Both Harmony and New Harmony, the latter of which was built several miles upstream from the original settlement, were named for Harmony, Pennsylvania, where LDS Prophet Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, according to John W. Van Cott, author of Utah Place Names.
“The local settlers also appreciated the name because it indicated the harmony and united action the pioneers showed during their periods of trial and hardship,” Van Cott states.
Following the establishment of Parowan, Mormon apostle George A. Smith returned to Salt Lake City to appeal to church authorities for more settlers to colonize the south, according to Janet Burton Seegmiller, author of A History of Iron County; Community Above Self.
“His request at the October 1851 LDS conference resulted in approval of two new settlements, one on Coal Creek, twenty miles beyond Parowan and ten miles from the iron mountains, and a second at the junction of the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers. Three companies started south within two weeks and arrived at Parowan in early November. They were led by Peter Shirts, John A. Woolf, and Andrew Love. John D. Lee was to move from Parowan to settle on the Virgin, but he took his group only to Ash Creek, where he established Fort Harmony,” Seegmiller states.
“At Ash Creek, Lee organized a group of friends from the north including Elisha H. Graves, Charles Dalton, and William R. Davis to join him in establishing a colony on Ash Creek, to be called Harmony, just over the rim of the Great Basin where the water starts to flow south,” according to Douglas Alder and Karl Brooks, authors of A History of Washington County; From Isolation to Destination.”
Originally in Iron County when Washington County was created in March 1852, Harmony became that county’s first settlement and county seat, adds Seegmiller. In addition, Fort Harmony was the first headquarters for the LDS Church’s Southern Indian Mission.
Alder and Brooks place the date of Washington County’s creation as February 1852, and note that the Utah Territorial Legislature had designated the area south of the Great Basin and continuing to the Arizona border as Washington County even before any settlements had been started.
James G. Bleak, in his “Annals of the Southern Utah Mission,” confirms that “On the third of February the Legislative acts providing for the organization of Iron County, previously created by Act of the General Assembly of Deseret, also providing for the organization of Washington County were approved.
In the spring of 1852, 15 men, their families and team built a fort at Harmony, Bleak reported. He quotes Elder George A. Smith who wrote in the Dec. 8, 1852 issue of the Deseret News that “On the first water south of the rim of the Basin in Washington County, attached to Iron County, John D. Lee and Elisha H. Groves and Company are building a fort on Ash Creek, called Harmony. Fifteen men are capable of bearing arms: 51 loads of lumber have been taken there from Parowan, and 6 teams are constantly employed building the fort – one of the first rooms erected is intended for a school house. The point is well selected for military purposes and commands the Springs and about 160 acres of farm land on the Creek, and is surrounded by excellent grazing land for 20 miles, is 20 miles north of the Rio Virgin River, which is inaccessible to teams until a road is worked at considerable expense, but when done, will no doubt probably shorten the distance to California about 35 miles.” (Smith’s quote is found in both Bleak’s Annals and in the unpublished “The Southern Indian Mission and its Effect Upon the Settlement of Washington County,” by Juanita Brooks)
Harmony was located about 25 miles south of Cedar City near what would become U.S. Highway 91, and a few miles north of Ash Creek Bridge, according to Under the Dixie Sun; A History of Washington County By Those Who Loved their Forebears.
On March 6, 1853, John D. Lee wrote to LDS President Brigham Young describing the progress of settlement at Harmony as satisfactory.
“I have built six houses for my family, besides helping on every other building in the fort…. In the month of January in company with Peter Schurtz, I rode over to the Rio Virgin country (or Warm Valley as the Indians call it); we found the climate mild and warm.”
Later the settlers at Harmony found a better location a few miles upstream at Ash Creek, and during the summer of 1854 moved there and that fall began building the fort, calling it Fort Harmony, Under The Dixie Sun states.
