At the time I passed through the area, my car was the only vehicle moving along Pinto’s quiet streets. Pinto was once a popular stopping place on the Old Spanish Trail largely because of its lush meadows and clear stream of water, according to Rulon Knell, who wrote an article for Under the Dixie Sun; A History of Washington County By Those Who Loved Their Forebears.
Prior to the coming of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the main products carried along this trail were Indian slaves and animal pelts, Knell states.
John W. Van Cott, author of Utah Place Names, states that both the Utes and the Piutes occupied sites along Pinto Creek prior to 1856.
In 1854, LDS President Brigham Young called a group of missionaries to work with Indians in Southern Utah under the leadership of Rufus C. Allen. Beginning at Fort Harmony, Utah, they eventually settled Santa Clara. Then in the summer of 1855, other individuals left Harmony and settled Pine Valley, according to Under the Dixie Sun.
In the fall of 1856, between six and eight Indian missionaries camped on Pinto Creek by a hay stack owned by a Parowan resident named Mr. Gould. The missionaries included Rufus Allen, Richard Robinson, Amos Thatcher, David Tullis, and Prime Coleman, Under the Dixie Sun states.
Here, they started a town called Pinto, named for the surrounding multi-colored hills, according to Some Dreams Die; Utah’s Ghost Towns and Lost Treasures by author George A. Thompson. Van Cott also writes that Pinto may have gotten its name from a Piute Indian band, the Pintiats, who lived along the Pinto Creek, and the word “pinto” comes from an Indian name rather than from the Spanish.
In addition to these settlers, heavy freight teams enroute from Los Angeles, Calif., to Salt Lake City, Utah, would frequently camp on Pinto Creek, according to Rulon Knell.
Thompson states that several stores and shops were built in Pinto, including the Pinto Co-op, and by 1859, a church had been erected. That was also the year the Pinto LDS Branch was organized, Knell writes .
In 1857, Rufus Allen was called back to Salt Lake City and Jacob Hamblin was appointed president of the Indian Mission by Brigham Young. Hamblin appointed Richard S. Robinson to preside at Pinto, according to Knell. During the winters of 1857-58 and 1858-59, most families living at Pinto moved to Santa Clara for the winter, then returned to Pinto Creek in the spring.
The principal occupation in Pinto during those first two years was stock raising and dairying. Pinto soon became known for its cheese and butter. Grass was also plentiful for ranging cattle while farming consisted of growing grain, grass and vegetables.
In 1859, a mail run was established, leaving Cedar City, heading south through Washington, Heberville, Santa Clara, Hamblin, Pinto and back to Cedar City. Settlers continued to move into town until it was large enough to be considered a separate ward in 1867, with a population of about 100, according to Stephen Carr, author of The Historical Guide to Utah Ghost Towns.
In 1860, Pinto was organized as a precinct of Washington County. Benjamin Hulse was appointed justice of the peace, Prime T. Coleman, constable, Amos G. Thornton as pound keeper and Richard S. Robinson as road supervisor.
In 1866, the first small church house was replaced by a new rock building, Thompson states, and he notes that the historical marker at Pinto is built of stones from that building.
“By 1871, Pinto had grown into a thriving community of solid, well built homes, many two stories high and built of finished stone…But Pinto’s growth was limited. Except for the green meadow land, there was little to attract new settlers. As the children grew up, many left for more promising places. As the years passed the original settlers took their places one by one in the little cemetery on the hillside above town,” Thompson writes.
That same year, the Deseret Telegraph line was built eastward through Pinto and Hamblin to Pioche, Nevada, Carr states.
By 1916, several townspeople were farming on flat and wider land at the mouth of Pinto Creek at the edge of the Escalante Desert. A few years later, many other families moved to this area, and named it Newcastle, Carr states.
“It wasn’t long until Pinto was deserted,” Thompson adds. The Pinto LDS Ward was discontinued that same year and by 1930, only two families remained. Neither of them were Mormon.
Later, however, a few of those who had spent their childhood in Pinto returned and refurbished the old homes, chief of among them was Ronald and Virginia Knell, who made a vacation home of their great grandfather, Benjamin Knell’s Pinto residence, according to Under the Dixie Sun. The Knells spent a “small fortune in repairing and refurnishing it.”
Arthur Snow, a grandson of N.D. and Sophia Forsyth, some of the earliest Pinto residents, inherited their old home and repaired and remodeled it. Adolph Hafen of Santa Clara, before he died, purchased the farm and home of Walter Knell to secure the pasture lands for his cattle, “but his holdings have been divided among his descendents,” Under the Dixie Sun states.
The book also notes that Don Bishop of Delta, Utah, whose family lineage ties in with one of the original Pinto settlers, David Wilson Tullis, spearheaded a project to clean up the cemetery, and he also had a large metal plate placed inside the fence with the names of all the people buried in the cemetery engraved on the plate.