THE LA VERKIN CANAL:
A STORY OF PIONEER INGENUITY AND PERSEVERANCE
by Laura Hardy
(Printed by Permission of Laura L. Hardy ©Copyright by Laura L. Hardy, June 18, 1983)
The building of the La Verkln Canal was a major achievement. The pioneers who built it had little more than their own raw determination to work with. Their great accomplishments, in spite of the set-backs which often occurred, needed to be preserved in writing.
The events leading up to and including the building of the canal and tunnel are recorded herein, with as much detail as possible. The events which took place after the canal was built, up to a few years after the time which the Gubler’s and J. Pectol began to care for the canal and the farm, are also touched upon.
This is an objective and chronological paper written in historical style.
Special attention goes to Andrew Karl Larson for time spent in interviews and for permission to quote and cite from his books. Special thanks is also extended to Mrs. Gregerson and to Alice Stratton for their help in locating some of the Information that I needed for this manuscript.
THE LA VERKIN CANAL: A STORY OF PIONEER INGENUITY AND PERSEVERANCE
In 1861, the Civil War broke out in the United States. Cotton and other products that grew in the South were very difficult to come by. Prior to the war, the Mormon Church had experimented with growing cotton and other warm climate crops and found that they could be grown in Southern Utah. Due to the scarcity of cotton and the church’s desire to be self-sufficient, the General Authorities of the Mormon Church decided that the resources of Southern Utah should be more fully developed. At the General Conference of October, 1861, President Brigham Young called Erastus Snow and Orson Pratt to preside over the Southern Utah Mission. Erastus Snow and his family left for Southern Utah on the first of November, 1861. Several other groups of pioneers followed soon after.
Erastus Snow, George A. Smith, Horace S. Eldridge, Dr. James M. Whitmore, Bishop Isaac Stewart, of Draperville, and Robert J. Golding were sent ahead of the main group of pioneers to look for land that would be suitable for settling. They explored the upper and lower parts of the Virgin River and the Santa Clara River. Most of the pioneers had arrived in southern Utah by December 4, 1861, so a meeting was held to decide on the location for a new city. Erastus Snow presided over the meeting; it was held about a half a mile northeast of where the St. George Temple now stands. During this meeting, Erastus Snow told about his exploration of the area. He said that he and his group started in the Upper Valley of the Virgin and traveled down the river until they reached the Poison Springs (now called Pa Tempe Hot Springs). Almost opposite the springs, he found a very large bench with good, rich soil, but no water. Mr. Snow felt that some of the water could be taken out of the Virgin River to irrigate that bench. It would take men who were enthusiastic and hard-working. The majority of the explorers felt, however, that it would be too expensive. The bench of land he referred to was the La Verkin Bench.
On March 3, 1862, it is recorded In Bleak’s “Annals” that the County Court held a session In Washington, Utah (then the county seat), in which they considered the possibility of taking out the water opposite and upriver from the La Verkin Bitter Springs (referred to as the Polson Springs, earlier). A previously appointed committee said that it felt that such a project could be done.
The committee estimated that the canal would have to be made three-fourths of a mile long and that a tunnel forty rods long would have to be cut through the hill. And that the probable cost of getting the water out would be twelve thousand dollars.
The county never undertook the project.
Twenty-six years later, the La Verkin Bench Project was finally taken up through the private initiative of Thomas Judd and Thomas P. Cottam. In December 1888, they made a preliminary survey to get an idea of how much work and money would probably be involved in the building of the canal and tunnel. Then in 1889, Isaac C. Macfarlane started making a working survey. He was assisted by Thomas Judd, Thomas P. Cottam, David H. Morris, Joshua H. Crosby, and some others.
