Mormon Pioneers - Growing Cotton in Utah, St. George
The pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Church president Brigham Young started quickly to colonize the west. He sent groups of men to different areas to explore and to settle. One such group was sent to Southern Utah.
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Parley P. Pratt and a group of men were sent in December 1849 to explore the Virgin River Basin in Southern Utah. They reported back that the soil was fertile and that there was much water in the area. John D. Lee and a dozen men left to explore the area from Ash Creek to Beaver Dam in 1852. His report of the area stated that among fruits of almost every kind and flax and hemp.....that cotton could also be raised.
In 1854 Jacob Hamblin and a handful of other men were sent on a permanent basis to settle on the Santa Clara River. They were to teach the Gospel to the Indians. In 1855 they planted cotton and enough lint was produced to make 30 yards of cloth. The next year (1856) they grew another good crop, proving that cotton could grow and mature there.
Brigham Young could see the war that was about to break out between the Northern and Southern States, and he knew that it would halt cotton growing in the South, making supplies of cotton hard to come by. He wanted the Saints to be able to support themselves and not have to depend upon other people so he decided that growing cotton would be a solution.
In the spring of 1857, with the sample of cotton cloth in hand, which had been grown in Santa Clara, and also the excellent report of John D. Lee, Brigham Young asked 38 families to come to the area on a Cotton Mission. They were to establish a town, to be called Washington after the first presdient of the United States. And they were to mainly grow cotton.
These 38 families were from the Southern States, and had experience growing cotton. They came mainly from the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Texas, and Tennessee. One man had worked as an overseer on a cotton plantation where he directed slaves in the growing of cotton.
It was these early Southern missionaries who first called the Washington City area "Dixie". It just came naturally to them to call the land that, because of its inhabitants, location, climate and agricultural products. Some of the many products produced in the area was cotton, silk, dried fruit, molasses and pecans. The name "Dixie" later spread to also include St. George and Santa Clara.
In 1861, Brigham Young called 309 more families to go to Washington City to expand the Cotton Mission. They provided help where needed and breathed new life into the Mission efforts. They also helped to establish the city of St. George.
After awhile there began a need for a factory to be built that would produce cloth, which made a ready market for the cotton grown. That way cotton lint didn't need to be baled and sent to others to produce cloth. A public company was formed and in 1865 they began building the Cotton Factory, with its completion in 1870.
The factory never was a money maker but it did much to keep the pioneers in "Dixie". It gave them work and an income which they could not get anywhere else. It also supplied cloth that cut down on the amount of work that would have been done in the home to make clothing.