family, having one large dining room
and kitchen and individual bedroom."
EB: Having seen by the spirit of the Lord the necessity and blessing of the United Order, I labored for two or three years with my family and neighbors and friends, and counselled with President Brigham Young previous to making a settlement on the Rio Virgin, fifty miles south of St. George. President Young told me I could go any place in the south, but said repeatedly not to go north. So, having gathered a sufficient number, including Dudley and Lemuel Leavitt and families, J. W. Lee, S. C. Crosby, E. Bunker, Jr., and families, others joined us later on, we were organized as a company the first of January, 1877, at Santa Clara.
We left there soon after and reached what was then known as Mesquite, but that was afterwards named Bunkerville.
The Virgin River flowed southwest from St. George for about 50 miles, finally breaking out of the mountain "narrows" onto a large desert valley. From there the river rolled on again for another 30 miles before emptying into what was then the Colorado River (now Lake Mead). A short distance from the narrows, the trail to California passed through a little mesquite flat where a strip of farm land was "as rich as the Delta of the Nile." The little valley was surrounded by cactus-covered desert and chaparral on all sides.
There were low rolling hills on the south that reach out to a range of mountains 12 miles distant. On the north were sand hills that bordered a broad flat desert land. At 1000 feet elevation, the valley was dry and arid with little relief provided by rain and extremely infrequent snows. The tropical climate provided long growing seasons. The summer temperature commonly reached 110 degrees or higher.
Edward wanted a place where he and a few close friends could see their families gather and grow. This mesquite flat appeared to be ideal. It was close enough St. George and Santa Clara to visit without undo hardship, yet far enough away to provide some isolation.
There appeared to be an abundance of water for all seasons provided by the Rio Virgin, unrestricted by prior claims. Large springs renewed the Virgin at the emergence from the narrows, and Beaver Dam Creek replenished the Virgin as it wound its way for 25 miles on almost level land.
At the mesquite flat the banks of the Virgin were protected by a few native cottonwoods, water willows, arrow willows, deep-rooted canes, mesquite, and wild rose. The water appeared easy to control with a few logs and willows that would soon catch the sand and silt into a natural dam directing the course of the river.
EB: On Jan. 1, 1877, twenty-three persons met at my house in Santa Clara and we effectuated a temporary organization. Edward Bunker, Sr. was chosen president, Lemuel S. Leavitt and Dudley Leavitt, Sr. as councilors, [Mahonri Steele, Edward's son-in-law, as secretary, and Edward Bunker, Jr. as treasurer].
On January 2nd, the company of six wagons and 70 head of cattle slowly pulled away from the home that Edward had known for the last 15 years. Three days later they arrived at the mesquite flat. After surveying the lay of the land they mutually decided to locate on the south side of the river. They set up camp about two and one-half miles northeast of where the town of Bunkerville currently stands.
The day they arrived they erected a small lumber building on the top of a hill, and called their location Bunkerville, after Edward Bunker, Sr., the leader of the company. Edward dedicated the land to the Lord, and during the prayer "let wheat fall through the fingers of one hand and soil from the land through the other". That hill was afterwards called Calista's Lookout" for one of Edward's daughters.
On Sunday, January 7th, the first church service was held at Bunkerville, and the next day they commenced building a canal to bring water from the Virgin to the land which was selected as farm land. The work continued vigorously through the week.
The work of building a town was under way and Edward wanted all his family to join him. He sent word that all were to sell out where they were and come as soon as they could. He was finally going to bring all of his family together into one place of unity and cooperation. This was to be the perfect place where the United Order would work to bring all to a communal unity of purpose, prosperity and harmony. His family began making preparations to sell their property in Panquitch and Santa Clara.
The work on the canal continued, and by the 18th of January some of the settlers were directed to begin clearing and "grubbing" the land. By the 22nd the two and one-half mile, 4-foot wide canal was completed at an estimated cost of 180 days of labor. It was remarkable that so much was accomplished by so few.
James Bleak reports in his Journal:
"They lived, at first, like one big family, having one large dining room and kitchen and individual bedrooms. It was customary for all to gather for morning and evening prayer. The meals were served first to the men and boys who were old enough to work in the fields, the women and children eating later. Everything was done under the direction of the president, after frequent council meetings with the brethren. The women divided their work, a part of them taking charge of the cooking for a week, others caring for the butter, while still others took charge of the clothing, including washing, ironing and mending. Each week the women changed tasks, rotating in regular order."
EB: Our land was covered with a heavy growth of mesquite trees that had to be grubbed off. Then every acre had to be leveled with a scraper before it was to be irrigated. This made our work very laborious for ourselves and teams. But when the land was brought under cultivation, it was very productive.
Besides the establishment of Bunkerville, there were other significant events in 1877. Brigham Young announced in Salt Lake City that the General Conference of the church in April of 1877 was to be held in St. George and the sacred Temple would be completed and dedicated. The small group of saints at Bunkerville undoubtedly travelled to St. George to be part of the great event.
