Parowan: Forging a Dream
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“Parowan: Forging a Dream,” Ensign, Feb. 1980, 24–27

Parowan: Forging a Dream

President Brigham Young’s dream for a kingdom of Latter-day Saints took shape almost as soon as they were in the Valley. Two years after their arrival, Parley P. Pratt led an exploring company south, in November 1849, and returned with the report of “a hill of the richest iron ore” near present-day Cedar City. The Iron Mission, 250 miles away, was planned and under way by the next summer.

In July 1850 the Deseret News published the First Presidency’s call for men “who have been blest with means” and “who want more means” to undertake a year’s mission. The first phase would establish an agricultural base, and the second phase would exploit the iron deposits. The company was supposed to leave Salt Lake City immediately after October conference, but volunteers were so scarce that George A. Smith of the Council of the Twelve received authorization to call others to go. The first company left in the chill of December, arriving 13 January 1851.

By April they had surveyed about sixteen hundred acres of farm land, sowed a thousand acres of wheat, built roads, constructed a fort, made fences, and dug wells.

Meanwhile, the Church kept a constant stream of “iron missionaries” headed south, and “by the fall of 1851 virtually every man in Utah Territory who understood the working of coal or iron had been sent to Parowan.”1 One of those families was that of Lucy Hannah White, whose father came home from October conference in 1851 “and told Mother he was called to move South three Hundred miles. Mother felt dredful bad for she had been seperated from her people so much and now we were setled so near them.” But there was no question about accepting the call. On October 14, Lucy’s mother gave birth to a son; three weeks and three days later “we started to go where we were called.”2

By the time they had arrived, George A. Smith had established Parowan’s daughter-colony at a site between the iron mountain and the coal deposits, first called Coal Creek, then named Cedar City, the site of future ore-processing activity in the area. The Whites, arriving before Christmas, had loneliness added to homesickness and poverty since so many of the people there “was from the old World, … so differant from what we were used to. When they talked to us we could not understand half they said … but we were called and had to make the best of it.”3

By trial and error the first blast furnace was built. On 29 September 1852, local historian William R. Palmer described the citizens gathering at sunset to see the torch applied to the furnace and then keep an all-night vigil. At dawn, when the furnace was tapped, “a moulten stream of iron came pouring out. Instantly their pent up anxiety broke loose … in shouts of ‘hosannah, hosannah, hosannah, to God and the Lamb.’” Before nightfall a deputation of five was riding toward Salt Lake, carrying samples to President Brigham Young.4

That first year’s work produced only enough iron to make sufficient nails to shoe a horse and a pair of andirons; but enthusiasm was high and reached what may have been its peak at spring conference next year when George A. Smith was called upon to address the second day of April conference, which had been designated “an Iron Conference.” By the time President Young had spoken twice, and some extremely lengthy items of church business had been discussed, the people had been in the meeting for over five hours. Elder Smith, “keenly aware of their restlessness,” preached what was probably the shortest sermon in his life by picking up one of the andirons already presented by President Young, holding it above his head and shouting, “‘Stereotype edition.’ Then be descended from the pulpit amid the cheers of the Saints.”5 (A stereotype then was the matrix from which endless copies could be made; it was a pithy way of predicting a great future.)

Despite high hopes, the iron foundry never produced consistent and reliable quantities of iron between its opening in 1852 and its closing in 1861. Various problems plagued them, some internal and some external.

A great flood in 1853 left the site strewn with twenty- and thirty-ton boulders; apprehension about the Walker War, an Indian conflict that had erupted in Utah Valley, replaced iron-making by fort-building. In 1854 most of the time was spent constructing a rock furnace, since the brick furnace was too soft. A good run was poured off for Brigham Young’s visit in 1855, but operations halted for the winter when the stream that supplied their power froze solid for three months. Accidents with the furnace damaged it in 1856, but a drought again caused a failure in their water supply; and the grasshopper plague meant that major efforts had to be spent to keep from starving to death.

