Though the arrival of Brigham Young in St. George meant the Mormons' efforts to colonize far southwestern Utah would endure, it was probably the peacekeeping and community building efforts of an Ohio man named Jacob Hamblin who made Young's arrival possible.
Born in 1819 in Salem, Ohio, Hamblin's family homesteaded in Wisconsin but moved with him, reluctantly, when he converted to Mormonism. Among one of the first Mormon pioneers to cross the Plains in 1847, Hamblin moved first to Tooele, Utah, then just a small ranching community west of Salt Lake City. Involved in a skirmish one day with Native Americans, Hamblin's gun refused to fire and the event impressed him to stop fighting Native Americans and instead live and work with them. Hamblin learned Pauite and Ute languages and soon was known as a peacekeeper who could settle disputes between Mormon pioneers and Native Americans with understanding and compromise rather than violence.
It was that reputation that earned him a calling from the church's president and prophet Brigham Young to accompany settlers in southwestern Utah. Part of the region's "Indian Mission," Hamblin helped build a fort in Santa Clara, a small community just up-river from St. George. Despite the area's current resort lifestyle and quickly-sprouting retirement communities, southwestern Utah was then a difficult environment to homestead. With less than 10 inches of rain annually, blazing sun and summertime temperatures that can approach 110° F on a regular basis, early settlers faced difficulties at nearly every turn.
Hamblin, known for the red bandanna he always wore, helped ease relations between Native Americans and settlers in southwestern Utah and across the region. The native tribes, themselves struggling with drought and heat, appreciated his arrival and obeyed the deals he struck.
When devastating floods in 1862 washed away three walls of the Santa Clara fort, Hamblin and his wife dismantled the one standing wall and built just downriver what today is called the Jacob Hamblin Home. Completed in 1863, the two-story adobe, sandstone and ponderosa pine home is one of the few remaining examples of early pioneer-era home-building.
The Hamblin home, which is fronted by an immense green lawn, fallow wine orchards and a towering cottonwood, features a small formal mid-house entryway, flanked on either side by two bedrooms. Each bedroom features a small, steep, narrow stairwell which leads upstairs to a broad, impressive common area. Used for school-teaching, community meetings and family activities—Hamblin's community stature meant he was a father figure to many—this house-wide room has a vaulted ceiling, fireplace and a porch.
Eventually, Hamblin's daughters demanded privacy—they had been sharing the common area with the boys—and Hamblin added what tour guides today call the "girls' dormitory," an addition off the back of the house big enough for four beds and dressers.
Hamblin's stay in Santa Clara was short, however. He left in 1869 to serve the Mormon church in Kanab, Utah, northern Arizona and western New Mexico. While attempting to outrun federal agents sent to prosecute him for illegal polygamous acts, Hamblin suffered from a cold, rainy night in an open wagon and died in Pleasanton, New Mexico in 1886. He was 67 years old. Hamblin was buried in Alpine, Arizona.
Today, the exquisitely restored Hamblin home is open for free guided tours performed by Mormon missionaries. It is part of southwestern Utah's excellent tour of historic homes, buildings and sites. Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (until 7:00 p.m. in spring and until 8:00 p.m. in summer. For more information call (435) 673-5181.