Daniel W. Jones and the Beginnings of Latter-day Saint Settlement in Arizona

Christopher C. Jones, “Daniel W. Jones and the Beginnings of Latter-day Saint Settlement in Arizona,” Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium 2007 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2007), 1–10.

Daniel W. Jones and the Beginnings of Latter-day Saint Settlement in Arizona

Christopher C. Jones

Daniel Webster Jones, nineteenth-century missionary and settler of Mesa, Arizona, has long held “the honor of leading Mormon pioneering in south-central Arizona.”[1] After traveling through the area that today makes up Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, and Gilbert en route to a mission in Mexico, Jones recommended to Brigham Young settling the Arizona area. Jones later recalled that “there had been attempts made to explore the southern country that had practically failed. President Young had expressed confidence in my ability to make the trip and so I felt determined to do my best.”[2] Daniel W. Jones saw a different Arizona than his contemporaries. Instead of the vast uninhabitable desert they described, he saw a potential thriving community and home for Latter-day Saints.

Jones’s success as a colonizer has received passing attention at best from Latter-day Saint, Arizonan, and American historians. Little has been done addressing why he was able to accomplish what he did in settling so much of Arizona. Historians seem to agree that he was a unique man but never seem to expand much beyond that. They casually note his repeated run-ins and arguments with fellow colonizers, his friendship with the Native Americans, and his success as a colonizer, but they give no conclusions as to why he achieved this success.[3] My initial research led to three conclusions, and a more in-depth analysis substantiated and expanded those conclusions. First, Jones held an advantage over other Latter-day Saint settlers in that he was familiar with the area being settled. Second, his self-admitted stubbornness and determination were ideal for the trials that accompanied colonizing the arid desert of Arizona. Lastly, Jones utilized his relationship with the Native Americans to help settle the Salt River Valley.

A brief historical analysis of Mormon colonization efforts, as well as of Jones’s background, is critical to understanding the significance of what he accomplished. Beginning in the 1860s and continuing to the end of his life in 1877, Brigham Young, President of the Church and ambitious colonizer of the American West, called and sent many families to settle much of the intermountain West. Some five hundred communities were organized by the Latter-day Saints in Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, California, Canada, and Mexico. By 1877, the Latter-day Saints had built up many settlements and populated much of the western United States territory.[4] These settlements were to be the outlying communities—with the Salt Lake Valley as the center point—of Young’s proposed state of Deseret.[5]

Some of these colonizing efforts were successful, while others met with failure. Early Latter-day Saint efforts to settle in the Arizona and northern Mexico region were met with little, if any, success. But in 1874, Daniel W. Jones, a rough and stubborn convert to the Church, was called by the persistent Brigham Young to head up a mission to Mexico. Jones and his small company were the first missionaries sent to Mexico.[6] Rather than traveling west to California, down the coast by steamer, and then inland to Mexico City by foot or horseback—the typical and most sensible route—Brigham Young directed Jones and his fellow missionaries to go by horseback through Arizona. At least one reason for such a request was to look for suitable areas to settle along the way.[7] When the expedition finally set out in September of 1875, the majority of the Arizona territory was foreign to the Saints, and despite previous parties’ attempts to settle what proved to be the most promising area, “the valley of Salt River was not known even to Brigham Young.”[8] One of the previous expeditions had been led by Brother McMaster. The expedition’s group consisted of several hundred persons with teams of horses and cattle. This group had gone some forty-five miles past the Little Colorado River but had run out of water in the unforgiving heat of late summer in Arizona—even the Little Colorado was completely dry. Brother McMaster, a man of faith and courage, petitioned God for help—specifically to provide water. Rain and even a little snow soon followed, and the group filled their barrels, fed their cattle, and headed back to Salt Lake, grateful for the miracle they had experienced. Upon arrival, they reported the area uninhabitable. Jones reported that the day this story was told to Brigham Young, “I was sitting near by and just in front of Brother Brigham. . . . He said nothing for a few moments, but sat looking me straight in the eye. Finally he asked, ‘What do you think of that Brother Jones?’ I answered, ‘I would have filled up, went on, and prayed again.’ Brother Brigham replied putting his hand upon me, ‘This is the man that shall take charge of the next trip to Arizona.’”[9]

