New Monument Honors Bluff Fort Pioneers

Contributed By Terri Winder, Church News contributor

  • 5 November 2015

Elder and Sister Snow at the President John Taylor statue at Bluff Fort.  Photo by David L. Walton.

Article Highlights

  • Elder Snow dedicated a new monument honoring the pioneer families who came through the Hole in the Rock.
  • The Bluff Fort Visitors’ Center was built and developed with private resources and donated labor. It is not an LDS historic site, but it is a historic site about the Church.

“Some ask, why do we build monuments? Why do we tell the stories over and over again? It is because the rising generations need to know the stories. We can take courage from the things [the pioneers] did. We too can do hard things.” —Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy

“I know of no other site like this,” Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy said in reference to the Bluff Fort Visitors’ Center. “It was built and developed with private resources and donated labor. It is not an LDS historic site, but it is a historic site about the Church.”

On Saturday, October 10, Elder Snow dedicated a new monument honoring the two families who came to the San Juan Mission in southeastern Utah with the 1879 exploration party and the pioneer families who were called to go to Bluff after the first group of colonists—those who came through the Hole in the Rock.

“Their willingness to come is perhaps even more remarkable because they had undoubtedly heard of the struggles of those who came through the Hole in the Rock,” Elder Snow commented.

He recounted the story of Jens Nielson, an immigrant who suffered the terrors of the Willie handcart company and who later claimed that experience did not compare to the rigors of the Hole in the Rock odyssey. The Hole in the Rock pioneers had expected their journey to take six weeks; it took six months. “Theirs was the last great expedition of the Church,” Elder Snow said, “the last difficult colonization effort.”

Though the second wave of settlers coming to the San Juan Mission chose different routes, their paths were not necessarily easier, as demonstrated by the journal of 25-year-old Josephine Wood. “It is the most God forsaken and wild looking Country that was ever traveled. ... I don’t know what they call this place, but I call it the Devil’s Twist and that is a Sunday name for it. Would any travel such roads? None but Mormons,” she wrote.

“There was no easy way to get to Bluff,” LaMar Helquist, a descendant of Jens Nielson and current president of the Hole in the Rock Foundation, said.

Having Elder Snow, current Church Historian and Recorder, perform the dedication brought the history of Bluff Fort full circle. It was his great-great-great-grandfather, Apostle Erastus Snow, who issued the calls to the San Juan pioneers on behalf of President John Taylor and guided them through their first difficult years.

Elder Snow said, “Some ask, why do we build monuments? Why do we tell the stories over and over again? It is because the rising generations need to know the stories. We can take courage from the things [the pioneers] did. We too can do hard things.”

Elder Snow’s wife, Sister Phyllis Snow, enlarged on that concept with a personal story. She told about the Church calling their own family had received 21 years earlier, when Elder Snow was asked to be a mission president in California. She was concerned about uprooting their sons and the changes their family would experience. They decided to go on a river-rafting trip, the last family vacation they would take for three years.

Perhaps providentially, they chose the San Juan River. As their raft came to Comb Ridge, their river guide asked if they would like to stop and see part of the Hole in the Rock trail. As he told them about the pioneers’ story, they recognized parallels with their own. Then they hiked up San Juan Hill, the last great obstacle the Hole in the Rock pioneers encountered before arriving at their destination. The Snow family saw large words painstakingly scratched into the rock wall rising up from the trail: “We thank thee O God.” Sister Snow said as she read those words, she suddenly felt an “amazing change of attitude, mind, and heart.”

She said since that time she has often thought of the Hole in the Rock pioneers and of San Juan Hill, continually feeling the power of that message. “It is a reminder that we can do hard things and still be grateful. We can stop and look for the blessings.”

Stuart Matheson, former Bluff Fort service missionary and current board member, said, “The values the pioneers exhibited are the same values that are needed today. They are universal values: faith, hope, strength, courage, obedience, and perseverance. With the Lord’s help in 1880, the pioneers made it. With the Lord’s help today, we can make it too.”

Elder and Sister Snow and Michael W. Redd, president of the Blanding Utah Stake, participate in the services to dedicate a monument at Bluff Fort. Photo by Lewis Kay Shumway.

One of the pioneer homes in Bluff. When the pioneers moved from the fort and built better homes, they used stone from the surrounding area. Photo by Lewis Kay Shumway.

Elder Snow speaks to the crowd at the dedication of a memorial wall honoring the 1881–82 pioneers to the San Juan Mission at Bluff Fort. Photo by David L. Walton.

Grant Taylor makes a presentation to Elder Snow during the dedication of a new monument at Bluff Fort. Photo by Lewis Kay Shumway.

Bluff Fort directors Dale and Beverly Black with the monument in the background. Photo by Lewis Kay Shumway.