The histories of Boulder and Escalante are stories of incredible strength and perseverance.
The rugged nature of the area and it's extreme isolation still make life here challenging as well as rewarding. To consider making a life for yourself in such a remote and desolate place, over a hundred and thirty years ago, gives credit to the incredible faith carried by those early pioneers and settlers.
Escalante valley, or Potato Valley as it was once named, is home to both towns. The first recorded visit was in 1866 when Mormon scouts were dispatched to look for Black Hawk, a Ute Indian Chief believed to be crossing the Colorado River at some unknown point in the area. Subsequent passage through the valley was primarily done by miners, trappers and survey teams mapping the last great wilderness in the US.
The first actual settlers entered Escalante on June 28, 1875. They were men from Panguitch, looking to begin building a life in this more favorable land. With considerable effort, they brought two wagons (Escalante's first) over the summit and into the valley and by June 29th had arrived at the current site of Escalante.
While work was being done on irrigation ditches and improving the road over the mountain, the valley was being surveyed and divided into 20-acre parcels for farming and individual city lots for the development of the town. That winter the valley was briefly vacated while the men went to gather up family and belongings to bring to the new home sites.
The following spring, March of 1876, William Alvey returned to permanently settle and built Escalante’s first home/cellar. This gave much relief to the women and children during the frequent storms that year and provided a perfect space for choir practice.
On July 23rd of the same year, a lumber shanty was hastily constructed to be used for a public dinner and celebration of the July 24th Mormon Holiday called “Pioneer Days” (marking their arrival to Salt Lake Valley). The actions of these hardy pioneers who worked to create a better life for themselves and families were the humble beginnings of our still vibrant and healthy community.
the town of boulder
The town of Boulder was tied directly to the earlier mentioned explorations and surveys of the region. However actual settlement of this area would take another 13 years due to its surrounding physical barriers. In 1879, two ranchers from Wayne County (north of Boulder) who had been seeking “greener pastures” found themselves on the grassy hills and slopes of Boulder Mountain. This virgin range was ideal, and in no time, thousands of cattle and sheep were temporarily spending their summers on the mountain.
Between 1889 and 1891 permanent settlement of the Boulder had begun.Ranches and dairies began to spring up along the creeks and natural pastures of the area. In 1896, there were enough families living here that a school was erected and a full-time teacher from Escalante was employed. In 1901, a sawmill and molasses mill were up and running, providing the community with much-needed cut lumber…and some sweets! An official pack mule “mail trail” route from Escalante was established in 1906, remaining the primary means of mail delivery for Boulder until 1935. This was the year the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) completed the scenic 45 mile long Hell’s Backbone Road, bringing Boulder its first vehicle access. Soon vehicles replaced the mules and the “mail trail’, thus ending the last mail delivery by mule in the United States.
Both towns ultimately settled into the familiar country lifestyle of ranching, farming and creating the necessities of life out of available resources. Many, if not most of the people living here are of direct lineage to those hardy pioneers that settled the both towns. The names on the roster from the first town meeting of 1876 would not look that different from ones you would find today. There is a real sense of community here and local folks are proud to say this is their home. And there has been a strong commitment to restore and preserve many of the original buildings in the town. Take the time to look over the old barns and historic brick homes that fill the back street and pastures of our valley. It’s like stepping into a living Western museum.