Jones was raised on the American frontier. Orphaned at the age of eleven, he found company and acceptance among a wild crowd in a wild country—a country where there was “no law but the knife and pistol.”[10] Jones was a veteran of the 1847 Mexican War, remaining in Mexico three years after the war. During this time, he became familiar with the American West, especially Arizona, New Mexico, and California. In the latter part of 1850, he started for California from Santa Fe, but along the way he was injured after he accidentally shot himself in the groin. After being talked out of his initial desire to finish the job, he traveled a short distance to Provo Valley, where the Saints nursed him back to health. After studying the faith, he joined the Church in January of 1851,[11] later married a member, and became involved in many important activities and adventures, establishing a reputation as “a sturdy character, strong in the faith.”[12] Jones claimed to have always had a special affection toward the Native Americans and seems to have been successful in gaining their trust and retaining it throughout his life. Latter-day Saint theology strengthened his feelings for the Native Americans, and he dedicated himself to working with the “Lamanites”—the name given to the Native Americans in the Book of Mormon. All of this personal history is crucial to understanding why Jones was the way he was and why he was successful in his colonization efforts where so many had failed before him.

First among the reasons Jones was successful is that he had a knowledge of the culture and customs of the people of the Southwest. During the years immediately following the Latter-day Saints’ initial exodus west, thousands of Saints migrated to the Mormon “Zion” in the Great Basin. Initially, these converts came from the eastern States, British Canada, and the British Isles, but soon thousands joined the Church in Scandinavia, Germany, and Switzerland, as well as France, Italy, and other nations. They migrated to the Rocky Mountains and were equipped with many skills and occupational backgrounds—ranging from dairy farmers and fishermen to miners and mechanics. It is estimated that over one-quarter of all immigrants were common laborers.[13]

Jones was unique from these pioneers in that he had been raised on the Missouri frontier and spent much of his adulthood as a rancher in Texas and Mexico. Previous settlers sent to the Southwest were discouraged at the prospect of trying to farm and build in the middle of the desert.[14] The climate, culture, and conditions of the area simply were foreign to those who had earlier been sent to Arizona. Jones, in contrast, knew what to expect when he traveled to Arizona. Even so, upon first entering the Salt River Valley, he was pleasantly surprised to find that the valley, which before was described as “a dry, barren, rocky and sandy desert,”[15] was a region with “fertile looking soil and miles of level plain.”[16] More important, his service in the Mexican War had taught him how to live in these types of conditions. He commented, “I have always been able to go over country successfully with a common outfit, while I have heard of others, much better fitted up, failing.”[17] In addition to being able to navigate and travel the terrain successfully, Jones read and spoke Spanish and was able to converse in several Indian dialects common to the Southwest.[18] He used these skills wisely, making friends with many Mexicans and Native Americans in Arizona. They later assisted him in the building of his community.[19] All of this gave Jones an advantage over those who had preceded him in colonization efforts in Arizona.

The second conclusion drawn concerning Jones’s success deals with his personality. Like many of his contemporaries, Jones was a determined and persistent individual. However, he was also stubborn, sometimes to a fault. He acknowledged that he knew he “was looked upon as rebellious”[20] and admitted that “one fault I have always had, and with all my experience in life it still hangs to me, that is, anything that is clear to my understanding to be right I naturally think others ought to see the same. It was so on this trip [to Arizona]. I naturally thought every man understood as well as I did the importance of taking care of our outfit.”[21] On his return trip from his mission in Mexico, he related of his company the following story:

On the way I noticed a disposition to treat me rather coolly, many times being snubbed when offering some information about our trip. I could not understand this very well at the time. . . . I learned, afterwards, that reports had been circulated to the effect that I was tyrannical and unjust, and these statements, doubtless, had their influence upon my friends. Nothing was said to me on the road about these reports, but I could see that something was ‘out of joint’ from the treatment I received, which could not be particularly defined, but just such as would indicate indifference to me. Finally, it became so disagreeable that I concluded to travel alone; so I came on the last two days without a bite to eat, rather than be subject to the annoyances in the company with which I was then traveling.[22]

