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Cedar City History, Utah

Before Cedar City was settled in 1851 by Mormon pioneers, it was the site of some interesting historical highlights.  For instance, rock art dating from 1000 A.D. can be found in the area.  Those who painted this rock art may be the ancestors of the modern-day Paiute Indians.  Jedediah Smith also passed through in 1826 while searching for a path from Utah to California. 

Cedar City is also not the first city in the area despite the fact that it is now the largest in Iron County.  Thirty-five men arrived in the area of the city on November 11, 1851 from a neighboring town called Parowan, which is about 20 miles away.  The purpose was to settle in the area and start iron works.  The site for the new settlement was just north of Little Muddy, now called Coal Creek.

Before leaving Parowan, the leader of the group, Henry Lunt, organized the men into two different militia companies.  One was a foot company and the other was a cavalry company.  They were accompanied by wagons with supplies.  When they arrived, the wagons were overturned and used as temporary shelters while small log houses were built out of cottonwood.  These houses were built like forts at the base of a hill.  At this time, the settlement was named Fort Cedar due to the number of cedar (or juniper) trees in the area. 

Once the log homes were completed, the families of the men were brought from Parowan and Cedar Fort became an official settlement.  For protection, the over-turned wagon boxes became a temporary fort.  Plans for a real fort proved obsolete after the site proved to give Native Americans in the area tactical advantage.  Also, the quick growth of the town would have made the fort too small.  A new site was chosen and in July 1853, the Walker Indian War forced a quick evacuation of the old fort site to the new one. 

By January 1854, the settlement was enclosed with a protective wall.  However, a year and a half later the settlement had to be moved because the original area north of the creek was found to be a flood plain.  This new site, which was closer to the blast furnace for the iron mine, is the site of present-day Cedar City.

Although iron mining in the area continued into the 1980’s, around 1858 the town’s economy began to be based on agriculture.  Another boost came in 1923 with the introduction of the railroad.  This brought carloads of tourists to the neighboring national parks and provided Cedar City with the nickname: “Gateway to the Parks.”

The man who came to be known as Butch Cassidy was born somewhere in the area in 1866 and Southwest Utah became a popular hideout for him and his gang.  The famous outlaw may be buried in an unmarked grave in a nearby community.

In 1897, a branch of what is today the University of Utah was opened up in the town with 7,000 students.  The building of the school came at great cost and sacrifice to the proud city residents who had to trudge through the snow and climb the nearby mountains in order to get the required lumber.  An “Old Sorrell” horse ended up being their hero by “plowing” paths through the snow for them. 

In 1913, the school became associated with the Utah State Agricultural College of Logan.  Over 50 years later, it was turned into a four-year liberal arts college mainly for educating teachers.  Finally, on New Year’s Day in 1991, it was named Southern Utah University and given university status.

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