PHOENIX (AP) — A proposed monument at the Arizona Capitol would recall the migration story of thousands of Mormon settlers who made difficult treks from Utah to Arizona in the 19th century.
Legislation authorizing the monument died last spring but is expected to be considered anew in 2019. Supporters hope they can erect the monument at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix to honor settlers whose journeys included crossing the Colorado River at Lees Ferry near the Grand Canyon.
The Arizona Republic reported this week that the centerpiece of the privately funded monument would be a school bell that once hung at the small settlement of Lees Ferry and that was rung to summon ferry operators when a wagon train approached the riverbank.
To reach the river, settlers dispatched by church leader Brigham Young had to cross hundreds of miles of desert and canyon. In Arizona, they established communities such as Mesa, Gilbert, Safford and Snowflake.
The idea for the monument started with Fred DuVal, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents. The bell has been in DuVal’s family for decades. His stepfather, Jack Whiteman, acquired it after he and a group of Phoenix businessmen bought the Lees Ferry property in 1964.
“The bell is now a powerful symbol of the migration story, and the hardships faced by the thousands who crossed the river in search of new lives,” DuVal said.
The property was later sold to the National Park Service, and that stretch of river is popular for fishing and launching whitewater rafting trips.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Snowflake Republican whose ancestors crossed the river at Lees Ferry, plans to sponsor the monument bill next year.
“I think we just owe a lot of gratitude to those who came before us,” Allen said. “It’s just amazing to me how strong and resilient these pioneer people were. They would take on anything.”
The proposal is not without a tinge of controversy.
Before the settlers’ mass migration, church leaders sent John D. Lee, to create a ferry service at the relatively calm spot on the river. Lee was essentially exiled for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, when he and other Mormons in 1857 slaughtered 120 people on their way to California.
But monument supporters said its story would be about the Mormon settlers’ migration and the hardships they faced.
Architect Greg Lambright, who designed the Mormon temple in Gilbert, has volunteered to design the monument. He said it would be shaped like the canyon at Lees Ferry, mimicking the area’s vermilion cliffs.
“It wasn’t an easy journey to get here. They wanted to obey and find out what God had in store for them,” he said.