George Washington Adair

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George W. Adair, his personal and family background, and his involvement in and statement about the Mountain Meadows Massacre

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George Washington Adair


Biographical Sketch

[George Washington Adair (1837-1909) should not be confused with George Washington Adair (1818-1897) of Orderville, Kane County, Utah; the father of the latter was Thomas Jefferson Adair, Sr.]

George Washington Adair was a native of rural Pickens County in western Alabama. He became an American frontiersman and pioneer of southern Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

Early Life

George W. Adair was born in 1837 to Samuel Jefferson Adair and Gemima Cathrine Mangum. His maternal grandfather, John Mangum, was a Revolutionary War soldier. Later Adair moved with the Adair clan to Mississippi, then to the Iowa and Nebraska territories en route to Utah. While living in frontier conditions on the Iowa prairie, Adair lost his grandmother, mother, and three of his siblings.

Journey to Utah

In 1846, the Adairs joined the Mormons in their temporary settlements in western Iowa and passed several years there. By 1852, they had gathered sufficient means to equip and provision an outfit for the trek west. George made the trek with his father, siblings and others relations in his extended family.

The Mormon Trail

The name of the company they joined is unknown. But they crossed the plains during the 1852 travel season, probably leaving in the late spring and traveling the plains for most of the summer. They passed the usual milestones on the trail: Fort Kearney, the South Fork of the Platte River, Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, the Sweetwater River, Independence Rock, Devil's Gate, Green River, Fort Bridger, Bear River, and Weber River. After suffering the usual hardships of overland trail they arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in late summer or early fall.

Soon they had moved south and settled in Payson to the south of Utah Lake in Utah County. They joined other southern families who had settled there.

To Washington and the Cotton Mission

The Cotton Mill in Washington County

In spring 1857, members of the Adair clan were part of a migration of southerners to southern Utah. They encamped at Adair Springs near what would become Washington in Washington County. These southerners founded the Cotton Mission in what came to be known as Utah's Dixie.

Washington appeared to have many advantages over other nearby locales. It was located near several fine springs and the Washington fields seemed to provide a lush expanse of farmland. However, appearances proved to be deceiving and soon "Dixie" was considered one of the most difficult areas to colonize. The broad fields were actually floodplains so if their dams washed out, as they did with discouraging frequency, their crops were jeopardized. Meanwhile the springs, so inviting in an arid, hot country, created marshes, the perfect habitat for mosquitos. Many of them suffered from bouts of malaria (the "fever and ague" or "chills") for many years.

The large Adair clan had familial connections with the Mangums and others who settled there. George W. Adair's father, Samuel Jefferson Adair, had married a Mangum, George's sister Mary Ann had married John Mangum, and other Adairs and Mangums would later intermarry. George Adair would have a life-long association with his cousins, John Mangum and James Mangum.

Although it eventually proved commercially unsuccessful, it did succeed in producing cotton goods for local use and export at an important stage in Utah Territory's economic development.

The Iron Military District: Private George Adair, Company I, John D. Lee's 4th Battalion, Cedar City

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In 1857, the Iron Military District consisted of four battalions led by regimental commander Col. William H. Dame. The platoons and companies in the first battalion drew on men in and around Parowan. (It had no involvement at Mountain Meadows.) Major Isaac Haight commanded the 2nd Battalion whose personnel in its many platoons and two companies came from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the north such as Fort Johnson. Major John Higbee headed the 3rd Battalion whose many platoons and two companies were drawn from Cedar City and outer-lying communities to the southwest such as Fort Hamilton. Major John D. Lee of Fort Harmony headed the 4th Battalion whose platoons and companies drew on its militia personnel from Fort Harmony, the Southerners at the newly-founded settlement in Washington, the Indian interpreters at Fort Clara, and the new settlers at Pinto.

In the summer of 1857, 20-year-old George Adair was a private in one of the Washington platoons in Company I that was attached to Major John D. Lee's 4th Battalion of the Iron County militia. Jabez Nowlin and James Pearce were also privates in the same platoon. James Pearce's father, Captain Harrison Pearce, led Company I. See A Basic Account for a full description of the massacre.

In September 1857, after the Fancher-Baker company was attacked at Mountain Meadows, John D. Lee left the Meadows to find the militiamen he was expecting to join him. He met those from Washington and Fort Clara, including George Adair, some miles to the south on Monday evening, September 7. They arrived at the Meadows around mid-day on Tuesday, the 8th. During the week while the wagon train was beseiged, Adair may have acted as a courier, carrying an express between Cedar City and the Meadows. On the day of the final massacre, September 11, Adair's exact role is no known with certainty.

