been submitted and can be read at the end, marked as an addendum.]

Between the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River and the Utah state boundary line lies an area commonly referred to as the Arizona Strip. Here a colorful history blends the long past of Native Americans in the area with the culture of Spanish explorers and Mormon settlers.

The prehistory of the Arizona Strip area goes back at least eight thousand years. The aborigines of that time, identified as the Archaic people, were big game hunters and gatherers. In time, the people became villagers, often referred to as "basketmakers." The Anasazi are thought to have inhabited the Strip for a time, and the area was later inhabited by the Paiute Indians. The Paiutes' dominance of the area diminished as they encountered the Europeans.

The European era apparently commenced with the exploratory journey of Fathers Dominguez and Escalante in 1776. Returning from Utah Valley to Santa Fe, they wintered in the Arizona Strip, fording the Colorado River at what is now called the "Crossings of the Fathers."

Following their exploration, the fur trader Jedediah Smith visited the area in 1826. He followed the Dominiguez and Escalante Trail to St. George and then followed the Virgin River to its junction with the Colorado River. Other explorers followed, with the area eventually opening for pioneers.

Mormon pioneers expanded into the area north of the Strip during the 1850s. In the fall of 1858, Jacob Hamblin, the Mormon explorer and Indian worker, made a trip through the Strip on his way to the Hopi villages. This was followed by many other trips, allowing Hamblin to become better acquainted with the area. To him the land was a dry, silent, sprawling area, able to sustain life only if a person knew the locations of springs and washes and marshes; he felt it was too desolate to settle. He viewed the area only as land to pass through when traveling to other destinations. Most Mormon pioneers agreed as they expanded into the northern and central parts of Arizona.

However, four villages eventually were founded on the Strip. The oldest was Littlefield, a way station set up in 1857 by Harry W. Miller. The largest was Fredonia, just across the Utah-Arizona state line, established by the Mormons as part of their expansion into the southern Utah area. Mount Trumbull became a center of Mormon activity when the decision was made to build a Mormon temple in St. George. Timber for the temple came from Mount Trumbull, the only place in the area with timber large enough for the beams of the building, even though it was eighty miles away. Pipe Spring, established by James M. Whitmore, was the focal point of cattle ranching on the Strip. Whitmore and his herdsmen were killed in 1866 by Indians. Brigham Young soon thereafter purchased their claims for a church-owned cattle herd. A fort was built at the spring, and the workers on the temple used the butter and cheese produced at the fort.

Cattle ranching became the main focus on the Strip in the late 1800s. After the completion of the temple, the land and fort at Pipe Spring was sold by the church to individuals who called their holdings, "The Winsor Stock Growing Company." In 1878 it was merged with the Canaan Cattle Company. Soon the whole area in Canaan Valley was overgrazed. Other stock corporations were formed throughout the Strip, also resulting in overgrazing of the land. This created problems with the Indians, which eventually led to the expulsion to reservations of the Indians from the Strip.

When Preston Nutter legally gained the water rights from the Mormons, a major change took place on the Strip. Nutter took control of the Strip and introduced the Texas longhorn to the area, building a cattle kingdom. However, due to drought and overgrazing, the herd had to be cut back drastically. The situation was compounded by the introduction of sheep into the area as a winter range. The continued overgrazing and drought conditions led to the passing of the Taylor Grazing Act and the formation of the Taylor Grazing Service, which controlled the number of cattle and sheep allowed to graze on the land. This reduced the number of ranches on the Arizona Strip.

Perhaps the one decision creating the greatest impact on the Arizona Strip was the formation of the boundary line between Utah and Arizona. The Arizona Strip was originally in the Utah Territory. The issue of slavery affected the decision creating the boundaries of the territory. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 had allowed slaves south of 36° 30". When the land was gained from Mexico in 1848, a great debate took place in Congress over the northern boundary of Arizona Territory. A compromise was finally reached with the stipulation that the northern boundary would be at thirty-seven degrees, placing the Strip in the Arizona Territory. Had they followed the natural boundary of the Colorado River, the Arizona Strip would have been part of the southern Utah area, populated mainly by the Mormons. As it is, the Strip is geographically separated from the rest of the state of Arizona, making it necessary for the people of the Strip to travel through southern Utah, a tip of Nevada, into California, and back into Arizona in order to visit the county seat. Many attempts have been made to re-align the state boundaries to shift the Strip into Utah, but none have been successful. This isolation has benefited polygamous ex-Mormons who have moved into the area to escape harassment from legal and law enforcement agencies. The Arizona Strip remains today an isolated, sparsely populated area in part developed by polygamous religious sects.

See: P. T. Reilly, "Roads across the Buckskin Mountain," The Journal of Arizona History, 19: 4, (Winter 1928): 379-402; Juanita Brooks, "The Arizona Strip," The Pacific Spectator, 3: 3, (Summer 1949): 290-301; Malcolm Comeaux, "Selection of the Arizona-Utah Boundary," The Journal of Arizona History, 24: 3(Autumn 1983).


The following information was contributed by the great, great grandson of Henry William Miller, Jim Miller, and clarifies the founding of Littlefield, Arizona.

The original article states that "...four villages eventually were founded on the Strip. The oldest was Littlefield, a way station set up in 1857 by Harry [Henry]W. Miller."

Henry Miller did not found Littlefield, however. He pioneered the area called Beaver Dams on the north bank of the Virgin River in April, 1864, a year after his "calling" by the LDS Church to this area in 1863. The archives of the Deseret News actually gives a report on this area.

Henry eventually called this settlement "Millersburg" after running a portion of the Colorado River along with Jacob Hamblin and Jessie W. Crosby in 1866. The archives of the Deseret News, dated July 3, 1867 contains an account. This settlement was not "Littlefield." Littlefield was actually established years later and in a slightly different geographic location than Millersburg.

Readers may wish to reference a book entitled Mormon Settlement in Arizona, by James H. McClintock. The author states, "There can be no doubt that the first agricultural settlement in northern Arizona was by a Mormon party, led by Henry W. Miller, which made location at Beaver Dams on the north bank of the Virgin River on the earlier Mormon road to California."