Heritage Day 2020
Heritage Day Program was held at the Bunkerville Monument to commemorate the settling of the Virgin Valley on January 7, 1877. The annual event was sponsored by the Mesquite Nevada Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Andrew Jensen organized the program that honored the pioneer families who had the courage to blaze a path for future generations to continue to build on. The American flag was raised and the audience said the Pledge of Allegiance. Atop the flag pole is an eagle donated by Evan Leavitt. The audience joined in singing “They the Builders of the Nation” reminding us of the deeds of the pioneers who unfurled the flag of truth and their deeds became a pillar, guide and an inspiration to the succeeding generations. Their courage was an unfailing beacon to all who know their story. Pictures of early pioneer homes in Bunkerville was on display showing the structures and the changes over the years and listing the owners then and now. The display was done by Claudia Leavitt, sister to Mike Waite.
Mike Waite, third generation resident of the Valley, was the guest speaker. He told of the events of the first years of settlement and the struggles to grow crops and build homes. “On Sunday, January 7, 1877 Bishop Edward Bunker took a handful of seed of wheat in one hand and a handful of soil in the other. He then lifted his eyes to heavens, and prayed and asked the Lord to bless the seed that it might yield abundantly, the earth that it might be fertile and rich, the water that would be applied to the land and the elements that they would not destroy the crops. He dedicated the people and the land that they would live the laws of God that thereby they would have peace in the land. As he prayed, he let the soil and the seeds sift through his fingers.” Monday, January 8 they stated working on a small building, a ditch and started clearing the ground to plant. By January 22 they had cleared 75 acres, and planted 22 acres of wheat, 14 of cotton, 7 in molasses cane and the rest in corn. The first year they enjoyed a good harvest of 450 bushels of wheat, 12,000lbs. of cotton on the seed and 600 gallons of molasses. A thresher was brought into the valley in November of 1878. In January of 1879 they had a burr mill that did its first grinding of flour and they said it was not bad flour. Weir Leavitt set up his waterwheel along the gin ditch to clean the cotton. The other ditch was called the Indian ditch.
They realized that the area of the first home site was too hilly and rocky. To establish a permanent community, they decided to move to a site west and the first home was erected in November 1878 in present day Bunkerville. The next year was an even better crop with 1600 bushels of wheat, 30,000 lbs. of cotton and 1500 gallons of molasses. Other families moved to the valley and some settled in Littlefield, Lewis Bottom. Beaver Dam and one family settled at Riverside in 1881.
The first church was organized in January of 1879 with Edward Bunker S. as the Bishop of the LDS church. In 1890 they began to build a rock building for church and a place to hold dances and recreation.
They lived the United Order with each family doing their work assignment but in 1880 it was discontinued. Each family was given a share of the monies and George Crosby used his funds to start the first store. In the fall of the first year they started a school in a small shanty and in March of 1879 Bunkerville had its own school district. By 1882 Mesquite school district separated from Bunkerville and had its own school district.
The ground in Mesquite was sandy soil whereas Bunkerville had more gravel. In 1880 Mesquite was called by some “the camp.” They built 1 ½ miles of irrigation ditch in Bunkerville but, in Mesquite the settlers had to build 6 miles of ditches to get water and they were able to get 200 acres under cultivation. It was the summer of rain and floods and there were 58 breaks in the 6 miles of ditch. Many working in the heat suffered from seizures and malaria because of the mosquitoes. By November there
were only half as many people in Mesquite; about 70-75 people. A number of families moved to St. Thomas and St. Joseph leaving about 46 people in Mesquite. Bunkerville had a post office, store and a number of homes.
It was on the 3rd attempt of settling Mesquite when 3 strangers came to stay awhile. They helped build and finance the canal for irrigation water. Therefore, with available water for the fields, a successful settlement was established in Mesquite. They completed the canal of 6 to 7 ½ miles and build a number of structure east of the town wash, planted grapes and fruit trees.
Settlers were engaged in farming, mining operation and in freighting. There were many mining operations in Silver Reef, Leeds, Delamar gold mine, Grand Gulch mine. Since there were no roads, they used the dry wash such as Toquap Wash to freight goods to the miners.
The Hunt family left Kentucky and came west to Utah and then to Gunlock where their 6th child George was born in 1880. They eventually moved to Bunkerville and Parley, their son built a home for his mother. Mike told the story of Nephi Hunt being shot in the arm when a rifle he was holding discharged. The wound healed and he was called to serve a mission for the LDS church for 2 ½ years. However, when he returned the arm began to swell and the doctor told him his only option was to amputate the arm. Nephi said “No!” He went by train to Salt Lake City and said, “I will be back in two weeks with both my arms!” The doctors at the medical convention being held at the time examined the arm and concluded that the only way to save the arm was to amputate. Nephi refused and said just clean out the wound. He requested that his dad be in the operating room and just as he was going under anesthesia Nephi said, “Do not amputate! I have a lot to do yet, save my arm!” He came home with both of his arms as promised and lived many more years.
Waite told of his Grandpa George Hunt’s instructions to his posterity: “Be true to the Church, keep the Sabbath Day holy, be honest, upright and trustworthy. Be good to your neighbors, get a good education and then get good jobs that will hep you and our country.” George was a man of faith. He knew sorrow and hardship and loneliness, but he seemed to have faced each day with hope and belief that he would someday understand why life is hard.
The program closed with the hymn, ‘Carry, On!’ reminding those in attendance of the good land that our fathers settled and the heritage they left us - not a heritage of gold or worldly wealth but they left us a legacy of love and joy and faith in God.