In addition to dedicating the Temple for the sacred work of marriages, baptisms, and other ordinances of the church, Brigham dictated what was called the "Lecture at the Veil", a doctrinal sermon presented in the temple. President Young said he wanted to deliver the lecture and four separate men were to act as scribes and write down exactly what he said. At the conclusion, President Young took all four copies and revised them into the final version. That lecture contained some doctrinal issues that were to become significant in Edward's life.
At the conclusion of April Conference, Brigham announced that the twelve apostles who had been serving as Stake Presidents in the various settlements were to be released from that assignment and continue their ministry over larger geographic areas. Apostle Erastus Snow who had been serving at St. George was released and John D. T. McAllister called to be the new St. George President. McAllister had served with Edward in the British Mission.
From April to August, President Brigham Young traveled throughout the various settlements reorganizing Stakes and dedicating sites for other Temples. This was to mark the close of his public ministry. He returned to his home in Salt Lake City, and on the 23rd of August was seized with an illness which six days later proved fatal. He died on August 29th, 1877 at the age of 80.
News of President Young's passing may well have saddened Edward Bunker. They were fellow New Englanders, Brigham being raised in Vermont and Edward in Maine. President Young had spent many a winter in St. George, where he personally instructed the leadership training sessions with the small group of local authorities, which included Edward. Edward's sons hauled materials for the construction of Brigham's home in St. George and President Young personally instructed Edward to go south in his search for a new place to settle. Edward had expressed his great love and respect for the Prophet; it must have been a day of sadness when the word came.
The first year in Bunkerville was conducted under the United Order with phenomenal success. During the summer the crops had been nurtured and the wives of most of men arrived. The summer heat was almost unbearable, the water was bad at times and the river bottom brought sickness. They had to bring all provisions from Santa Clara and St. George until the first harvest was in. But when it came, what a great relief it was.
In November of 1877 Emily's younger brother, Myron Abbott, and six of his children arrived at Bunkerville to take up residence. He had been living in Ogden where he married Laura Allen in 1861. Later he took a second wife, a young Italian convert, who had recently divorced her first husband.
Unhappiness, quarrels and disagreements followed the plural arrangement and it ended in May of 1877 with Laura divorcing Myron. Accordance to the law and by the choice of the children, Myron was given custody of the six older children. Laura took custody of the youngest two girls who were babies. A granddaughter summed up the reason for this tragic divorce, as "Pride, Poverty and Polygamy."
Shortly thereafter Myron's second wife divorced him and remarried her first husband. After this divorce, Myron and his children moved to Bunkerville arriving at Mesquite Flat in November of 1877. Myron plunged into the work of the United Order determined to put unhappiness behind him. He met and married Lemuel Leavitt's sixteen-year-old daughter, Lovisa, in January of 1878.
EB: We began work the eighth of January, myself presiding over the company, and later was ordained Bishop with E. Bunker, Jr. as my first and Myron Abbott as my second councilor.
That first year the United Order was an apparent great success. The community harvested "400 bushels of wheat, 700 gallons of molasses, 9,000 pounds of cotton, and a large variety of garden vegetables". The little colony was greatly blessed, there was order and benevolent leadership from their head, who many called Grandpa Edward Bunker.
While the work of the community was bringing blessings, Sarah, Edward's second wife, was suffering. She lost weight and became very thin. She had apparent heart trouble and looked like she would never get well. Edward went to her and gave her a blessing. He promised that "she should live and enjoy her life---that she should not want for anything---things would come for her comfort---that she would not know from whence they came." She began to recover.
During the first year most of the residents of Bunkerville were adults and no school was required. But as families arrived, a school was created in the "shanty on the hill" and Charlie Heath was assigned to teach. Most of the people had moved off the hill, down to the flat land between one and two miles from the shanty. The school was somewhat primitive, but continued for the benefit of the children. To provide some degree of education for the older boys and men, Myron Abbott was asked to teach at night.
By January 1878, Dudley Leavitt, one of the original missionaries to the Virgin River Basin, began to move most of his family to Bunkerville. He had five wives and numerous children and many of his older children had already moved there. He put everything he had into the United Order, including all of his cattle, horses, and wagons. He had his big waterwheel hauled down from his old residence at Gunlock and installed for the benefit of the community to drive a cotton gin.
The second year, 1878, brought a molasses mill, flour mill, and cotton gin. A dozen families had worked together to make a viable town out of a small patch of barren earth.
More of Edward's older children were now marrying. It must have been a real pleasure for Edward to travel the short distance to St. George to witness the weddings of his children, instead of almost 350 miles to Salt Lake.
Sarah was improving in health and determined to visit her oldest daughter who was living in Richfield, Utah. After visiting for awhile, her health improved dramatically. She decided to sell her home at Bunkerville and stay near her daughter. She bought a place in Annabelle, Utah and settled close by her brother Will. She was finally close to her own people. She must have suffered living in the shadow of Emily and her immediate family. Her life was filled with sacrifice, but finally she was gaining better health and closeness to children and grandchildren.
