Quilts are known for giving warmth and comfort, but in one instance, at least, they helped save the lives of a whole village of people. Here is the story of seven brave men and the quilts that carried them over a mountain.
Once upon a time (in 1863), a group of pioneers decided to settle in a pretty area about 20 miles northwest of what is now Bryce Canyon National Park. They named their new town Fairview. Fairview sat at an elevation of 6600 feet. What these brave pioneers didn’t realize was that the high altitude would result in cooler year-round temperatures and good crops were going to be hard to grow.
By Fairview’s second winter, the lack of food was making life hard, indeed. The wheat that they planted had not matured and was almost impossible to grind. The people tried boiling the wheat but it was mostly inedible. They tried hunting and fishing, but early, deep snowfalls made it nearly impossible to provide enough food for the whole community.
Fairview’s leaders, realizing that the prospect for the community surviving the winter was grim, came up with a plan for getting food. They decided to send two groups out for supplies. One party was to go north about 110 miles to Gunnison. The other group would head 45 miles toward Parowan. Although the distance was less, the western route was over a high mountain pass.
The Gunnison bound party returned almost immediately. The passages to Gunnison were completely blocked with snow. All hopes were now with the seven men trying to make it over the mountain pass for Parowan.
Traveling by a wagon with two oxen the Parowan party made good progress at first, however the snow began to gradually deepen. It soon became apparent that they would have to finish the mountain crossing on foot. The men struggled to make any headway at all as their legs plunged into the deep drifts of snow.
With hope of going any further gone, the men laid a quilt on the snow and knelt on it to pray for guidance and assistance. As the men prayed they realized that the quilt was supporting their weight on the snow.
The men took all the quilts that they had packed for warmth and began laying one quilt after another on the snow-packed ground. They walked on the quilts to keep from falling through the snow all the way across the high mountain pass.
Eventually the men reached Parowan where they got as many sacks of flour as they could carry. Parowan settlers helped the group as far back up the mountain as was possible. Then the men began walking on their quilts again, this time while carrying heavy sacks of flour. The men finally made it back to Fairview and saved the town from starvation.The trip is estimated to have taken fourteen days.
One of the men on the trip was named Alexander Matheson. He left this recounting of the journey: “We decided that if we had faith as big as a mustard seed, we could make it and bring flour to our starving families. So we began the quilt-laying in prayerful earnestness. The return trip was harder with the weight of the flour, but we finally made it to our wagon and oxen and on home with thankfulness to the Lord for his goodness. The whole settlement welcomed us, because we had been gone longer than expected. There had been prayers, tears, and fears which turned to rejoicing and cheers.”
The residents of Fairview and other neighboring towns were evacuated from the region for several years during conflicts with the Native America population. When they returned to the area in 1871 the town was renamed Panguitch.
The people of Panguitch, Utah hold an annual celebration of this quilt walk event and a memorial now stands in the center of town to honor the efforts of these original settlers.
The 2016 Quilt Walk Festival will be held June 8-11. The theme of the festival will be “Pecking Up the Pieces.” There will be lots of fun events including a chocolate fest, dinner theatre, pioneer home tour, quilt walk race, quilt classes, and much more. For details contact www.quiltwalk.org
Frontier Women's Living History Assn.