The La Verkin Fruit and Nursery Company was incorporated in June 1889. It was started with a capital stock of $25,000.00. The company’s officers were as follows: Thomas Judd, President; Thomas P. Cottam, Vice-President; Eva Hardy, secretary and treasurer; and Robert G. McQuarrie and Isaac C. Macfarlane, directors. In Andrew Karl Larsen’s book, he states:
The object of the company was to establish nursery orchards and vineyards, to manufacture wine and liquor, to promote fruit raising, stock raising, and general farming. Other people interested in the company were: Charles H. Rowe and Charles Brown of Salt Lake City and Andrew W. and Frank Winsor, Hector McQuarrie, and Samuel Judd of St. George.
According to the Zion Trails Broadcast, No. 14, those who worked on the canal project were paid $1.50 per day. But, according to Thomas lsom, one of the men who helped to build the canal, the men were paid $2.00 per day. Half of their wage was paid in script on the Cottonmill Factory in Washington, that was being leased by Thomas Judd, and the other half was paid in stock in the La Verkin Fruit and Nursery Company. Cottonmill scrip was used in place of cash. It could be spent at the cottonmill at its full face value, or it could be spent in town at a discounted amount. Some of the La Verkin Bench was given as stock; it had an appraised value of $25.00 to $35.00 per acre.
Isaac C. Macfarlane was the engineer of the La Verkin tunnel and canal. Most of those who worked on the canal were from Toquerville. They worked on the tunnel first, then while it was in progress, some men started work on the dam and the canal. Mr. Macfarlane had two crews of men working on the tunnel–one on each side of the hillside. They used a row of lighted candles to aid them in keeping a straight line. When the two crews met at the center, they found that Mr. Macfarlane was only six Inches off in his calculations. The tunnel was 840 feet in length. As they dug the tunnel, the crew encountered a large cave filled with stalactltes and stalagmites. Much of the tunnel was dug through beds of gypsum. The crew found the gypsum fairly easy to work with and were very pleased with their work.
Isaac Macfarlane chose the perfect location for a dam about a mile and a half from where the tunnel goes through the hill. The dam is in a place where the river bends; on one side there are some huge rock formations and on the other side there are tall cliffs. The workers started forming the canal alongside the river and gradually worked along the hill through steep ledges and talus slides. They made the canal five feet wide on the bottom, seven feet wide on top, and two feet deep. It had a fall of about one inch in 160 feet. The fall was a little greater at the upper end. They used a pan of water to determine the fall. As they started working on the La Verkin Hill, their job became progressively more difficult for them. Here, in the ledges, they drilled deep holes by hand as there were no power tools available back then. They were about six feet apart. They were filled with black powder and then exploded. Two shots were done at a time; they were placed in such a way that the rocks were lifted away from the ledges in huge chunks. This helped to form about sixteen feet of canal bed for every two shots. Some of these shot holes can still be seen in the ledges above to this day. It must have been a very difficult and tedious job to drill these holes. In the places where they encountered rock slides, they built supporting rock walls and fills. Where the canal went through gypsum formations, their work went quickly and easily. When they had finished building the canal and the tunnel, they were rightly proud of their work. It looked flawless.
While some men worked on the end of the canal, the La Verkin Fruit and Nursery Company had others planting almond trees, fruit trees, and grape vines. In April 1891, the water was turned into the ditch. Then, the trouble began. The water caused miniature cracks, that were already present in the many gypsum formations along the canal, to widen as it eroded the gypsum away. The canal stream soon dwindled down to nothing. On examining the canal, the men found many of these cracks had holes that were “big enough for a bear to crawl in.” The men dug out the holes, filled them in with rocks and dirt, and “puddled” them with bentonite clay to reform the canal. But, to their dismay, the holes continued to plague them. At this time Thomas Judd had a lease on the Cottonmill Factory in Washington. He brought lint from the factory and the men tried using it to plug up the holes, but the water would just eat the gypsum away that was around the cotton and then run off into the underground cavities. They also tried to use Bagasse (which is the roughage that is left over from making sorghum molasses) and straw, but they had very little success with these materials, also. In the book, “I WAS CALLED TO DIXIE,” A. K. Larson states:
For four years the trouble persisted; only 160 acres of the bench was brought under cultivation, and that small quantity of land constantly suffered from want of water.
