It was both charming and somewhat ironic that the unintended theme which emerged from the dedication of the Bluff Fort Cooperative store was … cooperation.
In remarks given before his dedicatory prayer, Elder Marcus B. Nash, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, made the observation, “As I talked to people and thanked them for their part in creating this wonderful site, they said, ‘Oh, it’s not me — it’s these other people’.”
Indeed, it has taken the cooperation of many people to bring the Bluff Fort to this point. It began with the “intrepid” pioneers, as Elder Nash referred to them, who responded to the call by Church leaders to settle what Bob McPherson, another dedicatory speaker, referred to as “the dark corner”—a lawless “place where people could disappear”. Their assignment was to bring civilization to the area and make friends with the indigenous Navajo and Ute tribes.
In a misguided effort at contriving a shortcut, those pioneers’ intended six week journey turned into six months of hard labor, uncertainty, and deprivation. However, the spirit of cooperation prevailed and, as one of the founding fathers, Kumen Jones, recorded in his journal, when the decision to go forward with building a road through the Hole-in-the-Rock was made, “All was good cheer and hustle.”
That same spirit has prevailed as the Bluff Fort has been recreated over the past 16 years. At the dedication ceremony for the newly completed Co-op store, Corinne Roring was given a standing ovation before she even began speaking.
Local Utah Daughters of Pioneers Camp Captain, Trudy de Angelis, and UDP Utah President Maurine Smith, presented Corinne with a ring containing four large keys, representing vision, dedication, elbow grease and stickie-ta-tudy, the keys to her success in accomplishing what she has done at the fort. President Smith also gave her a pin of the state symbol for industry, the beehive, suggesting that Corinne is the “queen bee” of this particular hive of activity.
In his “Who da” (who’d have thought) history lesson on the Bluff Cooperative Store, Bob McPherson said it was a private enterprise at a time in Utah when many cooperative efforts were church-owned.
The business provided not only a store, but a bank, post office, and community hall. He said that in the first five months of operation, it returned a five percent dividend, increasing to 25 percent by the end of the first year.
Though dividends fluctuated (Bluff suffered an economic depression with the rest of the country during the panic of 1893), the co-op delivered a 40 percent return for a half-dozen years.
The co-op, with its cattle and sheep herds, were largely the reason Bluff became such a wealthy community. The co-op also provided goods to gold seekers who passed through Bluff, some eyewitnesses suggesting at the rate of 1,000 men a day. Boats for floating the San Juan River became a high-priced item the co-op built and sold.
According to 1908 military records, the co-op served 65 Ute people and 950 adult Navajos, only half of whom lived within a 90-mile radius, indicating the Natives satisfaction with the store.
When Corinne Roring decided to do what she could to restore Bluff Fort, she discovered many people who were willing to volunteer time and resources, including brothers Grant and Graig Taylor, who have been with the project from the beginning. (They are great grandsons of George Hobbs, one of the scouts who helped explore the trail from the Colorado River to Bluff).
Another key player has been Lamont Crabtree, who has worked with communities at both ends of the Hole-in-the-Rock to mark and preserve the trail. Over the years, inspired foundation board members and many very talented, selfless, and dedicated volunteers have come and gone, but because everyone has cooperated and held to a common vision, they have turned dreams into reality.
Derek B. Miller, Governor Herbert’s Chief of Staff, said, “The pioneers left us with something better than what they started with; and that is our responsibility, too, to leave the world a better place than what we found.”
Speaking of the past year’s unprecedented 40,000 visitors, (Emeritus) Bishop Keith B. McMullin said, “This is but a prelude of what is to come. People are yearning for something they cannot find at home. They are anxious to find values and a sense of community, and so they will come here. They will come to Utah and find what they are seeking, for we have it in abundance.
“The history of Bluff, and Blanding, and Monticello has not yet been written. The past has simply laid the groundwork for something in the future.”
His thoughts were echoed by Elder Nash, who said, “The miracles we have seen in the past are only prelude to what we will see in the future.”
In the dedicatory prayer, Elder Nash spoke of “this place made sacred by the sacrifices of so many” and dedicated it “as a place of peace, reflection, learning, and remembering”, where “families may be strengthened and peace and harmony abound.”