“This fort became a noted rendezvous for Indians affiliated with the whites, and John D. Lee was the Indian agent, as well as the presiding elder of the settlement at the beginning,” Under the Dixie Sun states.
“The fort had double walls with a space between,” according to Sheldon “B” Grant and Kay Daun Pace Edwards, who compiled the book, The Harmony Valley – And New Harmony, Utah; History and Memories. “The outside wall was three-feet thick and the inner wall one-and-one-half feet. They surrounded an area 200 X 200 feet square. Inside the fort, houses on the east were one-story, and the walls around three sides of the fort were 10 feet high. On the west, the houses were two-story and the wall was 16 feet high. A well was dug 100 feet deep in the center of the fort to supply culinary water.”
Fort Harmony was to be the headquarters for LDS Church missionary activities, according to H. Lorenzo Reid, author of Dixie of the Desert.
“The missionaries were ‘to travel among the Indians, learn their language, teach them to work, and if possible teach them the gospel.’ These men were to scout out the country, learn the habits and customs of the Indians, cultivate friendly relations with them, and to act as ambassadors of peace,” Reid states.
However, because of a limited water supply, Fort Harmony was found to be unsatisfactory, so permanent headquarters were established in Santa Clara instead, he states.
In addition, Brooks and Alder state that while John D. Lee and his friends prime goal was to promote a place for their families, the missionaries assigned to the area felt their main goal was to devote themselves to working with the Indians.
“It did not take long for disharmony to arise in Harmony because of the conflicting goals,” they wrote. “Some became very critical of Lee’s forceful leadership, feeling that he acted arbitrarily and abused his authority.”
During the Indian War of 1853, B.H. Roberts in his Comprehensive History of the (LDS) Church, states that Harmony, consisting of eight houses, was loaded up bodily and carried to Cedar Fort (Cedar City) by 26 teams of horses.
“By adopting this vigorous defensive policy both life and property were conserved, the settlers’ crops secured , and the Indians as effectively defeated as if an aggressive, spectacular war had been urged upon them,” Roberts wrote.
By 1854, Harmony residents returned and built a new fort closer to the western mountains where they could control more water and till more land, Alder and Brooks state.
“On Jan. 4, 1856, the citizens of Washington County sent a petition, signed by 32 men -- the total male population -- asking for an autonomous county government, with the county seat at Harmony. The petition was granted and the government set up on February 7, with John D. Lee as probate judge, clerk, and assessor,” according to Juanita Brooks in her book, John Doyle Lee; Zealot, Pioneer Builder, Scapegoat.
It was from Fort Harmony that John D. Lee left in September 1857 and shortly after, participated in the Mountain Meadow Massacre near Pinto, Utah. Several children surviving the massacre were brought to Fort Harmony for temporary shelter, according to Stephen L. Carr, author of The Historical Guide to Utah Ghost Towns.
In connection with Lee’s involvement in the Mountain Meadow Massacre, it is noteworthy that on March 5, 1864, the minute book of the Fort Harmony LDS branch contains the following entry:
“Bishop Lunt was present. John D. Lee tendered his resignation as President of the Branch because of much dissatisfaction among the people toward him. Elder James H. Imlay was selected and set apart to succeed him as President. Bishop Henry Lunt set Mr. Imlay apart,” as cited by authors Morris A. and Kathryn H. Shirts, authors of A Trial Furnace; Southern Utah’s Iron Mission.
In 1859, the territorial legislature changed the county seat from Fort Harmony to Washington where most of the county’s population lived.
Meanwhile the fort at Fort Harmony survived until 1862 when it was destroyed by a devastating month-long rainstorm. After the storm, settlers decided not to rebuild, and half of them moved five miles west on Ash Creek, founding New Harmony, while the other half moved north to found Kanarraville, Carr states.
For a detailed history of New Harmony, see Sheldon Grant and Kay Daun Pace Edwards’ book, The Harmony Valley – And New Harmony, Utah; History and Memories.