9 – Cedar City, UT

Episode 9: A Melting Pot of Diversity, Acceptance and knowledge with Tamra Borchardt-Slayton

Tamra Borchardt-Slayton describes a Great America that is a melting pot of diversity, acceptance and knowledge, where people actually listen to each other instead of fighting.

She is the Chairperson for the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah.

Tamra grew up in rural Enoch, Utah on a road past where the pavement ended. Although, Enoch acts as a suburb of Cedar City, it is actually its own town. Growing up, there was no gas station or store in Enoch so they would drive ten miles into Cedar City for supplies. She was one of very few minority students at her school, but loved the family and farm community she grew up in.

Link to the Paiute Tribe of Utah: https://www.utahpaiutes.org

Cedar City, Ut: The Great America of 1918-1941

Local historians in Cedar City, Utah, point to the period between the two world wars (1918-1941) as a time when the town showed its best as a community. In those years, residents came together to embrace a new economy and to save the town from collapse during the darkest years of the Great Depression.

Cedar City was founded by Mormons in 1851 as a hub for iron and coal mining in the region. It was a fairly modest community, with a population of less than 1500 at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, it remained growing and prosperous as an economic center for the region.

Expansion of nearby Mukuntuweap National Monument into Zion National Park in 1916 was seen as an opportunity by the town’s leadership. In 1919, the local chamber of commerce raised money to build an elegant hotel, El Escalante, to serve and attract tourists. Transportation would remain a problem until 1923, when the Union Pacific Railroad built a spur to the town to serve local mines and agriculture.

Tourism quickly exploded, and the hotel hosted thousands of visitors every year, including celebrities and President Warren G. Harding. The Union Pacific purchased El Escalante and ran a tour company, the Utah Parks Company, out of the hotel and adjacent depot. A vehicle fleet, first of Model T Fords, but of busses by the late 1930s, would take visitors to national parks as far away as the Grand Canyon.

Even with this new industry, the Great Depression (1929-1939) would hit Cedar City as hard as it did most other places, but resident’s willingness to come together as a community helped the town survive through the crisis. One such occasion occurred in 1931, when state regulators ordered the closure of the Bank of Southern Utah, the main financial institution in the town and the surrounding region, for not having enough cash on hand to cover its deposits. Residents raised $90,000 to re-open the bank and held a ball to celebrate its survival. This incident, and others like it, remain part of local lore as an example of Cedar City’s unique solidarity and resilience as a community.

This solidarity, however, tended not to include the local Southern Paiute tribe, who remained on the fringes of the community and the economy. Under a series of Federal and State policies intended to force assimilation of tribal people, the Southern Paiute had become landless and destitute, serving largely as laborers for local Mormon families and exploited as tourist curiosities. This state of poverty and dependence would continue for decades until the focus of Federal Indian policy moved to one of building tribal self-governance.

With the expansion of auto travel after World War Two, rail travel declined in importance, though Cedar City remained a “Gateway City” to the National Parks of Southern Utah. The town continues to embrace tourism and has dubbed itself “Festival City U.S.A.” for the numerous arts and cultural events that have located there. This was all made possible by the vision of the town’s leaders a century ago.

The rapid postwar growth of the town in the subsequent decades meant the loss of the community’s character as a scrappy small town. However, a spirit of civic pride remains from those days as the town continues to find inspiration in their forbearer’s willingness to set individual concerns aside to work together as a community.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

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