Most of his party became disaffected and either returned home or ventured out on their own to try things their way. But even in the face of opposition and what he felt was unfair treatment by those he considered friends, Jones remained confident. He found solace in the fact that he had Brigham Young’s trust, saying, “Brother Young was a true friend to me and understood my disposition. He never allowed anyone to speak against me; he knew my faults, also some of my virtues. One that he always appreciated was my stubbornness; when I started on a trip, I had always stuck to it. I said nothing to him about my annoyances. Brother Brigham expressed himself well satisfied with the results of our trip; said it was an opening for a greater work.”[23]

This “greater work” was, at least in part, Jones’s call in 1877 to return to Arizona to settle permanently. However, when negative attitudes persisted, Jones reconsidered accepting the call to lead the expedition. He was determined, though, to remain part of the mission. He approached Brigham about his proposal, telling him he thought it would be wise not to put him in charge of the company. However, Brigham had no intention of listening to him. His mind was made up—Jones was the man for the job. Jones, still unsure, approached Wilford Woodruff, Apostle and good friend of President Young, and asked him to help convince the prophet not to put him in charge. Woodruff’s attempts were as unsuccessful as Jones’s. Brigham finally convinced Jones to go, telling him “that an angel could not please everybody.” He then added, “You know how to travel, how to take care of teams. You are better acquainted with the roads, the country, the natives and their language, and are better prepared to take charge of a company than any one I know of. Go ahead and do the best you can. When you get things started we can send some ‘good’ man to take your place, and you can go on and open up more new country. This is your mission.”[24]

Brother Brigham requested Jones to take a number of families with him on this mission. Jones, hoping to surround himself with men who thought as he did, asked for “men with large families and small means, so that when we get there they will be too poor to come back, and we will have to stay.” Brigham laughed and agreed that “it was a good idea.”[25] Jones refused to quit until the job was finished. This cost him friends and fellow settlers but ultimately gained him the trust of the leaders of the Church. The added confidence that came from such trust, combined with his stubbornness, were important traits that aided Jones in establishing his desert valley community.

As much as his knowledge of the land and his stubborn confidence proved beneficial to Jones, perhaps what ultimately helped him the most was his uncommonly good relationship with the Native Americans. Despite typically initial bad impressions of the Native Americans, Jones later learned that most of them sought friendship. Upon learning of the Book of Mormon and its teachings concerning the Lamanites, Jones decidedly devoted his life to teaching them. He wanted “to see them taught and helped out of their degraded condition,” and he lived by the principle that “if one treats them so as to get their real friendship, they are not apt to harm him.”[26] He lived by this motto throughout his life, learning the languages of his Native American neighbors, gaining their trust, and enjoying their friendships. Not all Mormon settlers followed this same course of action, despite Brigham Young’s repeated counsel to “form such connections and ties among [the Native Americans] as can never be broken off.”[27] Jones immediately gained the friendship of people from many tribes and established good ties with them. They agreed to help with the building of the community, and some even asked to live among Jones and the Saints. Jones reacted with excitement to this idea, seeing potential benefits for both church members and Native Americans. He felt like the Native Americans were honest hard workers and assumed his fellow colonizers would see things the same way. Instead, he learned the falsity of his assumption, “for on making this desire of the Indians known to the company many objected, some saying that they did not want their families brought into association with these dirty Indians. So little interest was manifested by the company that I made the mistake of jumping at the conclusion that I would have to go ahead whether I was backed up or not. . . . The spirit manifested to the company showing a preference to the natives, naturally created a prejudice against me. Soon dissatisfaction commenced to show.”[28]

Most of the company left immediately, and the four families left did not stay much longer and turned more bitter toward Jones than the original deserters. Jones stuck to his convictions and later wrote that “no doubt but they felt justified in their own feelings, and, as I am writing my own history and not theirs, I will allow them the same privilege. It was not long until it became manifest that I would have to either give up the Indians or lose my standing with the white brethren. I chose the natives.”[29]

That decision produced Jones’s intended result, and the Native Americans were invaluable in helping Jones complete his layout of the town that was originally called Jonesville. The Native Americans were utilized in building this city in the desert. They assisted in building homes and buildings in the young community as well as the Utah Canal, which carried water to the settlement. Daniel Jones, left virtually alone, could not have succeeded without the assistance and work of his Native American friends.[30]

Daniel W. Jones’s legacy as settler of the Southwest has never been in question, yet why he was successful seems to have eluded us. Jones’s characteristic stubbornness and background were the foundation of his success in settling a region where so many others had failed and given up. Foremost to his success, though, was his relationship and devotion to the Native Americans. His settlement, established through perseverance and wise use of resources, grew from Jonesville into Lehi, and from Lehi combined with other settlements to form Mesa, which stands today as one of the largest cities in Arizona.[31] Daniel Jones was a man almost perfectly suited for the time period in which he lived, for the culture in which he thrived, and for the responsibilities placed at his feet.


