Jesse N. Perkins Family Moves to Salt River, Arizona

1877 -- 1878

Jesse and Rhoda Perkins received another mission call from President Brigham Young to sell their property and again move to a new and untamed land of which they knew very little.  Although two years older than in the previous call, without hesitation, they again began their preparation by selling their goods and getting ready for their relocation to Arizona.  They had been given their choice of where they might want to settle but the Salt River area (now Mesa) was recommended to them, and so this became their first goal.  From the journal of their son, Brigham Young Perkins—

On the 21st day of November 1877, we started from Hillsdale, Iron County, Utah, upon our mission to Arizona.  We traveled up the Sevier River to upper Kanab and on to Johnsonville, twelve miles east of Kanab proper.  On November 27, we pitched camp where the folks could stay until some of us could go to St. George to work a while in the Temple.  Father, Mother, John H., Littleton, and myself and sister Rhoda started for St. George, where we arrived December 2, 1877.  Here we worked in the Temple for two weeks for ourselves, and our dead.  {It should be remembered that this was the first time the Saints had had any temple since they left Nauvoo, almost thirty-two years earlier.  There was the temporary use of the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, but there was great excitement in the Church again to actually have a real temple.}  We stayed with Cousin James Vance and with Uncle Billy.  We enjoyed ourselves very much doing this work in the Temple, and did quite a lot of work for ourselves, and our dead. {It was at about this time that John’s wife determined to remain in St. George with their twin daughters, rather than to continue on with her husband.  Brigham’s wife had also returned to Salt Lake with their little boy, Brigham Andrew Perkins.  That was probably the reason that Jesse N. Perkins had to make a sudden trip all the way back to Salt Lake, earlier that summer, at the time the family was preparing to travel on to Arizona.}

On December 15, 1877, we started back to our camp at Johnson’s.  We bedded down at Pipe Springs with Chubby Pulsifer.  We reached Johnsonville, December 18, 1877, and found the boys and sister Martha {Heber’s wife} all well, as also the stock except one big fine roan steer, which could not be found anywhere. 

On the morning of Dec. 20, 1877, we started again upon our mission from Johnsonville. We went as far as Navajo Well and camped for the night.  We crossed the Buckskin Mountains the next day, Dec. 21, and went on into Arizona.  December 22, we arrived at House Springs at the head of House Rock Valley, or Kaibab.  Here a good spring of cold water came out of the rocks in the side of the mountain, and we camped beside the spring.  We had a pretty good outfit at this time; three large tents with clothing and provisions to last some time; seven good wagons, saddles and rigging, and about forty-five head of good young stock, sixty-two or more head of stock all together.  We generally made one good drive each day and then stopped for the night in order to keep our stock in good condition.

We passed Jacob’s Pool and Badger Creek and arrived at Lee’s Ferry on the Big Colorado River, December 30, 1877.  Here we camped for the night.  Brother Johnson crossed us over the river the following day, Dec. 31, 1877, in a large new ferryboat.  We swam some of our animals and all got safely across.  We camped for the night on the south side of the river.  On the morning of January 1, 1878, we started on what was then called Lee’s Backbone.  We camped for the night just below Navajo Springs and the Old Indian, Bev James, camped with us.  That night we spent a pleasant evening.  Going on the next day, January 2, we passed Better Springs, Limestone Tanks, Cedar Ridge and reached Willow Springs January 9, early in the forenoon, where we laid over a few days.  Everything fine except one fine roan milk cow died the last night on Willow Springs.

{All of the Perkins brothers carved their names in the rock walls at Willow Springs, near the site of many Indian petroglyphs.  In this photo, one can see not only the name of “Reuben J. Perkins, Jan. 9th, 1878” above, but also evident is a large admonition by Reuben to others who might travel that way.  This inscription gives an indication of the thoughts of Reuben, at age 21, and it also shows his artistic talent, even when carved into solid rock.  Today, this site, which later served as a stage-coach resting place, can still be found just about half a mile southeast of a small roadside chapel near “The Gap, AZ”.}

Continuing with Uncle Brig’s journal—

Heber, Martha {Heber’s wife}, Jesse (Jr.) and I visited Andrew Gibbons and Chief Tuba and his wife at the Moencopi, or Tuba City.  Here some others of our people were settling at that time among the Indians, who were glad to see us coming into the country.  When Jesse (Jr.) and I attended an evening meeting with the brother and sisters, we left our testimony to the truthfulness of the Gospel of the Son of God as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Afterward, we returned to our camp horse-back, as we had gone.

