A Trial Furnace: Southern Utah’s Iron Mission
“Iron we need and iron we must have”—so said Brigham Young in 1855. Utah’s pioneers depended on it for survival. Necessities, such as nails, stoves, plows and sawmill bearings, required iron, which had to be shipped from St. Louis at great expense. Brigham Young envisioned a regional iron works that would fill the territory’s need for iron and help make it economically self-sufficient. In April 1850, Church leaders established an Iron Mission in southern Utah, where iron ore, coal and timber were plentiful. Among these first Iron County settlers were experienced iron workers from the British Isles. Between 1851 and 1858, this colony of hard-working Saints tried many smelting techniques, yielding objects such as pots, crank shafts and bells. Despite sustained, even heroic, efforts, the iron missionaries did not succeed. Nature itself worked against them. Droughts, floods and inferior raw materials challenged them at every turn. When the iron works closed its books in 1858, some of the colonists moved away. Yet the pioneers’ legacy is still visible in Parowan and Cedar City—Iron Mission townships that have survived for over 150 years. A Trial Furnace chronicles the lives of people who transcended the practical, finding in their wilderness crucible an inner strength and resilience more durable than the iron they came south to find.
Here are images of the 11 pages where Theodore Turley’s name appears in the Account Book from the Deseret Iron Company, beginning on 22 May 1858:
Summary of Deseret Iron Company
After iron ore and coal deposits were discovered in the region, Cedar City was founded. In the first years of 1851-52, they investigated whether the region had the necessary raw materials – iron ore, limestone, wood, coal, and waterpower – to support smelting on a large scale. After confirming the presence of the necessary materials and relying heavily on the British Isles immigrants who had worked in iron-related industries in Great Britain, they set to building an iron manufacturing plant. They sited the ironworks at the mouth of Coal Creek near the present location of Cedar City. They mined the coal up canyon and transported it by team and wagon to the furnace located on the stream bank below the mouth of the canyon. The iron ore was transported from nearby Iron Springs by wagon. In 1852, after a small test furnace produced a low quality pig iron, they set about building a full-scale blast furnace.
Progress was impeded, however, in 1853-54 during the Walker War. They shifted their energies from iron making to “forting up” to increase their safety. After a peace treaty was reached with the Ute chief Wakara in 1854, they returned to improving the ironworks.
By 1855, they had achieved their greatest success with a sustained run of the furnace producing several tons of pig iron. But most of the runs both before and after failed to achieve a sustained run producing good quality iron. One problem was the fickle nature of Coal Creek, which continued to alternate between flooding and droughts. They determined to develop a more dependable source of power.
Iron workers and others associated with the ill-fated iron works at what is now Cedar City, Utah, were paid on account, due to a shortage of currency in the frontier community. These ledgers list the names and occupations of the workers and the amounts credited for their services. As with many mining communities of the day, items they needed from the company store were then debited from their accounts. The mission ultimately failed due to poor weather, hostile Indians, and unforeseen manufacturing problems. (http://www.1857ironcountymilitia.com/index.php?title=Summary_of_Deseret_Iron_Company)
THE IRON MISSION
Confirming reports of the existence of extensive and easily worked iron ore deposits in the southern part of the Utah Territory, Brigham Young issued “Mission Calls” to a predetermined cadre of approximately 120 frontiersmen and iron manufacturing tradesman, mostly from the British Isles, to establish an iron manufacturing plant there. Although it was unapproved, several took wives and families along. Originally called the Iron County Mission, the name of the enterprise was shortened by common usage to the Iron Mission.
This colony, under the direction of George A. Smith, departed Provo on 15 December 1850 and after a perilous winter journey arrived at the present site of Parowan, 250 miles distant, on 13 January 1851. Here they built a small fort and began farming operations needed to support themselves during the iron-manufacturing attempt.
Charcoal made from the extensive forests of cedar (Juniperus osteosperma) at the ore site at Iron Springs, twenty miles southwest of Parowan, was planned to fuel the blast furnace that was to be erected there. The work force was to commute from Parowan in organized shifts. Upon the discovery of coal in the Little Muddy Creek (now Coal Creek) nineteen miles south of Parowan, the blast furnace location site was changed to the mouth of Coal Creek, present-day Cedar City. Coal was mined six miles up the canyon and transported by wagon to the furnace located on the banks of the stream at the canyon mouth where the water for power was accessible. It was to be coked at the mine site later. The iron ore was to be transported from Iron Springs to the blast furnace by ox-drawn wagons. Limestone for the process was also abundantly available.
A small work force, recruited from Parowan, occupied the site on 11 November 1851. It was called Fort Cedar, Cedar Fort, and finally Cedar City. Once again, farming and survival took precedence over iron manufacturing. Newly arrived European immigrants were carefully screened in Salt Lake City and those with iron-making skills were strongly encouraged to move on to Cedar City to strengthen the settlement.
A small test furnace was erected during the summer of 1852 and some poor quality iron produced 29 September of that year. A small sample was rushed by special express to Salt Lake City where it served as proof that iron manufacturing in the Great Basin was an accomplished fact.
During the next six years many furnace test runs were made, with varying degrees of success. Many unforeseen problems developed, and the pig iron produced was mainly the product of experimentation in trying to solve them. The iron works were never fully operational in any commercial sense; although, on occasion, especially in 1853 and 1855, the blast furnace was operated on a short, sustained basis. On 8 October 1858 Brigham Young advised Isaac C. Haight, the director of the Deseret Iron Company, to shut the operation down. The assets of the company were gradually liquidated, culminating in a public auction of the remaining company equipment on 20 December 1861. Although all the elements for the successful establishment of an iron-making industry were present, the project failed in its basic objective: the making of pig iron and then making useful objects from it. The need and the desire were there. The basic ingredients for the blast furnace were present–abundant iron ore, fuel, water, limestone, and sand. A cadre of frontiersmen along with skillful and experienced iron workers from Europe and the United States were involved. However, there were also a number of major reasons that probably contributed strongly to the project’s failure.
You can read the rest of this very interesting article here: