Snowflake: Obedient Individualists
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“Snowflake: Obedient Individualists,” Ensign, Feb. 1980, 27–29

Snowflake: Obedient Individualists

The first Latter-day settlements in northern Arizona were made by families called to that mission—the Little Colorado River villages of Brigham City, Sunset, Taylor, and Joseph City, in 1876. Snowflake, however, was settled by individualists who left the northern settlements in search of better opportunities, taking with them their ideals of consecration and cooperation.

One of these individualists was William J. Flake, a southerner born of North Carolina parents who had come west with the Mississippi Saints. During the family’s stay in Parowan, nineteen-year-old William met sixteen-year-old Lucy White and they were married. “We had verry little to keep house with but we were just as happy as could be,” wrote Lucy later. “We loved each other and loved our home and felt truely thankfull.”1 They were living in Beaver in 1873 when William was called as one of a group to help explore Arizona—but without finding anything he was enthusiastic about. Thus, in 1877 when he came home from April conference, he glumly announced that they had been called to go to Arizona that fall. Lucy, who remembered her mother’s anguish twenty-six years earlier at leaving Salt Lake for Parowan now shared that pain, but they were equally obedient: “We was called and there was no other way.”

The trip itself tested that commitment. Their three-months-old baby daughter was ill when they left on November 19. The two oldest daughters came down with diphtheria. The weather “was dredfull cold.” When a child in the company died, Lucy was asked to prepare the body for burial and “the watter would freeze as quick as it touched the child.” They had to leave one son with some of the exhausted stock. “One day we onley traveled one mile.” On New Year’s day, the frost hung so thick in the air they could hardly see the lead horse on their wagons. Finally, exhausted, Lucy herself was taken ill and couldn’t get out of bed for several days.

When they reached the settlements on the Little Colorado, the rest was welcome but the settlement itself, Taylor, was discouraging. They worked five months and were defeated by the desert flash floods. As soon as a dam was built, “a little freshet would come and the dam would go like a spider web.”2 After they repeated the process five times in five months, the settlement was abandoned.

William looked south, at James Stinson’s ranch on Silver Creek. Stinson decided to sell out for $11,000 and in July William brought his and five other families into the area. In contrast to Taylor, Lucy remembers, “The hills was all covered with green grass. Every thing looked like we was welcome here.”3

William resold the land at the same terms on which he had purchased it, even though his generosity was sometimes exploited. Other colonists followed: the old Taylor settlement was completely abandoned that summer. Elder Erastus Snow, after visiting the Little Colorado settlements, arrived at Flake’s new settlement on Silver Creek, named the townsite Snow Flake for himself and William (combined into one word in 1906), and reassured him that living in the United Order was not required of them at that time.

This was a great comfort to William since some of the Little Colorado settlers had felt that people who left the order were apostatizing, even though these settlements later abandoned the order themselves. Elder Erastus Snow, according to Lucy, asked William, “Would you make a good bishop?” William promptly answered, “No sir” but suggested some names. Within a few days, Elder Snow had organized the stake with Jesse N. Smith of Parowan as president, and the bishopric with William as first counselor to his own choice for bishop, John Hunt of New Mexico. Both men moved into the settlement within a few weeks, each bringing with them some family members and friends.

In January, at a community meeting, they decided how to divide the town and farmland. The farmland was graded into ten-acre plots of first- or second-class land, a method suggested by Elder Snow. Each head of family drew one city lot and two farm lots, one of each class. The price was apportioned so [text missing 45]

Those first years were hard. The women wore dresses made out of wagon covers; the wheat sacks, once emptied, became men’s trousers. Lot Smith, president of the Little Colorado settlements, loaned the settlers 150 bushels of seed wheat and some molasses. James Stinson would occasionally shoot wild cattle near town and then ride in to tell the Mormons it was theirs for the taking. Bill Atcherson, apparently a local nonmember, planted a field of carrots which he left in the ground, plowing them up a row at a time to give to the pioneers. “He even hauled wheat from Albuquerque for which he was offered $20 per hundred pounds but refused to sell it, preferring to lend it to the Snowflake settlers and take flour in return at $6.00 per hundred when they were able to replace it.”6

A school, the first session of the Apache County Court, and the first stake conference were squeezed into those hard early months of scrabbling for enough to eat. The Saints united to establish a cooperative market, sawmill, tannery, and stock herd, ventures that served their purposes and were eventually abandoned. Latter-day Saint settlers had moved into the neighboring town of Bagley in 1878 (renamed, at President Smith’s suggestion, Taylor, for President John Taylor) and they cooperatively worked out water arrangements and mail pickups from Holbrook some thirty miles away.7 Cooperation is still a key word: they now jointly sponsor a community ambulance service.

The community has always been mostly Latter-day Saint. A 1971 survey gave religious preference as 68 percent LDS and 11 percent with no preference. A Baptist congregation accounts for an additional 11 percent. Church organizations took care of most functions in early times since the town was not incorporated until 1919.8

Culture has always been an important element of community life. When Bishop John West arrived in January 1879, his wife Mary Jane insisted that the family organ be set up after the beds and stove in their tent. Then she played “Home, Sweet Home” while her children sang.9 Community songfests flowered with a brass band at the Snowflake Stake Academy in 1908; drama had preceded it with the Snowflake Dramatic Association’s season in 1882, its motto: “No play that could be procured was considered too difficult.” During one tense scene in “Tempest and Sunshine,” a mother and child were praying for deliverance during a terrible storm. An owlhoot was supposed to interrupt them. The cue was given; no hoot. It was repeated. Still no hoot. Finally, the boy desperately looked into the wings and whispered piercingly, “Hoot, doggone it, hoot!” The belated hoot was almost buried under shouts of laughter.10

The heritage of working and playing together was tested again in the 1880s when settlers discovered that the Aztec Land and Cattle Company held deeds to lands they thought they’d purchased. The settlers rallied as a community, and those located on government lands accepted an assessment of $6.25 an acre to help those located on Aztec lands pay again for their property.11

Even though they had come as individuals, rather than as the tightly organized and authoritatively supervised colonies represented by Parowan and Cowley, Snowflake’s founding fathers and mothers were equally responsive to the laws of the Church and the claims of compassion.

[photo] Overview of Snowflake, Arizona, from a gentle hill to the southeast. The original trail the Flake family followed in 1878 entered from the northeast.

[photo] Elder Erastus Snow of the Council of Twelve. Associated with Elder George A. Smith in colonizing the Iron Mission, he also helped found St. George and the Arizona settlements and was involved in nearly every aspect of pioneering in the southern settlements.

[photo] One of the older homes in Snowflake. Note the second-story windows, curved to allow as much glass as possible before encountering the roof line, and the Greek-Revival returns on the corners of the roof.

[photo] Jesse N. Smith, who left a comfortable home in Parowan to settle in Snowflake, Arizona, built this handsome brick home, now a museum. The Ensign thanks Al Levine, local historian, for his assistance; photography by Eric W. White.


  1. Lucy Hannah White Flake, Diary, eds. Chad J. Flake and Hyrum F. Boone (Provo: Brigham Young University Library, 1973), p. 9.

  2. Ibid., pp. 21–25.

  3. Ibid., p. 26.

  4. Ibid., p. 27.

  5. Albert J. Levine, From Indian Trails to Jet Trails: Snowflake’s Centennial History (Snowflake: printed under auspices of Snowflake Historical Society, 1977), p. 18.

  6. Ibid., p. 21.

  7. Ibid., pp. 31–32, 148.

  8. Ibid., pp. 139, 141.

  9. Ibid., p. 152.

  10. Ibid., pp. 152, 154–55.

  11. Albert J. Levine, ed., Snowflake: A Pictorial Review, 1878–1964 (n.p., n.d.), p. 8.