Switching now to the journal of Brigham’s brother, Reuben J. Perkins, the family continued their travels toward the Salt River country of Arizona.  Just because they were traveling in Arizona in the winter, no one needs to suppose that this was a blissful trip in pleasant conditions.  Flagstaff, near the San Francisco Peaks, is about seven thousand feet in elevation with very cold and snowy winters—

Jan. 15, 1878   Went on about six miles and stopped. 

      16              We came seven miles this morning to the Little Colorado River, which was frozen solid. 

      17-23         Laid over.  We left camp this morning and came up the river seven miles and camped for the night.

      24-25         Averaged only seven to eight miles

      26              Reached Black Falls and camped there

      25             The train is laying over today.  Joseph Kay, Jesse and I went up to the San Francisco Peaks hunting deer.  Went about twenty miles to the Peaks, but could not find any game so we started back.  Got home at ten o’clock P. M.

      26              Left Black Falls today and came on eight miles.

      30          Came to Grand Falls.  Watered, then came on nine miles.  At the crossing met John W. Young and party, then crossed the     river and came on six miles and camped.

Feb. 1     Came six miles to San Francisco Wash; watered, then drove on eight miles.

2       Came on ten miles, watered; drove about five miles and made a dry camp.

3     We traveled eight miles and camped half a mile from Brigham City.  Next day we moved up to the Fort and camped.  Layed over the 5th & 6th.

2      We bought a yoke of oxen

3      We started from Brigham City this morning bringing Sister Crissman with six children and one wagon with us.

4      We traveled by Rock Station today and through the Sunset Pass, making thirteen miles.

5      We passed through Chavez Pass, making thirteen miles today through mud and snow.

6      Came one mile to Jacox Tank and watered, then drove five miles and camped.  Snow four inches.

7    This morning we started in a drifting snowstorm.  Drove to Pine Springs; snow eight—ten inches deep.  From there drove to Bear Springs, three miles through a terrible snow storm; snow two feet deep.  We came on four miles and were obliged to stop, the snow being two feet and the road drifted full so we could not follow it.

8     We got off early this morning.  It soon commenced to snow and in half an hour you could not see one hundred yards, but we followed the road by blazed trees.  After we had traveled five miles to Stoneman’s Lake, the snow was only about a foot deep.  We came on three more miles and camped.  At dark it is snowing and drifting terribly.  {Later, the family related that the hens in their coops in the back of the wagons laid eggs for the family all the way, and also the cows had little calves as they came through the snow storms just described.—RP Wakefield}

9       We came on about five miles through mud and snow.

10     Today we came three fourths of a mile to Rattlesnake Tanks and watered, then drove three miles.

11     Drove six miles today over very rocky roads.

12    Today I went back and got a cow and calf then came on and overtook the wagons at Beaver Head.  Layed over the 18, 19, 20, and 21, and left Beaver Head this morning.  Traveled ten miles today. 

22     Traveled five miles and came to Verde River, then ten miles to Copper Canyon and camped.

23     Came through Copper Canyon and camped two mile from Sinika Ranch.

      25     Came on to Ash Creek and watered, then drove within half a mile of Osborne Ranch and camped.

      26     We passed Osborne Ranch and came twelve miles to Antelope Springs.

      27     Left Antelope Springs today and camped two miles beyond Bumblebee Flats.

      28     Came on six more miles today and camped.  Raining some.  Came ten miles and camped one mile from Tip Top Mills.

This brief excerpt gives an idea of the difficult circumstances of their migration.  Returning now to the journal of B. Y. Perkins, who summarized all of the above with a single sentence given below—

…  We ran into some cold stormy weather with snow and rain and very cold, but it was pleasant again on the southern side of the mountains.  Continuing on, we passed near Phoenix and crossed at Fort Lehi, or Jonesville, March 7, 1878. 

Here Father and family commenced taking a prominent part in the development of the country.  We had experienced some very cold weather on our journey but we had been blessed of the Lord, and had stood the trip very well as also our teams and loose cattle.  The prospects on Salt River looked very well we thought for plenty of good land and water for farming purposes and the making of good homes.  We bought a good water-right of Brother Daniel W. Jones in the Jonesville water ditch, also a town lot of him, and set out some peach trees and planted a garden of melons and other vegetables.  We took up two quarter sections of land under the same ditch, where we commenced clearing and plowing, putting in wheat and other crops for our homes in that land.

Finding that we could not get a title to the town lot from Brother Jones to build, we had a settlement with him the best we could.  We kept our water right and moved up near our farming land above the ditch and close to the people from northern Utah who were bringing the water out through an ancient canal onto the mesa to the south, a beautiful tract of country.  Father and family commenced helping them in this enterprise and also helped them locate the town site of the present town of Mesa.  Here we obtained city lots for ourselves.