[1] James H. McClintock, Mormon Settlement in Arizona (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1985), 197.

[2] Daniel W. Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians: A True Yet Thrilling Narrative of the Author’s Experiences Among the Natives (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1890), 305.

[3] See McClintock, Mormon Settlement in Arizona; William Henry Robinson, The Story of Arizona (Phoenix: The Berryhill Company, 1919); Charles S. Peterson, Take Up Your Mission: Mormon Colonizing Along the Little Colorado River, 1871–1900 (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1973); F. LaMond Tullis, “Early Mormon Exploration and Missionary Activities in Mexico,” BYU Studies 22, no. 3 (1982): 289–310.

[4] Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 460–61.

[5] Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 108.

[6] Blaine C. Hardy, “The Mormon Colonies of Northern Mexico: A History, 1885–1912” (PhD diss., Wayne State University, 1963), 32–34.

[7] Tullis, “Early Mormon Exploration and Missionary Activities in Mexico,” 289.

[8] Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 243.

[9] Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 235.

[10] Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 19. For a more complete account of Jones’s early years, see pages 1–20.

[11] F. LaMond Tullis, Mormons in Mexico: The Dynamics of Faith and Culture (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1987).

[12] McClintock, Mormon Settlement in Arizona, 197. Jones was an integral part of the now-infamous rescue party of the stranded Mormon “handcart” pioneers in the winter of 1856. See Forty Years Among the Indians, 62–85 for Jones’s account of the mission to rescue the handcart companies. He also participated in the Utah War and, as previously mentioned, was among the first Mormon missionaries to preach in Mexico.

[13] See Smith, Essentials in Church History, 461.

[14] See William Henry Solomon Diary entries, in Register of The Records of Mormon Settlement in Arizona (Salt Lake City: Special Collections Department, University of Utah Libraries, 1974), 149–51. Solomon recorded in 1873, “There is only a few acres that can be cultivated so there is no prospect of settling here. . . . About half the teams which have been down to the Little Colorado have returned, their report is that it is impossible to get a country from here in which we could settle without coming back again, there being no food or water. . . . I have no desire to again cross the Colorado” (149).

[15] William Henry Solomon Diary entries, in Register of The Records of Mormon Settlement in Arizona, 149.

[16] Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 243.

[17] Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 301.

[18] See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 2. Jones’s mastery of the Spanish language is evidenced by Brigham Young asking him to translate selections of the Book of Mormon into Spanish, to be published and used by missionaries sent to Mexico. His ability to speak different Indian dialects was constantly an asset during his colonizing and preaching in Arizona. See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 189–94, 202–3, 245–47.

[19] See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 313.

[20] See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 347.

[21] See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 305.

[22] See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 301–2.

[23] See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 303.

[24] See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 306.

[25] See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 304.

[26] See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 54.

[27] Brigham Young, letter to Thomas S. Smith and brethren of the Bannock and Flathead Mission, 12 September 1855, as cited in Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 219. Brigham further explained, “Why should men have a disposition to kill a destitute, naked Indian, who may steal a shirt, or a horse and think it no harm, when they never think of meting out a like retribution to a white man who steals, although he has been taught better from infancy?” (Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, 210).

[28] Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 313.

[29] See Jones, Forty Years Among the Indians, 314.

[30] See Tullis, Mormons in Mexico, 17. As could be expected, dissatisfaction increased among his fellow Mormons. Jones’s typically stubborn reaction to his brethren were sharp enough that on two separate occasions later in his life, others sought to divest him of his Church membership based on his choosing the Indians over the Mormons. Only the interjection of Brigham Young saved him from losing his membership both times.

[31] Larry Dean Simkins, “The Rise of the Southeastern Salt River Valley: Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, 1871–1920” (PhD diss., Arizona State University, 1989), 151–55.