- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - When the pioneers came south from Salt Lake City in the mid-19th century, one of the first places they established a settlement was in the Harmony Valley.

The first wooden fort these early pioneers constructed was along Ash Creek near where the Ash Creek Reservoir is now, reported The Spectrum (http://bit.ly/2eOhKhT).

In 1854, Brigham Young, visiting those early pioneers who had been sent south to preach the gospel to the Native Americans of southern Utah, counseled the missionaries to move their fort north about four miles due to the fact that the old one was too close to the river.

A few weeks later, on May 20, 1854, according to the diary of D.T. Brown, Brigham Young himself dug out the foundation for the southeast corner for the new fort on the site where the remains of this sandstone and adobe structure are still found today.

The foundations are all that remain, but they’re pretty easy to find - just a stone’s throw south of the New Harmony Branch of the Washington County Library.

There are a few plaques found around the historic site that detail a little of the history of New Harmony and the four corners of the fort. The locations of gates that once stood at the north and south ends of the 200-foot square structure are marked by stacked sandstone and concrete markers that the citizens of New Harmony put into place in the 1930s.

As far as ghost towns and historic sites go, there’s not a whole lot to see but the history in the Harmony Valley is well worth exploring.

The leader of the group of pioneers who settled in this valley is probably one of the most infamous southern Utahns of all time, John Doyle Lee. Lee was the only person to stand trial for the events that took place at Mountain Meadows in 1857.

That summer, tensions in Utah were high as the Mormon settlers in the territory feared the arrival of - and a possible apocalyptic encounter with - the United States Army.

It was that state of fear that led the local Mormon militia to set upon and ultimately slaughter a wagon train of a little over 120 men, women and children on their way to California.

This fort, Fort Harmony, was the place where Lee lived when that dark event in history took place.

Not long after the events of 1857, flood waters and heavy snow destroyed the old fort. The adobe bricks began to melt and crumble after months of seemingly endless rain early in 1862, and when the west wall of the fort fell in the storm, two of Lee’s children were killed in the collapse.

In 1932, it was registered as a historic site by the Utah Pioneer Trails Association. Later that decade, the stone structures that to this day mark the corners of the old fort were built.

But the fort is just a very small taste of the history that can be discovered in the Harmony Valley.

A drive into what’s now the town of New Harmony reveals another marker at the site where the Iron County Division of the Utah Militia camped and drilled in the summer of 1867 as they prepared to do battle with the warriors of the Navajo, Ute, Apache and Paiute tribes led by a Ute war chief named Black Hawk.

In addition to the historical markers, if you stop at the New Harmony Cemetery, you can stroll among the headstones of many of those who called the old Fort Harmony home.

Or better yet, visit the Fort Harmony Historical Society’s website at fortharmony.org and you can read dozens of tales of what life was like when the pioneers were living in the Harmony Valley.

There are also still a few hardy souls in New Harmony who remember tales handed down to them from their parents and grandparents and can relate wonderful stories of pioneer life in the Harmony Valley.

Shortly after I wrote a story about a hike up into Comanche Canyon, I got a call from Gordon Pace.

I wondered in my story of hiking Comanche Canyon where the canyon got its name since the Comanche were a tribe that hunted buffalo on the great plains of Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas and weren’t a tribe that called Utah home.

Pace is 86 now but he grew up in New Harmony and still calls the valley home. He told me his mother used to tell him the story of the canyon and how it got its name.

Pace told me the canyon’s name was actually Comence Canyon, and it was originally named after a young Native American warrior and his bride, Pohinkum.

Comence and Pohinkum were from different tribes and when the two fell in love, “it wasn’t looked upon with a great amount of glee, so they more or less just took off and vanished,” Pace said.

The two young lovers took up residence in the canyon west of New Harmony, and occasionally the young woman would come down to town and knock on the doors of the pioneers. “She didn’t know the language but they’d give her something to eat, and she’d then go back up into the canyon to the springs,” Pace said.

Somewhere along the line the name of the canyon was misspelled and changed to Comanche Canyon, the name change stuck, and the legend of Comence and Pohinkum began to fade.

Honestly, I could have listened to Pace tell stories all day long.

I love the fact that the Fort Harmony historical society has collected a number of stories on their website, and I hope they’ll find a way to make sure all of that history continues to be preserved.

These are the legends, these are the tales, these are the stories that tell us where we came from, who our ancestors were, how they lived, how they died, what they believed in and so much more about the past.

I’m glad I got the chance to explore just a little of the history of the Harmony Valley, and I hope I’ll have the opportunity to someday learn more.

___

Information from: The Spectrum, http://www.thespectrum.com

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