Trials and Tribulations: Oak Grove Dairy
The story of the dairy at Oak Grove is characteristic of the triumphs and struggles of early settlers. It tells of community, drought, hardships, conflict, spirituality, and survivorship--all things that permeated the lives of families on the Arizona Strip.
The rough and tumble life of the early LDS settlers of Utah and Arizona lead to very little currency and an abundance of cattle. As a result, members often tithed their livestock instead of money. The church began acquiring a substantial herd of cattle and Brigham Young, a prominent leader of the Church, saw this as an ideal way to start a church-owned cattle company. This lead to the establishment of the New Canaan Stock Company in 1871. After 8 years of growth and expansion, the New Canaan Stock Company established a dairy at Oak Grove Spring in 1879.
Albert Foremaster was the first to be appointed by the church to run the Oak Grove Dairy. He and his brother Ephriam milked around 25 cows and provided milk, butter, and cheese for the surrounding communities. Florence Foremaster, Albert’s daughter, spoke of her father’s recollection of the lush pastures at Oak Grove: “Daddy said that when they first moved to Parashaunt it was like a meadow everywhere, but over-grazing has changed all that.” Indeed, the influx of sheep-grazers and cattlemen, in addition to years of drought, played a large role in the transition of the Arizona strip from plentiful grazing land to arid desert. The dairy grew to around 800 cattle, but after struggling to provide for the livestock over the years, the Canaan Stock Company sold the dairy to Benjamin F. Saunders in 1883. Saunders however, quickly realized the difficulty of owning a dairy on the Strip, and sold the dairy to the Orderville United Order (OUO). The OUO was a cooperative commercial endeavor established by the LDS church, aimed at increasing economic stability and self-sufficiency within highly organized Mormon communities. After suffering greatly in the Panic of 1837, Brigham Young wanted Mormons to reduce their reliance on the secular economy and focus their assets and time within the LDS Church to establish their own economy. Thus, the Church established the United Order Movement. Families were given a house and some land as their own, and the rest of their money, possessions, labor, and food were all shared. The OUO was one of the most successful united orders, and spread throughout Utah, and even on the Arizona Strip, including Oak Grove.
While many LDS communities eagerly began their communal lifestyles, secular leaders in the United States had other plans. In 1887, Senator George F. Edmunds and Congressman John Ralph Tucker introduced the Edmunds-Tucker Act to Congress, which sought to reduce the economic and political power of the LDS Church. The Edmunds-Tucker Act banned the practice of polygamy, disincorporated the LDS Church, and gave the government the right to auction off any church property that was not specifically linked to religious functions. In response to this, the OUO sold much of their property, including the Oak Grove Dairy, to church members who held stock in their companies. This allowed for the Church to still hold some power over their properties, while avoiding the long arm of the law. Anthony Ivins, an LDS member who purchased the Oak Grove Dairy from the Church, acquired 600 head of cattle and formed the Mojave Land and Cattle Company, and began ranching on the land. In 1895, a severe drought and a call to a mission in Mexico forced Ivins to sell his land back to Benjamin Saunders. Saunders in turn sold the land to Preston Nutter, a notorious cattle baron on the strip, and dairy farming ceased at Oak Grove.
The Arizona Strip, while often thought of as an unforgiving and desolate landscape, provided a wide variety of opportunities for the early settlers. Ranching, sheep-herding, and farming were all ways pioneers made a living in the harsh conditions. While dairy farming was not a popular trade on the Strip, it provided people luxuries such as milk, cream, cheese, and even ice cream. The rise and fall of the Oak Grove Dairy, its success and plentiful provision for the area, as well as its struggles and conflicts, only furthers the story of the experiences of early pioneers of the Arizona Strip.