In 1857 Brigham Young recommended moving the site to a flood-free location, but just when they were ready to resume operations, President Young warned them that Johnston’s army was on the way. They immediately began military preparations, but their usual spirit of unity was blighted in September when some men from Cedar City and Parowan were involved with Indians in the slaying of more than a hundred non-Mormons at nearby Mountain Meadows. Some of the Saints moved away after this tragic event, and a “spirit of disunity” seems to have prevailed in the area.6

Johnston’s army cast its shadow into the next year as well. President Brigham Young instructed stake president William H. Dame to lead an exploring party of sixty or seventy men westward across the Escalante Desert to find oases in the White Mountains where Church headquarters could be set up. Obediently, they searched and found some limited water sources which they started to colonize in preparation for the mass migration they expected. In the spring of 1858, some 30,000 Mormons evacuated northern Utah as the army approached; Parowan, in addition to its explorations, sent teams and wagons to help make the move, and they manufactured bullets from the Latter-day Saint lead mines near Las Vegas for the expected conflict.

The “Utah War” was peaceably settled, but the Iron Mission had lost another year’s work, and two more unsuccessful trial runs in the fall of 1858 were the last until 1861. Then seven wagon loads of federal cannon balls, sold to the Church when the soldiers returned east to fight the Civil War, were hauled south and converted to “bells, stove parts, rollers to squeeze the juice out of sugar cane, and other castings.”7

This decade of intensive effort cost an estimated $150,000, and one historian estimates that the iron missionaries could have earned the equivalent of a million dollars elsewhere. When the books were closed in 1858, the company owed more than $37,000, not counting thousands of days of unreimbursed labor.8

Yet as local historian William F. Palmer stressed: “The mission did not fail. They failed only to profitably make iron. But they founded Cedar City, a place that has been the business hub of Southern Utah down to this day, and they reclaimed thousands of acres of land which provided homes for several hundred emigrant converts to the church.”9

Elder Erastus Snow, whose Cotton Mission in Saint George succeeded the Iron Mission in Parowan and Cedar City, stressed the same point: “We found a Scotch party, a Welch party, an English party, and an American party, and we turned Iron Masters and undertook to put all these parties through the furnace, and run out a party of Saints for building up the Kingdom of God.”10

That tempering did, in fact, unify them. For instance, even though President Dame had been regarded as one of several persons responsible for allowing the massacre at Mountain Meadows to occur, he refused to avoid arrest, even though he had the opportunity, and suffered steadfastly and uncomplaining through almost two years of imprisonment before his indictment was quashed. He then served a mission to England while retaining, apparently at Elder George A. Smith’s request, both his stake position and his position as colonel in Utah’s Nauvoo Legion, and saw his stake unite in a touching manifestation of loyalty when President Brigham Young stopped in Parowan in May 1877 to reorganize the stake. According to the somewhat more open procedures of those times, when President Young asked the conference whom they wished for president, one high councilor named President Dame. It was promptly seconded. There was an embarrassing silence after President Young asked for other names, broken by President Dame’s tactful suggestion, “‘I move that we leave the selection of a president of Parowan Stake to President Brigham Young.’” President Young nominated President Dame’s first counselor, Jesse N. Smith. “Less than sufficient to satisfy President Young voted in the affirmative,” so President Young, apparently realizing the loyalty and devotion of the stake, asked John Taylor to address the group on “another subject” and dropped the idea.

Soon after his return to Salt Lake, President Young sent Wilford Woodruff and Erastus Snow back to Parowan to reorganize the stake; this time the priesthood voted before their arrival to accept the two Apostles’ selections. Unable to decide, the two apostles reinstated the same stake presidency temporarily, a decision that was made permanent a year later in 1878. President Dame served for an additional two years, a total of twenty-four years, and was released in 1880.11

The four wards Elder George A. Smith originally established are now three wards, but the original rock church, lovingly constructed by its pioneers, still stands behind its splendid stake center, now serving as a Daughters of the Utah Pioneers relic hall to house cherished mementoes of the past.

