SNOWFLAKE, Ariz. — The Church's colonization of the West was built on the faith of early settlers who overcame obstacles with determination and endurance. Here, on the banks of Silver Creek in northeastern Arizona, the extraordinary faith of a group of pioneers is evident even today.
Ninety-two-year-old Lorum Stratton, a descendent of early pioneers and oldest native resident of Snowflake, understands the kind of faith that it took to establish a community here.
"These pioneers came out of Utah, some of them had nice homes, and they were asked by Brigham Young to leave all that they had to come to this barren country," he said. "There were great sacrifices made, but out of them have come good, strong families that continue to make these communities great."
One of those early settlers was William J. Flake. As a young boy, he joined the Church with his family in Mississippi and gathered with the saints in Nauvoo, Ill. From there he crossed the plains, settled in the Salt Lake Valley, and then later was sent to Beaver, Utah, to farm.
In 1873 he was asked by the Church president, Brigham Young, to survey northeastern Arizona. After seven weeks he returned with the report that there was no place suitable for settlement. Three years later President Young issued a new call, this time to return to the Arizona wilderness — not for exploration but to settle and stay in the hostile land that William Flake had earlier declared uninhabitable. The prophet's instructions were clear: "Sell all that you have that you cannot take with you. Take your family and go. Leave nothing to come back to."
Again, William Flake was thrust from the security of a productive farmland into the unknown. For the Flakes and more than 200 families following the call of their prophet the treacherous trek south into Arizona took them over canyon walls, rocky cliffs, sandy trails and the Colorado River.
Some of the early pioneers recorded that they found the area "a wild and savage land, much more so than southern Utah had been" and many of their attempts to establish settlements along the Little Colorado River failed.
Flake sought a better place to live and, in 1878, while scouting the territory, purchased a ranch owned by James Stinson along Silver Creek. The actual foundation of the town came from Apostle Erastus Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve, who was in charge of Arizona colonization.
Elder Snow and his traveling companions, Ira Hinckley (President Gordon B. Hinckley's grandfather) and Jesse N. Smith, considered Flake's location best for a town site and to it was given the name it now bears, honoring the visiting Apostle, Erastus Snow, and the founder, William Flake.
The Snowflake Memorial on Main Street, a large bronze and stone sculpture that was dedicated on July 21, 2000, by President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, portrays this meeting and honors the early settlers.
The nearby settlement of Taylor, three miles south of Snowflake and also on Silver Creek, was named in 1881 to honor President John Taylor. As more pioneers arrived, they began to tame the wild, arid land by building irrigation systems.
They also decided to not only survive here, but to thrive as well. They built a stake academy for higher education and a social hall for cultural events, thus establishing quality community traditions that carry on today.
All the while, the faithful Latter-day Saints clung to the hope that a temple would someday be built here because of their sacrifices in coming to this remote area. Their hopes were fueled by prophetic statements made by visiting Church leaders.
In the meantime, the faithful of Arizona wishing to marry in the temple would make the long trek over what became known as the "Honeymoon Trail." This meant 500 or so miles of arduous travel along the twisting and dangerous wagon trail to the St. George Temple in Utah.
In the early 1900s, there were more members of the Church living in northeastern Arizona than in the Mesa area, which was only a small settlement at the time. When talk began about building a temple for the Arizona members, there was hope it would be built in Snowflake. Instead, with prophetic vision of the growth that would occur in the Salt River Valley, it was built in Mesa.
Undaunted, the posterity of early settlers continued their legacy of faith. Snowflake Stake President Stephen Reidhead said that as this was once home to the original Eastern Arizona Stake, created in 1879, it was considered the "mother stake for the rest of the state."
That pioneer heritage continues and runs deep and today; it's hard to find someone in the area who doesn't have ancestral ties to the early settlers.
"There hasn't been a big influx of others," President Reidhead said. "We're still pioneer stock."
Arizona's only pulp and paper mill is Snowflake's largest industry; farming and ranching continue to be major activities in the area. The adjoining towns of Snowflake and Taylor have embraced their pioneer heritage and have incorporated it into their community's image. Visitors have an opportunity to learn about the past as they tour historical buildings, some of which are listed on the National Historic Registry.
These include the Stinson Pioneer Museum, located in the original adobe home that is the oldest permanent building in Snowflake, and the Main Street Chapel, which is one of the oldest LDS chapels still in use. Many Victorian-style homes and lampposts line Main Street and add a distinctive charm to downtown.
Located approximately 150 miles northeast of Phoenix, the total population hasn't increased dramatically over the years. However, those with ties to the area are many and far-reaching. More than 120 years after the first statement was made that a temple would be built here someday, the Snowflake Arizona Temple was announced April 2000.
Perched on a cedar-covered butte rising above the Snowflake/Taylor area is the new temple. President Gordon B. Hinckley handpicked the site and dedicated the temple March 3, 2002. He cited the unusual measure of faith it took the pioneers to endure many hardships and to make the area fruitful and worthy of a temple.
"That's the reason that we got the temple here," said Brother Stratton. "It's because of the faithfulness of the people of all of northern Arizona."