Summarized by Rosemary Pollock
Book on Lee's Ferry Reveals More Than History
Salt Lake Tribune 15Aug99 C7
By Paul Foy: Associated Press
Lee's Ferry: From Mormon Crossing to National Park has recently been
released depicting an historical adventure compiled by P.T. Riley, who
died at the age of 85 and never saw his book in print. Lee's Ferry is a
remote landing in northern Arizona, where a tiny Mormon outpost provided
the only reliable crossing for a hundred miles. Reilly, a legendary
boatman and river chronicler, obsessed with Lees' Ferry, produced
articles for historical journals but couldn't seem to finish the 1,000
The University of Utah Press asked Robert Webb to edit the manuscript.
"It has sex, violence, adventure -- and two really good dog stories.
It's a really good history book, " says Webb who is a federal
hydrologist. Reilly used a wealth of original sources, that scoured
church archives, journals, letters, government records, anthropology
papers and hundreds of interviews with pioneer descendants and residents
of Lee's Ferry.
Reilly was born in 1911 in Dallas of pioneer stock. He was raised in
Southern California and was an avid outdoorsman. He was a federal land
surveyor and later a machinist for Lockheed Aircraft Corp. He spent his
spare time on long Coloraado River journeys and built his own river
boats and regularly led Grand Canyon river trips for his friends.
Webb "did a tremendous amount of rearranging" to make the manuscript
more readable while cutting its length by one-quarter. An epilogue by
river historian Richard Quartaroli is dedicated to Reilly, who kept
himself out of the history he was writing.
Reilly was a non-Mormon who gives accounts that differ from official
Mormon versions of the Church run outpost and river crossing. The most
distinctive portrait was of Jacob Hamblin, head of Mormon President
Brigham Young's Indian mission. Hamblin "comes across radically
different from Mormon history," states Webb. He is depicted as
duplicitous in dealing with ferryman and often angling for personal
Another account is of Lee who with many polygamous wives is set up as
the scapegoat for the Mountain Meadow Massacre in 1857. One hundred and
twenty of the California-bound pioneers from Arkansas were slaughtered
in southwestern Utah. Lee was tried, convicted and executed at Mountain
Meadow. Church leaders left the ferry in the hands of Lee's most loyal
wife, Emma after Hamblin tried to take over the ferry. Webb said he was
so impressed with this account of Hamblin that he visited his grave site
in Alpine, Arizona.
With all of Webb's editing, Lee's views still resonate in Reilly's
work. He shows Lee's Ferry in its pure historical context of federal
pressure on the Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City. Years later, Lee's
Ferry would be turned into a dude ranch and become part of the Grand
Canyon National Park. By the l970's, Reilly saw examples of appalling
pollution of the area. He was also discouraged by the National Park
Service's feeble attempt to preserve the ferry settlement. In his eyes,
Lee's Ferry had lost its soul.