The La Verkin Bench was an excellent place to grow fruits and nuts. The soil was very rich, but keeping water in the canal was very difficult. The great expense was threatening to bankrupt the company. In 1897, the company sold some of its stock to help meet its current expenses. The remaining property was divided among the stockholders and they each began to work their own land.
In 1898, Thomas Judd asked Joseph and Henry Gubler and James Pectol, along with their families, to come and take care of the land. He told them that they could have all they could raise for three years, while they took care of the farms. When they came there, Thomas Judd had about 30 acres of almonds, five acres of alfalfa, five acres of seedling peaches, and a lot of apricots. The upper piece of land was planted with grapes. All of the plants were either dead or dying because of lack of water. Thomas Judd provided lumber to flume the worst parts of the canal. They would sleep where they could hear the water running in the canal. If the water stopped running, Joseph would wake up and call to the others. They would come running to fix the canal, often in their bare feet. Joseph Gubler said that he got so he even quit killing rattlesnakes. He told how he would run barefoot in the night to fix the canal. It being dark, he would often pass within a foot of where a rattlesnake would lay coiled, without even seeing it. He would return in the daytime and (seeing the snake’s trail) he would take his shovel, find the snake, and kill it. He said, in an interview, “Not one ever struck at me unless I molested it. I got to thinking that so long as they didn’t bite me in the dark when I was barefoot and helpless, I wouldn’t harm them in the daytime when I had a shovel and they were helpless.”
That same year, Thomas Judd had Henry Gubler represent him and sell some of his land for him. A town site was also surveyed in that year. People started to take more interest in the canal as more and more of them started farming the La Verkin Bench. But trouble with the canal continued. About 1910, Thomas Judd learned that some farmers were having some success lining their canals with cement. He decided to purchase several bags of cement and see if it would work for the La Verkin Canal. Joseph Gubler (who by this time had become President of the canal board) and James Judd (Vice-President) contacted Edward Christian of St. George who had had some experience with cement. He helped them to cement the canal. The cement greatly relieved their troubles.
In the beginning, they had a great deal of difficulty with the headgate at the dam. Sometimes flood waters would cause sand and debris to pile up against it, causing it to wash out. Henry Gubler felt that they could prevent this problem if they shot off some of the rocks at the head of the canal. Thomas Judd kept telling them that they wouldn’t succeed. Finally, they had to get all of the owners to vote against him, so that they could shoot the rocks. Henry Gubler’s plan was a success, and later when the Southern Utah Power Company took over, they shot off even more rock.
It’s been ninety-five years since Thomas Judd and Thomas P. Cottam first began their preliminary survey to build the canal. Their dream was fulfilled, and since then the town of La Verkin has become a thriving community.
HISTORICAL SKETCH of the Life of JOSEPH GUBLER
Well, I guess I know all about early days in the La Verkln. I worked for Brother Judd while he built the canal and then ten years later when all the trees and fields were dying because they could not keep water in the ditch, Brother Judd told Henry and Jim Pectol and me if we would come out here and live and run the farms we could have all we could raise for three years and he would get some lumber and let us have it to flume the worst places in the ditch. Later we got cement and now the ditch don’t give any trouble and there is plenty of water. But when we came here Brother Judd had about thirty acres of almonds and five of alfalfa and five of seedy peaches and a lot of apricots. All this upper place was in grapes and they were all dead or dying for lack of water.
You see they formed a company and sold stock in the La Verkin land as they were going to make it all into a nursery of fine trees. Then they got the water through the La Verkin tunnel and built the canal and it looked like everything was going to be fine and dandy. So they went ahead and planted the trees. I wasn’t living here then and while the little trees were growing they planted it in cotton. Brother Judd owned stock in the cotton factory at Washington. Then they began having trouble with the water. You see the ledges that the tunnel came through were full of gypsum and they washed great cracks and caves as big as a house. At first they brought lint from the factory and tried to stop the holes with that then finally Brother Judd got lumber. That was ten years later when I came here to live permanently.
