“The flat was a narrow strip of land running along the north side of the Virgin River, beginning at the present Arizona State line and extended westward to the foot hills of Mormon Mesa,” according to “A Brief History of the Settlement of Mesquite,” by Walter Hughes and Edith Knight.
The families came from Panaca (now Nevada), Pine Valley, and St. George. And by Feb. 22, 1880, and included Gabriel M. Utley, Isaac H. Burgess, Elisha Cragun, Eugene Branch, William Henry Branch, Thurston Larson, Alvin Robbins and John Hansen, who began constructing an irrigation canal.
According to Harold Hyman, who wrote “A Brief History of Mesquite, Nevada,” it was “Rugged pioneer spirit, fueled by religious zeal” that “was the driving force behind the creation of Mesquite, Nevada, in 1880.
Hyman states that the pioneers hand dug the six-mile irrigation canal from the river to their homesteaded farms.
“Everyone pitched in,” he wrote. “It took most of 1880 to dig the canal, but once it was done, and Virgin River water flowed in it, two crops were put into the ground immediately, wheat for food and cotton for clothing.
During this time, the pioneers typically ate bread with molasses and milk, supplemented by meat and fowl.
Before settlers could drink the water, they had to let it settle in barrels for 12 hours to let the mud settle to the bottom.
“Spring floods in the canal’s first year of operation caused it to rupture in 58 places,” Hyman stated. “Boulders and logs were used to shore it up and the repair work was long and back-breaking. “
“Annual flooding of the canal, coupled with the hardships and rigors of pioneer life, almost eliminated the Mesquite settlement in the first years after its founding,” Hyman adds. “Several families departed at one point or another because it took constant effort just to survive. Others became ill because they worked so long and hard, and they too were forced to leave.”
Hughes and Knight stated “that first winter several frame houses were constructed from materials freighted from Pine Valley.”
Quoting from the April 9, 1882 diary entry of Brother Myron Abbott, who lived in Bunkerville, Abbott said, “Brother Woodbury, Farnsworth and McAllister preached to us and gave us much good instructions and blessed the people. Then they went to Mesquite and preached there. Many of us went there to the meeting. The wind blew very hard and almost blinded us.”
“Because many had departed, the LDS Mesquite Ward reverted in 1891 to the nearby Bunkerville Ward,” Hyman reported
Author James W. Hulse, in his book, The Silver State; Nevada’s Heritage Reinterpreted, noted that “The lands of Mesquite did not become the site of a successful town until the 1880s, and even a century later, these communities (of Mesquite and Bunkerville) were occasionally victims of flash floods on the tiny, but turbulent river called the Virgin.”
He quotes Southern Utah historian Andrew Karl Larson as using the term “lonely villages” to describe these “outposts of Zion,” since they were very remote from Nevada’s capital of Carson City in northwestern Nevada.
After the land lay idle for two years, Bunkerville resident Dudley Leavitt and his five wives and 51 children moved onto the flats, according to Elbert B. Edwards, author of 200 Years in Nevada; A Story of People who opened, explored and developed the land.”
But after four years of fighting floods and malaria, Leavitt was also forced to give up “and the fertile lands again reverted to brush and weeds.”
“Then five newly married couples moved to Mesquite from Bunkerville and staked out their farms,” Hyman stated. “Soon more followed. At about the same time the townsite and farm areas were accurately surveyed and individual farms were fenced with cattle wire.”
Eventually, Mesquite became more stable and began to grow. “In 1897, a large tent was erected as a permanent structure for education and worship services. Three years later, the first rough pine and wood frame building was constructed and the tent was taken down,” according to Hyman.
In 1898, the town changed its name from Mesquite Flats to Mesquite, according to the City of Mesquite’s website.
“In 1910, a larger communal building was constructed,” and “…water problems cleared up with the discovery of fresh springs in the area.”
“Many of Mesquite’s 1,400 residents in 1986 were direct descendants of the town’s founding citizens,” Hyman adds. At that time, he noted that “many were still farming grain crops and dairy products.”
Today, this border city of over 17,000 (the latest demographic data provided by the city’s website), has become a popular tourist stop as well as a recreation and gaming destination center.