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For week ended August 15, 1999 Posted 29 Aug 1999

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Book on Lee's Ferry Reveals More Than History

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 page manuscript.

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 advantage.

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.

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