Everything looked brighter now, except that this was not very good country for loose stock (cattle), of which we had some good ones.  Brother Reuben and I took a light spring wagon across the Gila River, by way of Tucson and Tres Alamos on the San Pedro River, and on up to St. David, where we found Brother Philemon Merrill and some of the Saints located and building homes there.  These had come from Jonesville the fall before.  Here the country seemed pretty good for stock raising.  After a few days we returned home the same way.

We didn’t encourage taking the stock there, but some of the family thought we had better do so, and Littleton, Jesse, Reuben, Franklin and I started with a team or two and the loose cattle.  Crossing the mesa where Chandler now stands and the Gila River, we went up by Florence to the mouth of the San Pedro river and on up by Tres Alamos to St. David. 

While there, Littleton, Reuben, Franklin, and Brother Thomas Merrill and myself took a team and went up the river to Old Mexico where the Mormon Battalion had their famous bull-fight with wild cattle while enroute to California in 1846. 

After returning to St. David where we spent the 24th of July, 1878, most of the inhabitants, and we boys along with the rest, came down with the chills and fever.  After we got a little better, Littleton, Reuben and I took a team and wagon and returned to the folks on Salt River by way of Tucson.  We left the other teams and cattle with Jesse and Franklin who were not quite so sick.  Afterwards they also having been sick with the same dreaded disease, they returned to Salt River with Erastus Snow and the company who were visiting the Saints there.  John and Heber went out to look after the stock and brought them all back again to Salt River. 

While we were all sick in the latter part of August, a large bowery was erected between our two tents for the purpose of a meeting, Erastus Snow, Ira Hinckley, Jesse N. Smith, August Wilkins and others being present at that time. During this meeting Father was called and sustained to preside over all the Saints living in Salt River.  His two counselors were Henry Rogers of Jonesville and George Sirrine of the upper camp. 

{Note: A division had arisen among the early saints who settled on the Salt River.  While still all were well meaning saints, the group was divided into two separate camps, resisting, to some extent, the desires and recommendations of the other group.  When the Church leaders mentioned above, came to the area to see how things were going, they found some hard feelings.  The Perkins family was relatively new here and respected by all the members in each camp.  At this time, Jesse N. Perkins was called by Erastus Snow to preside over all the saints in the Salt River Valley, something akin to being a District President today in an area where there is no organized stake of the Church.  Jesse selected one counselor from each of the two groups and this seemed to heal the tension and meld them back into one congregation.  This was just about the time when the whole group moved out onto the mesa and laid out the new town that we know today as Mesa, AZ.}

{An added note from Rhoda J. Perkins Wakefield, daughter of Reuben J. Perkins—“I have heard my father Reuben Josiah Perkins tell how during this meeting he lay in one of the tents so sick with the malaria he had contracted on the San Pedro.  He said, ‘When I head Elder Snow set Father apart to preside over the Saints in the Valley, although a grown man at the time, I actually shed tears and felt I could not endure to stay in that condition any longer…’  Years later, in the Mesa Temple, my sister-in-law, Zina K. Perkins, pointed out an elderly sister hobbling along on a cane.  ‘There is Aunt Esther Merrill who cared for your father and uncles while sick on the San Pedro.’  Aunt Esther later told us, ‘Those were the sickest boys, but Oh, they were the nicest boys!  I was a young woman with one baby, but I took the boys in and cared for them the best I could.’  In the family are the letters written by Grandfather, Jesse N. Perkins, to his sons away from home at the time of their illness.  These are actual blessings pronounced upon them by their father, showing his great kind heart and extreme anxiety at this time for the welfare of his sons.” — Rhoda P. Wakefield.}

Returning now to the journal of Brigham Y. Perkins –

Father explained to Elder Snow that on account of the sickness in his family he had thought some of moving into a higher altitude to see if it would improve their health.  Elder Snow said it would be all right to do so, and that he could leave his counselors in charge on Salt River until another organization was made by the visiting Authorities.  Father presided over all the saints there for about three months, holding Sabbath meetings and administering the Sacrament to the Saints assembled.  However, thinking it best for the health of his family, he decided to seek a new country.

We had made many friends there, especially among the Indians.  After having been on Salt River for something over eight months, we sold out our interests in Mesa to the Sirrine brothers, and gave our two quarter sections of land under the Jonesville ditch to the Indians, who still own the same, having been supported in their claim by the government.