The fort was built by early pioneers to protect cattle in Warner Valley along the Fort Pearce Wash in the fall of 1866, according to H. Lorenzo Reid, author of Dixie of the Desert.
The fort stands on a hillside overlooking the Fort Pearce Wash and it was named for Capt. John D.L. Pearce who commanded military forces during the Black Hawk War.
Beginning in 1861, about the same time St. George was settled, residents began bringing their livestock to the reliable springs of Fort Pearce Wash after the area was chosen by Angus M. Cannon and William Carter, according to the book, Under the Dixie Sun.
Near the fort and within the Wash was built a large corral, where the stock could be driven if necessary, adds Reid.
“Men stationed within the Fort could, and did, protect the cattle within the corral, and on the near-by range,” Reid stated. “Both horses and cattle, running loose, along the Rio Virgin were stolen, and in consequence orders were issued by Apostle Erastus Snow, that livestock along the Virgin be gathered together and herded under armed guards. Herd-houses were built that the stock might be better protected.”
A Bureau of Land Management pamphlet also notes that the springs provided water to herds that grazed Warner Valley and the surrounding area for about four years, until conflicts with the Indians brought new hazards to the herders and to the St. George and Washington communities.
The first European explorers to arrive in this area was the Dominguez-Escalante party who passed through the area in 1776.
While the natives were friendly with the Spanish fathers, the pioneers nearly 100 years later were not so lucky.
The Black Hawk War of 1865 to 1869 between the Utes and the Mormons, along with Navajo raids in the Dixie communities, forced white settlers to consider stronger means of protection.
While the Navajo Indians used the springs to replenish their water supplies, the Fort Pearce site may also have been used as a staging area for their attacks on the nearby settlements, states the BLM pamphlet.
Residents decided a fort needed to be built near the springs to protect the herders and their water sources as well as deny this strategic spot to the Indians.
On Dec. 4, 1866 work on the fort began, according to Washington resident Charles L. Walker’s diary. Frederick Foremaster, a master stonemason who emigrated from Prussia, was in charge of the operation. Foremaster joined the LDS Church in Iowa, moved to Salt Lake City and then became one of the early settlers of St. George.
Walker’s Dec. 6, 1866 diary entry states, “Today the boys start across the Virgin to built a guard post some 16 miles from here south.”
Walker again refers to Fort Pearce in his diary under the dates of Dec. 20 to Dec. 24, 1869, states Andrew Karl Larson’s book, Red Hills of November.
“Fort Pearce was intended to be only a way station where travelers could defend themselves from Indians,” according to George A. Thompson, author of Some Dreams Die; Utah’s Ghost Towns and Lost Treasures.
Workmen hauling timber and stone used in construction of the Mormon temple at St. George often sought refuge there, Thompson states.
Long after the Indian conflicts were over, the corral was used to keep cattle from straying downstream into the cultivated fields of St. George and Washington, according to the BLM pamphlet.
While the fort provided shelter to the herders, the springs below the fort have continued to provide water to livestock, outliving the usefulness of both the fort and the old rock corral.
On March 5, 1970, Fort Pearce was placed on the Utah Register of Historic Sites. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 20, 1975.
The site is located a few miles south east of Washington City, Utah at the southern end of Warner Valley.