When I first came here I just came to work. I boarded with Eliza and Sam Judd. Brother Tom Judd never lived on the La Verkin. Eliza Judd lived in a wooden house they brought on wagons from Silver Reef. Judds brought two houses that way and people are still using them. When they got the canal finished they expected to go sailing along with no trouble and I guess if they hadn’t had trouble I never would have come back to La Verkin. The ditch trouble proved a good thing for me.
After a time they divided up the land and everybody bought land from some of the owners that were in the company. I bought my land for twenty-five dollars an acre. Brother Judd had Henry sell land to anyone who wanted to settle here. He sold to Higbees and Wallaces and others, and Brother Judd’s boys came here later.
When we first came here we worked night and day keeping the water in the ditch. I always slept where I could hear the murmur of the water as it came through the tunnel. If It stopped, I would wake and many times went bare-foot up the ditch and put the water back in.
I got so I wouldn’t kill the rattlesnakes because they didn’t bite me. Many times when I was bare foot and in the night and couldn’t see I passed within a foot of where they were all coiled up on the ground. Coming back in the daylight with my shovel I could see the marks they left in the sand and I would kill them with my shovel. Not one ever struck at me unless I molested it and I got to thinking that so long as they didn’t bite me in the dark when I was bare footed and helpless, I wouldn’t harm them in the daytime when I had a shovel and they were helpless.
I don’t know much about the first building of the tunnel. It was built by the company. Brother Judd promoted and Dave Morris was Secretary and could tell all about that.
I am glad I came to La Verkin and it’s a nice piece of land now. (Taken from Film 920 #92 in the Brigham Young University Genealogical Library in section 12 of that film.)
HISTORICAL SKETCH of the Life of HENRY GUBLER
I wasn’t there when the La Verkin ditch was begun and I never worked while they were putting in the canal. When I first came to La Verkin, Sam Judd had been running a project which was known as the La Verkin Fruit and Nursery Company.
At that time there were about thirty acres of almond, apricots, peaches and grapes. Most of the fruit were seedlings. My brother, Jim Pectrol (Pectol) and I rented from the Judds. This was in 1898. At first all the land was run as a company but it was costing too much so they couldn’t make a go. So they divided up the land. We, my brother and myself, bought Roe and Lund out. I used to represent Brother Judd and sold land for him. He had moved out to White River.
The first years we had lots of trouble with the ditch. We had to get up in the middle of the night to repair the ditch in the tunnel where the water running through soap stone caused the most trouble. They flumed some of it and we had better luck after we started using cement.
My brother and I had farmed and built irrigation ditches all our lives and we believed that it could be fixed all right. We didn’t always agree with the Judds on the way to manage the ditch to control the water. I wanted to shoot some rocks at the head of the ditch that was giving us the trouble. Sometimes the water hitting against them eddied and filled the head with sand and debris and again it would wash out the ditch. I had to get all the owners to vote against Brother Judd once to do this. He didn’t think we could control the river. He meant well but he just couldn’t see how we could do it but I guess I knew more about ditches. My plan worked fine and when the Light Company put more water in the ditch they shot a lot more rock into the river. Brother Judd finally admitted I was right but at first he used to say, “You’ll never succeed.”
After we had been here two years Jim Pectol went back to St. George, but my brother and I stayed. Brother Stout was an early settler here. He traded for land and moved a house from the Silver Reef. Later he covered it with rusitc and made it look like a new house. Will Hardy bought Sam Judd out, then Duffins moved here and Wilsons and Sanders, Will first, then John. Marcelus Wright, Atkin Hinton and George Jones came. Will Savage moved another house from the Silver Reef here.
We worked hard and got our land paid for and our homes built and we feel pretty well satisfied now so I guess we are here to stay.
(Taken from Film 920 ##92 In the Brigham Young University Genealogical Library in section 13 of that film) Dated: August 1, 1935