Zion National Park History

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Zion National Park History

Zion National Park History

The earliest evidence of human occupation in Zion and the vicinity is that of the Basket Makers Their fragmentary remains in this area have been noted and dated back to at least A.D. 500. The Basket Makers appear to have lived in individual family units and subsisted by hunting small and large game, collecting roots, seeds, nut and berries, and cultivating small plots of corn.

By about A.D. 750 life became more sedentary and the people appear to have depended more heavily on small scale horticulture. When farmland was adequate to support more than one family in one place, the people joined together in larger groups, in the Anasazi tradition. A marginal or fringe settlement of this type was established in Parunuweap Canyon.

The Anasazi people constituted one of the divisions of the Pueblo culture. One of the ethnologic divisions of the Anasazi is the Kayenta, or the Kayenta Virgin. The basic pattern of small, scattered farmsteads persisted until about A.D. 1200 when the Zion area was abandoned, possible because of change in the rainfall pattern, pressure from other peoples, or a combination of factors.

Around the same time the Anasazi peoples were living in the southern part of the park area, the northern portion may have occupied or at least seasonally visited by groups belonging to the Fremont culture. Fremont peoples, who occupied the northern two thirds of Utah, lived in small pit house villages.

After the Anasazi and Fremont peoples left the Zion area, about A.D.1200, the area was apparently not occupied again until the 19th century, although the area may have been visited for several hundred years by small bands of Paiute foragers hunting and collecting wild foods.

The first recorded visit by people of European descent to southwestern Utah was made by members of the Dominguez Escalante expedition. At the time of the American Revolution, these Spanish padres undertook an adventurous journey in an attempt to find a viable overland route from the settlements at Santa Fe, New Mexico to those at Monterey, California. Passing by areas in which the towns of Beaver and Cedar City now lie, he forded the Virgin River near the present town of La Verkin, traverses the Uinkaret, Kanab, and Kaibab plateaus, and crossed the Glen Canyon of the Colorado at the place since known as “Crossing of the Fathers”. From the river he followed established trails back to Santa Fe.

Fifty years after Escalante’s trip through Utah, the region adjoining the Zion National Park region was explored by a company of about 16 men under the leadership of Jedediah S. Smith, one of the many fur traders whose history make up the history of the West during the first half of the 19th century.

It seems that neither Escalante nor Smith or any other trader of his time actually saw Zion Canyon. These early travelers diverged little from the most expedient and feasible routes.

Soon after the founding of Salt Lake, in 1847, scouts were sent forward across the High Plateau and among the “southern mountains” to select sites where water and arable lands were available. Favorable reports from small settlements founded at Toquerville and Virgin City (1885) led to systematic colonization, beginning in 1861, when “several hundred” families moved from northern Utah to lands along the Virgin River.

Guided by friendly Indians to the mouth of this canyon (Zion Canyon), Nephi Johnson penetrated it in November 1858 as far as the Great White Throne and perhaps to the Narrows. The land was thoroughly examined in 1861 by Joseph Black who found suitable farm sites on the flat lands downstream from, and in front of the site of Zion Lodge, and upstream near the Grotto. On these lands a few settlers cultivated corn, tobacco, garden vegetables and fruit trees. On the canyon floor and the plateau above they grazed cattle and sheep until 1909, when the area was withdrawn as a national monument.

Due to its inaccessibility, the public knew little of the Zion region until the summer of 1908 when Leo A. Snow, a United States Deputy Surveyor from St. George, Utah, did a general land survey of the area and presented his report to the Department of the Interior. His findings were so impressive that they were brought to the attention of President Taft with the suggestion that the area should be set aside and preserved. In 1909, the area was established, by presidential proclamation, to be the Mukuntuweap National Monument.

In 1918, the locally unpopular name “Mukuntuweap” was changed to “Zion” and in 1919, the area was made a national park thus opening the way to make the region accessible and for providing accommodations for visitors.

Tag : Zion National Park History , History of Zion National Park

Zion National Park History
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