The summer of 1879 saw additional changes to the small town. The population was increasing and becoming more scattered, thus making it more difficult to live as one family. A mail line and a Post Office came to town in June, and then in August some of the members of the order became dissatisfied with the practice of "central management and cooperative labor on non-household tasks." A stewardship plan was introduced and every man was to became responsible for his own labor.
Under the stewardship plan, each man would be responsible for a certain portion of the work. For example, a man might be assigned as steward of the vegetable gardens. He would "raise all the vegetables needed by the entire community" and then distribute them as they were needed. Others were charged with certain tracts of land, and the produce raised put into a common storehouse. Even as the method of management was changing the harvest of 1879 was abundant: 1600 bushels of wheat, 30,000 of cotton, and 1500 to 1600 gallons of molasses were produced. A thresher was brought in from California to thresh the wheat and barley. Edward's dream of a utopia was beginning to fade. Even as the harvest proceeded, the practicality of social existence and personal determination were tearing at the fabric of unity and community.
In October Mary gave birth to her sixth child.
In November of 1879 the first house on the Bunkerville townsite was erected. Then early in 1880 the town was laid out in blocks with four lots to each block, each lot ten rods square. Though several families had moved to the townsite as early as 1878, the new survey was followed by leveling the ground and restructuring the permanent settlement. A number of adobe dwellings were built. As of 1880 there were fifteen families on the Bunkerville townsite.
Once again there was trouble with the economic basis of cooperation through stewardship. Some were accused of carelessness and bad management while others worked hard to gather and provide in abundance. The company as a whole was increasingly acquiring larger amounts of debt. Dissention created the need for another alteration in the plan.
In September of 1880 Edward called a council meeting one evening and vented his frustrations. His anger was evident and some interpreted it as an attack on all but his own family. The next morning, though expressing a similar sentiment, he was more in control and talked about the value of the Word of Wisdom. Between this initial meeting and one held in early October, Edward worked over and over in his mind a way to salvage the Order and perpetuate unity. He made a proposal at an October 2nd meeting that was received with "much confusion and a division of opinion, without leading to any definite conclusions."
Edward proposed that each steward draw 80 percent of the proceeds of his labor and leave 20 percent in the treasury "as a fund to keep the capital stock good." The consumption of each family was to be reduced to a level below its production. Many felt this unacceptable and resulted in the complete collapse of the Bunkerville United Order. Each contributor was to receive back the possessions they had originally contributed to the Order plus payment of goods and services equal to 18 percent of the book value of the labor performed since the beginning. When compared with the distributions at the breakup of other United Order experiences, this was very favorable.
EB: We labored there in the order three years. At the end of that time, we attempted to organize into stewardship, and the result was that we broke up. The brethren did not understand the principle sufficient to accept of it. Previous to this, we had labored in one company. Our labors, however, were very highly crowned with success. In settling up we paid off the capital stock dollar for dollar, fed and clothed the company and paid 18 per cent on every man's labor. We made a valuation of our improvements, divided them up and they went to pay our indebtedness.
This was an extremely difficult time for Edward. The process of settlement was complicated and was not carried out quickly. Many were very dissatisfied with what they received. Dudley Leavitt, a particularly important individual in the community, felt that his cattle were divided among others and he came out of the experiment poorer than he went in. Whether it was the method of distribution or his desire for more land, Dudley moved across the river and set up his family at what would become a separate town: Mesquite, Nevada. The year 1880 ended the remarkable experiment that had proved to be such a phenomenal success in its earliest days.
Through these early years, life in Bunkerville wasn't all hard work. Dances and parties were periodically held to provide entertainment for the community. In 1880, the first adobe public building was erected on the public square. It seems that New Years marked a particularly significant time for dancing and celebration. The public building was not quite finished before the New Years party of 1880. The men went to work on the building and the women stood around with great apprehension. Finally, it was complete and a great feast and party was held. The "flag schoolhouse," as they called it was so large that five quadrille formations could just about crowd into it. This building served as a church meetinghouse, school building, and community center until 1900.
The settlement of property continued throughout the winter, and by April the committee was still at it. There were hard feelings, but once the final distributions were made the village determined to put it behind them and not mention it again. Even though the United Order was eliminated the community still carried over a cooperative spirit. Projects such as dams, irrigation ditches, new homes, community buildings, and even harvesting were often carried out by group effort. The theory had been to establish an independent and self-supporting community. Eventually, this was achieved. Almost everything they needed was produced at home, but surplus was not truly available until an interface with outside communities was fully integrated.
The Silver Reef Mine, in Washington County, Utah suddenly opened up a demand for salt and the people began to market and freight the readily available supply from nearby St. Thomas. Money was never needed before, but now became important for trade.
A couple of men could hitch up a four-horse team and haul one and one-half tons of salt a distance of 110 miles. The trip took ten days and would result in twenty-five dollars profit. Usually, several outfits would travel together. One hazard was that the salt had to be mined by blasting.
Some time later the Delamare mines opened up and a market was available for other products. Loads of chickens, fruit, and other produce were sold there and from this time on, money was used as the medium of exchange.