That past includes an impressive record. In the same year (1851) that Salt Lake City organized its Deseret Dramatic Association, and within months of the founding of the city, Parowan had organized its own dramatic association—ultimately, in 1897, completing a fine brick Opera House with bricks and lime burned on the site. It had a young people’s touring group and a stock company that was used to thinking on its feet. When the butler ushered a couple into the wrong scene, the quick-witted hero politely ordered him, “‘Show them right into the next room.’”12

The Relief Society, organized in 1863, took its work of storing wheat seriously and for years had its own granary. Each spring they loaned seed wheat to the farmers, who paid it back in the fall with an added peck per bushel.13

Cedar City, with its college and tourist facilities, has now become the population center of the region. But nineteenth-century Parowan had contributed liberally to founding at least fifteen other settlements, including sending fifteen families to Snowflake, Arizona, in 1878 and twenty to Cowley, Wyoming, in 1900.14

A Parowan Indian Tale

Although Parowan was prepared for Indian trouble and annoyed by petty thievery and threats for some time, the settlement itself escaped depredations. One of its folktales, however, centers on a band of Indians who demanded a sack of grain apiece from Brother Davenport’s meager harvest at threshing time. He countered by selecting, from the threshing crew, Bob Quarto with a pegleg, Robert Miller with a curly red wig, and Elder George A. Smith with his false teeth. “At a given signal, Bob Quarm gave a war whoop and unbuckled his peg leg and threw it in the air. Robert Miller, not to be outdone, gave another war whoop and threw his wig in the air, exposing his starry dome. The Indians stood wide-eyed, but when George A. Smith gave a howl and let his false teeth fall, they took to their horses and fled.” (Luella Adams Dalton, History of the Iron County Mission and Parowan, the Mother Town, n.p., n.d., p. 91.)


  1. Leonard J. Arrington, “Planning an Iron Industry for Utah, 1851–1858,” Huntington Library Quarterly, 21 (May 1958): 237–42.

  2. Lucy Hannah White Flake, Diary, eds. Chad J. Flake and Hyrum F. Boone, typescript (Provo: BYU Library, 1973), p. 4.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Cited in Arrington, p. 244.

  5. Ray Haun Gleave, “The Effect of the Speaking of George A. Smith on the People of the Iron Mission of Southern Utah,” Brigham Young University thesis, 1957, p. 70.

  6. Arrington, pp. 251–57.

  7. Ibid., pp. 257–58.

  8. Palmer, cited in Arrington, p. 259.

  9. Palmer, cited in Gleave, p. 41.

  10. Cited in Arrington, p. 249.

  11. Harold William Pease, “The Life and Works of William Horne Dame,” Brigham Young University thesis, 1971, pp. 180–81.

  12. Luella Adams Dalton, History of the Iron County Mission and Parowan, the Mother Town (n.p., n.d.), pp. 237, 244, 249.

  13. Ibid., p. 312.

  14. Gustive O. Larson, Iron County Centennial, 1851–1951 (n.p., n.d.), p. 32.

Parowan’s beautiful church, quarried out of native sandstone, was built in 1857–63. Carefully maintained as a relic hall by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, it is open for visitors during the summer or by arrangement.

Elder George A. Smith of the Council of the Twelve, founder of Parowan. (Photo by C. R. Savage.)

This early photograph of Parowan’s old rock church shows the trees only half grown. The Ensign thanks Frank O. Mortensen, stake historic arts correspondent, for his assistance; photography by Jed A. Clark.

Looking northwest into Parowan from the hills above town.

The Jesse N. Smith home, now maintained by the Smith family, can be visited by arrangement. Jesse N. Smith, first cousin to the Prophet Joseph and a cousin of George A. Smith, came to Parowan with the first group in 1851, served as its mayor, and later was called to settle in Snowflake, Arizona, where his home still stands.