In the 1859 arrest warranty issued by Judge John Cradlebaugh, "John W. Adair" is likely George W. Adair.

Family Life

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Late in 1858, Adair married Ann Catherine Chestnut. They remained in southern Utah and she bore him two children. But in 1863, during her second childbirth, she died from complications. Not able to care for the newborn, Jemima Ann, Adair allowed relatives to take the baby and raise her. In 1864, Adair married Emily Prescinda Tyler, the daughter of Mormon Battalion veteran Daniel Tyler.

The Black Hawk War, 1865-1868

In 1864, Adair accompanied the legendary Mormon scout Jacob Hamblin to quell unrest among the Paiute Indians near Harrisburg on the Virgin River. The following year, the Black Hawk War broke out. In 1866, Adair was among a militia party that recovered the bodies of two whites killed by Navajos near Pipe Springs, Arizona. They killed the Paiute Indians caught in possession of belongings of the two dead white men. However, the Navajo perpetrators escaped.

With Jacob Hamblin to the Kanab Mission

With Jacob Hamblin's permanent departure from Santa Clara, he was appointed as the president of the Indian Mission to the southeast of the Virgin River. He selected Kanab has his base and it was sometimes referred to as the Kanab Mission. In 1870, Adair joined Jacob Hamblin and others in the newly-resettled community of Kanab in Kane County. George Adair was one of Hamblin's Indian missionaries/interpreters. In 1870, George Adair was living in the fort at Kanab. One early settler recalls that the early fort had two rooms on the west and two on the north. John Mangum, James Mangum and others occupied the rooms on the west while George Adair, Jacob Hamblin and others were living in tents against the east wall.

Besides residing in Kanab, Adair resided for a time in two Mormon villages to the east of Kanab on the Paria River. The first was Pahreah and the second, farther downstream, was Adairville. Both became ghost towns in the early 1900s. Built in the flood plain of the Paria, the old town of Pahreah has been obliterated by flooding. Adairville was on the west bank of the Paria just north of the bridge crossing on modern highway 89. However, I have not been able to find any physical remains of the town.

In Jacob Hamblin's Expeditions to the Hopi Mesas

Map of the Hopi Mesas.

In fall 1871, George Adair again accompanied Jacob Hamblin, this time on one of his historic journeys across the Colorado River into northeastern Arizona. Also on this expedition were Isaac Haight, John Mangum, and others. Traveling south from Kanab, they arrived at the Colorado River and moved upstream to the Crossing of the Fathers where they left a man with provisions for the 1871 Powell expedition. After crossing they continued southeast to Hopiland.

After visiting the Hopi Mesas they continued to Ft. Defiance. Hamblin's peace negotiations the previous years had yielded an uneasy truce in the Mormon-Navajo War of 1868-70. The specific purpose of this journey was to seek indemnity (reimbursement) from the federal Indian agent for the hard bargains the Navajos had insisted on in their recent trades with Mormons at Kanab. The Hamblin party was unsuccessful in obtaining any indemnities, but they did further cement the uneasy peace.

On the return trip several Navajos accompanied them. On the Colorado at the mouth of the Paria River they encountered the second Colorado River expedition of John Wesley Powell. After ferrying men and animals across, they spent the evening with the Powell party, dancing a “war dance” with the Navajos and singing Navajo “war songs” and Mormon hymns.

Freighting for the Powell Survey Team

Through this contact, Adair, Isaac C. Haight and John Mangum became acquainted with the Powell party and impressed them with their hardiness in that forbidding wilderness. Thereafter, they hired Adair as a horse wrangler, packer and "man-of-all-trades." (Haight and John Mangum also provided services to the Powell team.)

In fall 1872, Adair brought provisions to the Powell survey team at Kanab Creek as they were starting their land survey. Adair acted as a guide and packer for the team and in 1873, he assisted the team with mapping. It was there that Adair became acquainted with western writer, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, who was accompanying the Powell survey team. Hearing Adair's accounts of what happened at the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Dellenbaugh later concluded that Adair was not one of the "real perpetrators."

Indicted for His Role in the Massacre

In the mid-1870s, George W. Adair was in Marysvale, Piute County. For reasons not fully known, Adair, who had only been a militia private in 1857, was indicted for murder along with eight other Iron County militiamen in the 1874 federal indictment stemming from the massacre. Late in 1875, Adair was arrested and held in jail in Beaver. According to John R. Young, he was offered bribes to testify against Brigham Young.

