George A. Adams
Monticello’s first mayor had a hand in many enterprises
GIANTS OF SAN JUAN
by Buckley Jensen
Fifty-two years ago, in 1955, a granite slab was placed on the front lawn of the Courthouse in Monticello. It was placed there to remind those who came later who came first. The inscription begins: “March 12, 1887 Frederick I. Jones, Parley R. Butt, Charles E. Walton and George A. Adams came here to start the LDS Blue Mountain Mission…”
As two of the eight founding pioneers of Monticello, George and Evelyn Adams lived the rest of their lives in the town they helped create and made major contributions as leaders in the community.
George was born December 4, 1864 in Paragonah, UT, where he grew to manhood. He was the son of William Adams and Mary Barbara Bolanz. Evelyn was born December 17, 1866 to Lars Mortensen and Cornelia Decker.
In 1882, William Adams received a church call and moved to Bluff to assist in the settlement of southeast Utah. George and his brothers arrived in Bluff with their father. George had fallen in love with a willowy girl back in Parowan and she had promised to wait until he returned to marry her.
Sometimes mail took weeks to get to Bluff. It was a rough courtship with the young lovers sometimes going months without hearing from each other. In 1885 George returned to Parowan and married Nancy Evelyn Mortensen in the St. George Temple. He returned to Bluff by an easier route than the old Hole-in-the-Rock road. They rode the train to Thompson Springs and then came by horse and buggy 176 miles over very rough roads.
At Moab, the tiny boat which ferried them across the swollen Colorado River nearly capsized, and Evelyn had a life-long fear of rivers for the rest of her life.
One year later, George and Evelyn were called to establish a settlement at the base of the Abajo Mountains 45 miles north of Bluff. With an infant daughter (Cornelia) they pulled up stakes and settled in Verdure and from there George and Evelyn pioneered Monticello.
George cleared land south of Monticello and was a successful farmer. He maintained a large dairy herd and made cheese, which he shipped to Colorado to sell. Evelyn became the mother of eleven children.
In l903 George was called on a full-time LDS mission to the Southern States. He left Evelyn and seven small children to look after the farm and the dairy cows that had to be milked twice a day and grazed in the mountains in the summer. Adams kept a detailed journal of his mission experience. Reading that journal has become a life changing experience for many of his posterity.
It took weeks, sometimes months. to send or receive mail from Georgia at the turn of the century. If anything tragic happened at home, or in the mission field, the victim would be long in the grave before loved ones were even aware of the incident. How that weighed on George as he would lie awake at night and wonder how his wife was doing taking care of seven children as well as all of his responsibilities. It made him more determined that his absence from home would not be in vain.
On the other hand, imagine how Evelyn felt. She knew that Mormon missionaries in the South at that time were generally considered human vermin. She had cause to worry. George was tarred and feathered, “run out of town on a rail” and had his life threatened on several occasions. Nevertheless, he persevered and finished his mission as one of the mission leaders.
George came back to Monticello and went on to become one of the most successful men in the area. Besides his farming and cattle operations, he was Monticello’s first mayor, president of the Monticello State Bank, president of the Blue Mountain Irrigation Co., and president of the Monticello Cooperative companies.
He was a County Commissioner, Justice of the Peace, Assessor, member of the School Board and Superintendent of Schools. He served one term in the Utah State Legislature. He also acted as County Attorney. In that capacity he was instrumental in the “outlawing” of outlaws, even though when caught, offenders had to be taken to Beaver, 300 miles away, for trial.
In his church work he was the Presiding Elder at Verdure, Bishop of the Monticello Ward, a member of the High Counsel, and a counselor to Stake President L. H. Redd for many years in the San Juan Stake.
In 1912, he built the large two-story home which today stands at the corner of Main Street and Second South in Monticello (across the street west from the Post Office). His son Donald and daughter-in-law Dorothy lived in the home until they both passed away. Grand-daughter Sue Adams Halliday owns the home today.
By virtue of the location of their home, and the kind of people they were, the Adams’ residence became Monticello’s defacto hotel and boarding house for many years until commercial establishments became available.
Oldest daughter Cornelia remembers “there was almost never a meal that the family ate without guests. Whether Indian, White, friend or foe, all in need of a meal and a place to sleep were treated alike.”
Evelyn became known across the territory as a kind-hearted person who would never turn anyone away. She was immortalized in Fred Keller’s now famous “Blue Mountain Song” as “Ev on the old Chuckline” and was known as one of the best cooks in the territory.
Ned Jensen, a grandson, loved talking about going to Grandpa and Grandma Adam’s house for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with his cousins. Having eleven of their own children, it was a good thing the Adams home was a large one. On holidays, birthdays and other special events, Evelyn’s home always smelled of honey-glazed hams, beef roasts, apple and pumpkin pies and all the trimmings. Evelyn was an immaculate housekeeper, but on holidays she let her grandchildren have the run of the house. They loved her for it.
Evelyn was called to be the San Juan Stake Primary President; a position she held for 30 years. In those days the San Juan Stake extended into northern New Mexico and western Colorado. It took three weeks by horse and buggy to visit the entire stake. They would visit every branch and ward of the church.
George was getting along in years when automobiles came to San Juan. He reputedly drove a car the way cowboys drove wild horses. As far as George was concerned there was no flooded stream or muddy bog he could not negotiate with a fine automobile.
Of the many funny stories told about George, this is my favorite. It was told to me by Francis Barton, a local resident, in 2005.
“One night in about 1932 there came a knock at my parents home in Verdure. There stood George Adams asking for help to get his car unstuck. I volunteered to lend a hand. I walked with George to where the car was stuck. Actually, it was high centered. It was dark, but I could see a cow under the car.
“‘George, didn’t you see that cow before you ran over it?’ I asked. ‘What cow?’ he snorted. “The one your car is on top of,” I said. George knelt down and looked under the car and seemed thunderstruck. ‘Well, I’ll be damned…’ he muttered. ‘I didn’t see any cow.’”
George had little formal education himself. He was determined that his children would not be thus handicapped. Each of his eleven children had the opportunity to attend a university, some in Utah and some in the East.
George and Evelyn were a great team. They were devoted to each other. They were devoted to their fellow men. They were devoted to their God. It was hard on Evelyn when George went to Salt Lake City in 1935 and passed away unexpectedly from the complications of a phlebitis operation.
His body was brought back to Monticello for burial. The entire County agreed that one of the great ones had been called home when George A. Adams passed into the twilight of history. Three years later his beloved Evelyn was reunited with her “King” George when she was killed in a car crash near Globe, Arizona. They lie together side by side in the Monticello cemetery.
Those of us who knew them or who know of them never pass that way without a deep feeling of reverence and respect for the shining example of their lives.