Come Back to Our Valley

I've had a couple of people say to me recently that Mancos was first settled by Mormons. I knew this wasn't true but began to wonder just how and why Mormons did come to the Mancos Valley.

It got its start from the Mormons that were involved in the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition that painfully brought Mormon families to Bluff, Utah. They quickly found there was not nearly enough land for all of the families to have farms. Some moved on up the San Juan River to the mouth of Montezuma Creek, but that still did not satisfy the need for land that could be irrigated.

In the summer of 1880, one man decided he would head east and hope somewhere he would be able to find work and thus give him a way to support his wife and three children. Joseph Stanford Smith went east on horseback up McElmo Canyon and finally crossed over the rise that separates Montezuma Valley from the Mancos Valley. He found work with a couple of miners on the East Mancos. That fall, as he was returning to his family on Montezuma Creek, he found James Ratliff was harvesting some very good grain on his farm just to the south of Mancos.

Smith stopped and inquired about work but was told by Ratliff that he had nothing for Smith to do. In the course of the conversation Ratliff asked Smith something about irrigating. Smith said yes that he knew considerable about irrigating. Ratliff smiled and told Smith to return the next spring.

The next spring, Smith brought his family with him and they lived in Ratliff's granary. Ratliff appreciated the job Smith was doing with his water and agreed to rent him part of his land. Smith was not only a good worker but also began looking for land that might be open to homesteading. To his surprise there was land available just to the south of Ratliff's property. He was able to acquire land that embraced what is now the Cedar Grove Cemetery and considerable other land surrounding it. He built a small log house that became the first Mormon home in the valley. He also went down what is now Webber Canyon and found acres and acres of good available property. As work for Ratliff slowed down that fall in 1881, Smith rode down to where his friends were on Montezuma Creek.

The information Smith passed along started an immigration movement into the southeastern part of the Mancos Valley. The Amos Fieldings came first in the spring of 1882 and located just to the east of where I was raised, about a mile and a half south of Mancos.

Other families came and stopped at the Smith home, set up tents and lived there for a time until land could be acquired and a cabin could be built for a home. Joseph Stanford Smith was thus early on responsible for the influx of Mormons into the Mancos Valley.