After a six month confinement, Adair along with John D. Lee and William H. Dame were admitted to bail in the respective sums of $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000. The charges against Adair were eventually dropped and he returned to his family in Kanab. But John D. Lee was tried in two separate trials, convicted in the second trial, and executed by firing squad at Mountain Meadows early in 1877, nearly twenty years after the massacre.

Move to Arizona

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In 1879, the Adairs were among those called to Arizona to establish new Mormon colonies. They moved upstream on the Little Colorado River through a series of Mormon settlements until they finally settled in Nutrioso on the flank of the White Mountains in southern Apache County, Arizona. Family lore holds that George Adair was attracted to this forested area because of the reports of abundant elk, deer and wild turkeys.

In 1880 Mormon colonist William J. Flake sold his Nutrioso land claims to Adair and others. Adair is among those credited with sharing their grain crop with settlers Joseph City on the lower Little Colorado River whose crops were destroyed when their dam failed. During times of Apache unrest in the first half of the 1880s, Nutrioso became a haven for Mormon settlers in even more exposed locales. In the early to mid-1880s, Apache unrest caused considerable insecurity in the mountain towns of Nutrioso and Alpine. The Adairs remained there for the next two decades. For a time George's father, Samuel J. Adair, lived with them. He died in 1889. During this time George Adair was regarded as the best hunter in these mountain settlements.

The usual hardships of pioneering in southern Utah -- building dams, constructing irrigation ditches, planting, harvesting, heat, drought, crop failure, and dam washouts -- all existed in the Mormon settlements in eastern Arizona, plus several additional hardships: the notorious Hashknife outfit of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company, marauding Apache Indians, the Pleasant Valley War, and the uncertainty of Mormon land titles and claims. Adair's wife Emily bore him three more children while his older children married and started families of their own.

Final Home in New Mexico

In 1900, the Adairs moved to the San Juan Valley in northwestern New Mexico. They settled near Bloomfield, east of Farmington, in San Juan County. Ira Hatch also made his final home in the San Juan Valley. Adair homesteaded 160 acres which later became the village of Hammond. The 1900 census confirms that George Adair was engaged in farming.

Later Statements about the Massacre

In 1907, Mormon leader David O. McKay interviewed Adair who disclosed some important particulars about the massacre which McKay recorded in his diary. According to Adair, John M. Higbee threatened him with a knife as a warning against ever saying a word about the massacre.

Final Years

In 1909, two years after making his last recorded statement about the massacre, Adair died at age 72 and was buried in the Hammond cemetery where he had homesteaded. He was survived by his second wife, Emily, and many children. Emily died in 1917.

The family of George Washington and Emily Prescinda Tyler Adair


Alder and Brooks, A History of Washington County, 28-29, fn. 11; Aird, Bagley and Nichols, Playing With Shadows, 180 fn. 33; Bagley, Blood of the Prophets, 120, 128, 149, 150, 157, 298, 300; Bigler and Bagley, eds., Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives, 411, 417, 422; Bradley, A History of Beaver County, 159; Bradley, A History of Kane County, 78; Bradshaw, ed., Under Dixie Sun, 235; "Diary of Almon Harris Thompson," Utah Historical Quarterly, 7/1-3 (Jan., Apr., Jul., 1939), 59, 69, 75-77, 88, 101,111-114; "Capt. Francis Marion Bishop’s Journal, 1870-1872," Utah Historical Quarterly, 15:4 (Oct. 1947), 221, 223; and other journals of the Powell expedition; Compton, A Frontier Life, 247, 339-40, 359-60, 416; Crampton, "F. S. Dellenbaugh of the Colorado," Utah Historical Quarterly, 37:2 (Spring 1869), 242-43; and "Reminiscences of John R. Young," Utah Historical Quarterly, 3 (July 1930), 85; Dellenbaugh, A Canyon Voyage, 153, 196-97, 213, 241, 250, 252-53 fn. 1; Fielding, ed., The Tribune Reports of the Trials of John D. Lee, 203, 207, 237; Gregory, "Journal of Stephen Vandiver Jones, 1871-1872," Utah Historical Quarterly, 17 (1949) fn. 94; Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Latter-day Saints, 928 (Washington Ward); Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 228, 229, 293, 379; Lee Trial transcripts; Robinson, ed., A History of Kane County, 48, 51, 54, 63, 72, 74, 100, 391, 559; Smith and Smith, George Washington Adair (1837-1909) Ancestry and Descendants: The History of a Mormon Pioneer Family; Walker, et al, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, 171, 207, 230, Appendix C, 256; Wilhelm, History of the St. Johns Stake, 96, 98; Woolley, I Would to God, 135, 149, 151, 154, 159, 190; Worster, A River Running West, 238, 253.

For full bibliographic information see Bibliography.

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