Utah History Encyclopedia


By Wesley P. Larsen
Toquerville, Washington County, is located about thirty miles south of Cedar City in a wide valley flanking Ash Creek and at the base of a mountain capped with black lava rock. With an elevation of 3,394 feet, it has a climate conducive to the growth of pomegranates, figs, peaches, and grapes. Pure, cold water pulses from springs a mile above town to furnish an ample supply of culinary and irrigation water. It is an oasis in the desert.

In early June 1854 eight members of the Southern Indian Mission, led by Rufus C. Allen, left Harmony to visit Toquer, chief of the Paiute Indian band on lower Ash Creek. Their primary objectives were to learn the natives' language and convert some of the tribe to Mormonism. In response to Toquer's friendly reception, the missionaries promised to return, live among the Indians, and teach them how to farm the white man's way.

That promise was kept when in the spring following the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, several families, with Joshua T. Willis as branch president (from Harmony Ward), built log cabins near Toquer's village along Ash Creek. That fall, Indian interpreter Nephi Johnson, guided by a local Paiute, took an old Indian trail from Toquerville up over the Hurricane Ledge to explore as far as the Zion Narrows in the upper Virgin River Basin. His report to Isaac Haight at Cedar City was so positive regarding the establishing of settlements that orders were given to begin immediately to build a wagon road over the path taken by Johnson. A half-dozen men started work in early December, got their wagons up to the mouth of North Creek where it reaches the Virgin River, built an irrigation system, and laid out the town of Pocketville (Virgin). All of the farm sites were promptly taken by Mormons who had abandoned San Bernardino during the Utah War. Additional settlements soon followed along the upper Virgin River drainage--Duncan's Retreat, Grafton, Shonesburg, Adventure, Springdale, and Northrup. All of these communities, along with Toquerville, became part of the LDS Church's Cotton Mission.

Toquerville, as the area's cultural and religious center, grew rapidly--from nineteen families in 1859 to forty-one families in 1864. The increase resulted in part when the main body of Cotton Mission colonists was called to Dixie late in 1861 and a number of them went to Toquerville. Providentially, water from Toquerville springs increased after the floods of 1861-62; new springs and new channels were opened up, allowing irrigation on the west side of Ash Creek. A post office, the first to be authorized in Utah south of Cedar City, was established, with John Menzies Macfarlane as postmaster. James McFate erected a primitive hand-powered cotton gin. John Nebeker followed with a water-powered mill built in a rock building (still standing). Charles Stapley, a transplant from San Bernardino, is generally credited with growing the first alfalfa in Dixie and probably Utah. By 1864 Toquerville reported twenty-four acres of lucern (alfalfa) under cultivation.

It was in 1864 that the territorial legislature defined Kane County and created it from the eastern portion of Washington County. Toquerville was designated as the county seat. Boundaries changed again in 1883, and Toquerville was shifted back into Washington County.

Toquerville has deep, well-drained soils and temperatures ideal for growing grapes. The Mormon Wine Mission had no formal call but was ancillary to the Cotton Mission of 1861. Wine of their own make was important to the Mormons because Joseph Smith, the church's founder, had a revelation that they were to use water in the sacrament, unless they had wine of their own make. Master vintner John C. Naegle was called by Brigham Young to establish and operate a winery in Toquerville and to instruct the people in the process of making wine. Naegle built a big rock house with a wine cellar underneath large enough to accommodate a wagon and a team of horses and allow them to turn around. He installed vats, presses, and other paraphernalia for fermenting wine. The product was stored in 500-gallon casks and shipped to ZCMI in 40-gallon casks. Not only was the wine paid as tithing but large amounts went to Pioche, Silver Reef, and to the settlements north. It became a major industry.

In mid-January 1867 the Deseret State Telegraph line opened between Salt Lake City and Toquerville. The town was incorporated in 1917 and bonded to build a closed culinary water system. Electric lights were installed that same year. During the prosperous years of Silver Reef, water from Toquerville springs was used to run a stamp mill where ore from the reef was brought in and made into bars of silver.

Ten miles to the northwest of town are the Pine Valley Mountains. On the east slope were shingle- and sawmills operated by Nathan C. Tenny, Thomas Forsythe, and Appleton M. Harmon. Timber and shingles from the mills supplied a great portion of Washington County. Using his timber supply, Harmon contracted with Brigham Young to build the Washington Cotton Mill.

State Highway 17 runs through the center of town. Over this road millions of tourists have passed on their way to Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, and Lake Powell. Toquerville is the gateway to eastern Washington County and the adjacent national parks and recreation areas.

Toquerville has grown steadily over the last ten years, with a population now exceeding seven hundred citizens. In anticipation of continued growth, the town board has annexed five and one-half sections of land on its northern boundary, including Anderson Junction.